In 2018, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck took the world by storm with their first major hit screenplay, A Quiet Place. Teaming up with John Krasinski, the duo proved to be a formidable force in the world of contemporary horror, drawing critical acclaim and an impressive box office earning – a return of $340 million on a budget of only $20 million. Since their initial smashing success, they have continued along their path as horror creators. In 2019, Woods and Beck co-directed and wrote Haunt, a slasher film that had the highest ranked premiere of the year on the horror streaming service Shudder.
Most recently, the pair teamed up with Sam Raimi for 50 States of Fright, a horror anthology series exclusive to Quibi. Their episodes, the first three of the show’s second season, are now available on the streaming service and make up a single story titled “Almost There.” In true Quibi fashion, this horror anthology series aims to deliver scares in short pieces. Cunning, effective, and filled with enough star power, 50 States of Fright is worth the time this Halloween season.
With news starting to come forward about their next directorial effort, 65, we had the opportunity to sit down with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck. We talk their work on 50 States of Fright and collaborating with icon Sam Raimi. They also tease what is to come from their upcoming film starring Adam Driver, as well as the measures they are taking to preserve the filmgoing experience for eager fans.
You’ve been quite open on social media about the struggle to break into the industry. What are your thoughts on your journey within this field so far?
Bryan Woods: Scott and I met when we were just kids in Iowa making movies together with our action figures and our friends. And it was really fun because we were like, “Oh finally, somebody else who enjoys this as much as I do.” It was really, really fun. Throughout high school and middle school, we would make these kind of overly ambitious, micro budget feature films using local resources. And over the years we’ve just been slowly, but surely, trying to claw our way into being professional filmmakers. It’s been a long road; a lot of that stems from building a body of work with micro budget films that we directed, and then from writing a lot of scripts and knocking on doors trying to get people to read our material. It’s weird working on this project, 50 States of Fright. There was something very full circle about it because we were able to tell a story from our home state of Iowa, somewhere near and dear to us because that’s where we basically fell in love with filmmaking in general. So, yeah, it’s just kind of been a long road.
You recently broke into bigger budget directing, what were the differences in directing a Quibi series compared to a movie as your previous entry Haunt?
Bryan Woods: It’s a different format, you know, doing something that’s short form storytelling. Our natural instincts take us to longer form storytelling – even when we were in middle school, we were writing feature films. So the challenge was really thinking about the story in terms of cliffhangers, chapters, and pieces, building to a short crescendo. We were just learning on the job as we were writing this project and trying to kind of rethink the way we normally do it.
Sam Raimi said in an interview that he thought this episode should be turned into a feature film. Why do you think this format was the best for the story?
Scott Beck: That’s a good question. I mean, Brian and I had been thinking about doing a feature film version of this story for a long time, to the extent of taking place in a wind turbine, which we’ve never really seen on film before. We have a massive fear of heights, so we felt like that was an interesting playground to really dig in and explore traumas, acrophobia and just really make something unique. For us though, because we were holding onto the idea and had never found the perfect way to extend it to a feature film, what better way than to put this into a short version and hopefully leave the audience wanting more? That’s what we always want to do with whatever our work is, whether it’s a feature or a short, so it just felt like a good platform where we could have those cliffhangers from a story sense and also literally because it has to deal with this fear of heights.
These new kinds of platforms are becoming bigger and bigger with the pandemic. With movie theaters gradually taking a sidestep to streaming services, what do you think the future of the horror genre is going to look like?
Bryan Woods: Well, I don’t know that the genre itself will change, but it’s wonderful to have more avenues to consume more. We’re huge fans of the Shudder platform and how they curate wonderful horror content for their fans – and not just like classic stuff, but also their original programming and their Shudder exclusives. We love that. For fans, it’s really fun to have that kind of curated experience.
