Friday, 13 December 2019

Celebrating Into The Script's 2nd Anniversary with Special Guests: An Interview with Scott Beck & Bryan Woods, Screenwriters of Haunt and A Quiet Place



What an honour today to welcome some very special guests, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods who are the screenwriters behind some of the most extraordinary cinematic releases, most notably 'A Quiet Place' and their recent release 'Haunt'.  

The team at Into The Script and I are so happy to be able to celebrate our milestone 2nd birthday with Scott and Bryan, so without further ado let's get straight to listening to what their advice and top tips are!



An Interview with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods


Photo Credit to Scott Beck and Bryan Woods


Firstly, a huge thank you to you both taking to the time to speak with us at Into The Script, and joining us to celebrate our two year anniversary with this monumental 50th Interview on the blog. It’s a pleasure to be able to feature you both!

You have both worked with some of the biggest names in the industry on a variety of projects – including Eli Roth, John Krasinski and Michael Bay. When it comes to starting any project of yours, can you talk us through your creative process? For example, from the initial concept and how you discuss this as a partnership, through to collaborating on the first draft.

Photo Credit to Scott Beck and Bryan Woods

Beck/Woods:

Our process always starts with a “sticky” concept, or rather an idea that we’ve been kicking around in our brains for a while.

In the case of A QUIET PLACE, that story had slowly evolved in our notebooks over the course of 10 years. Often we’ll think of the surface-level concept first – with A QUIET PLACE, it was “if you make a sound, you die” and with our latest film HAUNT, it was an attraction to our love of slashers and haunted houses. 


However, those concepts by themselves are simply gimmicks, so our next step is to figure out the thematic undercurrent which will drive the characters and story.

For A QUIET PLACE, the theme revolved around the breakdown of family communication; for HAUNT, the theme spoke to the sense that everyone wears “masks” in their daily life.

Once we unlock the theme, we’ll discuss ideas for set pieces, twists, character arcs, and finally one of us will start writing the first 5-10 pages, then they’ll pass it to the other and then they’ll write the next 5-10 pages. Our mantra is “best idea wins,” so we have a healthy competition in trying to one-up each other throughout the writing process, without one ounce of ego. The draft will bounce back and forth like this until we have our first draft.


Leaning into convention and marinating in the seasonal fun of Halloween was part of the fun of writing the film, and a great reprieve from marching into unknown territory with A QUIET PLACE. But we always felt like character, tone, and style were opportunities to set ourselves apart from the pack. 

After finishing the first few drafts of the script, we got a phone call from our producers telling us Eli Roth dug the script and was interested in sitting down to talk. We were so nervous. He’s the king of outrageous gore and we were self-conscious that maybe he would think there weren’t enough big kill set pieces in the script to come aboard as producer. But what was so exciting, is that the only thing on Eli’s mind was character, character, character. We talked a lot about how the first thing that gets jettisoned in studio filmmaking is character work. And the biggest mistake non-horror fans often make when working in the genre is thinking that audiences want to see unlikable people get killed.  Of course horror fans know the opposite is true. People want to relate so that they can put themselves in the shoes of the characters and be horrified by their experience. 


We would encourage writers who struggle with character work to think about their family and friends. Write what you know and who you know. It might be challenging to pull something out of thin air, but if you think of your characters as extensions of yourself or others around you, all the sudden you have a deep well of life experience to start from.


But what was so exciting, is that the only thing on Eli’s mind was character, character, character. We talked a lot about how the first thing that gets jettisoned in studio filmmaking is character work. And the biggest mistake non-horror fans often make when working in the genre is thinking that audiences want to see unlikable people get killed.  Of course horror fans know the opposite is true. People want to relate so that they can put themselves in the shoes of the characters and be horrified by their experience. 

We would encourage writers who struggle with character work to think about their family and friends. Write what you know and who you know.

It might be challenging to pull something out of thin air, but if you think of your characters as extensions of yourself or others around you, all the sudden you have a deep well of life experience to start from.

Do you think the world has become over stimulating, noisy and visually overloaded? And thus stories revolving around silence and looking away to avoid being killed by the monster, have popped up and grabbed people's imaginations. 

If so, was this type of metaphor - being surrounded by the constant noise that is the internet-driven age - an underlying theme in your work? Stay quiet or bad things may happen to you.


