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Awards

Visuals take over when sound disappears in ‘A Quiet Place’

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Emily Blunt, left, stars with Millicent Simmonds in “A Quiet Place,” here in a crucial scene set in the characters’ radio-filled basement.
(Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures via AP)

Because the dystopian world of “A Quiet Place” is often devoid of sound, the film’s production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft, found an added level of importance in his job. “Visually, the audience is demanding something, because you have to listen that hard,” Beecroft says, sitting in London’s Ham Yard Hotel between shooting days of his next project, Michael Bay’s “6 Underground.” He adds, “That makes you look harder.”

Beecroft met John Krasinski, writer-director-star of “A Quiet Place,” while working on “13 Hours” a few year ago. The pair became fast friends and would spend time on set discussing character and the film’s emotional arcs. Krasinski initially sent Beecroft a short story treatment he’d written for “A Quiet Place,” a film that follows a family living in a post-apocalyptic world where monsters have extremely sensitive hearing. “I felt it because it was so visual,” Beecroft notes. “For me, it was like getting back to somewhere I hadn’t been in a long time. It felt like theater again. And working with an actor-director too — I cut my teeth on ‘Dances With Wolves,’ and I got to work with Kevin [Costner].”

Left to right: Production Designer Jeffrey Beecroft and Director/Actor John Krasinski on the set of
Production Designer Jeffrey Beecroft, left, and director/actor John Krasinski on the set of "A Quiet Place."
(Jonny Cournoyer / Paramount Pictures)

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Most of the film takes place in and around a remote farmhouse where the family of five lives. Krasinski and Beecroft imaged the farm as having been in the family for generations, with evidence of past lives strewn throughout the spaces. Finding the right farm was essential, especially since Krasinski and his wife, costar Emily Blunt, wanted to shoot in New York in proximity to their home.

“John’s very practical, and he made circles on a map and looked around, and he found that farm,” Beecroft recounts. “No one has lived there for over 40 years. No one had farmed it. So he found a unique environment, and then I just said, ‘Let me make it real.’ We built the barns and matched it to barns that were built in the 1800s. I got a barn maker to do it. We used Amish people to do the roofing. We had a very limited budget, but I was able to use the resources there. Part of my approach to filmmaking is you go into a community and you embrace the community.”

The team used Little Falls, N.Y., to stand in for an abandoned town and closed a stretch of highway for the family to trek across. Beecroft and Krasinski even convinced the city of New Paltz not to tear down the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail bridge so they could use it for a nail-biting moment in the film’s opening. “I wanted everything to feel connected, like the remains of a community,” Beecroft says. “We put a lot of thought into the geography. That’s really important to me: Where are the actors going? How to lead the audience to the story and let them discover it? Because you want them on the journey with you.”

For the farm itself, which is in Pawling, N.Y., Beecroft enlisted a silo maker to create the grain silos and found a family-run farm called Dykeman Farm to help plant 24 acres of corn. Because the corn needed to be in the same state of growth for the month of shooting, Beecroft had to very carefully time it (and later include some special-effects work to keep it visually consistent). “I had to plan out how long it would take,” he says. “And then I had to convince the studio, like, ‘Guys, the corn is not going to wait. I need a corn budget.’ It’s such a weird thing.”

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The house, a Victorian farmhouse, was already in a state of disrepair, but Beecroft and his team, which included set decorator Heather Loeffler, altered it even further. The entire house and barn were painted and then distressed, with dust added to the walls. Doorways were moved to ensure specific shots. Posters and fabric were layered over the surfaces to give the effect of a family trying to make the best of a trying situation.

There’s a lot of smart people out there in the audience. They can find those things and fill it in. That’s what we were trying to do.
Jeffrey Beecroft

One of Beecroft’s early designs was of the radio- and TV-filled basement room where Krasinski’s character works to monitor the ongoing threat. Some visual hints of the story and its world populate the set, offering clues as to what has transpired to lead the world to ruin. Newspapers are tacked up, revealing headlines about the monsters and their behavior, and Krasinski’s character even uses a military lighter, a note about his possible background as a military engineer.

“I had to do a lot of visual storytelling, since there was no exposition,” Beecroft says. “There’s a lot of smart people out there in the audience. They can find those things and fill it in. That’s what we were trying to do.”

The space had a big effect on Krasinski. “Without a doubt my favorite moments with Jeff were designing my character’s workspace in the movie,” Krasinski says. “Virtually every shred of backstory for our movie is on the wall, on the workbench and in every tool my character can find to try and do something, anything to protect his family. We knew to pull that off would take a kind of magic trick. The conversations about that room happened every single day, if not every single hour.”

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