While they focused on a post-apocalyptic version of the world in A Quiet Place, the latest film from co-writers/directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods explores that unsettling thought in the back of our minds when we walk through a haunted house: what if this is all real? Following its well-received world premiere at Popcorn Frights Film Festival, Haunt is now in theaters from Momentum Pictures (and will be unleashed on the streaming service Shudder beginning October 24th), and we caught up with Beck and Woods to discuss the real-life inspiration for Haunt, collaborating with producer Eli Roth, creating the haunted house of their dreams, and the creative opportunities brought about by the success of A Quiet Place.
Congratulations on Haunt coming to theaters and then to Shudder soon, and the new Fright-Rags shirt, too!
Bryan Woods: We're so excited about Shudder. That was our dream home for it and we were just fingers crossed that that could all work out and close, because that's where we want the movie to live, so it's awesome.
Yeah. It's like a horror version of Netflix, as far as streaming platforms go. It just couldn't have been better for you guys.
Bryan Woods: We've been subscribers to Shudder forever. Since it first popped up, it's always been an amazing platform. It's got better and better and better, all the cool stuff they're doing in it. I love that they do live TV feeds. It makes me feel nostalgic for the time when we only had cable. And then we just turn the TV on and you just watch whatever's on TV. It's just so fun to do that.
So, I know you guys talked about this at Popcorn Frights, but for readers who don't know, did you guys have the idea for Haunt for a long time? Because I know this comes out of your real-life experiences of going to haunted attractions in Iowa, but did you want to do something like this for a long time, or did you just come up with it within the past few years? What was that process like for you guys?
Scott Beck: Yeah, it's kind of a combination. So when we were writing A Quiet Place, we got a phone call actually from our producer, Todd Garner, who we had worked with on other projects in the past, but he had been scouting an abandoned factory for another movie entirely in Atlanta, Georgia. And he got the idea of like, "Oh, we should do a haunted house movie." And he called us up, just pitching us basically that. And our imagination started running wild with, "Oh, when we were kids growing up in Iowa, think about the abandoned factories that people would retrofit to be these really down and dirty haunted houses." And we just started getting excited about essentially building the haunted house of our dreams.
So it was one part of that spark. But I think beyond that, there was also this storyline of what essentially became Harper [Katie Stevens] and her trying to overcome these traumatic incidents that were happening to her. And that was a character that we had sketched out for another project entirely that never ended up moving forward. But we were like, we want to find a way to marry those two ideas, and not just do a haunted house movie, but do something where it shows somebody dealing with the trauma through the lens of this genre film.
I love her arc in this movie, too, because you did some unexpected things with her, and I think it was a really badass arc that you took her on. When you guys were creating this haunted attraction, did you have to draw a map of the haunted house? It's a very location-based movie, like a chess match between these characters.
Bryan Woods: Totally, yeah. Our scripts are always a little zany and out there. A Quiet Place was a very unique read, trying to break as many screenwriting rules as possible with images and bizarre formatting, so it started early in the script. With Haunt, we were breaking certain things in the script that implied a floor plan of this haunt. It's like a passage, like in a maze section, when the passage goes left, we would write a line, even like slug lines. And if the passage went right, we'd throw it over on the right margin. And then we started sketching out a bunch of really crappy drawings as we do, because we are not very good drawers.
And then really, more than that, it was about bringing on a production designer. And the person we wanted, the person we sought out, we started watching, we talked about what are our favorite movies in terms of production design over the last 10 years. And we were like, okay, Spike Jonze's Her, La La Land, The Neon Demon. We started talking about all these great movies. And we're like, well, who art directs? Was there a common theme here? And this man named Austin Gorg art directed all of those films, all of our favorite production design movies.
And so we were like, well, maybe he would want to production design this movie. Take somebody who is not necessarily well versed in horror, but has a left of center perspective on the genre. And so really bringing him on was everything, because he's such an artist and he's also an architect in many ways.
Scott Beck: And he built haunted houses when he was a teenager in the neighborhood. So he brought a lot of his love of doing that to the table, unbeknownst to us when we hired him. He loved creating overhead schematics and trying to figure out how this all practically laid together. To the point where if any company ever wanted to make a board game called Haunt, just deliver that overhead and you could create a really fun game of playing heroes and villains.
Bryan Woods: I love that idea. And yes, it's true. It's crazy because he just would build other sets so they're all disjointed and these random things, but he did the math of figuring out how they all fit together as a real haunt. So it's all him. He did such a great job.
I want to see this board game now. If Shudder ever makes a board game line, that would be perfect. Where did you film this?
Scott Beck: Originally it was going to be Atlanta and then it ended up being in the Cincinnati region. What was fun though is we found out that supposedly that region is the home of the haunted house. Back in the mid 20th century, that's where haunted houses first started cropping up. So it felt special to be able to make a haunted house movie in that region. And then beyond that, we shot this over the actual Halloween season. It was really fun to have the casting crew show up in costumes on October 31st and just imbue the entire movie with that exciting spirit.
