Writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods Make Noise With “A Quiet Place,” Years After All the Agencies Passed On Them

Beck and Woods A Quiet PlaceGetty Images

It’s opening day of A Quiet Place and writers and are doing their best not to freak out after one of their idols, Stephen King, took to Twitter to call their film “an extraordinary piece of work.” They fail miserably. “You were a massive inspiration for this film. If we were living in the world of [A Quiet Place], we would be dead right now from loudly reacting to your gracious praise.”

King is hardly alone in his opinion, of course, as A Quiet Place currently boasts a 96 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Now, I’m not an accredited critic on Rotten Tomatoes, so I’ll use this space to affirm that A Quiet Place is the best film to be released in theaters this year. And that is exactly where you should see it. In a dark theater with great sound and an audience so silent that you can hear a pin drop. There’s a reason our critic Drew McWeeny called the film “a thrilling communal experience.” Perhaps that explains why the film is beating expectations with an impressive opening weekend between $40 million and $50 million.

John Krasinski steps into the big leagues here as a director, and I imagine he’ll be getting plenty of offers from studios impressed with the modestly-budgeted film’s box office performance. Krasinski also shares screenwriting credit with Beck and Woods, who maintain a solo story credit, having written the original screenplay several years ago, when they’d planned to direct it themselves. Of course, that was before the unconventional, dialogue-lite script began making noise in Hollywood circles, attracting the attention of both Krasinski and his wife, A-list actress Emily Blunt. They play parents who must go to great lengths to keep their children safe from monsters that are sensitive to sound.

Here, Beck and Woods share the story of how A Quiet Place came together so quickly, and everything that went into writing this modern horror classic, which is truly terrifying. Enjoy our chat below, and again, don’t miss this one in theaters. It’s well worth both your time and the trip.

Let’s start with where you guys are from and how you know each other.

: Bryan and I go back 22 years, actually. We first met as little kids in Iowa. We were just sitting at the same lunch table and found out we were both making stop-motion movies with our action figures, and we decided to join forces. So that’s really the origin. We go back quite some time.

: Yeah, in middle school and certainly in high school, Scott and I would make movies together. Our thing would be like, I’d write a movie and Scott would produce it, and then Scott would write a movie and I would produce it. We just kind of shared duties and learned together, and went from there. We would do our version of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie — no budget, as high schoolers, with no life experience. Just making terribly ambitious movies that were horrible, but also helpful, in a way.

Scott: We were kids in the summer and winter of 1999, which was that huge banner year when you had Magnolia and Fight Club and American Beauty and The Sixth Sense. That was the point where we were really driven to pursue film seriously, so we feel really fortunate to have grown up in that era, which inspired us so much.

Explain the genesis of this idea and how you first came up with it.

Bryan: We were in college at the University of Iowa, and we were kind of immersing ourselves in a lot of silent films, whether it was mainstream hits like Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, or our personal favorite, Jacques Tati, who did these amazing silent films in France. What was interesting about that period in silent film is that it was post-silent film. There were sound effects and music, but there wasn’t really dialogue. We just kept thinking, how cool would it be to do a silent film with that aesthetic, where it’s just pure cinema, and all about what you see versus what you hear, but do it in a genre context, like in the context of an Alien or Jaws.

Scott: That was around 2012-2013, after we had shot this film Nightlight. We were thinking, what’s the next project? We were partly inspired by our upbringing in Iowa, where you just have this beautiful landscape, and so we thought, what if that’s where the silent film takes place? And what if it’s about an alien coming down and hunting by sound? And everything really snapped together at that point.

Bryan: It’s funny because it was an idea that had been floating around in our minds for a long time, but anytime we pitched it to a producer or an executive, the room would always go ice cold. So we were kind of scared of it. We were like, maybe this isn’t commercial or interesting.

Scott: We started writing the early origins of the script in 2014, and the feature was like, 2015. When you have a script that’s going to be so bizarre — and as Bryan was saying, when we were pitching executives, they said it sounds like it’d be a hard script to read — it’s a challenge, because we had to write the script very cinematically, and envision what it would really be like if it was onscreen. How do we make it enjoyable for people to watch so that this weird idea could get made into a movie?

You guys have full story credit here and share screenplay credit with your director and star, John Krasinski. What did he add or cut out of the script once he came on board?

Scott: What’s been great about this process is that when he came on board as a director, he also came on board as a parent, and the movie is very much about family. So that was one asset that he was certainly bringing to the table to lend the project a little more authenticity, in terms of putting his own fatherhood onscreen.

Bryan: I think any good director coming onto a project has to make it at least somewhat personal. They have to make it their own in order to communicate that story. So I feel like, when we look at the finished project and we look at the work John did, I think it’s slightly more personal for him, but it’s a healthy marriage.

Scott: It’s cool to see the family dynamic, the set pieces, all of those things from the original draft in the finished film. But as a director, John lends certain visual flourishes to it, such as incorporating the sand paths, for instance, and just thinking through the process of what this family would actually have to do if they lived in this environment, and thinking very much visually. A lot of that stuff was a great asset to have in the process.

It can always be a bit dicey when real life couples work together, but when John said his wife Emily Blunt was interested, I imagine a big star like her represented a major coup for this project, no?

Scott: Oh, she was a huge coup. I remember when Bryan and I got the phone call from our agents that John had read the script and he flipped for it, and he had shown it to Emily and she’d flipped for it, and they had the DP of The Girl on the Train, Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Hearing that all of those pieces were able to snap together so quickly was like a fever dream. We never thought that this project, which had such an odd gimmick, at least in our minds, could become a giant studio movie. That was never, ever on the table when we were first coming up with this concept.

