Caroline Waxler: I’m Caroline Waxler and you’re listening to On Writing, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America East. In each episode, you’ll hear from writers in film, television, news and new media about their work. From pitching to production, from process to favorite lines, and everything in between.
Today I have the pleasure of speaking with John Krasinski. You may know John as Jim Halpert from The Office, or Jack Ryan from the new Amazon series. But today we’re talking with John in his capacity as writer, director, producer and star of one of the scariest movies of 2018, if not the decade, A Quiet Place.
Caroline Waxler: Hey, John, thanks so much for coming in today.
John Krasinski: Thank you for having me.
Caroline Waxler: Really appreciate it, I know you’re super busy, so we’re excited to-
John Krasinski: No, this is great. Are you kidding? This is awesome.
Caroline Waxler: … Have you talk with us. Great, so we’ll just jump right in. We’re here to talk about A Quiet Place, and I want to hear how you got connected to the project.
John Krasinski: Well, I was actually in pre-production for Jack Ryan season one and some of the producers on Jack Ryan are platinum dunes and so true to form, Brad Fuller with the two producers who I was talking to about pre-production with Jack Ryan and they said, “by the way we have this genre script that was sent to us as a spec and we were wondering if maybe you’d wanna act in this movie”. And right away I just said, “no thanks, I just don’t do genre, haven’t since the mid-90s where I got terrified to watch Nightmare on Elm Street and I think I’m still dealing with that”. And they laughed and they said, “no, no, no, this is totally different. It’s a really good idea”. And I said “well what was the idea”, and they said “it’s about a family that has to stay quiet and you have to figure out why”. And I thought, damn it, that’s a really good one liner, all right send me the script.
So they sent me the spec script which was, you know the idea was perfect and they had, the guys had such great elements in there. But for me I realized as I was reading it that this could be the best metaphor for parenthood that I’ve ever experienced and my wife, I used to say we had our second daughter but my wife had our second daughter and she was about three weeks old when I was reading the spec script and I just envisioned that it could be this complete family metaphor and really a love letter to my kids. So I thought if I could rewrite it I would bring this whole element of family that I was dealing with right there. This sort of, as anybody who has new babies knows, it’s genuine terror as far as not just keeping them happy but keeping them healthy and alive. You are checking their breathing, you’re doing all of these things, you’re living sort of at the edge and as soon as I started the rewrite that’s exactly what I dove into was just all of this family stuff.
And then it was actually my wife when i went down to pitch her, about 30 minutes after reading the spec script I pitched her. It was my first time in my career I had seen the entire movie in my head. I could just see exactly how I wanted it to be done. So I pitched her the whole thing, I said “I think I’m going to star in it and rewrite it”. And she said, “no you’re not”, and I said “I’m not?”, and she said “no you’re gonna direct it”. And I thought, no, no, I can’t do that, never done a studio movie, never done a visual effects movie. And she said “I’ve never seen you this lit up, you have to do it”. So I owe everything to my wife.
Caroline Waxler: That’s awesome. Always a good mantra.
John Krasinski: It’s true, yeah.
Caroline Waxler: So when you first saw the script did it not have as many of the elements about parenthood and that metaphor? Did you add that to it?
John Krasinski: I mean there were elements of it. It was about a family definitely having to be quiet but it was, to me I thought the entire strength of the movie would have to everything was about the family. So for instance they had a child that was lost in a car accident earlier on before the creatures ever came to the planet so it was all these different things where I just went back and said, well let’s see the loss of their child, let’s make sure the whole family was there, let’s make the loss of their child actually the thing that’s shifting the dynamics of the family, this idea of guilt and shame and all these things.
So I took the elements that they had but I made it much more connected to everything had to connect with the family. So I came up with the idea of sand paths so you would have a visual of how much this father loved his family, you could actually see how much time he put in. Because it’s really hard to, without speaking in back story and dialogue, to show people sort of dedication like that and so I thought well when he’s up on the silo you’ll see how much work he’s put into it. And it was things like that. Sign language wasn’t in the original script. The idea of all of us speaking sign language was something that I saw from the very beginning as huge and really important. So it was just things like that and then they’re two very different scripts I think but at the same time, again, I couldn’t be anywhere without their idea. Their idea is one of the most unique if not the most unique idea I’ve ever come across.
Caroline Waxler: It was so brilliant.
John Krasinski: Thank you.
Caroline Waxler: So brilliant. And I know that you added, and I’m mad at you for this, the opening scene.
John Krasinski: Yeah, exactly.
Caroline Waxler: So terrifying.
John Krasinski: Yeah. So it was one of those things where, you know the script started with the family on the farm and you were with them and they had a dog and things like this and I just thought why don’t we go all the way back to the beginning and not only see that horrible incident but also let’s place people in this scary sort of world and not give them any information whatsoever and actually have to live through this step by step with the family.
Again, I just thought it was one of these amazing lessons I had learned a long time ago actually. I had written Promised Land with Matt Damon and we went into Focus Features to this big marketing meeting and at the time Jack Foley was the head of marketing there. And at the end of the meeting about Promised Land I just turned and I was always very interested in every single facet of this business and so turned to him and I said, “what’s the biggest misconception about Hollywood”. And he said, “the biggest misconception is that audiences are stupid” and he didn’t hesitate. He said, “that is completely wrong. They hate being spoon fed, they hate all this back story, they really want to be challenged”.