Yeah, I think The Blair Witch Project wrapped production on Halloween, so that's kind of cool that you guys were able to kind of do that as well and have that spirit. How many days did you have to shoot it?
Scott Beck: Yeah, for us it felt really quick just because it was so truncated. I think it was within 19 or 20 days, and we tried to push the envelope every single day because there were always so many logistical concerns. And Bryan and I, our approach to filmmaking has always been very specific about where the camera goes, and sometimes that requires shooting 40 to 50 setups in a day, where otherwise you might be shooting 20 to 25 setups. So, from a directing standpoint, we felt like we were running a gauntlet every single day and never really had a chance to catch our breath until we reached the end of the marathon.
One thing that is already iconic about this movie is the characters' appearances. We talked about the Fright-Rags shirt that's coming out for the masks, but one of the most shocking moments of the movie is when we see some of the reveals of these characters. It was really fun to watch that with an audience. When you guys were writing this, were you really detailed about how all the masks and the people looked, or did you work with your costume designer Nancy [Collini] on that? Was it a collaboration?
Bryan Woods: Everything is always a collaboration. We were very specific in the script, we knew we wanted to have the vintage, 1930-style masks on the outside and these low-key costumes that could have been put together fairly quickly on short notice.
And the reveal, under the masks, we went into detail on the page about what those faces look like, but our makeup effects guys, it was also just an amazing collaboration with them, designing the faces and going back and forth with those guys. And they really had to turn it around quickly. And we just thought they did such a beautiful job and really elevated it. That was one of the most fun things about the movie for us, marinating in the joy of the Halloween season. We talked about it as if we could design our own Universal Monsters. What would that look like? Or what would the devil look like? We'd love to do a sequel because there's so many characters we didn't even get to do. We'd love to do the mummy or the werewolf. It was just so fun getting to create these characters.
This already sounds like a Halloween Horror Nights maze idea.
Scott Beck: Absolutely, yeah. Well, Eli Roth, he has stuff based on there, so we just need to call him up and get it going.
Yeah, and you guys worked with Eli, which is really cool, because he wanted to do a haunted house movie anyway. And it just all lined up when he found out about Haunt.
Scott Beck: Yeah, exactly. It was a surreal phone call that Bryan and I got one day from Todd Garner and I think our other producer, Jeremy Stein. Where he was like, "Eli Roth read the script, he loves it. He wants to sit down." And at first we were like, "Oh, does Eli want to direct it now?" And we found out, no, he just had this appetite to have his hands, his fingerprints on a haunted house movie. And so that first meeting we got to sit down with him, and it was great because we were fans of Eli since we were kids, digging into his DVD commentaries where he would do three or four tracks for each individual film. It was a film school of sorts.
And that's how we really thought about Eli's advice for the whole process of making the movie and pressure testing it under his own lens and seeing like, "Is it scary enough? Are the characters good enough? Are you rooting for everybody, whether it's the heroes or the villains?" And it became this really fun collaboration of opening up his encyclopedic knowledge of the horror genre and his ability to be an ambassador for the horror genre, and just put all of that into the film.
What we really admire about Eli is that he does take his time with his characters, and that's something that we certainly aspire to. And there exists longer cuts where you're sitting with the characters for 30–40 minutes into the opening of the film, which we found out we didn't want to do that, but we just really love that blend of being able to make a scary movie, but hopefully have characters that you are rooting for throughout the process.
In addition to Haunt, are there any upcoming projects that you guys can talk about? Obviously, A Quiet Place 2 is in the works. How much involvement do you guys have with that? Is there anything you can say about that or any other stuff coming up that you're excited about?
Scott Beck: Well, since we created A Quiet Place, there's always a certain degree of involvement that we'll have in any sequels or spinoffs, but outside of that, opening weekend last year, we all got the news from the studio that, "Hey, we want to make a sequel," and that includes John [Krasinski], where we all sat back and were like, "I don't know, the movie stands alone by itself, I don't know if we need a sequel." And so after some soul searching, I think for all three of us, John ended up coming with an idea that he got really excited about and wanted to craft.
But on the shoulders of that film's success that we're incredibly grateful for, Bryan and I wanted to move forward on all the passion projects that aren't based on anything else, that aren't sequels, that aren't remakes, but can be original and special ideas in and of themselves. So there's a big, crazy idea that we have now that we're working on and hopefully can announce in the next couple of months, that probably before A Quiet Place, its success would be laughed off, just in terms of the sheer audacity of what the idea is.
Bryan Woods: And we've also been able to take the last year as an opportunity to work with some of our heroes. So we're working on a Stephen King project right now [an adaptation of King's short story The Boogeyman] that we're super excited about, that we're writing and directing for Fox. And then we've got a project with Sam Raimi right now that we can't talk about, other than to say that, not only is it a dream to get to meet a hero like Sam, but he's also just the nicest guy and still loves filmmaking like he's a film student. And that's so inspiring.
So we've just been taking the last year to set up as many of our passion projects as humanly possible and we hope in the wake of A Quiet Place that it'll be easier to get some cool big-swing movies done.