With A Quiet Place released into our homes the screenwriters behind the horror Scott Beck and Bryan Woods talk all about making the movie. Beware spoilers lie ahead!
How long have you been writing together?
Scott Beck: So Brian and I have been working together since we were in sixth grade basically. We’ve known each other since we were 12 years old. And we’ve been writing scripts ever since.
Bryan Woods: Like I was making stop motion movies with my Star Wars toys, and I sat next to Scott at the lunch table and realized he had the same hobby. And we just started making movies together ever since then.
What makes your partnership work?
Scott Beck: I think, you know, since we’ve worked together since we were essentially 12 years old. We’ve always found ourselves having a healthy competition between ourselves in terms of trying to one-up each other with ideas. And that’s created actually a very like great collaborative relationship.
Has it always been the horror genre?
Bryan Woods: We love all types of movies, like anything from like the classic kind of Hitchcock to like Francois Truffaut to like Alexander Payne comedies. Like we love everything. And even though we tend to work in genre and horror we always try to apply the lessons we’ve learned from other cinema references into the work that we do.
Scott Beck: Yeah, I certainly think that what we love about the horror genre though is that it demands reaction from an audience when it’s working. And it elicits that response that you can just feel in the room when you’re there on a Friday or Saturday night in the theatre. And that’s what has always driven us towards working in the horror thriller genre.
How does the process work for you guys?
Bryan Woods: Everything is different. Scott and I are always keeping journals of ideas. And we’re just writing stuff down. And most of our ideas are absolutely terrible, but every once in a while an idea will stick out. The idea for A Quiet Place, like we were in college. The very nascent idea came to us when we decided like we would love to do a silent film but in a modern context. When you think about silent films we just think about Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights and Buster Keaton movies or Jacques Tati.
And we thought, man, it’d be really special to do something in like the horror space but just totally quiet and no dialogue. But we just didn’t know how to make that work. It just felt like a gimmick. And so it wasn’t until several years later when we started kind of formulating the story for A Quiet Place. And it kind of all congealed. We’re like, oh, wow, we could do a silent film, but now it could actually be about something, these characters. And we could say something thematically about communication and how this family isn’t speaking.
What was the writing process like?
Scott Beck: Yeah, for us, A Quiet Place always had to focus on a single family in part because the movie is a metaphor for communication, I mean in a very literal way in terms of silence is survival. But the fact of the matter is this family also has their own interpersonal problems. And that’s beneath the surface of the movie. We always felt that focusing on a family that has a rift is going to be the best window into a genre movie. For us, the best movies in the genre, like Jaws for instance, where it’s very much a character drama as much as it is about a shark in the water killing people. And I think that’s where the best movies that work in the horror thriller genre really thrive because it’s saying something about what it is to be a family or a person or a human being.
Charlie Chaplin, his movies were always like a core inspiration for A Quiet Place in a very strange way. But in that film like The Kid, for instance, everything is being communicated non-verbally. And it tells such an emotional story. But you don’t need to utter a single word in order to convey those emotions. And that was always part of the driving force behind A Quiet Place.
Bryan Woods: But we also know like the horror genre, there’s no more powerful special effect than sound, right? Like you can have the craziest CGI monster, or you can have a man in a suit, a rubber costume. It’s all about sound design. And sound is all about what you don’t see. And it really allows the audience to kind of participate in the process and use their imagination to kind of scare themselves. That’s always been our secret weapon in writing scary things. And so we felt like to be able to do a silent film would not only be meaningful in terms of the story and characters, but it’s just also scary.
What was your thought process in deciding what to put them through?
Scott Beck: Well, I think like first and foremost in working on A Quiet Place it was about what’s the setting? And so automatically you have a farmland setting. And part of that is just coming– we’re both from Iowa originally. And so it felt very much like a story that could take place in our back yard. Thinking about like the different set pieces that you could create. I mean you have corn silos. You have barns that have to be sound proofed. And all the sudden the idea is just kind of flooded in of how many sounds that you make in a given day and how deadly that can be under the wrong circumstances, which is what the film is all about.
Bryan Woods: Scott and I also love scaring each other while writing. So I remember one day we were writing, and Scott was like, you know what’s really scary is like in Iowa those corn silos are just so scary. If you ever got trapped in one of them or like fell in it would be really dangerous and nightmarish. And I started doing research based on Scott’s kind of early idea. And that is scary. Oh my gosh, and then all of a sudden you have somebody who falls into a corn silo. They’re trapped in all this grain, but they can’t scream. They can’t say anything because that would bring the monster to them.
