Platinum Dunes producers discuss the rare opportunity (and excitement) of making John Krasinski and Emily Blunt's A Quiet Place.
Producers Andrew Form and Bradley Fuller had never seen a horror screenplay like A Quiet Place before, which is saying something. After all, the duo makes up two-thirds of Platinum Dunes’ founding triumvirate—the other being Michael Bay—and they’ve previously produced The Purge films, Ouja: Origin of Evil, and a number of the defining horror remakes of the last few decades, including Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2006) and Friday the 13th (2009). Yet, even by its name, A Quiet Place was a different animal altogether.
Clocking in at only 67 pages, the first draft of the script by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck more than just subverted the Hollywood rule that one page equals one minute of screentime; it obliterated it by being nearly 30 pages shy of the 90-page minimum associated with feature length. And even then the page count was deceptive.
“The script was very unique just in format,” Andrew Form tells Den of Geek during a sunny Manhattan morning sitdown. “Because they had maps in the script of the farm, and little grids. And there would be three pages that were a countdown; like three was the only number on the page, two, one, and then you turn.” As such, it was not a traditional script at all, but a blueprint for one of the more daring and original horror thrillers in recent years. And, again, given the state of recent high-quality horror movies, that’s saying something too.
A Quiet Place, which had its world premiere at SXSW, is a challenging and exciting experiment in dread, and one in which John Krasinski, who directed and wrote the final draft of the film, reinvents his wholesome image by spearheading a film in which he portrays a man desperately trying to provide for his family without ever saying a word…. Because to even cry for those he’s already lost would invite doom.
Set in a sparse and tense setting in which an unnamed alien species has destroyed the world, to make noise is to beckon these inexplicable blind demons with their super-sonic hearing to your doorstep. Hence why Krasinski’s Lee and his wife Evelyn, played by Krasinski’s real-life wife, Emily Blunt, try to keep everyone silent, be it their already deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), their very hearing-attuned son Marcus (Noah Jupe)… or the soon-to-be born child that Blunt’s Evelyn is happily carrying to term.
During out lengthy interview with Form and Fuller, we discuss the originality of the concept, how Krasinski came aboard and then subtly hinted that Emily Blunt would be interested in the other lead role, as well as how they prepared the whole cast to learn sign language almost as well as young Millicent Simmonds, who after last year’s Wonderstruck, again proves to be a wordless revelation in a movie where she has an advantage over the rest of her family in staying alive.
We even discuss why horror movies are suddenly in a seeming renaissance.
What what was it like when the conversations of this first began, and people were saying, “Okay, we’re going to do a horror movie with almost no dialogue?”
Bradley Fuller: You know we haven’t talked about this, but there’s someone we really should give credit to, and that’s Marc Evans. Marc was the head of Paramount, he was the President of Paramount when we made the movie, and he was just a big advocate for it. He engaged in making the decision to put John as the director and the star and all that, and we had real support at Paramount through him. At the end of the day, it was just a great piece of material that everyone responded to and just said we got to jump head first into this.
Andrew Form: That’s kind of how we felt when we read The Purge. The first time we ever read the script for The Purge, we kind of looked at each other like, “Really? Alright.” This is one of those where it’s either going to be here or here, and we loved that. I think when we read A Quiet Place, we had such a similar response, because we are definitely guilty of making lots of sequels, prequels, and remakes as a company, so finding original material has always been a challenge.
So, when we found Purge, we jumped on it, and when we found this one we thought this was the most original and high-concept idea for a genre film. It is needed today in a world where there are so many flooding the market with these genre films that you can see on streaming services, you can watch on your phone. How do you make a movie theatrical? And we felt like when we read this script, this has such a big opportunity to be a theatrical experience, because like you said, there is literally no dialogue in the movie, and sound is so important. Which for me, in the way theaters are built today, if we can crack that, wow, wouldn’t that be an experience for an audience.
When John sent you the script, if he was the one who sent you the script, did you know what it was going in, or did you just read it cold?
BF: No, the script came to us through our agency.
AF: It was a spec script that [Scott] Beck and [Bryan] Woods had written. And they just said it was a cool idea for a movie, and when the script showed up, I still read my scripts on paper, and so it was like, I think, 67 pages. And the script was very unique just in format, because they had maps in the script of the farm and little grids. And there would be three pages that were a countdown, like three was the only number on the page, two, one, and then you turn. So, it was a different read that way, and it was only 67 pages. So, even when we looked at it, we were like, “What is this?” Then you start going through it and you’re like, “Oh my God, there’s no dialogue.” You’re just going through it, because most scripts are 90 to 95 to 115 in a page count, so yes.
