Production Designer Simon Bowles Talks Creating The Noises, Colors and Sets Of A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE – We Are Movie Geeks


Production Designer Simon Bowles Talks Creating The Noises, Colors and Sets Of A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE

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In 2018, John Krasinski’s A QUIET PLACE turned silence into the building blocks of fright and forged from the horror-thriller genre a modern fable of family love, communication and survival. With its mix of relentless tension and layered storytelling about a tightknit clan fending off an immensely destructive, sound-attuned alien force, the film became a startling hit and cultural phenomenon.

Starting the second chapter quite literally mere seconds after the first movie ends, Krasinski wanted A QUIET PLACE PART II to again be more than a visceral sensory experience. It had to also drive the Abbott family’s emotional journey forward—this time, towards both independence and community.

Playing in theaters now is director Michael Sarnoski ‘s A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE. A prequel to A QUIET PLACE, the film takes place on the day the creatures arrived on Earth. Set in New York City, audiences witness the devastation of the invasion and how people were thrust into a survival mode of “If they hear you, they hunt you.”

Jim Batts wrote in his review that “Sarnoski captures that feeling of doom and dread, especially as we get several hints early on (jets in formation) that all Hell was soon “break loose”. While there are grand, epic “set pieces” of the aliens scurrying up buildings, Sarnoski really focuses on the folks at ground level. This is best highlighted in a mass exodus street scene in which the smallest noises alert the beasts who zip through the crowds, picking off the marchers with swift efficiency. It’s nightmare imagery, building on the hopelessness hinted at as the bridges to the city are taken out hinting that the feds think that our greatest metropolis is a “loss”. review.

Sitting at 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE has done well at the box office, grossing $178.2 million worldwide (as of July 7, 2024). It had a strong domestic opening of $52.2 million, the highest in the franchise’s history.

Recently WAMG spoke with British Production Designer, Simon Bowles. From historical dramas to comedies to horror films, Bowles has designed for films such as THE DESCENT, DOG SOLDIERS, HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON, THE SON and PRIDE. He has collaborated twice with director Amma Asante on BELLE and A UNITED KINGDOM. The last time we spoke was 2017 for his work on CROOKED HOUSE.

Bowles has created some of the most memorable sets in recent cinema and during our conversation after the film opened, we talked about how he designed a silent movie set showing the events that led up to the alien invasion, creating models and using virtual reality in creating a world full of monsters.

WAMG: Congratulations on the film, it’s amazing! How did you get involved and when were you brought onto the project and what kind of collaboration did you have with the director Michael Sarnoski (Pig), the cinematographer Pat Scola and especially the costume designer Bex Crofton-Atkins?

Simon Bowles: I worked on a movie called Apartment 7A, which is also for Paramount. It’s a prequel for Rosemary’s baby. It comes out premiering on Paramount plus in October.

The psychological thriller Apartment 7A stars Julia Garner, Dianne Wiest, Jim Sturgess and Kevin McNally and is directed by Natalie Erika James and produced by Platinum Dunes/Sunday Night in association with Paramount Pictures and premieres exclusively on Paramount+ in the fall, 2024. Photo Credit: Gareth Gatrell/Paramount+.

I was designing that and the producers said, “we love your work on this movie, and we would love to set up a meeting with you and A Quiet Place: Day One’s director, Michael Swarovski, which is amazing because it wasn’t just the producers asking me.  He wasn’t there at the time, but it was also John Krasinski, because this is totally his baby. I was really bowled over and so grateful for the opportunity even just to speak to Michael about the project.

I’m a massive fan of the first two movies. I joined the BAFTA jury years ago because the films I’d worked on, like The Descent and Dog Soldiers, never got a look in at award season because they’re horror genre. I was so delighted to see that the first movie did so well, not just at the box office, but also critically and in the awards season. I was really, really eager to meet Michael and talk about the project. I read the script and put together some design movie boards and color boards and texture boards and destruction boards to create a real kind of visual feast of how I would see the movie.