So it was just like a really fun writing process because we could constantly kind of swing ideas back and forth and just try to creep each other out.
Scott Beck: Yeah, for us, with Quiet Place, we felt that we had to figure out what’s the worst thing that could happen when everything is silent. And so that was really the driving force behind the very core idea when we were first writing this that someone had to give birth because how do you go through one of the most strenuous circumstances in life and try to stay silent? And it just felt like an impossible challenge that we wanted to figure out.
Bryan Woods: Not to mention it’s such a beautiful kind of emotional component. Having to give birth it said so much about the family and where they were at because they had suffered a tragedy and lost one of their family members. And so giving birth it just meant so much thematically from a character standpoint as well.
Was it challenging to come up with an environment with such scarcity?
Scott Beck: Yeah, it certainly was– with A Quiet Place it was all about trying to figure out what are the non-verbal cues that you can activate in a film with pretty much no dialogue. It certainly services the story when the family has unspoken risks between them. I think what we really loved about writing these characters is this family has unspoken issues. And in some ways that’s a metaphor for everybody in real life and their own family dynamics. And so we always wanted to key into that and see how people interact with each other in terms of their non-verbal gestures and the spatial distances that people have and finding a way to work that into a script that obviously had to feel very, very visual by the end of it.
Bryan Woods: It was also really fun to kind of explore the minutiae of living in this world. Like how would you communicate? Would you use a light? You could trigger a red light, and that would mean something bad is going to happen. Or you could write a note. Or like using hand motions and so forth, just communicating without dialogue, it was really fun to kind of just dig into this thing and imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t say anything. And what we discovered is like it would be really hard to survive. It would be really, really, really tough.
What other types of communication did you discuss?
Scott Beck: I feel like certainly in terms of the family dynamic like you have the character of Regan who is essentially deaf. And so in some respects this family has become adept at survival in part because of living with somebody that has this disability. And so for us we felt that you need to be able to communicate somehow with gestures in terms of like visually gesturing with your family.
Had you considered hiring a deaf actress for the role of the daughter?
Bryan Woods: Yeah, casting a deaf actress is something we had certainly talked about. But so happy and proud that they found Millie because she’s a remarkable actress. We’ve loved the other work that she has done. And I think casting a deaf actress really elevated the project in a way that made it more authentic and real.
Scott Beck: Yeah, I think one thing that you can do in the writing process with a character like Regan is inform exactly what that life experience really is like. And that’s one incredible asset of having Millie on the film is the fact that she brings with her all her life experience and informs that character in way more realism than I think you could ever conjure up on the page.
Essentially what has happened in A Quiet Place is that this worldwide catastrophe has happened where there essentially are creatures on earth that hunt through their use of sound. And so centering on a family on a farm they are possibly one of the only surviving people in the world. But they’ve essentially been cut off from all communications essentially. So they don’t know, for instance, what might be out there. But they’re trying to figure out how to essentially kill that creature.
Bryan Woods: And we love the idea of putting the audience in the shoes of the family. Like the audience only knows what the characters know, right? Like they don’t know anything about like what is this monster? Like how does it react? Why does it only hear? And they’re kind of figuring it out with us, which I think makes it’s more scary and more experiential.
When did John join up with you?
Scott Beck: Yeah, I think like what’s great about John is he is a perfect blend of comedy and drama in terms of his acting style. I mean certainly from his work on The Office or Away We Go and all the other films that he’s done, like he always brings with him a sense of levity that has a dramatic edge to it. And certainly his work on The Office has a lot of non-verbal cues in it in terms of his performance style. And I think that was a fantastic piece of experience to be able to bring to the table.
Bryan Woods: Yeah, and I remember when we first went in to speak with our producers Platinum Dunes about this project they were like– they kind of asked us like who are you guys thinking of? Who would you guys consider? And I remember saying Emily Blunt would be a great type for this movie. We’re not gonna get her, but she’d be great for this movie. And we were all kind of like, yeah, that would be nice. So it was like really exciting when they kind of came together. Their work is so incredible. This movie is such a kind of subtle acting challenge in many ways. It’s very hard to perform and convey character and intent without being able to use the crutch of dialogue.
Scott Beck: I think that was always the hope in writing the script. We were like if we do this right, hopefully we’ll get really talented actors on board. But I don’t think we ever expected it would end up at the level that it ended up.