It did not play to the one page per minute rule.
AF: It did not play to that at all, and we even said, “I wonder what this thing times out at, who the hell knows?” But it timed out fine, and we just did a press conference, and John even said, one of the amazing things is we did not cut one scene from the movie.
BF: I guess that’s true.
AF: We have shortened scenes of course, but every scene is in the movie. There are no deleted scenes, and Paramount even said for the home video release and all that, “Do we have deleted scenes?” and I’m like, “We don’t. We can extend some of the scenes, but there are no deleted scenes, everything’s in the movie.”
Well, when John did come aboard, did he always have Emily in mind to play his wife?
AF: If he did he never told us. When he came onboard, he came on board to play the character of Lee and to take a pass at the script and direct, and then Emily came after.
BF: Yeah, he had rewritten the draft, but he had always said to us, “I’m going to get you guys a fantastic actress. He always said that, he never said who, but he said, “I’m going to get you someone special.” And with John… You just follow him into battle, he’s just—you just follow him and that’s what we do.
So, he had something in mind, but he was waiting to bring you along on that.
BF: Yes, for sure.
Well I think it’s a boom to the movie, because I think it creates obviously such a shorthand with audience, their intimacy. For example, I thought a really tender scene is the scene with them and the earbuds.
AF: Yeah, the dancing.
Could you talk a little bit about that and how scenes like that came about in the movie?
AF: Well, he wrote that scene and he wrote [the song] “Harvest Moon” in the script, and the amazing thing about that is “Harvest Moon” is a very expensive Neil Young song, and this is a lower budget movie, which did not have a music budget for a song like that. But that song meant so much to John, and the first time I read the script it was in there. So you’re picturing “Harvest Moon,” and if you didn’t know it, you would play it, just because that’s what I do. I want to see the music that’s in the filmmaker’s head and he would not stop until we got that song, and he’s like, “Who do I need to talk to?” And sure enough, it’s in the movie.
And that scene was so important for him, to have the moment where you see the two of them connect or not connect, depending on how you’re looking at that moment when they’re dancing and the look on her face, the look on his face to really see the baby in a real way for the first time. You see that she’s pregnant earlier in the film, but this is like the real moment where they’re together.
Because earlier Emily was saying, they’re not in the movie together that much. They are separated a lot of the film, and that was one of the key moments where, because after that he kind of goes off and they separate for the whole rest of the movie, and I guess that’s a spoiler but they don’t connect again.
They only have two scenes, really, and only one of them with dialogue.
One of the things I really liked about this movie is that it leaves audiences to figure things out for themselves. It’s never explicitly stated, non-verbally or otherwise, the danger of her being pregnant, but you see she’s pregnant and then you see the due date, and it’s just impending dread. Could you talk about either if there was either trepidation or excitement about making such an intelligent horror film for audiences to figure things out?
BF: We know our audience, we’ve been doing this for a long time, and I think that we pay attention to what our audience is telling us, whether it be Twitter, hanging up on me when I call, emails but the fact is…
AF: Or just screening our movies and hearing what people say about them.
BF: We’ve been hearing, “I don’t want explanation.” We’ve been hearing it for a long time, so this movie you can’t give it because you can’t speak, so you’re kind of limited. So the understanding that our audience is smarter than a lot of people give them credit for, and then that the fact that you can’t explain a lot of the things that are happening, those two things added up to the way you describe it. We certainly had discussions. Do we have to explain the aliens? Do we have to say did she get pregnant before or after?
For us her getting pregnant is a real character thing. She has hope for the future. She got pregnant because she believes that something will happen and it feels like, to me at least, and I’m not speaking for Drew, John is not in the same place as she is on that. I think that he just wants to provide for his family and so.
AF: Yeah, he’s just trying to survive. She’s not giving up, and that’s why for me the homeschooling scene is so important, because she is still teaching and she is all about thriving. I mean they talk about it all the time, John and Emily, but the thriving versus surviving, and she’s not giving up at all, and yeah she’s bringing another baby into the world. They’re not quitting.