And when I was rewriting the script I thought, well he better be right because I had all of the back story written and all that but I just took it all out and just thought, my idea was if you can have no back story then you have to learn every single thing through this family and you won’t be ahead of them and if you’re not ahead of them then you’re with them and if you’re with them then you’re actually going to be more scared and more tense with them. Because the father, I put the entire story on that board down in that basement, and the idea there is that he doesn’t know what’s going, he’s not quite sure what happened and so therefore you don’t quite know what’s happened. And I don’t know, I just felt like you would really connect to the family a lot more and, again, like I said, my whole reason for doing this was because it was a great family metaphor.
Caroline Waxler: That’s interesting. And the board in the basement reminded me of Carey from Homeland.
John Krasinski: Yeah. No, exactly. Yes, yes.
Caroline Waxler: Just a very simplified version of-
John Krasinski: Just without the red yarn connecting everything, exactly.
Caroline Waxler: So I know that the actress who plays your daughter in the film is deaf in real life, so how was that writing a script? Did you have her in mind?
John Krasinski: No, I’d never met that actress or auditioned or anything like that but as we were writing, as I was writing I absolutely could see her and it was very weird because i sort of imagined this very tough, almost warrior princess type of daughter and again the key relationship for me, because I have two daughters, was the father and the daughter from my side of the story and I really wanted to dive into sort of grittier territory of, like I said, blame and guilt and all those things and I loved the idea, I shouldn’t say loved, I was fascinated with the idea of these two people being not only best friends at the beginning of the movie but almost carbon copies of each other. She’s almost a mini version of the father and so as they, after the first scene you realize that they can never sort of come together again and that’s sort of the whole thrust of the movie that you hope they come back together again and they do at the end.
But for me, when I was writing this character, she just felt like the toughest person in the movie. And, again, it was one of those things that as soon as you start writing you realize that she can quickly become the hero of the story. Not only was she the hero of the story but it would be her something that she thought was her greatest weakness. I just said it has to be that we write a story or a parable about a little girl that thinks that she’s the black sheep and that she’s worthless and she turns out to be the most important person not only in the family but very easily the world. I mean, the fact that she has the solve was super important to me.
So with all that said, casting a deaf actress was non negotiable for me. It was actually the first thing I said to the studio as soon as I had a meeting. I said “we need to cast a deaf actress”, not for any political reason actually, much more for the more obvious, I’m just more a common sense guy. I think politics sometimes gets lost, you lose the common sense in it all which is obviously the performance will be much more organic, but way more than that I needed a guide. I needed a guide for myself. Selfishly I wanted someone to walk me through, this world that I created was all imaginary for me but it wasn’t for her and so I wanted her to bring reality to it, bring the depth to it. So I started asking her questions like, what’s it like being the only deaf person in your family? Everyone else can hear, what is it like? Do you get frustrated, do you get empowered, what is school like, do you feel isolated, do you feel special sometimes, what are all these things?
And this girl, I’ve gotta be honest with you, I never went to work thinking I was working with a deaf actress. I never spent one day on set with a deaf actress. I spent my days on set with one of the best actresses I’ve ever worked with in my life and actually someone who’s not from this planet. I can genuinely say that, I’m not embellishing. The drive home one night, it was the same night which was weird, Emily and I were talking as we were driving home and I said, “Em, I’ve just gotta tell you there’s the weirdest feeling I have in my soul”. And she said, “what”. And I said, “I think Millie’s not from here, I think she’s an actual angel”. And Emily said, “oh my god, I thought the same thing, like one day we’re gonna wake up and we’re gonna find out that she wasn’t real and we were just really, really lucky to spend some time with her”. That’s how she is. And so I didn’t get someone to play this part, I got someone to change my life. This person has been so special to all of us and we are just so lucky to have had her.
Caroline Waxler: Well that translates on screen.
John Krasinski: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah. And how good is she?
Caroline Waxler: She’s amazing and I walked away thinking she was a superhero.
John Krasinski: Exactly, yeah. She kind of is the moment you meet her. I remember the first day, I think it was her first day of shooting was we were walking across the bridge. She had to do that tough walk to the cross which is a brutal scene and with such a, not such a small budget, but it was a small budget for this movie and a small time frame, we couldn’t do it in order. So the first day she was walking across this bridge and I just said to her, you know you can’t go over lines, you can’t really give direction like that so we basically did versions of psychoanalysis. We were getting into father issues, abandonment issues, guilt issues, shame issues, all these things, and I was talking to, at the time, a 13 year old girl about stuff that I’m not even fully prepared to talk about but we had to get into it.
And I just watched her, the word placate is totally wrong but I could just see her very generously nodding her head, but I could tell behind her eyes that she was ready to go, she didn’t need the rest of the conversation. And sure enough I slowly took my cue to stop talking and just let her shoot. And what you see when she walks across the bridge is the first take. She just shot out of the gate, she knew exactly what that character was. And I said, “wow, that was amazing. Where did you get that?”, and she said, “I read the script”. And she said “honestly, as soon as I read the script I could tell exactly what this girl was”. And she really just transformed into this incredible superhero character. I’m glad you call her a superhero too because she’s my superhero in real life and on screen.
