Behind the Lens: Interview with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the talented writing team behind “A Quiet Place” and the wonderful new film “Haunt”.
Haunt is an awesome new film, just in time for Halloween, that explores the deepest fears people have about going to haunted attractions and makes those fears a reality. Co-writers and producers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods also wrote/produced the phenomenal thriller from last year, A Quiet Place.
These guys are on a serious genre roll, and I got a chance to talk to them about this amazing experience. Interesting and fun to talk to, Scott and Bryan will inspire writers to just get out there and just follow their dreams, because you never know what might happen.
INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT BECK AND BRYAN WOODS
Los Angeles Zombie Girl: Scott and Bryan, thanks so much for chatting with me today. I’ve seen Haunt and A Quiet Place and love them both. But since it comes out this week, let’s start out by talking about your newest release – Haunt!
Scott Beck: Thank you! Haunt is essentially a Halloween themed film, that follows Harper, a college student who has been dealing with a lot of baggage and abusive situations in her life; and everything all comes to a head on Halloween night. She and some friends go out to find a haunted attraction and finally end up at one where they discover everything that is scary there, is 100% real! That’s where the stakes really start getting worse.
Bryan Woods: I think for Scott and myself it was an opportunity to kind of marinate and roll around in all our favorite horror tropes and all the amazing ideology of what the Halloween season brings. This was an opportunity for us to create some monsters and just have a blast with all our favorite genre essentials. We love horror so much!
LAZG: Are you both fans of going to interactive haunt type attractions?
SB: When Bryan and I were kids, part of the reason we were even inspired to write Haunt, was because of our haunted house experiences. Bryan and I have known each other since we were 11 years old, grew up in Iowa together and the haunted house attractions they had there were actually very shady.
They would take over abandoned factories in the middle of nowhere, pretty much like in the movie, and it would just be populated by volunteers who just loved scaring people in the worst way possible. So, it didn’t feel like it was an overproduced haunted house, it really played to leaving these breathing spaces where you walk down dark corridors and didn’t know what was coming out at you. It wasn’t an assault on the senses with sound, it was just very mean, scary and you felt unsafe going into it. But as teenagers, you of course wanted that experience.
LAZG: Cool! I’ve worked in the Haunt Industry for more years than I can count, and trust me, scaring is an adrenaline rush, and we do live to scare the crap out of people! (Laughs) You guys have been quoted saying, “What you imagine is scarier.” Why do you think that is true?
BW: We think movies have a tendency to impose what they think is scary on an audience and in a way, haunted houses do that as well. Like where you go into a haunted house and it kind of assaults you with noises and things that they think is scary. Sometimes an audiences’ imagination is the most frightening thing.
So, when we think about cinema, well, let me give you an example. When I was in high school and I saw the Blair Witch Project, that movie affected me so profoundly in terms of how scared I was when I went home after seeing it in the theater. The movie doesn’t show anything, it’s very vague there’s hardly any major set pieces, it’s very simple, but the active imagination of a teenager or anyone is frightening.
What were the sounds outside the tent, what is happening off camera that we can’t quite see? That’s a lesson we hold dearly to us and put in in all of our movies. A Quiet Place was very much about, and very much an investment in the belief that sound design is itself is one of the greatest tools a horror filmmaker has in their toolbox. We wanted to make an entire movie about sound; basically, sound is the monster. Because we knew how effective that can be in genre movies.
LAZG: Haunt and A Quiet Place are very different types of films and I heard you were writing them at the same time. How did that come about?
SB: So, it came about because we wanted to write scripts that could get made. Projects we could film in our own backyards if need be. So, when A Quiet Place was written it very much was leaning into; we could get $50,000 and shoot a version of the story.
Haunt was the same thing where we knew there was a location, originally in Atlanta, that we were going to build a haunted house in. A place where we could just create a vessel to scare audiences. They both though, were scratching a different itch of our love of the horror genre.
A Quiet Place was very rooted in our love of The Sixth Sense and M. Night Shayamalan where he blends beautiful character drama with high concept stories. Whereas Haunt was pretty much our love of John Carpenter and Toby Hooper’s The Fun House and just wanting to create a thrill ride from start to finish, that leans into the Halloween tropes that we know and love as fans of the genre.
LAZG: In Haunt you don’t really give us any of the details about the people running the haunt. Did you write them all a backstory?
BW: There is, and I’m glad you picked up on that and are asking about it because it is a philosophy that we also applied to A Quiet Place. There is not a lot know about the monsters in because again it’s kind of our belief that the audience investment and imagination is part of the conversation of the film.
Having said that, our producer Eli Roth was excellent in the script development stage, in challenging us to not share the backstory of the villains. His belief was that we need to know, so that the audience knows that we know. (laughs) We don’t have to tell everybody what these guys are doing and why they’re doing it.