Beck/Woods:

We wanted to load A QUIET PLACE with many metaphors. We love cinema that has layers. On one layer, you can simply have a fun, Friday night popcorn blockbuster. But if you want to dig deeper, hopefully you’ll find deeper meanings and subtext.

We certainly feel inundated with stimulation, whether its television shows we don’t have time to catch up on, or an assault of our senses due to social media, emails, and constant communication.


While writing A QUIET PLACE, we also joked that the film would be the ultimate public service announcement for being respectful in the movie theater. Too often we’ve had movie experiences ruined by people talking or using their cell phones, so we were thrilled to sit with audiences during the theatrical run of A QUIET PLACE, and see people too afraid to talk or use their phones for fear of embarrassing themselves during the silent sequences.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The “overnight” success the two of you are now relishing in is, in fact, a result of years of blood, sweat and tears in developing the craft, and of course rejection. If you could go back and give one piece of advice/guidance to your younger selves trying to break into Hollywood, what would that be? And if this was even possible, would you choose to do so? 

Photo Credit to Scott Beck and Bryan Woods

Beck/Woods:

The first instinct would be to tell ourselves that nothing happens overnight. That every script you write is just a small stepping stone towards building a larger career.

But giving that advice might actually be a mistake, because coasting off of the fumes of enthusiasm, no matter how na├»ve, can be a very powerful tool in a young filmmaker’s toolbox. Believing that the script you’re working on right now – the one that you set aside partying with your friends,  or the instant gratification of social media, or whatever else fills your free time – can fuel you through the long and lonely process of climbing towards “the end”.

The trick, however, is not minding when things don’t pan out. When your masterpiece is rejected or ignored, you have to be willing to get back on the horse and believe, foolishly once again, that maybe this time you’ll ride into the sunset.

When writing a spec script, are there any tips you can give to our readers when it comes to specific do’s and don’ts when pitching your idea?


Beck/Woods:

First and foremost, we hate pitching, and often would prefer to write an entire spec rather than pitch an idea that will ultimately look and feel different on the page.

With A QUIET PLACE, we incubated the script by ourselves without any outside input. That process gave us time to tinker with ideas and build the strongest script possible before exposing it to outside eyes. That being said, we are our own harshest critics, so we are never easy on our own writing.

Our general advice for crafting stories, whether it’s a spec or a pitch, is to find a story you’re passionate about.

The process of writing, selling a script, then rewriting, and ultimately making the movie takes so long, that you must find a story that you will be excited to return to for months, if not years of the process.

Beyond that, bleed your own personal life onto the page. Make your writing embarrassingly personal. The more of yourself that you inject into the story, the more it will connect with an audience. 


We are great lovers of sound and music. It’s one of our favorite parts of the process and for A QUIET PLACE specifically, we wanted the script to read like a roadmap for the post production process. We would often use font size, like shrinking a word on the page, to emphasize a major sonic moment.

And once we finished the first draft of the spec, we immediately sent it to one of our frequent collaborators at Skywalker Ranch, sound supervisor Mac Smith, to get his feedback on the auditory journey of the story.

John Krasinski, Emily Blunt and the little ones Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe gave incredible, heartwarming performances in A Quiet Place, and we’d love to know how the script got their interest. When it comes to making your script known, read, and loved by major Hollywood talent, what advice could you give our readers?


Beck/Woods:

With A QUIET PLACE, we had always dreamed that actors would lunge at the chance to perform in a dialogue-free script. But again, we knew the script had to be more than just a gimmick, which is why we put so much emphasis on layering in character and the thematic undercurrent of family.

We had originally set the project up with Paramount Pictures and Platinum Dunes, without any outside actor attachments.

It was only when the spec script was submitted to John Krasinski, that Emily Blunt also read it – at the time, we didn’t realize they were married, let alone had kids together.


There was a day in November 2016 that we got the crazy call from our agents that both Krasinski and Blunt wanted to jump on board. An added poignancy was that they just had given birth to their second child a few weeks prior to reading our script, which meant the story’s thematic emphasis on family struck them at a special time.

The script eventually found its way to Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe throughout the casting process. Millie is deaf in real life, so her life experience was invaluable and lent more authenticity to the character than we could have ever conjured on the page.

Our advice to getting your script known, read, and loved is complicated.

On one hand, this is an incredibly tough business where careers are built from failure. But once you understand that, you can begin to embrace every failure as a learning experience and challenge to persevere.

And as long you try to create something that feels original, personal, and exciting for audiences, then you’re on track to find someone in the industry who will love your project as much as you do.

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