SXSW Interview: Scott Beck and Bryan Woods discuss A Quiet Place, working with John Krasinski, and their Future and Dream Projects.
Each year that I attend SXSW, I find myself finding a few films that really surprise me. This year, I spent six days watching various films at the festival. One of my favorite films to premiere at SXSW 2018 was A Quiet Place starring John Krasinski and Emily Blunt. I knew pretty much nothing about the film prior to seeing it on the opening night of the festival. To my complete and total surprise, I was absolutely blown away by the film.
If you are interested in reading my thoughts on the entire film, you can read my spoiler-free review of the film by clicking here: SXSW 2018 Review: ‘A Quiet Place’ is an Edge of Your Seat Non-Stop Thrill Ride
While at the festival, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, the two incredible screenwriters behind writing this unique and thrilling film.
Scott Menzel: Hello! Nice to meet you both. Were you at the premiere?
Scott Beck: Yeah, we were, yeah.
Scott Menzel: The reaction from that crowd was insane, not to mention the level of intensity from the film’s opening all the way until the end. Honestly, I very rarely feel the need to applaud a movie at the end, but that ending was bad ass.
Scott Beck: Cool
Bryan Woods: Thank you so much.
Scott Menzel: Seriously, what an achievement. Where the hell did this idea come from?
Scott Beck: It came from a really weird place when you see the final film. In college, we were digesting a lot of Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati, who is one of our favorite filmmakers of all time and just in admiration of how these filmmakers were using a lack of sound to tell such a visual story. And granted, those are all comedies, but we had this crazy idea. What if you put that in a genre context. Like a horror/thriller and over the years the idea for A Quiet Place was essentially born.
Bryan Woods: Yeah, we always thought that if you could make the sound the equivalent of the shark in Jaws that would make a great movie because sound is such a great tool in horror anyways. But if you could make sound scary, inherently scary it would be really interesting. We talked about that a lot in college and we just put that idea in a drawer. We didn’t really have a story. It was kind of a gimmick. And it wasn’t until 2013 or 2014 that we just started talking about, what if there was this family that’s living on a farm, and everything looks perfect and idyllic and you start to realize, wait, there’s soundproofing. They’re communicating with hand signals, and all of a sudden they’re playing monopoly, and the little boy knocks this thing over and you hear this creature roar.
We just started talking ideas about this, and we were like, “Maybe that’s our silent film idea? Maybe that’s the thing we’ve been talking about for a long time.” It just kind of congealed.
Scott Beck: It was always Days of Heaven meets Alien. That’s we keep comparing it to.
Scott Menzel: It’s just fantastic. It really is.
Scott Beck: Thank you.
Scott Menzel: I rarely get excited about genre movies, because I just feel like they’re a dime a dozen nowadays. However, last year we had Get Out, and Jordan Peele is a comedian who turned into a genre filmmaker and that’s what I am sort of seeing here.
What was it like working with John? Not only as a director but as an actor and did he help a little bit with writing the script or tweaking the script a little bit?
Scott Beck: Yeah, as a director he was able to inject his own personality into it. Very much, when he got the script, he became a dad shortly before that and that was a really important aspect, in terms of having someone that understands what it’s like to be a parent and how that injects fear into every single day of your life. Not to mention, now you’re putting the story in a post-apocalyptic setting, so now that fear is even more heightened.
But I know for us, John was an unusual choice, because he had come off The Hollars and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Movies that are straight character dramas, and you don’t know exactly what he is going to deliver in terms of a genre film. But, as we saw at the screening it plays so well and he did an incredible job with the film.
Scott Menzel: Paramount’s going to be coming to you guys for more movies; I will tell you that. They’ve taken a lot of risks lately including Annihilation and Mother! which were both really good. Those two films were kind of like indie movies that they gave a big budget. But, the end result hasn’t been too great at the box office. And then they’ve had a couple of other movies that have not done well at all and weren’t very good. However, this is destined to be a hit.