Caroline Waxler: That’s great. And now I want to rewatch the film and see that scene again. Did you learn sign language for the movie?
John Krasinski: Yes. I mean as much as we could. Again, there was so much going on when I was directing, there was so much going on that I had to learn obviously the scenes we learned very quickly. Another truth about Millie is we were learning via the internet, via an app, people were teaching us and it was so nice to finally learn ASL, it’s actually something I’ve always wanted to do, and then Millie comes to set and there again is this transfer of such generous energy that we all became so much quicker at ASL learning because of her. So it was like the lessons stopped and she was just this very bright, open person, being that wanted you so badly to achieve your goal of speaking ASL so everybody did it quickly. Nobody more quickly than Noah.
I mean I think Noah learned ASL it seemed like, no joke, two weeks. Like fluent two weeks. And one of the hardest parts about this movie was these kids became siblings and not just in the like me being a director saying like and they became siblings, they legit, I think, it may even be legal now. Like they are siblings. The last day of shooting was hard for everybody because it was such a great experience but watching those two kids say goodbye was just could crushing. It was so unbelievable that, you know Millie always has an interpreter with her and when they were doing hair and makeup or anywhere playing the interpreter was no where to be seen. Noah just wanted to talk to her.
And the thing that’s beautiful about Millie is you speak to Millie directly and she looks at you. The interpreter will be interpreting what you’re saying so she can check in on what you’re saying but Millie always said … you know one of my favorite stories for me personally was we were at the premiere at South by Southwest which was the most jaw dropping, awe inspiring moment of my career and my life and just after it my mom went up to Millie to tell her how moved she was and you could see the interpreter run from across the room trying to get to Millie before my mom did and Millie just put her hand up and my mom was very emotional and very open and Millie just put her hand up and said, no I don’t need it, I know exactly what this woman’s saying. It’s just real life stuff that’s so inspiring that was, again, it’s so easy to talk about this movie because it was a really brilliant and special, special experience.
Caroline Waxler: Well it definitely comes through.
John Krasinski: Oh, cool.
Caroline Waxler: In between being terrified. Was there a scene that really translated well from the page to the screen?
John Krasinski: They all did. And I’m not saying that to pat myself on the back as much as we just, the crew, the cast, everyone really got what this movie was. There was something deeper. I gotta be honest and say there was a lot that translated even more than on the page. One of my favorite scenes, again selfishly, is between Millie and I.
That scene where she tried to go down in the basement and I grab her and say you can’t go down there. That was my first day of working with her. And I was directing and had written the script but also arriving as an actor is super intimidating after your wife has just crushed the bathtub scene and these kids have already done so many different, amazing scenes. I was intimidated and she’s intimidating because she’s so good and so locked in. So that scene to me played so emotionally.
One thing that people don’t know, I don’t think I’ve talked about it much, is when we were editing the movie because the sound design team was sort of coming in with bits and pieces as quickly as they could, I ended up, my editor and I for one day he was trying to equalize all the sounds and sort of give it a really rough pass and I just said, “you know what, let’s just hit mute”. And we ended up watching the movie on mute for about five and a half weeks. So the first five and a half weeks, the first cut of the movie if not the second cut of the movie is completely and totally muted, no sound at all, just a complete take out. And the reason why I decided to do that was that scene. The first scene I ever cut was her on the path with me and watching how unbelievable moving it was on mute I just said, if we can achieve this for the whole movie then you only know that sound and music is gonna help, but that was really special to me.
Another one that I tear up thinking about, but the dance with Emily and I was hugely powerful on the day. It was bizarre, because that’s when you really realize that casting your wife is not only something that I am so proud of, because she’s my favorite actress, period, and my favorite collaboration I will ever have, I think, but to actually know that that scene works the way it works only because of the secret language that you have as a married couple, that when we looked at each other, we were talking, we were definitely talking to each other with our looks and things like that.
It was very moving. It was overwhelming. We cried after every single take, which I’m pretty sure was not my intention, to end the scene with us crying every time. But the crazy thing was the crew felt it, you know? There was definitely a feeling of that idea of two people not trying to make each other happy, but trying to reminisce, to try to-
Caroline Waxler: Oh, interesting.
John Krasinski: … throw back to … Her character, in my opinion, when I was writing it, her character is trying to bring me back to someplace. Whether that was their wedding song, or whatever.
Caroline Waxler: Oh, interesting.
John Krasinski: She’s trying to pull me out of my head for one second, but we’re not listening to a good song just because-
Caroline Waxler: It’s Harvest Moon. Right.
John Krasinski: … it’s Harvest Moon. Yeah. Which I think we spent a third of our budget on. But she’s not trying to play me a beautiful song, she’s actually trying to relive a moment with me, and try to feel human again. Again, my favorite dichotomy of the movie is my character and her character, the difference between surviving and thriving. I was really steadfast on that when I was writing. I needed to make it very, very clear how different we were. Because, again, I’ve always been very interested in loss, and I’ve been very interested in the supernatural strength that people can dig into, but also the roles that you take on in loss is …
You know, this father decides that he will no longer pursue joy of any kind in his life, he will only live and breathe every single day to make sure that his kids and his wife go to sleep that night. And she’s the complete opposite. She’s a thriving person that will not allow that. She will not allow her children to just be survivors. There is hope in the world, no matter how dark the night looks. There will always be a dawn. And I just thought that was such an awesome thing to play with.
