"A Quiet Place" Speaks Volumes About Sound's Storytelling Power
Ethan Van der Ryn (l) and Erik Aadahl
Audio vets Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl discuss movie’s creative challenges, collaborating with director/actor/writer/EP John Krasinski
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If you turn down the noise, you can hear yourself think and perhaps even better, listen to what’s around you. That’s a prime dynamic which has come into play for A Quiet Place (Paramount Pictures) starring Emily Blunt and John Krasinski who also serves as the film’s director, co-writer and an executive producer. Set in a post-apocalyptic, not-too-distant future, A Quiet Place is where mysterious creatures hunt people based on the slightest of sounds. Krasinski and Blunt portray a couple having to live a quiet existence, literally, in order to continue to exist--along with their kids played by Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds.

The horror thriller has become a major commercial success, topping the North American box office in its debut week, In contrast to typically high decibel feature fare, this hit movie contains little or no spoken dialogue with the family frequently deploying sign language. Even the score is relatively sparse. 

Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl were supervising sound editors on A Quiet Place, which they regard as a plum assignment. “Audiences might assume that the hardest project is one with wall-to-wall sound, a lot of bombast and volume. But the opposite is quite true,” affirmed Aadahl. “The most difficult but at the same time the dream job is the film that is nuanced and quiet, with great delicacy in the sound. You have to be brutal at times about what sounds you choose to play--and what sounds not to play, what sounds to strip out. 

“The first thing we stripped out,” continued Aadahl, “was music during the introduction of the daughter--portrayed by Millicent Simmonds who herself is deaf and playing a deaf character. In that opening scene we wanted to establish her deafness sonically--not using exposition or dialogue. By stripping away dialogue and music, we could create a sonic point of view for her. John (Krasinski) called that ‘her envelope.’”

Van der Ryn recalled, “I was blown away by the script in which sound design was so integral to the telling of the story. Sound was burnt into the script’s DNA. In the past decade or so, Erik and I have been exploring sound design as a storytelling tool. That exploration took root fully in A Quiet Place--spanning the contrast between loud and quiet, the different frequencies, the whole idea of sound emerging out of quiet, the different levels of quiet. After reading the script, we met with John and it was clear he would be the ultimate creative collaborator. He was so excited about the possibilities inherent in the script.”

Van der Ryn and Aadahl carry an audio pedigree that was up to the script’s challenge, having teamed on a couple of Best Achievement in Sound Editing Oscar nominations--for Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 2012, and Argo the following year. Prior to connecting with Aadahl, Van der Ryn teamed with supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins to win a pair of Best Sound Editing Oscars--for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in 2003, and King Kong in 2006.

When Van der Ryn was in L.A. for the Academy Awards as a nominee for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, he first met industry pro Aadahl who was teaching a sound class at USC. The two struck up a rapport with Van der Ryn later offering Aadahl the chance to work with him on Michael Bay’s first Transformers movie. Van der Ryn and Aadahl kept on collaborating after that, eventually making their bond official by co-founding E² Sound which originally operated out of rented sound design suites at Sony. Four years ago, E² moved to the Warner Bros. Studios lot; the sound shop has worked with assorted studios, including Universal, Fox, DreamWorks and Disney.

Learning experience
A Quiet Place provided an education for even industry vets like Van der Ryn and Aadahl. “I learned that you could be bold with sonic storytelling, not being afraid of silence, of stripping things down and using the power of quiet,” related Van der Ryn. “This can affect an audience in ways they aren’t accustomed to. One of the super gratifying things for us is seeing audiences for this film get quiet and fully sucked into the experience. Our work is being heard in a way it hasn’t been heard before. A lot of it has to do with there being so much space in the track that other details can come out and shine.”

Aadahl observed, “The world we live in is a place of incessant noise and stimulation. It’s impossible to escape the constant barrage of noise. This film flips it all upside down as we have negative space, quiet, silence. Because audiences aren’t used to that kind of silence, it makes for a novel, unsettling experience. It also makes the audience a participant actively in the film--and that’s excited moviegoers as well as Ethan and me.

“In some of the reviews I’ve read,” continued Aadahl, “once people come out of the theater, they are hearing their surroundings, the world around them, in a different way. They’re listening and perceiving more. If people can experience their lives and their surroundings in a fresh way through having experienced this movie, that’s remarkable and very gratifying for us to be a part of.”

Aadahl and Van der Ryn also gave considerable credit to co-supervising sound editor Brandon Jones whom Van der Ryn said “did a ton of critical sound design” for A Quiet Place.

Van der Ryn and Aadahl are currently working on Transformers spinoff Bumblebee, a Christmas season release being directed by Travis Knight who made an auspicious helming debut with Kubo And The Two Strings. Van der Ryn and Aadahl also teamed on the Marc Forster-directed Christopher Robin, a movie centered on the title character from Winnie the Pooh who as a grownup is facing a midlife crisis. He is able to reconnect with some of the characters from the Pooh stories which serves to reawaken his joy and curiosity. Christopher Robin is slated for an August release. Additionally Van der Ryn and Aadahl are scheduled next year to work on the sequel to director Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla movie.



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