Scott Beck: Thank you.
Bryan Woods: Appreciate that.
Scott Beck: That’s interesting that because you talk about those having indie sensibilities. That again was very much where A Quiet Place was born, where it was written for something that, if nobody wanted to touch it, we’ll just go back to our home state of Iowa, shoot this for 100 grand and just try to make an interesting low budget film. But the fact that all the pieces came together the way it did was something totally unexpected, but we’re really thankful to Paramount for actually having the balls to put that money behind this project.
Bryan Woods: Yeah, and I have to say it’s such an honor to have a big studio release a movie like this in a big, big way. They’ve been really supportive of the film, because as much as we love superheroes, and as much as we love sequels and remakes we are a little tired of it and we would love to see more fresh ideas. Those are the movies that we grew up loving and are honestly honored just to be able to try to contribute something that’s a little outside the realm of superhero remakes, sequels, et cetera.
Scott Menzel: Kind of going off that, how big of a laugh did you guys have when the rumors started happening online that this was another Cloverfield movie?
Scott Beck: It was funny to us and we kept seeing that on Twitter and wondered should we just respond and put it to bed. We were like, “No, just let it run rampant and it will hopefully die.” It’s weird though because we’re in this state of culture where a movie has to fit into a box. It has to be the next Cloverfield movie. And when you really break that down, what does that even mean? Does that just mean it’s going to say Cloverfield in the title and that’s the only connection? And so we’re hoping that people are getting to the point where they want more original voices and more original content. That’s our hope.
Bryan Woods: And I have to say when we brought the script to Paramount because we partnered with Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay’s company early on and they had a first look with Paramount. And our thought was, they’re not going to want to make this movie because it’s going to feel like Cloverfield. They already have Cloverfield. And right away we got the sense that the studio was like, “We wanna support this movie as its own thing.” And again, a total honor for us, because we weren’t sure if it was gonna get thrown in with the Cloverfield ‘verse of it all.
Scott Menzel: You can always lie and say it was a part of the universe. No one would ever know.
I point this out in my review. It’s very weird to talk about this because it’s something where that’s such a technical category, and I feel pretentious for bringing up but the sound mixing and sound editing, my God, again, it was just top-notch. thought the use of sound in this movie was fantastic and completely different from other genre films. Did you have a say in that? Did you work with the sound team?
Scott Beck: Yeah, certainly from the script sampling, starting there, that’s where all the sound design, for us really started. Because you have to figure out in terms of the script where the peaks and valleys are. Because it can’t always play at a 10, and it can’t always play at a one, where the audience is sitting in dead silence for half an hour. That’s never going to work.
So, very much from the inception of the idea. Figuring out where the set pieces are, where are the characters interacting, and where do we start to have them start to make a noise and how’s that ratchet up? It’s very much approaching everything with this frame of reference, where it needs to build up to.
Bryan Woods: And by the way, the script looks like no other script you’ve ever read. We would shrink text when we wanted it to be quiet. We would blow it up when we wanted it to be loud. There would be pages in the script that literally just had one word on it. And it was just “Ouch.” We knew what we wanted that to feel like. For example, when she steps on the nail, we knew that was going to be a big moment and wanted to punctuate it.
Scott Beck: For the Monopoly scene we have an actual Monopoly board image in the script. It was very, very different, but we felt that when you have pretty much zero dialogue in the film, you need to convey it somewhat visually and so it feels like a movie when you’re reading the script.
Scott Menzel: That was interesting because that was going be my next question. When you wrote the script for this it must have been different because 85% of this movie contains zero dialogue. It’s all body language, sign language, and facial mannerisms.
Since you just answered that, were you surprised by how well these actors were able to bring that all to life?
Scott Beck: Yeah, certainly. To back up for a second, the scriptwriting process evolved in a way where the very first draft had only three words in the film. So we were trying something very sparse and it expanded just a little bit, but it still works so well in terms of the non-verbal communication and that’s one thing we feel very fortunate for, is having such incredible cast coming on board.