And, of course, then you cast Emily, and it becomes so much more than I ever had written or thought. It just becomes so much clearer. So, that’s why the first conversation I had with my production designer was surviving versus thriving. So, any time you see me, my color palette is subdued. Her color palette’s always warm. The production design that she was hanging a mobile for a baby. She’s actually trying to make these kids think that they have a normal life, if even for a second. The fact that she homeschools them is completely her idea. He would have them just going out and fishing every day if he could.
And I just love that idea, and the fact that they love each other enough to know that they can’t stop that other person. You know what I mean? So, the dance, for me, was such a huge scene, because my character is allowing himself to be a part of her, there’s something bigger in the world, and then when I leave and take Noah to the river, that’s her knowing that I’m making a mistake not taking Millie, but understanding my process and knowing that she can’t force me to do something that would risk surviving. So, it’s this really, I don’t know, detailed back and forth that they have, and I felt like the dance was the moment that they come together and actually get to talk about it, without talking.
Caroline Waxler: It’s so interesting to hear all these nuances and themes that were coming through.
John Krasinski: I know. I haven’t talked about it. I’m like, “Wow, this is kind of fun to talk about.”
Caroline Waxler: What other themes did you place in there? What have other people picked up?
John Krasinski: I don’t know. I mean, people have picked up a lot of it, but-
Caroline Waxler: That you may not have intended.
John Krasinski: Certainly, the overarching theme for me was parenthood, like I said, and like I said, it is a love letter to my kids, which, again, is terrifying when you look at the poster. You’re like, “Who is this guy?” But for me it was one of those things where … I remember, actually, Emily saying it best. She said this is the scariest role she’s ever done, and I said, “Why is that?” She said, “Because I always have to pretend in my acting,” obviously that’s the nature of it, and she said, “And this is the first time I’ve ever lived through the same fears as my character.” Certainly not creatures coming out of the woods.
I always wanted this to be analogous to all parenting, which is the darkness out in the woods, and what comes for them, and this unstable time that we’re in definitely is a part of that. But really, Emily nailed it when she said, “I’m just afraid of not being there at the moment that they need me most. I’m afraid of not being there.” And I thought, “That’s it. That’s, right there, in one line, that’s exactly what I …” That’s the exact reason why I decided to do this movie, when I saw that spec script and that was in there, that idea of that, what would you do for your kids? And I’m just going to take that and go to the nth degree.
Caroline Waxler: Yeah, and I like that, and without giving it away, I like how it plays out in the one scene where you have to save them.
John Krasinski: Oh, man. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s one of those things where it is weird, because that was the scene when I felt what Emily was feeling, which is, as an actor, I was doing these scenes almost more like fitting into the puzzle pieces, because around me these performers were doing such great performances that I just … As a director, you can slot in your performance and know where it’s going to go, which is kind of the beauty of acting in a movie that you’re directing, and that was the moment where you get completely taken off-guard. When you actually get to your most vulnerable place as a character and realize that character is going through the exact same vulnerabilities that you would go through.
I’ve only had that one other time, which was in 13 Hours, at the end of 13 Hours. I call my wife after the horrible night, and all the events that had happened, and I call her and tell her that I’m safe, and I just remember, if I ever had to make that call, I would cry so incredibly hard. So, for that role, Emily was shooting a movie, and luckily she picked up. I called her 30 seconds before they rolled camera. I think they were actually saying, “Rolling, rolling,” and I just called her to tell her I loved her, and it just triggered … It’ll trigger now. I mean, I cry at everything. But it triggered just such a wealth of tears and emotions.
So, at the end of this movie, certainly looking at, like I told you, that very angelic face and knowing where I was going with it all, yeah, not to give it away, it was intense. It was very, very intense. And again, having her on the other side certainly helped, because she gives it in the best way.
Caroline Waxler: Wow. I know in that scene your character chooses to express himself in a way that is a scream instead of a softer sound.
John Krasinski: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Caroline Waxler: Was that an intentional choice? To go the highest volume?
John Krasinski: Yes.
Caroline Waxler: And I want to talk to you about how sound played in this film.
John Krasinski: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It was absolutely intentional. It was that idea of the scream is, in my opinion … My opinion. The way I wrote it was the scream is his frustration, and his release from that frustration. He is finally feeling so much love for her, and regret for all the times that he has not been able to come back to her, and in this moment he is fully back to her, and in that celebration it’s just a complete primal scream of relief, and joy, and terror, and fear, and all those things. And again, I think that those are the things that are elemental in all scripts. You know what I mean?
It’s one of those things I remember my playwriting teacher in college said, Day One. I was so excited to be in the program, and she said, “So, the first thing you need to know is none of you are going to write anything that hasn’t been written before.” And I was like, “Oof, downer.”
Caroline Waxler: Great.
