‘A Quiet Place’ Writers On Penning The Year’s Scariest Movie
Scott Mendelson, film industry expert and ‘Forbes’ contributor, spoke to two guys, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, that continue to scare the hell out of audiences in cinemas across the globe. Having almost zero dialogues in the script they wrote.
‘A Quiet Place’ got a jaw-droppingly huge $50.2 million opening weekend and now its premiere hits Vietnam.
Mendelson: How did you and John Krasinski end up working on the project together?
Beck: Bryan and I had originally written this script for A Quiet Place. This was a couple years ago. It dates to an idea we had ten years ago. Through the process of lining up with our producers, Drew Form and Brad Fuller at Platinum Dunes, we took it to Paramount, and they all had a relationship with John Krasinski, having worked with him on Michael Bay’s 13 Hours, and on the new show Jack Ryan.
The script went directly to him as an actor, but he read it and fell in love with it so much that he was like, “I want to come on board as a director, and Emily Blunt wants to star in the movie.” We have been in the business for like a few years, and we’ve had many dead ends, but this was one of those projects where everything just kind of clicked into place.
Mendelson: What did Krasinski bring to the script when he came aboard? Were there any major changes in terms what you guys had originally written versus the shooting script?
Woods: We always like to say that (Krasinski) came on not only as a filmmaker but as a father. So, a lot of the work that he did on the screenplay was just making it more personal to his experience. He had just had a second child when he got the script. He added just a whole layer of kind of credibility and personality that’s true to his experience.
Mendelson: Did both of you envision how this activity or that activity would take place or how this world (where humans can’t make sounds)? Is there like a huge methodology where you thought about, hey well, how do people avoid snoring, how do people avoid bathroom noises?
Woods: This movie was so fun to write because we just got to kind of dream all day long about what it would be like to live in this kind of world, and Scott and I would test each other, and we would do like a day of writing where it was just like, let’s just live our life and not make a sound, and how hard is it and what do you have to go through when you can’t speak or, if you knock a thing over, what are all the restrictions?
We have volumes of notes about what this world is like. But it was super important for us to not necessarily have all of that in a movie. We talked a lot about, for example, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. We really enjoy that movie, but it does not make Alien more enjoyable. I loved the mystery of Alien. It’s about what you don’t see, and in some cases about what you don’t know, either.
Mendelson: Were there any spots where you had to cheat to make the story work?
Beck: We tried to think about everything as logically as possible, right? One of the first ideas that attacked us where we wondered if we were going too far taking a huge leap with the audience, is the whole pregnancy sequence. You must imagine that one of the worst things you could possibly do in a world where you can’t make a sound or else you die, is give birth, and then you must keep a baby alive.
We acknowledge that’s a huge challenge for us as writers and to execute this to an audience whose believability standard … You know, you try to do your best where you work in, and it’s seen in the movie where as soon as the baby is there, the laborer is like, you must put the baby underneath an oxygen tank and hope that it’s not going to make a sound. Or, you have these devices like the fireworks that you set off as soon as the birth happens.
And, what we appreciate about being challenged by the script is that you do have to make the characters smarter than the audience. They must be one step ahead of the audience, and surprise you as a viewer that they’ve thought through all these minor moments. And, that’s the reason why this one family has survived longer than probably a majority of the rest of the people on Earth.
Mendelson: I don’t want to be one of those people asking the writers to explain something. But is the implication being that because their daughter was deaf, that they already had a certain advantage and that’s why that they have survived as long as they have?
Woods: Yeah, 100%. That was exactly our thought process was that they have a slight advantage. Not to mention being, living in a remote location and being able to kind of fend for themselves and provide for themselves.
Beck: Bryan and I also felt it’s just was something very poetic about centering around somebody who may be perceived as having a weakness in terms of a hearing impairment, but in truth that becomes a huge strength and a huge asset to this family.
Mendelson: Are there any deleted sequences that didn’t make it in the film? Either stuff that was shot, but discarded?
Beck: It’s very much what was on the page between what we had delivered and what Krasinski added to it. There’s like one major sequence that we don’t really need to go into right now because we may peg it for a sequel, if we’re so lucky to even have that conversation.
It was a sequence that lent itself to a huge pursuit in the third act, that just would’ve amped up stakes further and further and further. Maybe it would’ve been like, too much of a good thing for an audience. The scale of the film is actually pretty intimate, and we think that it works really, really well.
Mendelson: Was there any talk about not having a musical score?
Woods: It is something that we talked about, but we knew that in a world where you can’t communicate backstory, or character intention, motivation with dialogue, however, you don’t have dialogue as a tool to do this kind of heavy lifting and storytelling. We knew that music would be a big part of that. Music does so much, and it was amazing watching the cut of the film evolve over time from a kind of a rougher form to having Marco Beltrami’s score come in because the story, without changing a single scene, the story became clearer and clearer and clearer.
Mendelson: Well, speaking of which, I would love on the Blu-ray or whatever to have a version without any music.