You don’t really have to worry about them interpreting the material. You’re just on cruise control. They’re able to interpret that material as some of the most talented actors I’ve ever worked with
Bryan Woods: I think it was a fun challenge for everybody. Both of us as writers and the cast as actors. How do you convey story, character, motivation without dialogue? Without people saying “Well I feel hungry today so I’m going to get… ” You don’t have the usual crutches that you have on other films by not having dialogue. It was always fun to… How do you communicate these emotions and these ideas? How do you give context to what’s happening in the world without dialogue?
The actors did a beautiful job and I know in the writing process we were just like, “Can we pull this off?” The very first draft of the script was actually a really short proof of concept. Just to see if we could even do it. How do you answer these questions that the audience will have? And it just kind of grew from there.
Scott Menzel: I think what’s also fascinating about the film is that it turns the whole genre on its head in terms of sound. And what I mean by that is, in most movies critics and audiences complain “there are too many jump scares, there are too many loud noises.” You know what I mean? But in this movie, it’s the complete opposite. You’re sitting there, and it’s so quiet and then all of a sudden, when a loud noise hits you’re like, “Oh my God” and it’s so freaking effective. Every single time. I think everyone who was involved with this movie did an incredible job of bringing your vision to life.
In terms of the casting, obviously when you get John on board as director and he signs on to be the lead. How thrilled were you to get Emily Blunt who kicked ass, and I mean, honestly those two kids are just outstanding. I remember Noah Jupe was in Wonder and Suburbicon with a terrific performance in both films. And Millicent Simmonds blew me away in Wonderstruck and she is just as incredible in this film.
Bryan Woods: Oh my gosh, yeah. Perfect cast, perfect cast. When we first sat down with Platinum Dunes, before we had got to any cast, it was just a script and a movie we wanted to make. They were like, “Who do you guys imagine playing the wife/mom character?” And we were throwing out names, and we were like, “Emily Blunt would be great. We’re not going to get her, obviously. But that’s the archetype of who we’re thinking of.” And they’re like “Totally, we see that.”
So it’s a complete surprise when John came on board and then he brings Emily in. It was a huge honor. And then Milli and Noah as you just pointed out, they’re so great in movies that came out a year ago. They’re such accomplished actors already.
Scott Beck: One thing that we really loved is the idea that the young girl is actually deaf in the script. And the fact that Milli is deaf in real life lends such credibility and beauty to that role and something that I don’t think any other actress could have brought, without having that life experience. To really imbue that character with the reality of her situations.
Scott Menzel: It’s a level of authenticity that you would never have gotten if you tried to use an actor who wasn’t actually deaf.
Bryan Woods: Totally.
Scott Menzel: It was so awkward at the premiere when Janet was trying to give her a mic at the Q&A. They must have totally forgotten about that.
Scott Beck: She’s got a great sense of humor too.
Scott Menzel: She does and she’s so intelligent. I’m really blown away by her talent and overall persona.
Let me see. There were a few other things that I wanted to ask. Were there any scenes in particular that were cut from the script?
Scott Beck: There’s always some casualties. There’s a lake scene that I’m thinking of.
Bryan Woods: I don’t want to spoil but there’s a couple of set pieces that were not in the finished movie, that was in the script, that should definitely be in the sequel if we’re ever lucky enough to have one because it’s such a fun world to play with. With sound, there are so many cool things you can do. We have a few other ideas, I guess is what I’m trying to say.
Scott Menzel: I had a hard time reviewing this movie because I didn’t want to spoil anything. But I will say that there’s this scene with Millicent as well as John, where sign language is involved and there’s a goodbye involved and that hit me emotionally. It was very emotional and just phenomenal. If you guys were responsible for writing that, kudos for such a beautiful and powerful scene.