John Krasinski: And she said, “But that’s the truth. You have to come to terms with that truth. You’re going to be dealing with the same elements that everybody else deals with. It’s about how you deal with it and what perspective you put on it, and what sort of story do you want to tell that is quintessentially you.” And it really has stuck with me, ever since then. So, yes, I think that’s one of those elemental things that I thought about for sure.
Caroline Waxler: What’s the teacher’s name?
John Krasinski: [Ayesha Roman 00:24:16]. She was-
Caroline Waxler: Shout out to Ayesha.
John Krasinski: Shout out. Yes.
Caroline Waxler: Great. Throughout the movie, obviously, there’s not much dialog. How did you choose what would become dialog? What wouldn’t? And I know in the movie at various points is silent, it’s quiet, there’s music. How did you make those choices?
John Krasinski: Well, it’s one of those things where, dialog-wise, I just wrote sign language. That’s why sign language came into the script, because I needed them to communicate very authentically. I didn’t want them to just communicate silently, even though sign language is obviously very silent, there’s something that you can almost hear the words, sometimes, when you’re watching in. In fact, Emily, one of my favorite things, and again, one of the best things about being an actor that gets the opportunity to direct is you get to take all the lessons you’ve learned from other sets, and one of the biggest lessons is, that I’ve learned from some of my favorite directors, is you gotta leave the door open for organic things to come in.
Meaning, you can plan every scene within an inch of its life, but always leave the door open to a major or a minor change, because that is the magic. That’s the stuff that you can’t stop. I remember reading a article that Bono had said that song One, that U2 sings, he says legitimately someone was plucking some strings and someone was playing a little bit of guitar, and you could feel that the song had arrived in the room. And if you’re lucky enough, you know it’s there, and you capture it, and that’s exactly how I feel about directing and leaving the door open.
So, what I mean by that is I didn’t know that we would allow the actors to whisper, and mouth the words, but Emily’s first scene with Noah was homeschooling, and as she’s mouthing those words to him, it was so beautiful and so emotional, and just a little pop in her voice, or a little crackle, or a little lip smack, all these things were just so … Because you’re almost dying for sound at that point. You know what I mean?
Caroline Waxler: Right.
John Krasinski: So, it was just so powerful. Again, that became the norm for the rest of the shoot. But as far as silence goes, the dialog stuff, I wanted them to be signing, but I also wanted all the scenes to be really short. I wanted them to feel sparse, because I felt like the more words you sign, the more possibility there is of making a sound. The hardest scene to write, but weirdly … Or, I should say, the scene I was most scared to write, was the scene between Emily and I in the basement, which we actually talk. The reason why is because, obviously, when you have this movie that there is no dialog whatsoever, the one scene of dialog will be weighed on very, very heavily.
And it was. It was in very little time, because of what’s going on outside, in the environment, and that their kids are gone. In the very little time, in the very little, how much can the audience withstand until they go, “Oh, well, this is a seven-minute dialog scene, so now why don’t you just talk all the time?” It was that thing of keeping it short enough that it felt new. And, again, I knew that it would be … In the story I had written was, “This is the first time they have spoken probably in a year.”
Caroline Waxler: Oh, wow.
John Krasinski: And I always feel like it’s the idea that this family, if there was ever a family that needed to talk, even in the days before the creatures, this was the family that would need to talk the most, because of their loss. And so, not only can they not speak, but they have so much to say to each other. And how do you encapsulate that in one scene? I’ll never forget, again, Emily, at the beginning of the scene, improvised her touching her own lips, and that was something I couldn’t have written. It was symbolic of, or it represented, “Oh, my God, it’s so weird to hear you talk, and I was so scared to hear you talk, and now I realize that I can talk.” And that’s why she’s so emotional in the scene, because you realize they have not spoken.
That’s why that waterfall’s so special for the father and the son, because he probably hasn’t even taken her there, or if they did go there, it was very early on, probably not much to speak about when they did that because it was so fresh and so new. So that basement scene became just so pivotal and so powerful. Again, it was actually … I think it’s the first draft I ever had of that scene, and it was in the script that Emily wrote when she signed onto it, and I said to Emily, I said, “Yeah,” you know, “I’ll tinker with that scene,” and she said, “Don’t you touch one word.” She was like, “That’s the one scene that you can’t touch one thing.”
Caroline Waxler: Great lady.
John Krasinski: Yeah. Exactly.
Caroline Waxler: Yeah, that scene was so … It was almost a reprieve, in a way, for the audience. And then all of a sudden all hell breaks loose-
John Krasinski: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly.
Caroline Waxler: But, finally breathe, much like the baby.
John Krasinski: Right. Exactly.
Caroline Waxler: When you were shooting the movie were you living upstate?
John Krasinski: Mm-hmm (affirmative). We were living around the Mount Kisco area. We were up there because the trip to Pawling … We were shooting in Pawling, so that trip from here would be pretty long every single day. Certainly for me to go back and forth. You know, my kids are my top priority, as much as I love everything about this business, there’s nothing that can take me away from them, and so my only goal with them is to know that, even though I go away to work and have to travel sometimes, that they know that they’re my top priority. So in order to do that, I needed to be close enough where I could have some breakfast with them, I could drive home and put them to bed and go right back to work. All those things were … They’re vital to Emily and I, so that’s why we stayed upstate.
