Charlotte Bruus Christensen Interview: ‘A Quiet Place’ cinematographer
Charlotte Bruus Christensen shot two dialogue-heavy films back to back: Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s play “Fences” (2016) and Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut “Molly’s Game” (2017). But her next film, “A Quiet Place,” hardly had any dialogue at all. “Aaron Sorkin and 200 pages of non-stop dialogue to ‘A Quiet Place’ was a bit of a jump,” Christensen said at Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Cinematographers panel, moderated by this author (watch the exclusive video above). “That was a difficult challenge but a great one too.”
The DP boarded the horror film after Emily Blunt, with whom she worked on “The Girl on the Train” (2016), connected Christensen with her husband John Krasinski. “She called me one day and said, ‘My husband’s going to direct this movie. He’s very excited about it. What do you think about having a chat with him?’ I said, ‘Of course,’” Christensen recalled. “For 45 minutes, he was just expressing this great idea that he had from this script.”
Because the film followed a family forced to live in silence to evade monsters that hunt by sound, Christensen and Krasinski discussed how to shoot the film with the sound design in mind. One key aspect was distance. “A Quiet Place” contains numerous close-up shots, building tension and dread in near silence with only atmospheric sound. But Christensen also knew when to pull back to give a wider scope of a scene at hand.
“Placing the lens really close to an object or somebody who’s trying to be quiet is always going to … ignite a sound design. Whereas if it’s that same size but on a long lens further back is going to make a cut in the sound, so we realized that it’s important that in some scenes you actually stay away because in a second we know he’s going to knock over a lamp or the creature’s going to come,” Christensen explained. “It’s a very minimalistic kind of approach to things, but it was very much deciding where is that lens, so it’s not, well, we want this size close-up and what’s practical within this room? It was really trying to get the closeness and the distance right, and within that, some movement.”
While it is ostensibly a horror film, “A Quiet Place” employs a visual language that subverts the usual horror tropes. This post-apocalyptic world isn’t dreary and bleak, but rather warm and rich with color, often captured in clothing, the corn silo, the grass and the candlelit barn the family hid in. Even the red lights that Evelyn (Blunt) turns on to signal a warning feel like soothing Christmas lights. According to Christensen, that all came from Krasinski, who approached the story as a film about a family first.
“From the very beginning, [Krasinski] said, ‘This is a warm movie. Whatever that means, I’m not sure if it needs to be orange all over, but it needs to be first and foremost a movie about a family who’s trying to survive and who’s fearing everything out there, figuring out what is our survival? How are we going to do this?’” Christensen said. “The warmth came from John wanting it to be a portrait of a family and have more of a poetic feel to the barn and their existence, and within that world, there were creatures out there. He always wanted the warm feel.”