Also kind of respecting, you know, the connection to the first two movies. But this one has got such a big contrast to the other two movies. You know, it’s the same world and it’s the same creatures and it’s just so fantastically… the end atmosphere is different, the cast obviously are different, but the setting of the first two movies was kind of mostly in the countryside. It was really about big open vistas and the grasses that the creatures are running through and seeing them coming nearer. There are a few interiors, obviously, but this big open rural environment. Whereas reading through Day One, that script was in Manhattan, it’s all about a vertical. You can see very little sky, but it means that the creatures can be anywhere. They can be on the rooftops, they can be in the buildings.

There are creatures in the subway as well and they burst out from underneath you as well, so it’s all about the vertical rather than the horizontal from the first two movies. I put all those balls together and lovely juicy ideas and met with Michael and we got on so well, so fantastically well. And we were laughing and talking about the gore. He’s a big fan of my horror movies, so he was asking me lots of questions about those, which is fantastic. It was just such a wonderful environment. We became best friends straight away.

It turned out that he didn’t want to meet anybody else. Actually, I think the first time I physically met him, I flew to New York to spend some time with him, but also to take the journey to kind of like we met up in the morning that we went out and about. We met in Chinatown and we walked the journey, up through the lower east side, you know, which is why there are really key elements of the story. You know, like it wasn’t in the script, but, you know, it’s really important for Samira to start her journey like heading underneath the Manhattan Bridge, because as we know, that first bit north of that’s the first connective bit of architecture that joins Chinatown Lower east side. Michael’s standing there under the Manhattan bridge saying, “we must do this. And there should be like a truck that’s kind of like the creatures have attacked and it’s hit the rail and then it’s going to burst through the rail, and the cab is kind of like half hanging up.” Just small things like that on that 1st day together, we kind of pulled out so many little elements and also things like exploring the neighborhoods.

Chinatown is so different. It connects right up to the Lower east side, but it’s so different and I wanted to be so truthful with the sets that we really represent those neighborhoods truthfully, authentically, respectfully, not make a kind of cliche of each of them. As we were going through, I was photographing my favorite stores. Obviously, there are some stores which are fairly well known in each of the neighborhoods. But I thought it would be great to really reference them, not only the color and the type of stores and what they’re selling and things, but also just a squint at it, see what the color scheme is for that neighborhood.

Obviously, Chinatown was, you know, it’s great to start with Chinatown in the movie because it’s so fantastic with the colors of the reds and the golds and the greens. Even the fire escapes are those colors and such great restaurants. I noticed the graffiti in Chinatown was very kind of dirty and layered and quite crudely done. Whereas you go into the Lower east side and suddenly they’re like murals and they’re using silver in the spray as well to add reflective quality to the graffiti. Things like the cycle lane, it’s a big green strip, so already there’s a different approach to color and texture and aging and things, so that was really great fun.


But we spent a really good day just doing that walk and then we came back to London. It was interesting talking to Michael because he’d come from kind of indie movies where you shoot everything on location and he was really like, “can we not shoot it here?” And it took me back. I had to actually, like, maybe we could, you know, let me have a look. You know, afterall, that’s not gonna work.

I did a film, The Son, with Hugh Jackman, a few years ago and it was set in New York where we shot it all in London. And then we did a little bit of location work of him getting in and out of cars and walking along and things and even just doing that was a complete nightmare because we just have no control. Luckily, everybody knows Hugh Jackman lives in New York, so all the locals just ignored him, so it was quite easy in that way, but to have somebody covered with dust and the control we would need was impossible. I put together an idea of how we would take all that information and those stores and bring it to London and build a backlot set. We built that so early on and had the fantastic Pat Scola, the DP, and Bex Crofton-Atkins, who’s the costume designer.

Director Michael Sarnoski and Lupita Nyong’o as “Samira” in A Quiet Place: Day One from Paramount Pictures.

Initially it was just Michael and I and we came up with all these ideas, and I was producing visuals, and I even kind of started building the street, designing all the buildings on the computer. And then it was like, it’s a very small step to put it into a virtual reality headset, so I had Michael walking around the backlot setting before we started building it, which was fantastic for him, again, as an indie director, to be able to come into this massive world of visual effects movies, to be able to walk into the environment and see it. You know, my team is amazing. We put on the controllers, we put a button that you press, and it kind of adds the top up so all the visual effects, all the extended stories, because we only built the lower two stories grounds – first and second and then we could build four blocks. When you stand in the middle, you always see the end because even though it’s a couple hundred feet away, you don’t see the end. It’s great for him to be able to walk around and understand that there will only be two stories on set.