How amazing was it knowing John chose this as his directorial debut?
Scott Beck: Yeah, it was really cool that John came aboard this project and that Emily came aboard this project and that they essentially decided to do it together. I think that’ll lend something very special in terms of the family dynamic on screen and certainly in their own creative collaboration really elevate the project.
Bryan Woods: Yeah, it reminds us like casting Millie, a deaf girl, to play a deaf girl, casting a husband and wife to play a husband and wife. There’s an authenticity there that you wouldn’t normally get. It just makes it a lot more real and visceral and relatable.
Scott Beck: And I remember when we were writing this seeing interviews with John and Emily where they were always talking about, oh, maybe one day we’ll collaborate. But it needs to be the right project. So it felt really special when we took this project out, and then everything came together. And it came together at break neck speed that I don’t think any film of ours in the future will ever come together that quickly again. But it just felt really special to have them be on board.
They connected to the fact that they’re parents.
Scott Beck: Yeah, I mean at the core of A Quiet Place it’s really about how can you protect your children? I know as a father myself just having had a kid that certainly was in the back of the mind in terms of writing Quiet Place where all of a sudden you have this kid out in the world. How do you keep them alive? And obviously in A Quiet Place, it’s much more heightened in terms of those circumstances. But it’s obviously a great what-if that I think a lot of parents worldwide can certainly relate to.
Bryan Woods: And that was something with A Quiet Place we were always gunning for, trying to make something that was completely universal, not just in terms of its themes and characters. But also the fact that there’s no language, right? Because there’s no dialogue our hope was that it could play in Japan just as well as it could play in Brazil and so on and so forth. We wanted to make something that was universally relatable.
Was it important to make it accessible?
Bryan Woods: Absolutely, yeah, yeah, exactly, we wanted it to be completely accessible to everyone. No language bare– again, like looking back at Charlie Chaplin, he made City Lights, which was a silent film at a time when people weren’t making silent films. And in researching that we realized part of the charm and appeal of it was really traveling the world with it and having a worldwide audience connect with that story because of the fact that there was no language barrier. So that was something we really wanted for A Quiet Place.
What is like for Marcus and Regan growing up in this environment?
Bryan Woods: Yeah, I think what’s fascinating about the characters of Marcus and Regan is that they are incubated in this very strange circumstance that at first seems like it’s a normal slice of life on a farmstead. But then it’s just like two degrees removed from reality in terms of their circumstance. And thinking of the story, when you grow up in that environment you learn how to adapt. And so I think it’s fascinating to see the little trinkets in terms of playing Monopoly. But you can’t make a noise when you’re playing Monopoly. And having to go outside but having to walk on sand paths, like those are all fascinating things that these kids probably take for granted until, of course, a new sibling starts entering the world through the pregnancy. And then all hell breaks loose.
Why is now a good time to tell this story?
Scott Beck: That’s a good question. I think with Quiet Place like one of the reasons it’s really relevant is it does come back to family. And in this day and age like families can become so divided by something as simple as having your phone in front of your face all the time. And so you really need to communicate to your other family members, and you need to have conversations. Just have discussions over dinner for instance. And that for us was always what the core of A Quiet Place was. It always comes back to families learning how to communicate again.
Quite the original take on the horror genre.
Bryan Woods: Yeah, absolutely, we wanted to do something incredibly fresh and new in horror, something that we had never seen before. That was always the hope. And writing the script was such an interesting process for us because there’s no dialogue it was like really shrunken and weird. It had like 67 pages, the first draft. We put visuals in there. We had weird fonts, which typically we think is a little gimmicky. But we really wanted to sell this idea of a silent movie for a new audience. And the hope was that we’d be creating something special that people hadn’t really seen before.
What do you hope audiences love about this?
Scott Beck: I mean I hope that when an audience goes to see A Quiet Place they love living in the silence because the silence, it’s so much more suspenseful than jump scares that you usually see in horror films. I know that we go to movie theatres to see horror movies because it elicits a reaction from the audience. And so to sit in that silence and just wait and wait and wait I think will be an incredible experience.
Bryan Woods: And we also hope that they just really connect with the characters and come away feeling moved. All of our favorite movies from the beginning of time, like whether it’s Jaws or– we always want to not only just scare the audience, which is a lot of fun, but hopefully that they feel something and they think about their loved ones and imagine what it would be like to go to A Quiet Place.
A Quiet Place is out now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital