A Quiet Place arrives in theaters this weekend and, by the look of things, this is going to be the first massive horror hit of 2018. Mainstream, studio horror has seen a huge resurgence in recent years, thanks to movies like The Conjuring and, more recently, movies like Get Out and IT. The common thread with most of these movies is that they’re some combination of original and well-made. In the case of A Quiet Place, it’s both, which is what screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods set out to do in the first place.
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods came up with the original idea for A Quiet Place back in their college days. Unfortunately, at the time, it was nothing more than a gimmick. There was no actual story. That being the case, it was put into a drawer and left there until the time was right. Luckily, they came up with a real story and turned this would-be-gimmick into something far greater.
Ever since its debut at the SXSW film festival in Austin, Texas, A Quiet Place, which is directed by the unlikely John Krasinski, the man best known for playing Jim on The Office, the movie has been getting rave reviews. As of this writing, the movie boasts an incredible 99 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with just a single bad review to its name. The movie also features Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s real-life wife, as well as some talented, up-and-coming young actors, including Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf in real-life and plays a compelling and important role as a deaf member of this family trying to survive against some mysterious monsters in the movie.
The screenwriting duo was determined to make this movie, even if they had to do it themselves for a dime in their home state of Iowa. Luckily, Paramount Pictures, thanks to Michael Bay of all people, got behind A Quiet Place and turned it into a big-budget horror flick. By most early accounts, that was the right decision.
I was able to speak with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods at SXSW following the premiere of A Quiet Place. We discussed how they came up with the idea in the first place, how Michael Bay and John Krasinski got involved and what they might do if the movie winds up getting a sequel. Without further adieu, here’s our exclusive interview with the writers behind A Quiet Place.
It’s hard to crack any original ground anymore within the horror genre, but you guys found something pretty interesting here and avoided making it a gimmick. How did this come about and how did you avoid making it a gimmick?
Bryan Woods: To be honest it started as a gimmick. When we were in college we were watching a lot of silent film, we were watching a lot of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and thinking, “Man, it would be so cool to do a silent film in a modern day genre context.” We thought sound is one of the most important weapons in the horror genre and it can be absolutely terrifying, but we know it was a gimmick. That’s a cool idea, but what is the story? So we put it in a drawer for damn near 10 years
Scott Beck: Yeah. And around 2013/ 2014 we brought that idea out and started kind of filling in the blanks and discovered, “Oh! What if we set it on a farm. What if we set it with this family that has this broken communication issue.” And then, you know, what happens if a character is pregnant? How does that affect living in a silent world? So it’s just kept escalating. We kept trying to go to the worst idea imaginable when you’re living in this post-apocalyptic world.
John Krasinski would not have seemed like the guy to direct this movie, but he is the guy. How did you get hooked up with him and what did he contribute to the story once he came on board?
Scott Beck: That was a situation where the script went into Michael Bay’s company Platinum Dunes. They were currently working on the Jack Ryan TV show with John, and Michael had directed John in 13 Hours and they sent him the script, and he instantly connected to it. Not just as an actor, but as a filmmaker in part because he had just become a dad for the second time and that’s one of the integral parts about the script. It’s about parents trying to protect their children and at the end of the day he was able to come to the table with that experience. And, again, as you’re saying, not the traditional choice. You would never think of him for this movie. But after seeing it in a packed house last night here at SXSW, he was the guy for the job.
He’s admitted he’s not a genre guy, but it was a masterclass in suspense. What did he sort of bring to the table?
Bryan Woods: He just made it a little more personal to his own experience and he consolidated some of the timeline. It’s extremely faithful to our script, which we feel honored by.
Scott Beck: I’d say one thing that’s really interesting to see that he injected into the movie is, the original draft of the movie had three words of dialogue. So it was very, very scant. One thing that he injected was the idea of American sign language into the film, which we think is really, really fascinating because in our script it was simply about gesturing and hand motions, but then casting Milly in the role, who is deaf in real life and deaf in the film, kind of made sense to then incorporate American sign language and to then ground it in some sort of reality and a reality that Milly knows very well can bring to that role.
I’ve got to imagine it was challenging as hell writing a script with almost no dialogue in it. Especially since you said your version had three words in it.
Scott Beck: Three original words in the original draft. It was such a bizarre process but there’s scripts, like the script for All Is Lost, the Robert Redford movie from a few years ago, which was thirty pages long. So we knew going into this, that this script is gonna be a little weird. It ended up being 67 pages long, but we tried to make it visual. So we would put pictures in there. There’s a Monopoly scene in the movie and we actually scanned a Monopoly board and put that into the script. There’s times when there’s only one word on the page to emphasize a giant sound, just to give it some character.
