'A Quiet Place' Producers On The Last-Minute Creature Design And Casting Without A Plan B [Interview]

John Krasinski's A Quiet Place had its world premiere at SXSW Film Festival on March 9th (read my review here), during which a theater filled with rowdy film fans sat in riveted silence, absorbing this terrifying, largely dialogue-free horror film that is unlike any other.

A Quiet Place producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller (The Purge, Ouija, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jack Ryan) spoke with me about that memorable screening, what it was like working with real-life married couple Krasinski and Emily Blunt, and the twisty road to delivering those sound-hunting beasties.

How did you decide that this was the next story you wanted to tell, and that John Krasinski was the right person to tell it? 

Brad Fuller: Well, we read the script, and we're always challenging ourselves for stuff that has original content. Because, you know, you don't have a lot of money when you make these movies. You can't expect to get a big movie star or spend a lot of money, so the content has to be strong. And when we read this, the concept was really strong. I mean, we just loved that concept. That was what we initially responded to. It felt like something fresh in the genre that we hadn't seen before.

And as far as John Krasinski is concerned, we were working with John on Jack Ryan, and we really were enjoying our experience of just talking about the show with him. And we mentioned to him that we had just gotten this new spec script in, and would he be open to playing the dad in the script. And he said, 'Sure, let me read it.' And he read it, and he loved it, and he said, 'I'd love to play the dad, and on top of that, I'd love to take a pass at the script and direct it, too.' And then, when he pitched his ideas of what it could be, we were so excited about his vision for it that we jumped onboard, and said 'Let's go and do this.'

When you're making these sorts of intimate, small-cast horror films, is there one aspect that's more central to the film's success than any other? Is it the script, the director, the cast, the actors, the scares? 

Fuller: I think it's all important, really. I mean, in order for it to work, all of those things have to fit together, and certainly there's no way of knowing if things are going to fit together until it's too late. And in this case, John just kind of led this charge and at every level, he made incredible choices that all felt very elevated to us.

Andrew Form: I think it starts with the script. I mean, when we got the screenplay from our agents, no one had told us that there was no dialogue in the script. And they just said, 'Oh, good idea for a horror film, check this out,' and give us the script, and I still read my scripts on paper, and it was 67 pages long. That's like a TV pilot! And then a lot of the pages in the script had one number on it, like a countdown – three, two, one, and it was three pages – or a map was on a page, so it was actually even shorter. So, we looked through it and we realized, 'Oh, there's no dialogue in the movie, okay.' Because you look at a script, and the rule of thumb is a minute a page, but obviously, a feature film can't be 67 pages or 67 minutes.

But when we read the script and the foundation of this idea, that's what we flipped out over, and you know, it rarely happens with producers of a film, [we see] a lot of remakes, a lot of sequels, a lot of prequels, and finding original material in the genre is very difficult. We found it with The Purge, and when we read that script, we flipped out, and when we read this script, it was a very similar feeling for us, that this was a story that we had to tell. And then we went right after John, and 18 months later from him reading the script, here we are on the phone with you talking about this movie.

How was it working with John and Emily together, especially playing a married couple, when the entire movie just focuses on this one family?

Fuller: They're unprofessional. It was painful. I'm kidding! It was the best experience. It was honestly the best experience we've ever had on a movie, and this movie was a family, you see it on the screen, and we just kind of parked on that farm and shot the entire movie there, and you know, the amazing thing is that in the movie, John and Emily do not have many scenes together in the film. There's only a couple. So, they only actually work together in front of the camera a few times. But it was an amazing experience, I can't say it enough, and the whole process from development, all the way through, we finished the movie a week ago. It's just been very special.

Form: And John and Emily embraced the kids in the movie, too. And they spent a lot of time with them, so they actually felt like a family. I mean, they really knew each other and loved each other.

That definitely translates to the screen. How was it working with [the child actors] Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds? They're such an important part of the story, and they really nail it. 

Fuller: You know, again, and we're just going to keep saying this, but that was all John Krasinski. The casting for this movie was not normal for us. You know, usually you hire a casting director, people audition and you look at lots of auditions, you narrow it down, and then maybe someone will come in.

And from day one, John really had his sights set on these two. Millicent put herself on tape from her house in Utah, and it was such an emotional audition, it wasn't even a question. I mean, it was ridiculous how good she was. And Noah had just done Suburbicon at Paramount, and John had seen him in The Night Manager, and he had shot Wonder, but it hadn't come out yet, and he just wanted those two kids, and wow, was he right. Because the second they show up on that set, talk about professional, talk about the next level. I mean, just having those four actors on the set every day was a dream for a producer.

