VULTURE – Since April, media coverage of the Paramount Pictures horror hit A Quiet Place has generally coalesced into two distinct groupings. There are the “Can you believe Jim from The Office made such a good movie?”–type of profiles that came out right around the $17 million film’s release in early April — detailing how John Krasinski surpassed all expectations to co-write, direct, and star in the ecstatically reviewed family drama/monster movie, his first foray into genre fare as either a filmmaker or an actor. Then there are the financial over-performance analyses announcing how A Quiet Place made “noise at the box office,” capturing the top spot in its first and third weekends in theaters, becoming Paramount’s most profitable film since 2015’s Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, and racking up more than $300 million worldwide in less than two months to rank as the year’s third-highest-grossing film and most surprising breakout success.
But to hear it from the filmmakers and production executives who worked behind the scenes to develop the material and guide it through the studio system — namely, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who co-wrote and executive produced A Quiet Place, and Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, co-founders of the production company Platinum Dunes, who produced it — there’s a competing narrative that has received far less media scrutiny. They point out the creative leaps of faith required to make an original film like AQP in modern Hollywood’s risk-phobic, cinematic-universe-obsessed, IP-chasing marketplace, while also laying out all the ways the project could have failed to achieve liftoff.
Containing almost no dialogue, and based on an oddball 67-page screenplay full of maps and diagrams and Photoshopped images, the project was willfully dissimilar to anything coming out of the studios’ major moviemaking pipeline. The writers were actively discouraged from even putting together what some people close to them dismissed as their “silent movie.” Nothing in Krasinski’s filmic oeuvre suggested the affable Everyman actor — whose two previous directorial efforts, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men and The Hollars combined to gross just over $1 million — was even remotely capable of handling the material. Many of the executives who originally gave A Quiet Place the green light were either fired or quit Paramount during a recent regime change — an outcome that has orphaned or derailed many films in the past. Then when the earliest cuts of AQP were first screened at the studio, missing visual-effects shots and incomplete sound design made the movie seem almost incomprehensible, leading some to doubt its commerciality. And it wasn’t until the film premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March that anyone had any inkling it could connect with audiences.
“The movie was risky on every level,” says Form. “You start reading [the script] and go, ‘Oh, there’s no dialogue.’ The idea was so original. And here we are coming to the studio with John: ‘This is the guy we’re betting on to star, write and direct this movie for us. And we’re all in on him! You have to trust us. We’re not going to let you down.’”
Inspired by their love of silent films from the 1920s, Woods and Beck (who co-wrote and directed the 2015 horror-thriller Nightlight and the action-Western The Bride Wore Blood) started writing a spec script in 2016 with almost no spoken lines that would effectively “weaponize” sound design. Plotted around a family struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where predatory creatures with keen hearing but faulty eyesight rampage through the woods, mauling to death anyone unfortunate enough to fall within their earshot, the project proved to initially be a tough sell. “We would pitch it to studio executives that were fans of ours, producers that we had worked with, even close friends, and people would just look at us and their eyes would glaze over,” recalls Woods. “They’d just be like, ‘What are you guys talking about? A movie with no dialogue? I don’t see how that’s a movie. That doesn’t sound very commercial. You should just move past it.’”
But antipathy turned to interest when the writers began circulating a short script utilizing visual cues not commonly found in screenplays. Almost immediately, the project was bought by Platinum Dunes — better known as tentpole-movie director Michael Bay’s production company. “Knowing the last thing anyone behind a desk at Paramount or any other studio wants to receive is a 120-page script with blocks after blocks of description, we appropriated the sparest writing style possible, cribbing off our heroes like Walter Hill and David Giler’s draft of Alien,” says Beck. “We drew pictures into the script. We would literally Photoshop pictures of a Monopoly board for the Monopoly scene in there. We would put in handwriting and newspaper headlines — all these devices that would communicate the future version of the movie that people would see in theaters.”