To be able to switch that on and off so that when he walks on the set, it’s not like he has to just stay within the two stories. He can shoot off because it can be extended. But then bringing Pat Scola in on that and talking through the lovely sets and the research that we’ve done and the walking around New York.

Pat brought so much to it as well, with lighting and just the warmth of those first scenes. You know, we shot it at the wrong time of the year in a different country, different temperature, but we shot it in February, so we had to have massive lights on, massive cranes to really bring in the warmth of those early scenes and then bringing Bex in as well was fantastic and she comes from an interesting place as well.

Her idea for Samira’s costume, with texture of the Cardigan and the color of the cardigan and the beanie and all that stuff was fantastic and extended through into everybody’s costumes, obviously, and even the supporting artists, the extras in the background, the crowds. We wanted to really choose colors all between us, choose the colors and how they all work together and the grade and try and work all of that into the pre production period so that when we were shooting, you know, we’d watch the monitor, and that’s pretty much exactly as it appears in the movie, with very little grading. It graded it in the prep, in the design process, in the pre production period altogether. The color of the dust, the gray, what kind of color temperature that gray was, you know, worked with Denise Kum’s, the makeup design, the hair and makeup.

Lupita Nyong’o as “Samira” in A Quiet Place: Day One from Paramount Pictures.

WAMG: There were such subtle details in the original that built such tension, and it’s the sound, or lack thereof, that was such a crucial element to the first film. How do you go about designing for something that’s supposed to be really quiet and how are your set design choices taking into account the film’s focus on this kind of sonic horror? 

SB: When I was walking around Chinatown, especially Chinatown, it’s where I thought, it’s going to be so important to have those sounds at the beginning – fire trucks and noise and stuff to sell the volume. But actually, I felt that it was the lighting. I have little practical lights everywhere on a set to give the Director of Photography something to light with, to give an excuse to give a reason for having a light on someone’s face, you know, in a set. I wanted to give something for the sound department as well, something that they could use on the set, so when I was walking around Chinatown, I noticed the number of noisy things, big things and little things, 

There was a busker who was playing instruments and hooked up to a little amplifier. There was a games arcade, you know, like the pinball and things. And as I walked past that, it was really noisy. All that kind of music and beeping and even the money going in and the coins rolling down inside, and you can hear all of that really loudly. I photographed that, and they were like. There were the garbage collecting guys with these big kinds of chin height, blue plastic containers with wheels on the bottom, and they were kind of pushing them along, and the wheels were all a bit jammed and squeaky. And so they were making a noise and they kind of dump it onto the street and then push it across the street and then bang it up onto the other side.

I was photographing all these noisy things everywhere and I gave those to my set decorating and props department and said we need all of these, so I did a whole big thing on the wall of all the noisy things and they all appear in the movie and they’re all in my kind of, like, visuals for the set design as well. That’s why it’s important to see all those, partially because just to be able to play the noise level, but also it’s important to see them afterwards. When we see where the busker was, the blood smears and his equipment, the store with the arcades and with the music, with the games arcade. We actually liked it so much, we put the camera inside, so when Samira walked past, we panned with her and all you can see is all the machines all twisted and broken and all the lights are dim and you’re looking through a kind of broken void of the store and there’s blood all around it, like the creature reached in and pulled someone out and all the noisy stuff, they just smashed it all up.

We put a lot of things in there like rubber glass, broken glass and things on the streets. I pointed it out to the cast, there’s some noisy things here you might want to avoid when you’re walking through. You know, we wanted to do a lot of signs of life. People had been there like a walker for an old person and a stroller, the little teddy bear with its head torn off and blood on it. All those little elements that are in there, but, there were signs of noisy things that have been taken away.

WAMG: Even though the film was shot in London you worked with virtual reality. How did that affect your job, which is so tactile and tangible, and all of a sudden you’re having to visualize and create this world. How did that come into play as opposed to when you were working on The Descent, when you were working on Dog Soldiers, and all of a sudden, here you are with VR, putting on the goggles and having two hand controllers. Did this help you with visuals and creating New York City and Chinatown and Harlem? 

