A Quiet Place writers

Harrowing, suspenseful, and emotional, Paramount’s A Quiet Place is a terrific piece of horror storytelling that pulls you in from its opening frames and doesn’t loosen its grip for the entire runtime. You probably know the premise by now: a family tries to stay alive in a world overrun by creatures who hunt using sound, which means one stray noise or careless mistake could spell the family’s untimely demise.

John Krasinski stars opposite his real-life wife Emily Blunt, and he also co-wrote the script and directed the film. While Krasinski is the public face of the movie, this project is the brainchild of writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who came up with this concept ten years ago and have been trying to bring it to life ever since. Earlier this week, I spoke with them about the movie’s unique premise, their writing process, crafting tension, world building, the possibility of this being a Cloverfield movie, and the unexpected reason they couldn’t be on the film’s set.

A Quiet Place Beck and Woods

One of the telltale signs that something scary is about to happen in a horror movie is things suddenly get very quiet. You guys decided to essentially take that moment and write an entire movie set within it. How did you come up with this premise?

Bryan: Scott and I have always talked about, for many years now, that sound is one of the greatest tools in a filmmaker’s toolbox to generate suspense and horror. So we kept thinking, if you could make sound itself the monster in a movie – if you could make sound the equivalent of the shark in Jaws – that would be something really, really special. So it was that idea, which we hoped would be terrifying. And it was this general idea of – Scott and I were watching a lot of silent movies in college and even to this day. Some of our favorite filmmakers are Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton obviously, the French filmmaker Jacques Tati. We love silent film so much, and we were like, ‘It’d be so cool to make a silent film in a modern day genre context.’ We’re like, ‘We’ve never seen that before. That would be bizarre and interesting.’ So A Quiet Place was born from those two disparate paths.

What kinds of things did you watch for inspiration?

Scott: I would say watching the classics like Alien and Jaws, going back to Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography. Specifically The Man Who Knew Too Much – there’s a great sequence in terms of Jimmy Stewart trying to get away from a pursuer and we just hear these footsteps coming after him through this echo-y palace. That entire final sequence which plays to a symphony, and you know at the end of the symphony, they’re going to make an assassination attempt, and what’s incredible about that is how it’s not silent in a typical sense. It’s still playing with music in terms of sound design, but you’re watching, visually, all these characters throughout this tension-filled suspense moment. So movies like that were really the ones we came back to. Because we knew at the end of the day, even writing a script, everything had to play visually on the page as much as it would need to on the screen.

You guys have known each other since the sixth grade, so I imagine you’ve built a pretty streamlined process over the years. How did you physically write A Quiet Place? Are you both in the same room, or are you e-mailing drafts back and forth?

Bryan: Yeah, we’ve been working together since we were kids, so we have it down to a science. We brainstorm together in the room. We like to be in the same room together and kick ideas around, and sometimes pull out a marker board if we’re getting bored with ourselves and we want to draw pictures on the wall (laughs). When we get into writing, it’s a lot of healthy competition between the two of us where maybe Scott will take a scene that we’ve talked about and he’ll do a pass, he’ll write it up and kick it over to me. I’ll do another pass, do my best to elevate it, make it more exciting. I’ll kick it back to Scott, and he’ll say, ‘Yeah, that was decent, but what if he did this?’ So it’s that competitive oneupmanship where we’re trying to push each other to be as good as we possibly can be.

Scott: Bryan and I love movies that play to big audiences. That’s what we grew up on. Our writing process is very much that. As Bryan is describing, our process is predicated on, I’ll take a stab at something and then Bryan becomes the audience for that and he is the litmus test for whether that’s scary or not. It’s always about trying to distill everything down to the best shape possible, and certainly with A Quiet Place, there’s a lot of opportunity to play with that and challenge yourself to get the best shape.

One of the things I think the film does really well is build tension in a way that feels organic. Every encounter with these creatures feels truly dangerous. Tell me about how you incorporated that growing tension into the story.

Scott: I think that’s in the writing process, trying to figure out your peaks and valleys. You know you can’t hold the audience in suspense for 90 minutes with set piece after set piece. You have to find your moments of silence where you can start building that suspense. From a standpoint of just enjoying the film so it’s not just a gimmick, you have to root that in characters. Some of the best horror movies always are the best because you’re feeling emotion, you’re feeling for the characters – what they want, and where they want to go. That always distilled down to this family at the core of it. That they had to have some fundamental issue. Early on in the process, we realized they need to have an issue with communication. So the story isn’t just literally that they can’t talk, it’s metaphorically, they’re unable to communicate with each other because they’ve suffered a loss in the family.

This is also a film where rules are very important. Can you talk about how you decided to dole out information to the audience about the world the characters find themselves in?

Bryan: It’s funny, in many ways it was a practical decision. One of the first challenges when writing the script was we realized, ‘How are we going to communicate backstory, character development, plot – how do we do that when characters can’t speak to each other?’ So little by little, we realized if we can put a newspaper headline over here and have this awkward interaction at the dinner table over here, we could slowly start to paint in the world that these characters are living in. Because you cannot make a sound, there’s this latent suspense that I think allows us to get away with kind of a more leisurely and maybe I would even say painterly unfolding of the story because danger is around every corner. If these characters make one noise, they’re screwed. We feel like a ‘slow burn’ is not quite an apt description, but kind of slowly almost poetically doling out the backdrop for this world.

Did you ever think about taking this to Bad Robot with the possibility of it being a Cloverfield movie?

Scott: I know! That was one of those things that, I guess it crossed our mind and we had spoken to our representatives about that possibility. It was weird timing, though, because when we were writing the script, 10 Cloverfield Lane was at Paramount. We were actually talking to an executive there about this film, and it felt from pitch form that there might be crossover, but when we finally took the final script in to Paramount, they saw it as a totally different movie. What was really incredible about the process that we feel very grateful for is the studio embraced this weird movie with no dialogue with open arms. They never thought about branding it as a Cloverfield film, I think in part because conceptually it was able to stand on its own.

Bryan: And our biggest fear was – we love Bad Robot, we love the people over there, and obviously J.J. [Abrams] is certainly a hero to us – but one of our biggest fears was this getting swept up into some kind of franchise or repurposed for something like that. The reason I say ‘biggest fear’ – we love the Cloverfield movies. They’re excellent. It’s just that as filmgoers, we crave new and original ideas. And we feel like so much of what’s out there is IP. It’s comic books, it’s remakes, it’s sequels. We show up to all of them, we enjoy those movies too, but our dream was always to drop something different into the marketplace, so we feel grateful that Paramount embraced the movie as its own thing.

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