Inside The Sound Of Multimillion-Dollar Box Office Hit, ‘A Quiet Place Part 2’
A Quiet Place Part II is one of 2021’s biggest box office hits. It has, to date, grossed $290.52 million worldwide.
While the film’s cast and director have all garnered acclaim for the parts they played in bringing the post-apocalyptic horror to fruition, the people behind the sequel’s sound have been consistently singled out for their award-worthy work.
As A Quiet Place Part II lands on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD, I caught up with the film’s sound editors, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl, to break down how they pulled it off and how sound has helped the movie become one of 2021’s cinematic success stories.
Simon Thompson: Where do you start when you’re creating the soundscape for a movie like A Quiet Place II?
Erik Aadahl: It starts on the script level, and before John Krasinski had even shot the first film, he had us come in, and we started discussing the script and bouncing ideas around. The first thing that grabbed me was how incredible it was putting Regan, the deaf daughter, in this world where sound is deadly. This family has to understand how to use sound to survive. Before we could do anything, I think we had to start with piecing together the logic of this world, reverse engineering how these creatures perceived reality through sound. We started thinking about bats and dolphins and how they use echolocation, so we thought that these creatures could use clicks to reverberate through the environment too. This was a sound puzzle of a film, where sound is a central character.
Thompson: What is the dynamic for you guys. Do you work together or separately and then bring your pieces together?
Ethan Van der Ryn: We tend to work together. We tend to sit together, react together, and bounce ideas off of each other. I think part of part of the way we work is we’re each our own worst critic. From very early in my career, I realized that the most important thing for me was to surprise myself. When I was working, I thought, ‘What can I do that will make me go wow?’ We really function that way for each other. We want to create work that surprises ourselves and surprises each other.
Thompson: Are there questions you ask yourself to make sure something is working?
Aadahl: How do we give ourselves goosebumps? I remember the first time we tried taking out the sound on a close-up of Regan to put the audience into her shoes, and we just got chills. That was when we thought, ‘This is going to be amazing. How do we do a deep dive into this?’ That led us to make sonic points of view of the creatures or when headphones come on, and we hear music. Both A Quiet Place movies are such amazing playgrounds for us to engage the audience in a new way and make them act as active participants in the story.
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Thompson: Wider audiences seem to be noticing, and more appreciative, of sound design these days, and that was undoubtedly a factor in the box office success of A Quiet Place Part II. Do you get that?
Aadahl: Yeah, I think there’s a growing appreciation and awareness of it. Sound is invisible, it’s not a physical, tangible thing that you can put your finger on, and it only exists in time. It is this abstract thing. I think audiences are getting a lot savvier and are demanding, you know, to be wowed, and have new experiences. That’s what’s so fun about this project. When people leave the theaters and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m experiencing reality in a new way and thinking about sound in a new way.’ Nothing can be more gratifying.
Van der Ryn: Just talking about A Quiet Place Part II and the fact that it played a part in getting audiences back into theaters for the first time in a year and a half. You will still have a blast with the movie at home, but one of the things we were hearing was that you need to see and hear and experience this film in a real movie theater to experience the full impact of the sound. That was super cool for us as sound designers on the movie to hear.
Aadahl: The best filmmakers and the best producers know that sound is half the experience. You can have a great movie and crappy sound, and it’ll turn the movie crappy. The best filmmakers understand that. We won’t talk about the ones that don’t.
Thompson: In A Quiet Place Part II, or the first film, were there any things that were happy accidents that had a significant impact on the final result?
Van der Ryn: It’s interesting because part of our work process involves collecting sounds from the world, taking them back into our studio, and manipulating them to become whatever we’re trying to create. A lot of that recording process ends up with us recording random things so that sometimes feels like a happy accident. Sometimes the one thing we didn’t know would be useful turns out to be the perfect sound. An example of that in A Quiet Place Part II was for the echolocation clicks of the creatures. We have a stun gun in our studio, and we started playing around with it. We had a bowl of grapes in the kitchen, so we put the stun gun against the grapes and got this odd clicking sound. We recorded that, we brought it back into the studio, slowed it down, and that’s what became the echolocation clicks for the creatures. That wasn’t planned out; it just came from being playful.
Aadahl: One of my favorite things about sound is how malleable it is. It’s like sculpture. You can take a sound that has nothing to do with what’s happening on screen and make this alchemy that is believable. It’s almost like abstract art in a way. That’s what I love. The creature vocals when they’re agitated, when they shriek; those are not animal recordings. Those are happy accidents, serendipitous recordings of totally different things that we played around with. Suddenly that strange friction squeak we recorded turns into a creature.
Thompson: We know a third A Quiet Place movie has been given the green light. Are you already starting to get ideas together for that?
Van der Ryn: We have many ideas, but we haven’t heard anything about what direction it’s going to take. There are things that we would love to be able to do, challenges we would love to be able to explore, but we’re going to need to see what direction the script goes in.
A Quiet Place Part II is available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD from Tuesday, July 27, 2021, through Paramount Home Entertainment.