Platinum Dunes had enjoyed a run of success mounting reboots of classic horror and slasher flicks such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Amityville Horror, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street (as well as its own successful Purge franchise). But the company’s top executives were on the hunt for original material — specifically, a thriller they could produce for under $20 million. “Drew and I have killed more kids in basements than anyone you’ll ever meet,” says Fuller. “That’s what we did for years and years. There’s nothing the matter with it. But it did get kind of boring. We’d be in Starbucks talking about the right way to dismember someone. And people are looking at us like we’re serial killers. By that point, we had made 12 or 13 of those types of movies. We wanted to do something else.”
Given Bay’s long-standing first-look deal with Paramount (the studio is home to his multibillion-dollar grossing Transformers franchise) the Melrose back lot became the producers’ obvious first stop. And while production executives contemplated green-lighting the film, Fuller and Form reached out to Krasinski — who had appeared in Bay’s biographical war drama 13 Hours and was then set to star in the Platinum Dunes–produced Amazon series Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan — offering him the part of A Quiet Place’s male lead. His initial reaction: “Oh man, I don’t do horror movies, so I’m probably not your guy. But if it’s a cool idea …”
A journeyman actor with an eclectic resume, Krasinski has appeared in such movies as 2011’s The Muppets, Sam Mendes’s adaptation of Jarhead, and Cameron Crowe’s Aloha; on the other side of the camera, Krasinski executive produced the Oscar-nominated drama Manchester by the Sea, co-wrote the 2012 drama Promised Land with Matt Damon, and premiered his directorial debut Brief Interviews With Hideous Men at the Sundance Film Festival. But despite a two-decade run in high-profile film and TV projects, Krasinski had struggled to shed his “Jim from The Office” identity.
Within hours of reading the script, the actor began brainstorming a rewrite; his second daughter with wife Emily Blunt had been born three weeks earlier, and the project’s themes of family resonated deeply with him. Ten days later, he called the producers. “‘I’ve got great news for you guys! I’m gonna play the dad,’” Fuller recalls Krasinski saying. “‘Okay, great. We gotta set the movie up.’ He goes, ‘Oh, there’s more. I’m gonna rewrite the script and I’m gonna direct it!’”
Krasinski then proceeded to dazzle the producers with the specificity of his vision for the film: He wanted to remove a flashback sequence in the film’s opening act, planned to cast a deaf actress as his character’s deaf daughter, and promised to deliver an “A-level” actress to portray his character’s pregnant wife. Fuller and Form left the conversation convinced they had found their filmmaker. “The things he wanted to do with the film were smart ideas that we hadn’t come up with,” Fuller says. “And then there was a large meeting where John was going to present his vision of the movie to Marc Evans, [Paramount’s] president of production. As we were walking in, John turns to us and said, ‘By the way, Emily read the script and she said she needs to do the movie.’”
Based on that meeting, Paramount gave the production the go-ahead. And filming took place from May to November 2017 in upstate New York (during Krasinski’s hiatus from filming Jack Ryan). “John was not the obvious choice as director for the film,” says Woods. “But as an actor, he had worked with so many of our favorite directors, he had to have learned something. And we were fans of his earlier work. Even though The Hollars didn’t necessarily imply that he could direct a horror film, he had done some really solid character work in that film we thought would translate.”
Adds Beck: “We’re huge fans of The Office, so it was very flattering!”
But when Krasinski began to screen his initial cut of A Quiet Place, the unfinished film didn’t necessarily scream blockbuster. According to a source close to the production, certain studio executives didn’t like the film. Worse, one of its early champions, Paramount’s president of the motion picture group Marc Evans, had stepped down from his job in September. And amid a mass exodus of top studio executives at Paramount over the last few months, it’s fair to assume his successor Wyck Godfrey did not have the same emotional investment in AQP. (The studio sold the cerebral sci-fi thriller Annihilation to Netflix in February largely because the executives who commissioned that movie no longer worked at Paramount, and the new executives lost faith in the film’s commercial prospects.)
