Screenwriter-director duo Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, collectively known as Beck/Woods, spoke with journalist Joshua Rothkopf via Zoom during the Nightstream Film Festival. The filmmakers shared the inspiration behind hit film “A Quiet Place,” plus teased what’s ahead.
Bettendorf, Iowa natives Scott Beck and Bryan Woods knew at eleven years old that they wanted to become filmmakers. What they didn’t know, however, was how their own Hollywood journey was going to play out.
With a set of Star Wars figurines and a handheld camera, Bryan Woods began creating stop motion short films at a young age before befriending Scott Beck. “It was such a relief meeting…somebody who loved to make movies as much as I did,” Woods told moderator Joshua Rothkopf.
The pals later went on to make “very adult-themed” feature films in high school as an attempt to emulate auteurs Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson; the lofty stories were told by “high schools who had zero life experience,” Woods joked. Their micro-budget features screened at local IMAX cinemas, and the duo used their ticket earnings to fund their shared passion for filmmaking.
After both Beck and Woods graduated from the University of Iowa, Beck moved to Los Angeles to work as a graphic designer. Yet the pair claim there wasn’t any hesitation to give it they’re all in the film industry. “There was a period of time where we were professional writers but still working at a movie theater, for example,” Woods continued. “The backup plan in some weird way would probably have been related to film no matter what.”
In 2015, Beck/Woods wrote and directed horror film Nightlight. The supernatural found-footage feature starred Shelby Young, Chloe Bridges, and Carter Jenkins, with a limited release. By their own admission, Nightlight was a flop, albeit a necessary stepping stone on their way to success.
Beck pointed to Kirsten Dunst’s monologue in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown as the perfect advice for how to deal with disappointment. “Kirsten Dunst says to revel in the failure for five minutes. Just say to yourself ‘you failed, you failed, you failed,’ and that’s something we think about all the time because you do need that moment to process it, but you don’t want that to become your own existence,” Beck said. “If you surround yourself in this process with people you love, it empowers you in some way to forge ahead and not just sulk.”
“It was painful, but that’s what’s nice about having a partner,” Woods echoed, also citing that Elizabethtown itself was not a box office hit.
Beck/Woods followed up Nightlight with the award-winning thriller, A Quiet Place. The idea of a modern silent film came to the duo in college, and they sought to combine the concept with the horror genre. It took a “curation of ideas over 10 years” to finally establish what they wanted to say, according to Beck. After Nightlight, the pair wrote a 15-page version of A Quiet Place, highlighting the family-centered dramatic aspects, and with the final sacrificial ending in tact. Beck/Woods showed the script to their respective wives, who encouraged them to pursue the project.
Platinum Dunes, director Michael Bay’s production house, was one of the first companies interested in the script, much to Beck/Woods’ surprise. Bay championed the film to Paramount Pictures, and Beck/Woods were signed on to direct. The project was greenlit by Paramount Pictures within a month after purchasing the script.
“And then you hear that the cute guy from The Office is going to direct it!” Rothkopf joked.
Beck/Woods recalled the “bizarre” call they received from their agents, saying that actor-director John Krasinski read the script and loved it, and his wife, actor Emily Blunt, also wanted to star in it. However, her casting would be dependent on Krasinski’s directing.
“It was this really weird week,” Beck explained. “This project was incredibly near and dear to our hearts.” Beck/Woods took a few days to decide how to proceed with the project, asking friends and family for their input.
“[Our friends] almost universally were encouraging us to give our baby to John [Krasinski] because they knew from the experience we didn’t have that when all the planets align in the movie industry—which is so rare—you have to take it,” Woods summarized.
Actor Blunt was even their top pick for the lead role, so it was too much of a coincidence to deny. Krasinski and Blunt’s offscreen family life was also a draw: “John and Emily read the script like three weeks after they gave birth to their second kid,” Beck contextualized. “This is a movie about family and this has to have the heartbeat of that for it to work…We knew they were coming from the same perspective.”
“We got lucky because they did a good job with it!” Woods laughed. Krasinski also has a co-writing credit for the film, and was key in restructuring the storyline. Instead of using M. Night Shyamalan-inspired flashback techniques to hint at the source of the family’s tragic backstory, Krasinski opted to “front-load” the plot so there was no underlying mystery.
“You let the process kind of become the process and suss it out,” Beck said. “What we learned over the course of the years is do not reject an idea, get feedback and know how it works.”
Krasinski also brought a layer of authenticity from the parents’ perspectives. Beck and Woods were not fathers at the time, so they acknowledge that their original script was told from the children’s perspective and mythologized the father figure onscreen, played by Krasinski.
A Quiet Place Part II, also written by Beck/Woods, hosted its premiere earlier this year, however the pandemic forced its theatrical release until 2021. Now, Beck/Woods are focusing on their upcoming project, 65. The film stars Adam Driver, and is produced by Sam Raimi. Beck/Woods are also directing and producing.
“We’re getting to work with our favorite people in the world,” Beck enthused. They had previously met Raimi on 50 States of Fright, and call the icon “the nicest, kindest, most down to earth” filmmakers they have met.
“For us,  was the project we wrote when A Quiet Place came out and the studio decided it was going to be a franchise and sequel,” Woods explained. “We wrote A Quiet Place because we were tired of the sequels. The only movies that were being made were sequels and franchises and comic book movies. We wrote this movie in the wake of that.”
While Beck/Woods can’t share too many details, they promise that 65 is a “big idea” and worth the wait. “It’s one that’s been gestating in our heads for years and years,” Beck teased.
Star Adam Driver was also their dream pick for the role. “I remember watching Girls for the first time and just being so riveted by this person,” Woods recalled.
“From Stars Wars to Jim Jarmusch film, everything he brings to a movie is so layered, and it’s so much fun to watch when the camera can just pick up those layers,” Beck added, bringing their early Star Wars stop motion film dreams full circle.
During Nightstream Film Festival, Woods felt even more ideas percolating within the horror space. “As movie fans, we are looking forward to the new crop of horror coming out of the time we’re living in,” he concluded. “I don’t know if there is a better genre than horror for…talking about the culture and what we’re experiencing, and what we’re afraid of in different ways. No question there are going to be some amazing films to look forward to coming out of this.”
The Nightstream Film Festival was October 8 -11, and tickets are still available for virtual film screenings.