In retrospect, no one could have predicted that John Krasinski would become one of Hollywood's top horror guys. Before 2018's A Quiet Place, Krasinski was best known for directing feel-good dramedies and a couple episodes of The Office. It's fitting then that his successor is an equally unexpected choice. "I never set out to make a studio horror franchise movie," says Michael Sarnoski, who assumes directing duties on the franchise's first spin-off. "A Quiet Place: Day One just became the right film for me to make."

Sarnoski's only credit prior to Day One was the 2021 Nicolas Cage-led "food noir" Pig, an unlikely hit that announced the arrival of a bold new voice in independent filmmaking. "I had no idea what movie I wanted to make after Pig. All I knew was I wanted to do something that I really cared about," he reflects. "There were a lot of ideas being floated around, but I didn't want to jump into something for the sake of it."

At the time, Paramount Pictures was actively searching for a director to helm a prequel to A Quiet Place and 2020's A Quiet Place Part II. Both the studio and Krasinski, who wrote and directed those first two installments, were specifically eager to see what a new filmmaker might bring to the series. "Nothing grabbed me the way Day One did, partly because of the freedom Paramount was willing to give me," Sarnoski says. "Everyone was really excited to bring a fresh voice into the fray. John, in particular, was really supportive."

At the center of Sarnoski's pitch for the film was its protagonist, Sam (played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o), a New York poet whose life is upended by the sudden invasion of sound-seeking aliens. Not one to be easily deterred, Sam finds herself on a journey across the post-apocalyptic metropolis in search of the perfect slice of pizza for her last meal, accompanied by her loyal service cat, Frodo, and Eric (Joseph Quinn), a law student desperately seeking a friend for the end of the world.

Despite making the sudden leap from indie sets to a post-apocalyptic blockbuster, "I tried to foster a sort of indie vibe on the set, even though it was so much bigger," Sarnoski tells A.frame. "We were dealing with explosions and tons of VFX on this film, which we didn't need to worry about on Pig, but I was still surrounded by talented people who were working together to bring the same vision to life."

Alex Wolff, Lupita Nyong'o, John Krasinski and Michael Sarnoski behind the scenes of 'A Quiet Place: Day One.'

A.frame: Coming off Pig, what was the learning curve like of scaling up to a blockbuster of this size?

Michael Sarnoski: It was an easier transition than I expected, because at the end of the day, being a director means having your team around you and spending a lot of time talking to your heads of department, your production designers, and your cinematographer. The big difference between a smaller movie like Pig and a film like Day One is that, instead of having two people working under each person, there are like 50. But if you just approach it as, "Hey, we're a bunch of people having creative conversations and talking about what would be the best way to approach this," it's not really that different, no matter what movie you're making. I think people felt respected and safe to bring their ideas to the table. So, it felt the same, just bigger.

You've said that it was the character of Sam that drew you to the project. Where did both she and Eric come from?

Sam was the linchpin of the movie. Paramount and John were excited about making a prequel set in New York, so in my mind, I was going through all of the apocalyptic New York movie tropes that I wanted to avoid — like military involvement, or trying to escape the city, or trying to rescue a lost family member. Those are great plots to drive a movie forward, but they are things that I felt like I had seen before, and I didn't want to reuse or re-explore them. Sam emerged from that line of thinking. I thought, "Well, I haven't seen this kind of terminally ill character have to deal with this kind of environment before. What would it mean to her if the world suddenly felt like it was also dying around her?" That was really exciting to me.

From there, I think the simplicity of her story became really clear. There was something that made sense about the journey she goes on for her character. Eric's character then came from wanting to see Sam, who doesn't want to care about other people, be forced to care about someone. Eric is someone who puts too much emphasis on other people and is too needy. I wanted to see those two characters vie with each other and meet somewhere in the middle by finding a mutually empathetic and respectful compromise that allows them to really see each other. To me, that felt like the natural story to explore between those two characters.

Lupita and Joseph bring so much to this movie. Did you write either character with those actors in mind? How did their names come your way?

I've never written a script with an actor in mind. I like forming the character on the page, and then thinking, "Who could bring something more to this?" Or, "Who would be really interesting to see in this role?" That was very much how I thought of Lupita. I remember thinking, "I've fallen in love with this character and I'm so fascinated by who she is. Wouldn't it be crazy if we got Lupita to play her?" That was always the pipe dream, but then she responded to the role and she had so many ideas about how to do it. She was completely behind the film and so supportive. We got extremely lucky with her, and the same is true of Joe.