Beck: Even in the writing process we had to think very visually and very directionally about how this movie would be brought to life, and certainly Cast Away was one of those movies that, it restrains itself and Alan Silvestri only composed something like 12 minutes of score, and that doesn’t come in until around 100 minutes into the film.
Mendelson: How did you decide when to let the characters speak?
Woods: Full credit to John, for picking the exact moments. It was something we had talked about. In different drafts of the script, the dialogue played in different ways. Not only did we want to make a silent film, but we knew that when dialogue came in, it was going to mean that much more. The dialogue was going to be about emotion, character relationships and how this family is kind of affected by their loss.
Mendelson: How was your relationship with Platinum Dunes and Paramount?
Beck: Our biggest fear in writing this script originally was, I don’t know if anybody’s going to make this. Worst case scenario, Bryan and I had planned to just take this script back to Iowa, where we’re from, and shoot it for $50,000. But Platinum Dunes came on board, and Paramount came on board, and Paramount brought us into the studio, they were like we have a bunch of notes. What was beautiful about it is that it wasn’t about adding more dialogue, it wasn’t about adding like all this exposition. It was basically the antithesis of what you expect the studio process to be.
Woods: As soon as John and Emily came on board, they had full confidence in what we had all created. Our hope is that it pays off for Paramount because we would love for them to continue that process.
Beck: Bryan and I love original ideas. That’s one of the reasons that we’re huge Shyamalan fans is that you can deliver the high-concept hook that gets people into movie theaters, but you can also deliver the artful handling of the storytelling.
Mendelson: I didn’t say anything because it’s not really my place, but when you talked about making a sequel. On the inside I was like, “No, don’t make a sequel, just make another original horror film!”
Beck: We certainly feel that way, too. I think it’s an interesting sandbox to play in, but at the same time, Bryan and I are fiercely obsessed with finding the next big idea and executing that.
Mendelson: What were some of the notes that Paramount and Platinum gave you that improved the film?
Woods: It was more nuanced. It was more like, “Let’s make sure we’re tracking the characters. Let’s make sure that we understand that the daughter and father have this rift. We need to bring it out in this scene and that scene.” The whole ending hinges on that.
Mendelson: Were there conversations on what MPAA rating to go with? I don’t think it necessarily needs an R in terms of the on-screen content, but it’s a really scary movie.
Beck: We always felt PG-13 was the sweet spot. We wanted to make a family film. As scary as it might be, the movie really is about these parents and their children. We were hoping that no matter what age you are, you’re going to identify with one of these characters and the relationships that they have.
Mendelson: Thoughts seeing the film for the first time? Ideally the finished version.
Beck: Yeah, well, what was incredible was, visually, like everything was there on-screen. Like all the set pieces were working. What was odd is that the sound design was not mixed. There was temp music in there, so Marco Beltrami’s score might have been there in places, but it wasn’t really pontificating and highlighting some of the character nuances that it does in the final film.
We were watching a stereo cut, and this movie plays so much better in surround sound. And that’s one of the things that we’re proud of is that it demands the theatrical experience and demands people to watch this together in an audience.
That first cut was odd because it was missing, in our opinion, at least 50%-75% of the storytelling just because the team was still working on the sound mix. Our first viewing of the full, full film was at SXSW last month, and, the team and John had finished the film. I think, like 18 hours prior. No one had really seen the movie. They didn’t know how it was going to play. Everyone suddenly was elated as soon as the scares started eliciting a huge reaction. The moment with the nail just took people’s breath away. It was clearly the most satisfying point of our career.
Mendelson: That nail bit is one of the better setups I can remember in a while. It reminded me of This is Spinal Tap. You know, where you can see him writing “inches” instead of “feet” for that Stonehenge prop. And you’re like, “Oh God, oh God, oh God!” Obviously, slightly different genre, but the same level of fear and anticipation.
Beck: What we loved about these movies is that you can, if you set it up correctly, you have the audience in the palm of your hand. And they want you to pay that off. It’s just about a matter of when and how. In writing the script, that was something that we were writing a scene, and we were like, “Let’s just put a nail on this staircase.
Mendelson: I don’t want to get too much into spoilers. Was there any discussion about any different ways of ending the film?
Beck: Again, to use Shyamalan as a reference. Shyamalan’s endings of like The Sixth Sense or Signs. Those end with kind of a poetic grace note. That was a version of the ending that we all had, had on the page. It was one of those decisions, getting closer into production, that it should really end on this moment that’s somewhat of a cliffhanger, but you also feel hopefully satisfied that the characters are going to be in good hands. Or at least they have the tools to accomplish what they need to accomplish now.
Mendelson: That’s pretty much everything that I wanted to ask you. So, this is the part where I say, hey, is there anything you wanted me to ask you that I didn’t? And now you can pretend that I asked you.
Woods: There’s nothing I can think of. As fans, it was fun for us to have a talk with you.
Beck: When you do press circuits, you know, you kind of get in a rhythm of saying the usual things. But I feel like you’ve provoked a lot of interesting conversation, so thank you for doing that.
Mendelson: Most of the work is yours. If it was a bad and boring film, this would’ve been very challenging.