Form: It was the only time in our career where there was no list of actors. There was just these people and that's who we were going to get, and there wasn't a Plan B.

The creature work is so interesting. I'd love to hear more about how you guys developed them. 

Fuller: The creature? Yeah, the creature was hard. I wish I could tell you that in development, we had a drawing that we loved, and that's what you saw on the big screen, but that did not happen on this movie. Early on, you know, we had brought ILM onto the movie, and Scott Farrar, who had done the five Transformers movies, he read the material and fell in love with it, and was really up for the challenge.

You know, when you're making a moving like this, everyone will say to you, 'Well, everything's been done. How do you do something new? How do you do something fresh?" So our idea of using sounds was very fresh for this world, but the design of the creatures is always going to be hard. So you hire a bunch of artists, and you start looking at the creatures, and someone looks at, oh, it looks like this one, oh, that looks like that movie, that looks like that, and you start playing that game. And you know, it's very difficult to design something [new].

So, in prep we had a creature that we were kind of leaning towards, and then we started shooting the movie and that creature was on the wall in the production office, in the art department, and just something was not right about it. And the crazy thing about working in the CG world, there are positives and negatives, the negative is, you don't have your bad guy on the set. So, you're shooting plates, or you're shooting a motion capture actor who needs to be this creature. So that's hard to visualize.

The good news is that it allows you to design longer. So, you can shoot your movie and continue to design if you're not happy with the creature, knowing that in post-production, your visual effects, as ILM on this movie, will then put the creature in. So, we definitely went a little longer with the design on the movie than I think everybody wanted us to, there's no doubt about that. Our post was very short, but you know, the creature came together in the late stages, I would say, of this movie. And all around the ears and the sound and the design, this one was very difficult, but we are so happy with the way it came out. And I'm sure everyone wishes we had that design in prep, but it didn't happen.

A Quiet Place John Krasinski

I'd love to know how much of the sound design is in the script. Did you guys have someone in mind from the beginning that you wanted to spearhead such an important element of the storytelling?

Fuller: I don't know how much of the actual design was in the screenplay.  I'm trying to think back.

Form: It really wasn't.

Fuller: I haven't read the script in a long time.

Form: But you know, the sound team that we have on the movie, Ethan [Van der Ryn] and Erik [Aadahl], who have worked on the Ninja Turtle movies for us and the Transformers movies for Michael [Bay], we have loved over the years. And when they read the script, you can only imagine how they felt. They were like, 'Oh my God.' This movie, for sound, for them, is amazing. So the scary thing, again, for them, is that they came onto the movie late in the process.

So, the design, everything happened quickly, but I don't know how much of it was actually in the screenplay and how much of it was found through design meetings, and on the mixing stage, and dropping out music and saying, 'This scene can actually play quiet, we don't need music here.' For stuff like that, it would happen right in front of our eyes.

And how did everyone feel about the SXSW reaction? Being in the audience, it felt like a homerun. 

Form: You know, for us, SX was the best experience because we started our career in Austin, Texas. We made our first movie there [2003's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre]. We've made four movies there [TCM, TCM: The Beginning, The Hitcher and 2009's Friday the 13th]. We've never been to a film festival, as participants or spectators, so to go to SX and be able to open the festival with a movie that we loved, and to have that reaction, at least for us, was the best experience ever.

But you know, it was really the first time we had screened the movie with an audience. We had never really seen the movie with an audience, we never had our creature done, we never had our sound done. So, every time we've ever shown the movie, there were lots of scenes with nothing. We'd have where our creature should be, and it's just an empty room. So, it really was a first for us also. Very nerve-wracking, and you go in, and I can't speak for Brad, but I was sweating bullets in there. Yes, those last 90 seconds of the movie, for me, I could not have been happier with how they played.

Fuller: Drew doesn't know this, but midway through the movie, I was so tense, I left the theater. They luckily had a bar. I had to get a drink to get through it.

Form: By the way, he was sitting behind me, and I had no idea he left.

Fuller: Totally nerve-wracking.

Form: And I had not shown my wife one frame of this movie. She visited the set, but she had never seen a frame of the film. And she did not let go of my hand for the entire movie. She was holding my left hand, and I lost feeling in it a few times. So to me, that meant the movie was working.

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A Quiet Place arrives in theaters on April 6, 2018.