I had only seen him on Stranger Things, and he's incredible in that fourth season and just so, so charismatic. It wasn't until I saw his audition and I talked to him, though, that I saw how smart and kind and focused he is. I realized he can portray this really sensitive, quiet, boyish quality while still maintaining a deep resonance and wisdom. They both embodied their characters so much better than I ever could have imagined. They made them so full and so human, and they had a beautiful chemistry together. I count myself really lucky. Getting to watch the two of them see each other and discover each other became a big part of the soul of this movie for me.


The movie remains firmly rooted in Sam and Eric's perspectives. You rarely pull back to see the chaos and destruction beyond what these characters are experiencing in any moment. You manage to keep the story quite intimate even within a movie of this scale.

I thought it was essential to really keep it grounded in their perspectives at all times. We have seen a lot of invasion movies set in New York. I wanted to see a New York invasion movie experienced by Sam's character, and that impulse guided me a lot. I was always thinking, "Okay, we're doing a big set piece with all this crazy stuff going on, but what is Sam experiencing here? What is this character going through in this moment?" It was never just, "Hey, look at all this cool stuff!" I don't think I could have made it if I wasn't thinking about it in that way, because general chaos and spectacle just doesn't mean that much to me. It's how Sam is experiencing it that's important, and then exploring certain things through Eric's eyes and seeing how their experiences start to weave together was really fun, too.

And the movie does have plenty of big, loud action sequences, and then there are just as many quiet character moments. What was it like finding the right pace for this story, both on the page and then in the editing room?

I think that's one of the most fun and most difficult parts of making a movie — figuring out the overall pace and the balance between action and character. I had a very specific idea of how I wanted to end the movie, what I wanted the ending to feel like, and what I wanted the audience to take away from it, but getting there and making sure that we could hit the right note took a lot of really fine balancing work. It was essential that we felt a sense of momentum and felt the excitement of the action, but also allowed for these really quiet moments as well. As a filmmaker, I think those moments lend themselves to each other. A sort of ebb and flow between those two modes can give a film a really nice rhythm. Finding the right balance for the film was the biggest challenge we faced while making the movie and also, I think, the biggest victory we achieved. I wanted the ending to feel life-affirming and triumphant. I had a pretty small target that I wanted to hit, but I feel like we did.

You brought your Pig cinematographer, Pat Scola, along to shoot Day One with you. How helpful was it having somebody you were so familiar with as your DP on this?

I think it would have been almost impossible for me to make this movie without Pat. We had such a shorthand together on this set. He's like a family member now. We're kind of at the finish-each-other's-sentences phase of our friendship, and we both knew exactly what we wanted Day One to feel like. I wanted it to have this very focused-on-character, boots-on-the-ground feeling, so we referenced films like Children of Men a lot. Pat really understands that style and knew how to capture that feeling. On a movie like this, there's so much to deal with as a director that knowing I could trust him to make this film look beautiful was amazing. From a purely practical and emotional standpoint, I don't think I could have gotten through this without him.

Joseph Quinn and director Michael Sarnoski on the set of 'A Quiet Place: Day One.'

As someone who knows what it's like to make a movie with very little money, what did you do to make sure that the suddenly endless array of resources you had at your disposal didn't overwhelm you or cloud your artistic judgment?

Early on, Pat and I sat down and shot listed this whole film, the same way we did with Pig. We don't like the style of shooting where you set up five cameras and try to capture these big action scenes from five different angles. We had very specific shots in mind for everything. In some ways, that can make things harder because it means you have less to play with in the edit. But in other ways, that approach allows you to be really specific and really cautious about how you use your resources, so you're never wasting time or money on things you don't need. In other words, we tried to still approach this film as if we were shooting a small indie movie, and we said, "We have the resources to do whatever we want now, but what do we actually want to do?" Sometimes, you can feel numb when you think about that, because the answer can be, "Well, we could do anything!" But you just have to remind yourself, "Sure, it could be anything, but what should it be?" I think, in some ways, that put more pressure on us to really figure out, "How should this scene be shot?" That's also the most fun part, in my opinion. I think putting boxes around something is how you really start to find the identity of a film.

What is something you learned making Day One that you're going to take with you on the next film that you make?

Tons of things. I think a big one was the confidence to feel like I can pull off these larger things and not be intimidated by action or choreography. That was huge. I really enjoyed doing a lot of that, and I'd never done any of it before. There's a little bit of action-y stuff in Pig but not on this scale. It was great to feel confident doing that and realize it's something I enjoy. It was also really nice learning that I could enjoy the process of making a larger film and still feel connected with my crew. It doesn't have to feel alienating. I went into the film wondering, "Is this going to feel cold and sterile and standoffish?" The answer was no. Everyone was excited and everyone worked together and had each other's backs. Realizing that feeling of camaraderie can exist on any movie, no matter the scale, was really reassuring. So moving forward, I think it'll be nice to know that I can still carry that with me to whatever I make next, regardless of whether I go up or down in budget from here.

By Alex Welch


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