The box office statistics are screaming for “A Quiet Place,” originally penned by two University of Iowa graduates from Bettendorf.
Forbes.com this week said the tension-filled flick is “going to be the biggest domestic grosser of the month and the second-biggest domestic earner of the year (for the moment) behind ‘Black Panther.’ It snagged one of the biggest horror debut weekends of all time, fell by just 34 percent and then snagged one of the very biggest (unadjusted) second weekends for any somewhat scary movie.”
“Somewhat scary” is not a description that would be used by moviegoers who jump time after time as the action unfolds. (Full disclosure: I jumped at least half a dozen times.)
The Paramount/Viacom Inc. picture stars husband-wife duo John Krasinski and Emily Blunt as a farm couple trying to keep their children safe from blind aliens who eat any animal — human or otherwise — they hear make a sound. Hence, the need to create a silent place where the family communicates primarily through sign language.
The psychological thriller, laced with very little dialogue and just a touch of blood, pulled in $99.6 million in its first 10 days. That’s a heady success that co-screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who also are among the film’s executive producers, are still trying to wrap their heads around.
“It feels good,” Beck, 33, said by phone from Los Angeles, where he moved 11 years ago, after graduating from UI. Woods relocated to L.A. about six years ago.
“Bryan and I are still trying to process everything that’s been happening, especially because this project had such humble roots,” Beck said. “It was something that Bryan and I came up with about a decade ago when we were in college. It was always an idea (where) we thought if no studio or production company wanted to make it, we could just go back to Iowa and shoot it for $50,000. It was such a small idea at the outset. The fact that it’s playing worldwide is really hard for us to process.”
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The alien-fueled film took off “at breakneck speed,” Beck said, through all the steps from agent to studio. “They really connected to the idea of the film being about family as much as it was a scary movie.”
The stars quickly hopped onboard, with Krasinski saying he wanted to direct and act in it with his wife. That was about a year and a half ago, which is the fastest Beck has seen a project come together.
Even though it was filmed in New York, where the starring couple live, it still looks very “Iowa.” Anyone with rural roots will hold their breath when (spoiler alert) someone falls into a corn silo. They know that’s a deathtrap.
“It’s so scary. That whole corn silo sequence occurred to Bryan and I really early on in the project,” Beck said. “We always knew we wanted to write it for a farmland community very much like the ones we grew up around in Iowa. When thinking of the different aspects of the farmland, the corn silo was at the top of the list. We just knew inherently those were dangerous. They were always things that farmers and parents said to stay away from, because you can easily drown in those. Combining that within the world and the context of what ‘A Quiet Place’ was, felt like a natural fit — but obviously, a very, very terrifying fit.”
Seeing country lanes, wooden bridges, cornfields, a small-town Main Street, a farmhouse and its cellars helped preserve that Iowa feel, as well.
“Seeing the cornfields and seeing the farmland — that’s always something we wanted to protect in the script,” Beck said. “We’re happy that’s maintained in the final version.”
He called the screenwriting process from original form through final product “a healthy marriage.”
“The whole film is very much like the original vision of the project,” Beck said, “from the beginning, the middle and the end. When we actually started writing this project, we originally wrote a 15-page short version of the film, and what’s really fun to see is how that version from years ago really maintains the final form of the script.”
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As the director, Krasinski also had a say in the script and has a co-writing credit. “What was great with his perspective is, he’s not just a filmmaker, but also a father,” Beck said. “When he read the script, he had just had his second child with his wife, Emily Blunt. He read the script and really, really connected to the family and the dynamic between the father and the daughter in the film. He wanted to bolster some more of the characters and make them more personal when he did his pass on the script, so it made it something very special for him, and then something very special for us, to have him honor a lot of the original vision of the film.”
Krasinski was adamant about casting a deaf actor in the role of the couple’s deaf daughter.
“Millicent (Simmonds) was such an incredible find,” Beck said. “What she brought to the character is life experience. That informed the role so much more than it ever could from the page ... From a filmmaking standpoint and her ability to convey what that world is like, in conjunction with being a master of American Sign Language She brought a whole new dimension to that film that I don’t think any of us had ever anticipated. It’s really been an incredible journey to see how she’s taken that character on as her own, and she’s really been launched into the stratosphere with this film.”
Coming down from the stratosphere are the aliens, who jump from page to screen thanks to the designers at Industrial Light and Magic, founded by George Lucas. That’s a circular connection for the boys from Bettendorf who met in middle school at age 11, and discovered they had each been making films with their Star Wars action figures.
Their skills progressed through high school and college at UI, where Beck studied communications and took a few film classes on the side. He continued to make movies with Woods, often showing them at the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival. They formed Bluebox Films in 2001, where their filmography includes such ominous titles as “Impulse,” “Nightlight” and their current project, “Haunt.”
“Horror is a space we enjoy working in,” Beck said. “Horror films always evoke something from an audience, whether screams or laughs ... That’s what we loved as audience members on a Friday night The horror films we loved always had something beneath the surface. ‘Jaws’ or ‘Aliens’ or Hitchcock films always had something in terms of the characters, and cared about their emotional arc. That’s what we came back to with ‘A Quiet Place.’ It’s not just scary, but rooted in family dynamics and issues the family is going through.”
WHAT: “A Quiet Place”
CAST: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds
RUN TIME: 90 min.
WHERE: Marcus Wehrenberg, Westdale 12 in Cedar Rapids, Coral Ridge Cinema in Coralville, Sycamore Cinema in Iowa City