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In the tricky world of sequel-making, the goal is to always raise the bar in every department for a richer, more layered experience. With A Quiet Place: Part II, returning supervising sound editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn had a particularly daunting creative hurdle to best because they were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Sound Editing for their work on A Quiet Place.
Figuring out how to once again surprise, illuminate and augment the experiences of the Abbott family — including deaf daughter Regan — just with sound became integral to director John Krasinski and the duo even from the scripting stage.
In fact, the sequence that asked the most of Aadahl and Van der Ryn in the sequel came right at the opening with the 10-minute prologue crafted by Krasinski to reveal how the monsters arrived, and what they did to the quaint small town the Abbott's called home before the events of the original film.
Typically on all films, sound designers and sound editors sit down with a director to “spot” all the instances in the edit where they will engineer sound to tell elements of the story, or where the score will take up the aural space. But in both A Quiet Place films, as Van der Ryn explains to SYFY WIRE, they did it a different way.
“We said [to John] that, 'We would really like to go back to our studio and spend a couple of days alone with the movie and just start working through it, being able to react viscerally, ourselves, and instinctually," Van der Ryn explains. "And then we'd like to send you a scene or two to listen to and give us feedback.' We find it super helpful to be able to create this dialogue with a director where they have something to react to, as opposed to trying to mouth out in our heads how everything should play.”
It became the winning collaboration process that they carried through into the sequel.
“Ethan and I have collaborated on dozens of films, and I found that we are our own harshest critics,” Aadahl explains about their process. “We do our best work when we're trying to give each other goosebumps and surprise each other in our collaboration, and in our work. And that's one of the things that's been so fun about A Quiet Place Part II is we're our own audience too.”
The opening sequence was in fact the very first scene of the entire film that the duo tackled.
“The opening of the film was my favorite chunk of the film to work on because it's got a little bit of everything,” Aadahl says. “It's also the only stretch of 10 minutes that there's no music. It is pure, visceral sound design, and by not having music, it feels more real. And I love the arc of it that John created in the script where it's just 'a day in the life,' with this sleepy little town’s Main Street. And there's little sound details like the ding of a flagpole, the little click of the street stoplight. You think we're back into the world of A Quiet Place, and then vroom! A pickup truck comes in and John steps out. And it's incredible to me how much tension there can be where there's nothing happening. It's the anticipation of what's going to happen.”
Van der Ryn says their first creative choices were about how to use the techniques introduced around the monsters and their signature sounds, and then Regan’s perspective, to again weave a tapestry of unexpected sound.
“I love being able to help create this scene that just becomes total chaos,” Van der Ryn says. “Being able to flip from the middle of that into Regan's (Millicent Simmonds) point of view of total silence, to me, that was such a powerful use of that idea that we established in the first film, where at times we flipped into her sonic POV being able to strip all the sound out. But now in this one, in the opening of the movie, being able to go from loud, chaotic, scariness into total silence. For me, that was the ultimate use of that tool that was developed in the first film, so that was very exciting.”
“And then once the creatures appear, we just methodically unfold, step-by-step, the chaos, which is taking a step up and up and up,” Aadahl continues. “But built into that, we've got these moments of quiet where characters are trying to hold their breath, or we go into Regan's point of view. To me, it's just like being in a playground as a sound designer, that kind of a sequence.”
Aadahl reveals that one of their favorite team choices in the whole sequence came from Krasinski scripting a sound moment coming out of the car crash with Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and the boys into Regan's point of view. “That was in the script,” he says. “But one thing that we didn't really know was, when do we come out of her point of view? I think in our first pass, we came out when the streetlight comes crashing down, and we snap back into audience reality. We wound up moving it until Lee touches his daughter and grabs her to pull her away. That touch is the turning point and puts us back into normal reality. We were doing that until the very last day of the final mix.”
Asked their personal favorite films for sound excellence, Van der Ryn offers director Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout (1971).
“I saw it when I was a pretty young kid, and I didn't really think about it, or analyze it. But it's a movie that I think about all these years later because it created an experience for me," Van der Ryn recalls. "I think that had a very subliminal impact on me, and especially coming into these A Quiet Place movies that don't have a lot of talking. That memory really informed a lot of the approach for me personally with these movies.”
Aadahl can't pick just one example but cited sound designer Walter Murch’s work on Apocalypse Now (1978) and Ben Burtt’s work for Star Wars (1977), Jurassic Park (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998).
“My partner Ethan worked on [Saving Private Ryan] and I remember coming out of that theater just thinking that I felt like I was there on the beach of Normandy. And it really was the sound that put me into the shoes of Tom Hanks on that beach with live fire coming at him," Aadahl says. "Sound can create a truly visceral reality.”
A Quiet Place Part II is available now for subscribers of Paramount+ and digital purchase. The movie, and a 2-Movie Collection (A Quiet Place Part I & II), will be available on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, Blu-ray, and DVD on July 27 from Paramount Home Entertainment.