Scott Beck: Yeah, that’s something that we always want to inject into any genre piece that we’re writing, we want some sort of humanity in the characters. For us, the family dynamic and that ending that you’re talking about was one of the very first things that we ever devised, because if you’re making a movie, you need to make it about something. It can’t just be cheap jump scares, it can’t be a silent film gimmick. It needs to have a relatability quality and that’s been paramount for us.
Scott Menzel: Going back to the beginning of this interview where we were talking about the genre, John is known for his smaller films and honestly, they haven’t done all that great. And I feel they haven’t really done that great because I feel like they’re for a really specific and small audience.
And with this movie, I feel you really nailed the family dynamic. It could be one of those things where it was just the perfect pairing. Where you really feel for this family, right from the very beginning and the way that the film opens. You immediately have a reason to care. When I was watching the film I was like “What is happening to this family? What’s going to happen next?” And you’re immediately hooked.
And then you add the element of Emily Blunt’s character being pregnant plus the family trying to survive. It’s just all around great suspense and writing. I mean it.
Scott Beck: Thank you so much.
Scott Menzel: I honestly think you’re going to get asked to do a sequel to this but it appears, you guys already have two other projects lined up. While I know they are probably hush-hush, can you talk a little bit about them?
Scott Beck: What we’re working on right now, we’re actually in the editing room on our next film, Haunt, that we wrote and we directed. Eli Roth is actually a producer on the project, which has been a really fun collaboration. And that film we’re hoping to have ready in the next couple of months. But, it should be very scary. Again, it should have a very emotional character throughline.
We keep talking about trying to make the scariest Halloween movie possible, but by the end of the film, if we do our jobs right, having people leaving the movie theater in tears. It’s a really big challenge for us, but we hope we pull it off.
Bryan Woods: It’s just like A Quiet Place. We love being able to mix the genres. Scare people, but also move them. And make sure that the stories are a metaphor for something. They’re not just about scaring the crap out of people.
Scott Beck: Yeah, but to be honest, the one thing that we’re really excited about next is just writing this new original script, because for us it always comes down to original ideas. And we want to follow up A Quiet Place with something, not necessarily in the exact same vein, but something that hopefully breaks through the noise of all the content that we’re constantly consumed by and hopefully break something new open.
Scott Menzel: Honestly, you know who you guys remind me of? David Sandberg.
Scott Beck Oh, thank you.
Scott Menzel: Because he did a couple of little short films and then he came out of the gate with Lights Out which again, the way that he did that using light and all those sound effects were just incredible. Then, after that first Annabelle movie was not good, he turned it around with Annabelle: Creation and added in the house and those unique settings. It’s kind of funny because I see a lot of his vision in your writing, which is a great company to have. Maybe you will direct a superhero movie as well at some point, or at least write one.
Scott Beck: We’ll see, we’ll see.
Bryan Woods: We’ll jot one down some day.
Scott Menzel: What is your dream in this business? In terms of obviously this movie doing well, and becoming big and then your next project taking off. I think with Roth being part of it, maybe Blumhouse will pick it up but what would be your dream project? Is there a dream project that you would want to work on and who would that be with?
Scott Beck: That’s a great question. I would even say this next project that we’re writing, which we can’t say anything about yet, but that would be our dream project because it invokes something from our childhood. One of our very favorite films from our childhood and bridges it into a completely new context. But, I don’t know, if we can make that movie and get Tom Cruise in it. Let’s say that. That would be the dream project.
Scott Menzel: Awesome. Well, congratulations again guys.
Scott Beck: Thank you so much. Thanks for talking to us.
Scott Menzel: My pleasure, I really look forward to talking to you guys again in the future.
Scott Beck: Yeah, for sure. Hopefully for Haunt.
Scott Menzel: Yes, fingers crossed.
Bryan Woods: Thank you again for talking with us.
Scott Menzel: Absolutely great have a great day.