We were deep in conversation with Michael Bay when it hit us: How did our failures bring us here? The film we had written and executive produced had just premiered to a wildly energized opening night audience at SXSW, and Bay was already discussing what we could work on next. It was only yesterday that we were two kids sitting side-by-side in an Iowa multiplex, trying to hide genuine tears of emotion from each other as Bruce Willis sacrificed himself at the climax of “Armageddon.” Now the man behind the Bayhem was standing in front of us as a producer on our film, because three words brought us together: “A Quiet Place.”
The origins of “A Quiet Place” date back to our college years, as we became obsessed with the silent cinema of Charlie Chaplin, F.W. Murnau, Buster Keaton, and Jacques Tati. These filmmakers were masters of visual storytelling, needing not one line of dialogue to communicate character, emotion, or intent. Cinema had never felt so pure. But having been raised on a healthy dose of “Alien,” “Jaws,” and dozens of Hitchcock films, we wondered if you could fold the silent visual techniques of the early 20th century into the context of a modern-day genre film. And thus, “A Quiet Place” was born.
The conceit behind “A Quiet Place” is simple: if you make a sound, you die. In fact, the idea is so simple that it almost fell by the wayside. We had drawn up the story blueprints years ago, centering on a family (and their deaf daughter) being stalked by a dangerous predator who hunts by sound. While the idea felt cinematic, we thought it might come across as a gimmick. There were times we would pitch the logline to producers or friends, but they would stare back with a blank look, clearly indicating the idea was a dud. We wondered if perhaps they were right and we shelved our work.
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But in 2014, our passion for “A Quiet Place” was reignited by an unlikely roadblock. We had wrapped our directorial debut, “Nightlight,” which was released on only a handful of screens without much of an audience. While we were proud of the finished product, the film’s muted reception had us seriously wondering if we would ever get another project produced. We began discussing low-budget ideas; something that, worst case scenario, could be shot back in Iowa for $50,000. At the same time, we looked at the careers of our heroes — at the top of which is M. Night Shyamalan. What we loved about Shyamalan’s films is that they operate on many levels, layering catchy high-concepts with beautiful character nuance. That’s when we realized: “A Quiet Place” wasn’t just a fun concept. It’s a metaphor for the breakdown of family communication.
The script began writing itself, first as a 15-page proof of concept to help us test this crazy idea. The short contained all of the basic movements featured in the final film: the setup, the characters, the creature, the family dynamics, the pregnancy, and the finale beat-for-beat. This process energized us so much, that we forged ahead writing the feature version.
Writing a silent movie isn’t easy. You can’t use dialogue as a crutch. And you can’t bore the reader with blocks of description. We hit our heads against the wall trying to break the story and silence the voices of everyone who said this idea wouldn’t work. Immediately we determined the script must feel as cinematic as the best version of the final film. This process forced us to take an unorthodox approach to screenwriting, in which we threw formatting styles to the wind. An example: for the monopoly scene (as seen in the trailer), we photoshopped our own Monopoly board into a script page. Other times, a single word surrounded by white graced an entire page to emphasize a loud sound. Each set piece — the corn silo, the pregnancy, the nail, the fireworks, the climax, etc. — became loaded with an abundance of sonic potential.
Our first pass of the script clocked in at 67 pages with only one line of dialogue. Make no mistake; we knew this was a weird screenplay. We had no promise of a script sale. We figured most producers would laugh off the project by the shallow page count. One studio exec outright passed on even reading the script after we pitched the concept over lunch. With failure in mind yet again, we were already brainstorming a production plan to shoot “A Quiet Place” in Iowa, and started scouting a potential farm location near Herbert Hoover’s birthplace.
Yet our agent and manager wanted to give the script a fair shake in Hollywood. When spec scripts go out to the town, usually they don’t sell. At best, you get a general meeting at a studio or production company to talk about your other projects (aka anything but the spec). It’s a familiar road we’ve been down many times before: screenplays getting passed up the food chain only for the head-honcho to bury it. Or, if you’re lucky, the script will languish in development for years, eventually losing traction and falling apart. So when they said “A Quiet Place” was being sent to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, we had zero expectations. Surely this submission would be a blip in everybody’s radar. However, on occasion, passion pays off.
A week later, Bay was on board to produce. Our heads started spinning as our agents relayed the latest: “Bay is calling up the head of Paramount, telling them to make this movie.” Days later we would receive one of the best calls of our lives. Paramount was buying the script. We dove into a rewrite based on the studios notes, which were the antithesis of corporate creative groupthink – they wanted to preserve the fabric of this odd script. It became clear that Paramount was treating this project with care.
And just when we thought this journey couldn’t get crazier, we received another call from our agent, right before Election Day 2016: “Guys, John Krasinski read the script and loved it. He gave it to Emily Blunt and she flipped for it. They both want to star in it and John wants to direct. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen wants to shoot it. Paramount is dating the film for April 2018. And the studio wants to give you a blind write-to-direct deal.” Our spinning heads had fallen off. We were so used to hearing “no, sorry, not for us” and now it was only “yes, yes, yes.”
Amidst a theatrical landscape of superhero films and IP-based properties, we’re hoping our silent film breaks through the noise. “A Quiet Place” was a film born out of passion with modest beginnings, and it is an understatement to say we have been humbled by this incredible journey. This project has opened up many doors that were otherwise closed, and the momentum even helped push our next film “Haunt” into production. But very soon, as the Hollywood fairydust settles, we will go back into the silence of writing the next project, an idea we’re dying to make that may be perceived as too weird, too silly, or too adventurous. Perhaps we’ll have to return to Iowa to make the movie for a fraction of the catering budget on “A Quiet Place.” But for now, we’ll appreciate our moment with Michael Bay, and encourage everyone to follow their strange cinematic ideas, never knowing just where they might lead.
“A Quiet Place” opens theatrically on Friday, April 6.