I also wanted to bring up what were some of your influences, genre, otherwise on this because I think I saw several and wanted to hear your thoughts.
BF: Well, you did. Jaws is all throughout this. John has referenced Jaws the whole time. E.T., all those movies that old guys like us grew up with. Well, John’s not old, but Drew and I are. Those movies are what kind of motivated this concept. On some level I feel Close Encounters in a weird way, just in terms of that the lead character is obsessed with something, and everyone around him isn’t the same way about it. He’s trying to communicate and not doing it.
AF: Alien we talked about, of course. We have a creature in the movie and there is a show down. But what did you see in there?
I saw Spielberg as well, Jaws, Jurassic Park even a little. And I also wanted to ask about a Hitchcock influence because obviously I felt like the shower was a bit of a call back.
AF: Oh, that’s interesting. We never really talked about it.
BF: Well, Hitchcock was the master of the bomb under the table, and that’s what this whole movie is, really. Instead of a bomb under a table, it’s an alien outside your house, and the tension of what will happen when those things—so yes, all those things.
The baby is the bomb in a way.
BF: Yes, I guess that’s true. Oh, we’re going to talk about that. We’re going to Wesley to talk about, the baby’s the bomb! I’m stealing that from you. I’ll send you a buck when I do it. [Laughs]
AF: Like the day we shot the baby with the box was one of the harder days on the set, because that box was real. I mean, everything’s real there. With the oxygen and the mask and everything.
Very short take.
AF: Short take and so effective, and the idea that the thought they put into it. That to try to build that safe room and try to get ready for what they knew was coming no matter what. The birth, the crying, it was all, obviously, supposed to take place in that room. She just didn’t make it, but I really love those little touches in the movie.
I also wanted to talk about Millicent because I thought she was the best thing in Wonderstruck and she’s so good here. Was the character always deaf or was that something you added?
BF: Always deaf. I’m not so sure that Drew, Michael, and I would have come to the conclusion we’re going to cast a deaf actress. That was John who said “We are definitely casting a deaf actress and this is who we’re getting.”
AF: Yup, it was all John.
Had he seen Wonderstruck?
AF: We had seen scenes of Wonderstruck.
BF: Yeah, it hadn’t come out. Same casting director. We hired Laura Rosenthal who had cast Wonderstruck, and they had gotten us a couple of scenes, and then she put herself on tape from her house in Utah, and I was almost in tears at her audition.
AF: That should be on the DVD.
BF: Her audition?
AF: Yeah. It’s great.
BF: It’s great. It really is.
Could you talk about the process of preparing scenes, rehearsing scenes with this cast because, obviously, she is fluent in sign language, and I assume most everyone else had to learn it for the film.
BF: We had hired two people. There was a gentleman, an ASL expert. Douglas [Ridloff], who would teach the sign language to the actors. So for the scenes where you saw John, Emily or Noah [Jupe], we’d put himself on video and everyone could watch the videos and he was always there on set. Because every once in a while on a movie, maybe there’s a change in dialogue, but you can’t just say it so you have to learn the sign language like on the spot, so we had Douglas there. And then we had Lynette who was Millicent’s translator who was there the entire time.
I was not part of rehearsals, the actors did that by themselves, and I know that she had her translator there with her the entire time, but they were so good at picking up the signing. Even people who worked on the movie started to learn signing or communicating with Millicent very easily, so it was pretty amazing to watch.
One of the striking things about this movie is, again going back to Hitchcock, the whole thing is shot in such an idyllic place, and that’s where the dread comes in. The monster coming into Americana. Could you talk about where you filmed it and what you were looking for?
BF: It was always a farm in the screenplay, and we wanted to shoot it in New York. We were trying to find a place in upstate New York, and the search was on to try to find a barn and a house. It was always written that way and you wanted them linked somehow, and then the cornfield and everything. We had gotten some location photos, we were shooting Jack Ryan in Montreal, and John and I flew down from Montreal to New York, and in the snow we scouted this location. Very old barn, old house that no one had lived in for a long time, and he started walking around the property, and it was literally right out of the script.
It was one of the rare times I’ve ever seen that in a movie we’ve worked on where everyone who came to the set thought that you found the location first and then you wrote the script, even though it was the opposite. So it was always written that way. We got so lucky, and all the lights and everything worked out perfectly. The proximity from the house to the barn, it was just one of those things where it just worked and we literally, it was in January in the snow. We had never even seen a cornfield.