SB: Yes, it really did. It’s interesting because in my design process, there’s a very small window when virtual reality is useful, and it works really well before we start building the scenery so that the director and the director of photography can be on the set to see it. And because it’s stereoscopic, you can see what is near and what is far away.

Virtual reality isn’t a separate thing. It’s part of one of the tools that I use. On The Descent, I built scale models where the people were that big. They’re inch and a half high, and a big model of every single cave on The Descent and they were all colored, and the caves that were wet had a varnish spray on them, so there was a little kind of shininess to it. And that was really important because there were loads of caves on The Descent, 25 models, and we put them in this room with all the curtains closed, the blinds were shut, and we gave the director of photography some torches and some table lights and things. Put lights on every single one of those sets, but left them switched off so the DOP and his gaffer could go in there and they could experiment. And even actually, the little plastic figures, I put a little LED in their hand and then ran a cable off so you could stand somebody on the set to see how the set will be, so I’m still doing that.

And that’s 20 years later. I’m still holding big models and actually, the biggest model I’ve built so far is the Quiet Place: Day One. It must have been a six foot long model of the intersection, the big backlot set and you can see all the New York ones that we built. I still have big models with little toy cars, because actually, it’s still the best way to look at it and to get down low and look down the street and understand that. And it’s much easier to change things on a big model.

We get a pair of scissors in there and cut a bit off and then bend it back on itself and say, yeah, there’s this new rewrite with a little alleyway. Let’s cut that there and there, and let’s cut that little bit of store away and let’s make that. Let’s get some card here. Make a little alleyway set, that would work really well because then you come around and you would see up the street. A physical tabletop model is still invaluable, but everything is digital, so my team are drawing up. I’ve always done, in the last 15 years, it has become the norm that we’re drawing up everything in a computer but kind of elevations and plans and things for the construction team, but it’s very easy. It’s a small step to make those into something three dimensional.

And then to color it and then give that model to my concept artists. And they kind of photoshop all the textures and all the photographs I’ve taken of the noisy people and all the photographs I’ve taken of the colors of the fire escapes for different neighborhoods and things like that. They’re building a beautiful 2d visual like a piece of concept art.

We’ve got the tabletop model. We’ve got kind of beautiful visuals with cars on fire and all the things that you can’t do on a tabletop model and you can’t really do quickly, then having the virtual reality as well, you’ve understood what the set is, but now let’s kind of go onto the set and let’s walk around and understand that scale. On the back lot set, a lot of the stores had interiors, like the interior of the corner store, the bodega, so they took my quick model that I built of that, put that into the virtual reality model, so you could kind of walk in. You could go right in, and there was the guy standing behind the counter there and he had the ginger cat on the counter curb. You can walk around all the shelves and look around.

We put a couple of Humvees outside, so that shot of Samira watching the Humvees going past, I could adjust the height of the shelving and everything. We did all that in virtual reality. This was before we started building the backlot set, so this is three months before we started shooting, which is great because then, Michael and Pat and I, we’re all walking around on the backlot set seeing it come together and it seems very familiar and it was very important for all of us to be able to feel like we know what’s coming. It’s not scary. It’s a big step, but it’s not scary because we know what it looks like. We walked around on it three months ago. That’s why I think virtual reality is very useful. I’ve been using it for, I think, seven years.

I used it first on the tv show called Avenue Five because we had the same thing that Armando Iannucci had always insisted on shooting everything on location, everything, and suddenly we’re doing science fiction. I designed this massive atrium on the spaceship that was twelve stories high. This beautiful atrium you could look up inside, but we were only building three. He walked onto the set with the virtual reality goggles and went, “Wow!” I told him when you’re on set, you’ll be looking up at lighting guys having sandwiches up in the roof, but remember in the final thing, you’ll see all those stories and see people crossing and walking around, people looking down at you, you know, eight stories above you. (Trailer)

WAMG: So now you have your VR tools, the sets and you have your miniatures and models for Day One, how did you design that horrific tunnel scene with the water? I was thinking, he’s done this with The Descent because it’s in a cave and it’s claustrophobic. He’s done this with Dog Soldiers at the farmhouse and that’s very claustrophobic. And all of a sudden the tunnel’s getting smaller and smaller. There’s less room, less air pockets. It’s dark, and there’s the color palette of just grays and blacks. How did you design that tunnel scene as you did with the rest of the movie? 