Our hope though, with streamers, is that we don’t find ourselves all in these little bubbles where we’re all kind of segmented off, separated from what we’re all watching. It would be like having a terrific movie that’s come out recently, for example on Shudder, Host. It was fun to watch that break out beyond the typical Shudder audience, and see it get more people talking. The fear would be that a really good movie drops and people can’t talk about it because they don’t have that particular platform. But I think if this all expands over the years, we’ll find ourselves migrating to certain places. We don’t want to remove that water cooler talk. That’s so powerful with the theatrical movie-going experience; you leave that theater and get into conversation about a project. The way a theatrical movie can kind of capture the national conversation is important as well for us.
Backtracking a little bit to your collaboration with Sam Raimi, what was it like working with him on your episodes?
Scott Beck: Sam was incredible. Every day, Brian and I were pinching ourselves when were on the ground in pre-production and Sam’s office was literally right across the hallway. And while we were prepping our episode, he was prepping his episode. We remember this one day where he was out from filming and was just lamenting about all the problems he was facing. It was like, “Oh, I don’t know if I have enough time to do this. I don’t know if those special effects will actually come through.” All of his fears are fears and insecurities that Brian and I have had ever since we were kids trying to pull off movies. So on one hand, it was refreshing to see this master of cinema who has made some of the biggest films of all time, still be very humble and down to earth, confronting each problem step by step. It was actually humanizing to the filmmaking process in a way that I think was very relatable to us, and very cathartic as I would hope for filmmakers in general that are facing all those big issues.
You’re working with him again on your next feature, 65, what can you tell us about that film?
Bryan Woods: Yeah we had such a good experience working with Sam on 50 States that he was one of the first people we brought the project to. We were hoping he would dig it, but we weren’t entirely sure. And we’re grateful to learn that he and his team really fell in love with the project and they really shepherded the project the whole way. He really took us under his wing and really helped us. He actually gave us the resources to build out this elaborate directing presentation when we took the project out to sell to studios and did everything he could to put us in the best place possible with the project.
And then we were looking to set up with Sony, and there’s not a whole lot we can really say about it right now, other than just, we really appreciate that the studio has been a great partner in keeping the concept of the movie a bit of a mystery. In the last 10 years, the theatrical landscape has kind of become this place where almost every other movie or maybe even every movie is a sequel, remake or reboot of a film. It’s like we’ve gotten to the place where you know exactly what you’re going to get before you buy your movie tickets. Which is fun, sometimes that’s kind of wonderful. You know, sometimes we like to go to McDonald’s and get chicken nuggets because we know what that tastes like. We know what that’s like, and that’s fine. But the hope for this movie is that there’s an air of mystery about it. And hopefully it’s a little something different than people are getting when they show up to the movies more often than not.
It was also revealed that Adam Driver is going to star in 65. How have your talks been with him for the movie?
Scott Beck: Adam’s incredible. We really consider him at the forefront of the incredible actors that are working right now. I think for us, what we respond to in his work is that he’s always digging really deep beneath the surface, whether he’s in a Star Wars film or a Jim Jarmusch film, and that’s what we were attracted to. We were very fortunate to get the script in front of him, sit down with him, and tell him our directing vision and such – really engage him in a way that we just welcomed his creative partnership. And so it’s, again, something that we can’t really say much about quite yet other than just our confidence in Adam as an actor is so strong that he’s going to turn this project into something even greater than our imaginations would let us believe.
We’re looking forward to it. To end off, in your own words, why should horror fans watch 50 States of Fright and your episodes as soon as possible?
Bryan Woods: 50 States of Fright is, conceptually, it’s kind of a genius concept and great idea for an anthology series. Everybody has that kind of folklore from their home, home state or hometown that they’ve heard, that they’ve talked about, that they passed along. And for us as audience members – not just filmmakers as part of the series, but just as audience members – we had so much fun watching all these various different filmmakers that we really admire. Some of them who’ve done great work in the past, like Daniel Goldhaber and Isa Mazzei with Cam, they’re doing an episode, someone like Lee Cronin, who did an incredible movie, The Hole in the Ground, or even like a rising up-and-comer like Yoko [Okumura] who did an episode in the first season. It’s just so fun to watch these filmmakers take their home state folklore and turn it into a short.