The producers deny there was anything but a positive reaction from Paramount. But they point out that anyone under-awed by Krasinski’s early cuts was likely responding to a lack of computer-generated imagery in the footage — specifically, the monsters were missing from key scenes, draining them of dramatic tension. “There are plates in the movie where you had actors and behind them, nothing, because the creature was going to be put in with CG,” says Form. “So the moment in the cornfield where Regan is bending down and the creature comes up behind her — and you see that the feedback is going from her hearing aid into the creature — that was never in the cut. She just bends down in the cut, grabs her ear and there’s nothing behind her and nothing happens. You have this young girl and something’s bothering her but you have no idea what it is. The minute you get that creature in the shot, you see that they’re connected, it changes the entire movie.”
The writers also point out that early versions of the film lacked the sound design responsible for many of A Quiet Place’s biggest scares. “It wasn’t until the very final mix was done that all of a sudden the story made complete sense,” says Woods. “It was such a precious tightrope that that sound mix and that sound design really had a huge effect on the success of the film.”
Despite being untested and unfinished, in February the film was accepted by Texas’s South by Southwest Film Festival and later, selected to be its opening-night premiere. Krasinski only managed to finish the movie’s final visual effects 18 hours before its first public screening. The stakes were high. If Paramount indeed had a dud on its hands, word of A Quiet Place’s general crappiness would radiate out of the festival on a swarm of negative tweets. Halfway through the premiere, Fuller’s anxiety got the better of him. “You don’t know how into it the audience is until the third act. They start cheering and all of that,” he says. “Midway through, I couldn’t tell. I was so stressed out, thank God they had that bar right there in that theater. I went to the bar and did two shots of vodka. I couldn’t sit there anymore. I just could not bear it.”
“You knew it was going to go one of two ways: Either it was going to work or it was going to kill the movie if it didn’t play to that audience,” says Beck. “So it was an insane risk to take, in some regards, but at the same time it was the riskiest choice to make with a risky movie.”
Of course, the SXSW audience went bananas for the film, singing its praises across social media to dominate Movie Twitter. Critics warmed to A Quiet Place too; the movie had a 100 percent “freshness” rating on Rotten Tomatoes coming out of the festival. Realizing it could have a hit on its hands, Paramount aggressively promoted the film, purchasing a $5 million Super Bowl commercial for AQP — a relatively enormous ad buy for a $17 million movie. Over its opening weekend in theaters, the movie shattered prerelease “tracking” estimates (in the $30 million range) to pull in $50.4 million (the best opening ever for an original horror movie).
In light of A Quiet Place’s success, a sequel was quickly (perhaps inevitably) commissioned. Paramount’s chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos announced at Las Vegas’s CinemaCon that AQP would provide a kind of template for the new direction the studio is taking after a rough couple of years filled with such flops as Baywatch and Ghost in the Shell. “We’re laying the foundation for the success that Paramount had in the past and I’m incredibly confident that we have the right team, culture, and attitude in place to take Paramount to new heights,” Gianopulos said at the convention. “And we already started on that road to giant success with A Quiet Place.”
That announcement came as something of a shock to the producers. “We’ve been at Paramount for eight or nine years. There was certainly a time when they were not interested in making those kinds of movies,” says Fuller. “We really were banging our heads against the wall. With earlier administrations there, there was no hunger to do horror movies at all.”
And in perhaps the purest manifestation of A Quiet Place’s growing cultural footprint, the movie was even lampooned on Saturday Night Live earlier this month. “It was one of those things that Bryan and I always joked about when we were writing the script,” says Beck. “We’re like, ‘This is a bizarre enough idea that if it hits, the gold standard is to be parodied by Saturday Night Live.’ But we never thought that would actually happen. I can’t stress how humble the beginnings of this project were. So to be sitting in the afterglow is a super surreal place to be.”