Why John Krasinski's Nearly Silent Film 'A Quiet Place' Is "A Sound Designer's Dream"

A Quiet Place Still_5 - Publicity - H 2018
Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures
Sound editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn discuss how they designed silence — and why their work on the film was not as effortless as it might seem.

Silence means survival in the new John Krasinski-directed horror film A Quiet Place.

Krasinski also stars alongside wife Emily Blunt in the thriller, which takes place after a group of nimble creatures has taken over Earth, killing the vast majority of the human population and placing the few survivors on lockdown. Though they are blind, the creatures have extraordinary hearing, and they hunt wherever they detect sound.

To stay alive, the Abbotts (Krasinski, Blunt) embrace near-absolute silence. They ditch shoes, silverware and speaking at normal volumes, communicating with each other and their two children mainly through sign language — both to protect themselves and because their daughter, Regan, is deaf. (Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds was also seen in Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck.) All told, the film has little more than 90 lines of dialogue.

Casual viewers might assume the silence made for an easy production process for the film’s sound editors, Erik Aadahl (Transformers: The Last Knight) and Ethan Van der Ryn (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), but, as they explain to The Hollywood Reporter, the opposite is true.

What was the process of designing and editing sound like for A Quiet Place, a movie that seemingly has so little of it?

After reading the script last year, it was very clear that sound would be a major player in A Quiet Place, a suspicion that was confirmed when we met John Krasinski and producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller. John started the conversation by saying, "This is a sound designer's dream!" — beating us to the punch.

We started working on the opening of the film first, wanting to establish the idea of "quiet" and how making sound could be deadly for the characters. This made the details very important. The sound of footsteps on sand and the delicate sound of touch immersed in the environment. We realized that playing with perspectives was critically important, that we could hear such details in close-up but not in wide shots.

The opening of the film also allowed us to experiment with creating the sonic point of view of the daughter, Regan [who is deaf]. Originally, [we] featured temp music score over Regan’s shots. But to really describe her deafness clearly, we discovered that we needed to remove the temp score and, on her close-ups, drop to her deaf cochlear-implant sound, which is not total silence, but a very low hum. On set, Millicent [Simmonds, who plays Regan] and her mother described to Krasinski that this is the type of sound she hears with her implant on.

Later in the film, when the implant is switched off, we are able to go to absolute silence.

Are there techniques you used in order to give the silences in the movie a certain feel? What did you do to make them so heavy?

The main technique was to strip away sounds and see how lean and essential we could get. We created a number of different shades of silence, from Regan’s cochlear-implant experience, which was modeled after Millicent’s real-life description and our own experiences with [soundproof rooms known as] anechoic chambers, to absolute silence when the cochlear implant is turned off.

What, if anything, surprised you about the process of working on sound for the movie?

We were pleasantly surprised by how a major studio would be so supportive of filmmakers taking such huge creative risks. John Krasinski and the producers were huge champions of taking a bold sonic approach, which is what made this film so satisfying for us as sound designers.

What do you think is most misunderstood about your job, especially on a movie like A Quiet Place?

Audiences may assume that when we are designing the sound, the process is a simple execution of the script. But the reality is, it’s a very experimental, explorative process where we constantly try to surprise ourselves and find the unexpected. Many of our choices wound up being serendipitous discoveries that we found along the way, including Regan’s sonic point of view through the film.