Caroline Waxler: That’s great. When you were on set, did you rewrite any of it? Or was most of it completed by the time you were there?
John Krasinski: I wrote the script, probably, in three weeks. It was crazy.
Caroline Waxler: Wow.
John Krasinski: Like I said, I saw the whole thing right away. I wrote the first draft in about three weeks, I think. But, again, as an actor, you do get that rare opportunity to see how every director deals with their script that they’re using, and I’m always a big fan of, like I said, leaving the door open for some changes. So, I always see a script as, “This is exactly how I want to shoot it unless something can beat it, and if something can beat it, there’s always an organic, living, breathing document that can change and can move.”
For instance, you know, the last shot of the film, it took me a while to figure out how to do that, but it all came from my producer saying one day, “I think we should have Emily shoot the creature at the end.” And I think my response to him was, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You have no idea what kind of movie we’re making, then.” And I went home thinking, “He’s insane.” And as I was driving in the next day, I was listening to this podcast and it happened to be an interview with Steven Spielberg in 1979, and in that interview this woman said, you know, “Why should we pay attention to this class of director? Why are these directors that you’re running with now, why should we pay attention to them? Why not just stick with the greats like Truffaut,” and all these different people that they were watching?
He said, “Because we’ll allow you to have fun, too. We can make an art film, but we can also make an art film that, hopefully, you have the stink on you when you leave. You can’t shake it.” And I love that term. And he said, “But also you can eat your popcorn, and laugh with your friends, and have a good time with your friends.” And I thought, “Oh, my God, there’s my answer.” So, here I was thinking that her shooting the creature would be too commercial, and the producer said, “You do it however you want,” and I said, “Well, only if they can team up,” and I actually won’t have her shooting the creature be the last thing. It’ll be this idea of, again, hope. That she’s the thriving person. When she cocks that gun, it’s, “I don’t know what’s coming, but I know we have a chance.” And that’s her whole character. And when I pitched that back to the producer, he was like, “Yes, well, that’s better. So let’s just do that.”
Caroline Waxler: I’m excited to see Quiet Place 2. If for many reasons, if for no other reason just the scene at the end.
John Krasinski: Right, right, well, that’s cool. Yeah. It’s funny ’cause I had no intention of doing a second one. And I do understand I’m a realist, so I try to look at everything from everybody’s angle and understand it. And I can certainly understand why a studio would want to make a second one. And at first I just said, “Go find another writer and another director and good luck on it.” And they said okay. And they met a bunch of different people. At the same time the producer was asking me like, “do you have anything to give these directors and writers? Like an idea of what path you would want to head down, because it’s your world. You should protect it.” I said, “Well, I had this tiny idea.” I started to tell him the idea. He said “Would you keep thinking about that over the next couple of weeks?” And then after about three weeks, he very geniously had caught me up and saying “Will you just write the script? You totally don’t have to direct it. Just write the script.” So I said, “yeah, yeah. Sure.” So now I’m writing the script and if it’s good, hopefully we’ll shoot it.
Caroline Waxler: I’m sure it’ll be great. The movie really reminded me of one of my favorite movies. I don’t know if that was an influence at all. The movie Witness.
John Krasinski: Oh, interesting. Yeah. It’s funny, because my production designer said that. So my production designer was, we had a lot of images from Witness. I brought my images and my sort of touchstones were there was a lot of Days of Heaven. There was a lot of There Will be Blood. There’s was a lot of No Country for Old Men. I think all that stemmed from a lot of people kept asking me, in order to direct this film did you watch a lot of silent movies? And I said, I did. But what you realize about silent movies very quickly is, as brilliant as they are, they are devoid of sound. You can’t have sound because they just obviously didn’t have sound.
Whereas watching a more modern filmmaker deal with the lack of sound or not needing dialogue like the opening of There Will be Blood was much more interesting to me and much more relevant to the movie I thought. And also has this very classic feel. Visually I went to There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men obviously, that long stretch with Josh where he discovers the site and the money and all that stuff, is so unbelievable.
And then as far as the feel of the movie for me and what I was trying to do, I wanted it to feel like … again, like I said, I hadn’t watched a lot of horror. Obviously I watched everything before I directed this. My iTunes list is a little bit scary. But it was one of those things where the horror movies that I had seen that I really loved, they were the throwback classics. They were the idea of those movies to me were never about the scares. It was always about the scares being the representation of all your fears, right?
So Jaws to me is about three men trying to overcome their fears that they keep putting off and putting off and denying that they’re there until it literally shows up as a 25-foot shark. Jaws is certainly a huge touchstone for me. Alien was a big one. Rosemary’s Baby for tension. And all the Hitchcock stuff. That’s pretty much what I watched on rotation.
And then every other movie that I watched, it was interesting, because I hadn’t watched genre very similarly to the little girl in the movie. My intention was, well, because I’ve never watched genre, I’ll watch all these movies. Instead of looking for technique or things I can steal, I’ll actually use what I think is my greatest weakness and hopefully turn it into a strength, just like she did.
What I did was, I’ll just write down what scares me. Literally write down the note, like this music cue or that moment or … and that answers were never when Mike Myers pops out of a closet. It was never that scared me. It was actually when were you the most scared was before he popped out of the closet. It was the tension. It was those moments of where is he or is that person really dead.