SB: It’s funny, because that wasn’t originally in the script. And Michael came to me and said, I’m thinking about doing this tunnel scene, and I said let me show you a little bit of a movie I designed called The Descent. He knew my movie and asked, “how did you do that?” So I told him, and I was standing there in my office acting out, getting stuck in tunnels, and the roof getting lower, and he’s like, “so how do you do that? Do you kind of raise the water and you fill it with more water?” And I was like, no, no, we do the opposite. We bring the roof down to make it even less and less space, and you’re just sucking a tiny bit of air from a tiny bubble. And that’s how we did it on The Descent. We only built half of a cave for that scene in the water, so he’s like, we must do that. So we did. It was kind of written around our meeting about how those emotions are so raw and there’s no hope. When you know that there’s a creature behind you, you can only go forward, but you can see the roof is going down, but also the water level is rising, and it’s kind of swirling around. It was easier on The Descent because everybody had lights on them and torches and flashlights and things, whereas in this world, we know they have a small flashlight, but we must have some daylight. I came up with the idea of having these grills in the ceiling, so every now and again we all know those grills in New York, when you’re walking along, you almost see the train. You can see and hear it right under you, so let’s almost give them hope. It’s daylight and they just can’t get through the grill and it’s fixed on, and you just want to see that. Actually, we didn’t shoot it, but we talked about being able to see their fingers coming up through the grill, to get that sense of claustrophobia. I’m not claustrophobic which is why describing it to somebody is much more fun, because then you see their claustrophobia kicking in and then you know you’re onto a good thing.

WAMG: The whole film is such a triumph. What are some of the takeaways for you from working on this movie that you could bring to possibly future projects or future projects in this cinematic universe?

SB: I’m so lucky to have all the movies I’ve designed. I’ve learned so much and picked up so many things. It’s not just taking things from The Descent, it’s also taking things from movies like Hyde Park On Hudson, the Bill Murray movie, I learned so much from that as well. There’s character things that I take from everywhere. Some of them I’m aware of and some of them I’m not. I collect two feet of books, sitting on my bookshelf, on every movie. And I love to be surrounded by inspiration and enjoy taking things onto other projects.

I’ve never really been pigeonholed. I have initially in horror movies, but every horror movie was so different from the other one that it’s a joy to look back on what I’ve worked on, what I’ve learned from those, and taking it forward and also just working with amazing crews as well. It’s just so much fun. I love my job and I do love the research part of it as much as the making of it as well.

WAMG: All the Quiet Place films, including this one, they’re just known for sparking fan theories and those of us sitting in the theater, we were hoping for an Easter egg of sorts. After the credits, we were hoping that maybe we’re going to see them on the island from the second movie. Maybe we’re going to see the Abbott’s farmhouse from the first movie.

Are there any design elements that maybe you included that you hope will inspire the interest of the audience or something that they’ll discuss going, maybe this is a key to something else. Do you ever try to drop things in there? 

SB: Well, okay. So the writers have done their job and the producers have done their job. I hope that there will be more, but to answer your question, on Easter eggs, yes, there are things hidden in there for sure. The funniest thing is that actually so often people spot things. It was especially in The Descent, for some reason, there were elements in The Descent that people said, I see what you did there, what you were referencing. And I was like, what was it? There was like an eight track player, like on this really old cassette tape. There was a piece of dressing that I just liked this really old, like from a car, hooked up to a car battery. Like to be able to listen to old eight track sets. And somebody said, ah, that’s referencing some other classic movie that the eight track cassette player is in and they were like, you reference that, didn’t you in The Descent and I was like, you’ve got it. You get extra points for that.

And in Avenue Five, actually, as well, quite a few people have spotted things that I had put on purpose, that did actually reference another movie, another science fiction movie. I think that’s more exciting than people spotting what we have put in.

WAMG: Congratulations on the movie. It’s an amazing prequel and another really fantastic chapter in the Quiet Place universe. 

Lupita Nyong’o as “Samira” in A Quiet Place: Day One from Paramount Pictures.

Huge passion for film scores, lives for the Academy Awards, loves movie trailers. That is all.