‘A Quiet Place’ sound editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn on ‘sound being a central character’

John Krasinski labelled his sound designers on “A Quiet Place,” Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, as “sound magicians” in my recent interview with the actor-director. In turn, they’re full of compliments for him: “He has an amazing ear,” says Aadahl. “He can pick out the tiniest little details hidden in the track, which was wonderful for us because it really gave us the license to dig in and take it as far as we could with a filmmaker who had our backs. He was always in the trenches with us.”

As a team, Aadahl and Van der Ryn have been nominated for the Best Sound Editing Oscar twice: once in 2012 for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and again the year after for Best Picture winner “Argo,” another film helmed by an actor-turned-director (Ben Affleck).

Van der Ryn has been nominated a further three times, winning the award twice for “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “King Kong” (both with Mike Hopkins). Aadahl has yet to win, though he and Van der Ryn have a great chance of winning this year, with the duo describing “A Quiet Place” as a chance to show off their skills.

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“We were excited by the whole concept of sound being a central lead character in the movie,” says Van der Ryn. “We always thought about how we could pull the audience into the experience and make it more immersive.”

Of course, pressure came with this job, too – perhaps more pressure than on any other film considering the importance of sound in the film’s storyline. The key, the two editors say, was cracking the first sequence they worked on where Millicent Simmonds’ Regan first encounters the creatures.

“It was a complicated Rubik’s cube of sound to solve which involved exposing the audience to Millicent’s experience and relationship with sound as well as the creature’s experience and relationship with sound and Regan’s cochlear implant, which sets up a plot-point that leads to the finale of the film. So it was a tough but important nut to crack. Once we solved that, we could apply that logic and approach to the rest of the film,” explains Aadahl.

“But this helped to make it a truly interactive experience for the audience, to the point where they were too scared to eat popcorn in the theatres. The hunters became the hunted,” laughs Aadahl. “That was the best compliment we could have been given,” agreed Van der Ryn. “The theatre owners probably weren’t thanking us but we thought it was awesome!”

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Aadahl and Van der Ryn agree the emotional heartbeat — the headphone dance between Emily Blunt and John Krasinski to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon — is their favourite sequence in the film. “What I love about that scene is up until that point, we had really been challenging the audience with the harshness and starkness of the sound we had been using and then this was like a warm bath where we let the audience take a breath, where they can eat their popcorn for a few seconds.” says Van der Ryn.

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