Or like in Get Out, the … again I connected to why did someone running at me at top speed scare me more than someone popping out of a closet? There’s something about that that was more horrifying to me. Also, Get Out’s one of those movies that he just did so well on every level. And I think someone said did you take anything from Get Out? And I said, yes, what I took was look what an audience tells you they’re willing to go with.
And if you’re willing to go to the sunken place in the middle of a genre movie, and you’re willing to go to a very heady idea and very sort of cutting edge in a lot of ways, then maybe you’ll go far- … I truly will say it probably made me push the sound in this movie farther. Because not only was it sign language and there was no dialogue, which I think we were all scared of. I’m sure the studio was like, yikes. We’re gonna be watching an entire movie with no dialogue.
Then I started pushing her envelope. You know, the idea of Millie, whenever we cut to her perspective I took out the sound, and that was because obviously she’s deaf so I wanted to be in her perspective. There again is another perfect example of leaving the door open to something organic. I’d never had the intention of having a perspective for her like that.
I was going to play with sound with her all the time, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with it until I asked her mother one day. I said, “Is she completely deaf?” And she said, “You know, she’s not. She can hear low level rumble or some sort of one small wavelength. Certainly she can’t hear you talk, but if there was a loud bang behind her, she’d probably hear something. But more than that, she could feel it.”
So when I went in to my sound designers, I said, “Guys, I want to try something. I think we should try to make an envelope for her. I think we should actually try to achieve what she really hears in real life.”
Caroline Waxler: How interesting.
John Krasinski: And so we did. We worked really hard. That took us probably like three weeks alone just to kind of nail that down and really get to the nuance of that. And it turned … again like I said, I cry at everything. But this is probably one of the most special moments of my entire process, which was at South by Southwest before we screen the movie. I turned to her mom who’s the most beautiful and loving person, and I said, “Just want to let you know, this is happening. Give you a heads up. I basically tried to accomplish what you told me.” And she said, “Great.”
And then after the movie she came up and was crying so hard and so deep. There was something so powerful and she gave me a hug and she said, “I have dreamt about from the day she was born what she can hear. I’ve always wanted to know what my daughter’s experience is in the world. And you finally delivered that to me for the first time.” And I just cried. I mean, I’m tearing up now, but it was just so insanely powerful. That to me is what movie making is all about, is just what’s the best thing. What’s the most powerful thing? And how do you get there? And I don’t care whose idea it is, let’s just, let’s get it in the movie. ‘Cause it’s such a team sport, making movies. A team of hundreds and hundreds of people.
Caroline Waxler: And who would’ve thought that would be in a horror movie?
John Krasinski: Mm-hmm. Exactly. So again, that’s one of the things I wrote down about Get Out is, like I said, the sunken place and those other things was like wow, this is really … also the whole idea of what’s going on is so huge and crazy. And it’s like people went with it and totally were …
Caroline Waxler: Bought into that world.
John Krasinski: Bought into that world. And you throw these set of circumstances down that probably reading that script, I would say this is insane. No one’s gonna believe that they’re auctioning different people for their brains and all this stuff. Or the reverse, putting brains in bodies and stuff. But it was …
Caroline Waxler: Thanks for spoiling it.
John Krasinski: Damn. Sorry. If you hadn’t seen Get Out by now, then you really shouldn’t see it. It’s just I think everybody in the world has seen it. And if not, I feel bad ’cause I just ruined it for that person.
Caroline Waxler: But what were you saying? I interrupted.
John Krasinski: No. It was just that idea of pushing boundaries and pushing limits. I’ve never gotten to talk to Jordan about it but I’d love to know where were his fears of, yeah, I wrote this scene but are people really gonna go with this? ‘Cause I certainly had those moments.
So we were cutting, actually cutting picture and sound til 5:30 in the morning the day of South by Southwest.
Caroline Waxler: Wow.
John Krasinski: And I remember turning to my sound designer and sound mixer on the stage. It was our last day, and we had obviously done the envelope which I loved. And we had done so much different stuff with the sound and then we did the idea of when she pulls the hearing aid out. It’s literally zero. So nothing. And they were so excited and I was so excited. We thought it was the coolest thing.
And then just before we called cut, I turned to my designer and I went, “Is this too much? Are people gonna watch this?” And he was like, “I don’t know, man, but you’ve gotta take the shot. When else in your career are you gonna have the ability to take such a huge artistic swing.” And I thought, you’re totally right. And we bet the house on art.
And luckily everybody loves it and everybody got it. And it really does give you such a thrill and adrenaline rush. Not only do people like your movie, but that people like movies like this. It all goes back to what Jack Foley told me which is, he was right. People wanna work. People will go to different places. People will be challenged and want to be challenged. This was sort of an encapsulation of that for sure.
Caroline Waxler: Have you talked to him since the movie’s come out?
John Krasinski: He just emailed me like three days ago. I was so excited. I was so, so excited. And he had said he had read an interview where I had talked about it and he said he remembers that meeting very vividly. And that he really appreciated the shout out. I said I will keep shouting you out. And here we are, shouting him out again.
Caroline Waxler: Consider him shouted.
John Krasinski: Exactly.
