Horror movie A Quiet Place is making a lot of noise at the box office. Directed by and starring John Krasinski with Emily Blunt, the hit film battles vicious monsters possessing a keen sense of hearing, making sound a matter of life or death.
Much of the film plays out in heart-stopping near-silence, making popcorn-munching difficult but thrilling audiences nonetheless. I spoke to Oscar-winning sound editors Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl about what they call the “amazing alchemy” of sound and silence that draws us into the inner worlds of the story’s embattled family members, in a film Krasinski called “a sound designer’s dream”.
How did you approach the unusual sound for A Quiet Place?
Erik Aadahl: John [Krasinski] wound up coining the term “sonic envelope”. The very first thing we worked on was the opening, and that was our pitch to John — let’s go right into the daughter’s head, something we can continue through the film, and then it pays off nicely at the end. For the daughter, who is deaf, we have her cochlear implant envelope, but then we also have her envelope in which you turn the implant off and we go to complete absolute silence. To me that’s the boldest risk all of us took. In a strange way silence is more terrifying than any sound you can put in there. It’s really unsettling. My wife and I went to see the film with an audience over the weekend, and the whole theater was holding its breath during those moments — everyone’s terrified of making the tiniest little sound, and in a way that made the audience really a part of the film.
Is this film your revenge on noisy popcorn eaters?
Aadahl: Yeah, they will become the hunted by fellow moviegoers if they’re opening up their little candy wrapper [laughs].
John Krasinski directed and co-wrote A Quiet Place, starring with Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe in a story about a family that has to stay silent to survive.
When do sound designers normally join the production process, and was the process different for A Quiet Place?
Ethan Van der Ryn: We tend to work on a lot of big visual effects films, and on those, we come in very early in the process. On a number of films we’ve done in the last two years we’ve started doing our work before the movies have even been greenlit — we’ll do a lot of sound design work for pre-viz presentation to screen for money people.
For this movie there was an initial meeting with John Krasinski before the movie had been shot to start talking about some ideas, but then we didn’t start doing our work until after all the shooting had happened and there was a first cut of the movie. It actually turned out to be a fairly condensed schedule compared to what we’re used to. It was kind of nice just to work fast and there wasn’t a lot of time for the studio to second-guess everything or water it down. We could take a lot of bold chances and not second-guess ourselves.
What kind of bold chances did you take in this film that you might not taken elsewhere?
Van der Ryn: We took music out through a lot of sections, which allowed the sound really to become a character and act in a way that it really sucks the audience into the experience.
Emily Blunt stars with young actor Millicent Simmonds, who is herself deaf, in A Quiet Place.
How did the music people feel about the music being stripped out?
Aadahl: They were incredibly gracious. We’ve collaborated with