Bryan Woods: We would like shrink fonts if it was like a quiet sound. We would place them on the page in descending order if we wanted to carry the audience down the stairs in the basement. We wanted to communicate the silent film experience to any potential studio heads or executives, or producers. We wanted to make sure they understood the vision for this film. Because we know it was so weird, and I have to be honest, when we wrote this we were like, “I don’t know if anyone will want to make this.” We were not remotely confident when we took the script out around town to see if we could set it up. We thought, worst case scenario, we’ll bring it back to our home state of Iowa, we’ll make it for $100,000. We’ll just do whatever we have to do to make it because we believed in it. Luckily, right away, Michael Bay got excited about it. Platinum Dunes got excited about it, then Paramount. We ended up having a good experience, but we were nervous at first.
So Michael Bay was kind of the guy who got it made?
Bryan Woods: Michael picked up the phone and called the head of the studio and he was like, “Why are we not making this movie yet?”
Scott Beck He’s not the guy that you expect to make that phone call but he has a true passion for this movie. It’s fantastic to see a filmmaker that, we grew up on his movies and we love his movies. I mean, Pain and Gain is one of our favorite movies of the last several years. To see him be a champion for the film was just incredible.
Is it kind of amazing to you guys that this became a huge studio flick?
Bryan Woods: It is so surprising to us, in a world where almost everything is a comic book movie or a sequel, or a remake. And by the way, we go see all of them, so we enjoy those movies, but we also crave seeing something that we haven’t seen before. I feel like those are the movies that we grew up on. A lot of Spielberg’s early work like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Poltergeist. These movies that feel fresh. And for the studio to be supportive in the way they are, it’s just like we literally cannot believe it. That’s our dream. That was always our dream. We always wanted to try and come up with weird, crazy, original ideas and put them up on a big platform and they don’t often make movies like that anymore, unfortunately.
I’ve gotta ask, there was a theory going around that this was one of the Cloverfield movies. Did those conversations ever happen?
Bryan Woods: I will say, amongst ourselves when we were bringing the script out we were like, “We can’t take this into Paramount. They have Cloverfield. They’ll just turn this into a Cloverfield movie.” No. From the very beginning they were like, “No. We believe in this idea. We think it’s a separate thing.” Never. It never came up with them.
Scott Beck: It is fun to see all of those fan theories and connect the dots. I’m like, “These people are making interesting, valid points.” At the same time, we appreciate the people that just take it for what it is. It is an original idea and there’s still a place for filmgoers to see new, original voices and see those executed on the screen without having to be a part of a franchise.
Is there a dream franchise, or something you guys would like to adapt? Or something that you guys would like to do?
Scott Beck: That’s a great question. I, speaking for myself at least, as a huge fan of The Thing, and they did the remake of The Thing a few years ago, that’s one franchise I love, but I also would never want to touch that with a ten-foot pole. You never want to touch the classics.
Bryan Woods: We have so much reverence for our favorite movies. Would it be fun to do an Alien movie? Absolutely. But Alien already exists and Aliens exists. It’s just like, I don’t know what we could contribute to that sandbox. Probably nothing. Our mandate has always been trying to prop up big, original ideas.
Scott Beck: But hopefully building those off of the movies that we love, like Alien or The Thing.
Bryan Woods: We’re always inspired by the fact that Steven Spielberg was not allowed to do a James Bond film and from that was created Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones. From that, they had to create something new because they couldn’t play in somebody else’s sandbox, and that’s just so inspiring.
Were there any movies you guys looked to specifically for inspiration for this?
Bryan Woods: We talked a lot about Alien. We talked a lot about Jaws. M. Night Shyamalan is a filmmaker we really admire.
Scott Beck: Yeah. I mean certainly, you look at The Village, love it or hate it, but the idea of being in a community where you’re sequestered. That’s certainly a place we always looked to for inspiration. The use of sound in that film is impactful.
Bryan Woods: The use of music. We love that almost arthouse aesthetic in the context of a big popcorn movie. We love combining that kind of stuff.
The way the world works, let’s say this movie does really well and Paramount says, “We’re thinking sequel.” Do you guys have an idea where you see how the story could continue?
Scott Beck: Oh yeah. Totally. We even have some of the set pieces already written for it. In a sense, that’s what you have to base it around. You have to figure out, what is the worst possible situation to put your characters in and go from there.
Bryan Woods: We have so many scary ideas that just didn’t even make it into the final script, let alone the final movie, but just written, we would love to see this sequence. Some sequences that were just quite frankly too expensive to even do in this movie.
Scott Beck: I just don’t know what the title would be. A Quieter Place?
In your minds would it be something adjacent with new characters or what might it involve?
Scott Beck: I think at this point there’s multiple universes that it could go in to be completely honest. I think you could continue down one path that’s very obvious, or you could spin off into a completely unexpected direction. Which is certainly always interesting for us. The uncharted territory of filmmaking is always where you find the best inspiration.
A Quiet Place opens in theaters this weekend and looks to do quite well at the box office. Whether or not Paramount decides to turn this original idea into a franchise, this is a unique and by most accounts excellent movie. You can check out A Quiet Place in a theater near you.