Caroline Waxler: Are there other horror writers or directors that you’ve connected with, like M. Night Shyamalan or Spielberg or …
John Krasinski: I haven’t connected with either of those two. Certainly I have connected with a couple people, Guillermo del Tor who I think is one of the kings of all kings of that.
Caroline Waxler: Genius.
John Krasinski: Any medium, really. He DM’d me on Twitter. And I’m 94 years old so I didn’t know what that like, I didn’t know what that upper right hand corner was telling me. And Jordan reached out-
Caroline Waxler: Five days later.
John Krasinski: Jordan reached out and said some really nice things. And Guillermo said the nicest things. But certainly for me being from Boston and one of the craziest ones was Stephen King. Asked for my email and wanted to do that and then has gone on, he wrote the nicest tweet, I think, of any tweet I’ll ever have in my life.
Caroline Waxler: What does it say?
John Krasinski: It basically said this is … you can read it on Twitter but it was just saying that he really liked it and it was a great movie but also risky and took risks. And the sound of it all was as good a sort of exploration as anything. From the king of, truly the king of horror, it doesn’t get any better than that. Yeah.
Caroline Waxler: I like to ask people this question, so I’m gonna ask you. Where did you physically write this?
John Krasinski: Where did I write it? Great question. So my wife was shooting a little indie movie called Mary Poppins at the time and we were over in England. And it was one of those great occasions where we tried to do this, which is we try to switch off. So when she’s working I’ll be with the kids and full-time dad mode, which is the best. And so I was in London with at the time now probably a ten-week-old baby. So Emily would leave, go shoot Mary Poppins. I would spend the morning with the baby. Our oldest was going to school. And so I would put the baby down, run up to the attic of this house, write as much as I possibly could, and then come down to do dinner and bedtime and all that stuff.
And so it actually was an amazing routine. It was one of those routines that sounds like I have a routine but it was forced upon me because I had to be there in the beginning of the day and the end of the day which I loved. But that’s where it was. And I remember that room very, very vividly. It had a sky light where I looked out to all the rooftops of the other houses in Richmond and it almost sort of felt like Mary Poppins.
The hilarious part about that was Emily would come home and say, “you know, I shot this amazing beautiful scene today.” And I was like, “I killed a child on page 10.” She was like, “Oh my God.” We were in like two totally different zones completely. But it was really a great spot. I said to Emily that I’ve always loved England and I’ve loved London. I’m probably an Anglophile, always have been. Hence marrying her. But I said I don’t know that I’d ever lived there. And then we spent that time in Richmond and I wrote the script there. And I thought, oh my God, I would move here in a heartbeat. There was something so literary in the air. It really felt like you could feel the masters of way, way, way back literature all around you. It was a perfect place. And a pub on the corner. I mean, a post-writing session pub run, it’s really helpful to have one really close.
Caroline Waxler: No one’s gonna argue with you on that.
John Krasinski: Yeah, exactly.
Caroline Waxler: And do you have any favorite spots in Brooklyn, where you’re writing A Quiet Place 2?
John Krasinski: I have an office in my house and that’s where I’m starting to write now. We just moved in so I’m trying to break in the room as much as I’m breaking in the apartment. But I remember when I was younger, I always used to love writing in the library. I used to try to find, there was something about being among a whole lot of other people, but removed. So you’d try to find a corner or something like that. I haven’t done that in a while, but it really is …
I’m a big, and when I say history nerd I mean there’re, most people are smarter than me when it comes to history, but I’m a history vibe guy. So I’m the nerd who will find out every single bar that Bob Dylan played at or where did Hemingway drink and try to go to those places for inspiration. One of my friends just introduced me to the bar that was in The Verdict. So my favorite script of all time, or my favorite movie, is The Verdict. And he found, he brought me to the bar. Didn’t tell me. Just watched my face while I was drinking and was like wait a minute. And he said yeah, this is the bar that they shot the opening of The Verdict in. So things like that totally inspire me and get me going.
Caroline Waxler: Wow. Well, you realize people are going to be going to upstate New York and going to the pharmacy.
John Krasinski: Yeah. Exactly.
Caroline Waxler: Where you guys …
John Krasinski: That’s in Beacon, New York. It’s actually a natural food market.
Caroline Waxler: It’s fabulous. And where’s the bridge?
John Krasinski: The bridge is in New Paltz.
Caroline Waxler: Great. Well, you just set up the walking tour now.
John Krasinski: Exactly. Yeah. No, it was really cool. We were in the Savannah Film Festival. Emily and I got these incredible awards for A Quiet Place and as we were walking through the press line, this girl handed me these shirts that she had made of just the bridge. So it’s said A Quiet Place with just the bridge. And she said I’m from New Paltz so I’m making these t-shirts of just the bridge because you shot there. And I thought that’s the coolest thing ever. I loved that t-shirt. It’s awesome.
Caroline Waxler: Great. Thank you and thank you so much for doing this.
John Krasinski: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. This was great.
Caroline Waxler: My pleasure.
Caroline Waxler: That will do it for this episode. On Writing is a production of the Writers Guild of America East. Tech production and original music by Stock Boy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America East online at wgaeast.org and follow the guild on social media at @wgaeast. And if you liked this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. We appreciate your tuning in. Write On.