The silo, that we built. That wasn’t there. We had to build the silo, the repair shop, we planted all that corn; nothing was there. All we had was the barn and the house, but you saw the movie. It was just one of those magical locations that we found. When we finally saw it without snow, we were like, “Oh wow, it’s even better than we thought.” Because we had only seen it in snow.
AF: But bad cell coverage. There was no cell coverage.
How perfect for a horror movie.
BF: Yes. [Laughs]
AF: By the way, we love that in horror movies. When there’s no technology, it always works.
BF: Always the issue.
AF: “Just pick up the phone!”
That did remind me, the silo scene was just so effective. It did feel like, to me, John really kind of distilled several scenarios to kind of their essence of dread, and it’s like an entirely different horror feeling to me than much of the rest of the movie but I just really liked that sequence.
AF: Inside the silo?
BF: That was John’s thing, and I remember reading it the first time and saying to Drew, “I don’t understand what’s happening here.” And Drew said, “Well, call John and tell him.” So, I called John and I said, “John, I don’t understand it. I really don’t.” He goes, “Well, I’ll try to make it more clear but you don’t have to worry. I know exactly what the scene is. It’s in my head and it’s going to be great.” And you know it, on some level you just kind of buy in and he was right.
Also how did the monster designs come about?
AF: It was a long process. I mean, obviously, the ears and the hearing was what was driving the design, and the amazing thing, the positives and negatives of working within the CG-world are, the negative is your creature’s not on set. The positive is your creature’s not on set, which allows you to design. So as long as you have plates and you have your emotion capture actor, you can continue to design and eventually, hopefully, get to a place where that creature’s going to be put into the movie so it does give you a little more time.
Of course, for your actors and everything you’re filming, there’s no one there so you have lots of scenes with plates and there’s no creature. But we started early in pre-production, or even before pre-production in development, we wanted to know what the creature would look like, hired artists. Luckily ILM came onto this movie. Our company has worked with them many, many times and Scott Farrar, who is one of the best in the entire world, has been nominated for Oscars, did the last five Transformers, the five Transformers movies.
He loved the material and he’s like, “I’m up for this challenge.” Because we played the game, we don’t have any money, it’s a low budget movie, but we need your level of quality. This movie is in need of it, and it was one of those things where one day you’d get a design and go, “That’s not it.” Then we thought we had it, and something happened where we’re all just kind of looking at it, and it’s just pictures; it’s just drawings, and it’s not working. And then after that day, it became the creature you’re seeing in the movie. But it was a long process. It was not like in pre-production we had it, it was on the wall and that’s our creature. He changed.
I think this is one of the better horror movies I’ve seen in the last few years, but we’ve had, I’d say in the last five years, a lot of really good horror movies, and I feel like that’s not always the case. I was curious why you think the genre is kind if thriving right now?
BF: Well, I think that there are people who otherwise might not get a chance to make a movie. I don’t know who would be giving Jordan Peele a movie. Horror lends itself to talented people stepping in and making their first movie in that world, because it’s not that expensive for the most part, and you can elicit an emotional response from an audience without spending hundreds of millions of dollars, and I think that people like Jordan Peele and John Krasinski, who no one would ever think of having them direct a movie outside their genre, they come into something, come into horror with something to prove, and they’re given more leeway. And we as horror producers have to challenge ourselves not to do Ten Little Indians, who are getting picked off, and the cell phone’s not working, and they can’t get in touch with someone.
So those two things, you’re having new blood come into it that hasn’t been doing it and at the same time, we feel the fatigue of audiences with five kids getting killed. I mean, we’ve killed a lot of kids in basements. [Laughs] A lot. And we challenged ourselves to come up with something different, and if we’re doing that, then I know [Jason] Blum is doing it, because we worked with Blum, and we know what’s going on in his head. So we all want to make it better; we love the genre. It’s not a throwaway for us, it’s important. So if we can elevate it then that’s what we try to do.
AF: And it also seems like for the first time in a long time, the quality of the movies is really starting to matter, especially in the horror genre. And people are looking at reviews and they really are doing their homework before they would rush out and just [say], “Yeah, the trailer looks scary. Let’s go see that movie.”
It seems like there’s so much content now everywhere, especially in this genre, that people are a little more hesitant on their choices if they’re going to go to the theaters and spend the money.