Bryan: I want to say that even when we met with Platinum Dunes early on about the script, before we had even decided to go with them, we were just kind of meeting them because we knew that they loved the script, so we were talking very prematurely about who we would cast and what the ideal person for each role would be. Immediately, we were all thinking that Emily Blunt would be a great comp for that role, like the absolute A-list version of that. We thought, we’ll never get her, but that’s the idea, the dream, the benchmark. So it’s completely surreal that it actually came together that way.

This project seems to have been made on an accelerated timeline, because it came together really quickly, from the first casting announcement to actually being in theaters. Are you aware of how lucky you are to have had this kind of experience?

Scott: Of course, yeah. We’ve been through so many processes in the film industry, where you’re on a project for years, and then it just fizzles out and disappears into the ether. It’s incredible rare, and I don’t know what the reasoning behind it is. I guess it’s that old thing about persistence and opportunity meeting luck, and I feel like that’s been the key for us.

Bryan: I feel very, very lucky, absolutely.

A Quiet Place JKParamount Pictures

What’s your working dynamic like? Is one of you better at dialogue, and the other is better at structure? Describe your collaboration.

Bryan: Totally. Because we came up writing our own stuff individually before realizing that we just needed to join forces in the early days, Scott and I can do everything solo if we wanted to. We can each write dialogue, we can each do story structure, etc. What our process is, and I think what makes it special, is that healthy competition — knowing that if I send a piece of writing over to Scott, he’s going to read it and most likely, his reaction is going to be ‘meh,’ and then he’ll take a pass and send it back, and I’ll read it and say ‘it’s alright, but what if we try this?’ So it’s just this healthy competition where we’re always trying to push each other to do our best work. The other thing that comes from that that’s really special is, it’s very easy to be precious about your own writing. It’s easy to think, ‘that’s working, that’s really nice,’ but when you write something with somebody else, you never really feel precious about it. It always feel like it’s just the work and we’re always just trying to make the work as good as it can be, and it’s never good enough. That’s kind of how we feel.

Scott: Going back to the competition thing, that very much found its way into the inception of A Quiet Place, because at first, it was just an idea that we were throwing around. The idea of, well, that’s a gimmick if it’s just a silent film, so what’s really going to drive the narrative? We were challenging each other to come up with some sort of emotional through line, and basing it essentially around a family is what I think elevates the film from being “just” a horror film to hopefully being a film that can really find a large audience.

With regards to that emotional through line, talk about the theme of guilt here stemming from the opening scene and John’s inability to communicate his feelings to his daughter. How did you layer those themes in to, as you said, elevate this from a creature feature to a touching family drama?

Scott: First and foremost, in terms of theme, the nascent idea came from being able to protect your children, or the idea of inability to, and I think that was something I personally was confronting during the writing process, because I was thinking about becoming a dad. So there was that fear of, once this kid is out in the world, how do you protect them every single second that they’re alive? So it was about incorporating that idea into a genre context and the larger idea of this post-apocalyptic world.

Bryan: Another thing we talked a lot about thematically was how, yeah, it’s interesting that these characters can’t talk, because if they talk they die, because it’s a dangerous world out there, but we also thought it would be a little more universal if the reason this family can’t talk is because of a tragedy that they’ve suffered amongst themselves. In other words, if this event wasn’t happening, and there weren’t monsters out there that were killing people who were making sounds, this family still wouldn’t be communicating with each other because they have unresolved problems. And once we connected that idea to the idea of, well what happens if the whole movie builds up to the father speaking to his family and telling him what they’ve most craved to hear, then we thought maybe that would be powerful. Maybe that would be special. So that’s what we were going for.

A lot of aspiring writers read our site, and I’m sure they’d love to know… how did you land your reps at ICM and Madhouse?

Bryan: We still feel like the aspiring writers sometimes!

Scott: I think the key ingredient is just making your own opportunities, and by that I mean, the very first person we ever signed with was Ryan Cunningham at Madhouse Entertainment, who we signed with because we made a short film back in Iowa. We were frustrated that we were writing scripts for a few years and nothing was being made or produced.

Bryan: Before we signed with Ryan, we were just out of college and we were in L.A. and we had all these scripts and we were taking meetings with all these agencies like CAA and ICM and all these other people at the time, and they all passed on us! All in one week! It was like, wow, that was fast, I guess we didn’t make it! So after being sad about it for a day, we’re like, what can we do to be proactive here? And that’s when we kind of buckled down and we made this short film back in Iowa.

Scott: That got us our manager, and then in terms of signing with an agency, we wrote a script called Nightlight, which ended up selling and which we directed, and that was when the agencies started calling us versus us trying to knock down their doors. It was just one of those things that comes back to persistence. You can’t just sit around and wait for people to call, you have to really take your love of filmmaking and make something with that, whether that’s writing a script or directing a short film.

Given the way A Quiet Place ends, could you see a potential sequel coming to fruition down the line?

Scott: Our brains start going in many directions, because there are many different stories that could be told with this device and this context. There are certain set pieces that we have discarded in Microsoft Word documents on our computers dating back five years, so we certainly would be open to putting those into something new.

I know you just wrapped your directorial debut Haunt, so what’s next for you?

Scott: We’re currently in post-production on Haunt right now, so we have that going. And then we have a blind deal at Paramount to write and direct another project, so we’re trying to figure out what exactly that might be. But I think what it comes back to is an excitement for original ideas, much in the way that A Quiet Place is an original idea not based on any IP, not based on any superhero movies or comic books. That’s what we want to focus on moving forward.

Having said that, is there a piece of IP that you’d love to take a crack at if you had the chance?

Bryan: There is a very tiny thing that we can’t talk about yet, but hopefully we’ll be able to talk about soon. But as Scott said, our main mandate is doing our damnedest to put cool, new, fresh ideas out into the world, if we’re lucky enough to do so.

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