But the confidence, the feeling that we’re on sure footing and we know what’s going on behind the scenes was really important to him. So, that’s something we embraced and absolutely held the key to the kingdom on that. We have all the history and we loved kind of pulling it back and let the audience fill in some of the gaps themselves.
LAZG: Did you share your backstories with the actors, or did they have their own ideas?
SB: Both, it’s a marriage of that. With a collaborator that we work with, we love bringing to the table our assessment and what the story point might be, but it’s a conversation that we share and that extends to all the villain characters. We peeked in as much as we really needed or wanted to, but that certainly is a story that lives beyond what you see on the screen.
LAZG: What was your favorite part about working on Haunt?
SB: Well, first and foremost, being able to build an actual haunt inside an abandoned dairy factory in northern Kentucky. That was incredibly fun! Our production designer, Austin Gorg, had worked as art director on films like Neon Demon, Midnight Special, Her, and La La Land; all gorgeous looking movies!
So, we hired him and unbeknownst to us, it wasn’t until we had him on set that we found out, he had built haunted houses as a kid. Coming out of this film was very much him enacting that childhood dream of getting a chance to build all these incredible set pieces that would be seen on screen.
Beyond that, the other incredibly fun part about the process was, we got to shoot the film over the Halloween season, and on actual October 31st the crew came in different costumes, like Freddy Krueger. Brian and myself, we dressed up individually as Harper and Nathan (characters in Haunt). It was such a fun spirit that imbued the entire set, because we were able to celebrate the Halloween season, while filming a Halloween themed movie.
LAZG: Wow, talk about a win, win. You didn’t have to miss Halloween! Going back to A Quiet Place, how do you feel you were able to successfully create a terrifying film with almost no talking?
BW: We love silent films. It’s an era that’s sadly gone by. Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights and French filmmaker Jacques Tati, who we adore, with his masterpiece Play Time, and many other films. We wanted to marry our love of silent film and those that had synced sound and music but were using the visual language of cinema to tell a story. And that’s really where A Quiet Place came from.
We just thought it would be really special to do a modern-day silent film and mix it with our love of movies like Alien or Jaws, using sound as a weapon against the audience.
LAZG: So, you guys have known each other for a long time. When you work together on a project do you have different strengths that you bring to the table?
SB: Brian and I, since we’ve worked together for so long, we grew up learning the same principals of film making and latched onto the same inspirations. So, the way that we view our partnership is very much one that is free of ego, which means best idea wins! Beyond that, I think we just really love going through the ups and downs of the filmmaking process with a friend.
So, it’s not just a business partnership, but it’s very much a friendship that keeps us excited, keeps us laughing when things get difficult — and it’s something that we feel very fortunate to have. We have somebody else to bounce ideas off and challenge each other every day.
LAZG: In horror films, the SFX makeup is really important and yours was terrific. Can you tell us about who you worked with?
SB: Thank you for saying that. So, our make-up effects artists were Hugo Villasenor and Chris Bridges. They came in with the loose ideas that Brian and I were throwing around and then elevated them over the roof. They really wanted to lean into this idea of body modification where it’s something that you see in sub-cultures all over the world.
We wanted it to be scarier than reality and wanted to push it just a slight degree further. Also, at the same time leaning into the tropes of what they actually are, so maybe the clown has sort of a clown look to him that feels very dangerous. The ideas that they brought to the table leaned very heavily into tattoos done with natural scarring, or some sort of eye modification.
It was fun to create a backstory with Chris and Hugo: how did these guys do this to their faces, when did they do this, why? This was one of the really fun collaborations.
LAZG: All the haunt workers had extreme body modification and I wondered how they all found each other. That being said, is there going to be a part two so we can learn about their crazy stories?
BW: (Laughs) It would be really fun to do a part two mostly just because we feel like there are so many fun monsters left on the table that we didn’t get to create. This first movie Haunt gave us the Devil, a ghost, a zombie, a vampire. And it would be so fun to extend that to The Mummy and Wolfman!
Again, we love Halloween so much. We grew up on these horror movies, and it’s just great to roll around in the fun of the season. It would be a blast to do another.
LAZG: For Haunt you got to work with Eli Roth. What was that like?
SB: Eli was kind of a dream to work with as a filmmaker. Just because he is such an ambassador for the genre and just a genuinely nice guy. Having his expertise lent early in the process, like to figure out what’s the best version of the script. He would always come to the table with incredible movie recommendations and just was a big champion for us.
And also, just from filmmaker to filmmaker, you are able to go through all the processes of production and post-production. We were able just to use him as a resource, hear all his war stories and figure out how to learn from those.
LAZG: Thanks, so much Scott and Bryan. I can’t wait to see what you do next!