Day One’ Director On Cat Casting And Hollywood Cliches

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Coming off the back of his acclaimed feature directorial debut, filmmaker Michael Sarnoski wanted to be positive that his next step was the right one. As A Quiet Place: Day One lands in theaters, he is convinced he made the right call.

Pig came out in July 2021, and it was a weird moment because it was mid-pandemic. I had finished it the year before, so I had made my first movie, but no one knew I had,” the writer-director recalled. “Pig arrived, people really responded to it, and people were like, ‘Oh, wow. Michael just made this movie. Let’s have meetings with him.’ You do the circuits and have meetings with studios and production companies, but I didn’t want to rush into something.”

“I wanted to be careful about what my next thing was and wanted to wait to find something that I loved. I also actively wanted to avoid doing some big studio thing because that is the cliche. You do a little indie movie, and then you get scooped up by a studio. That was when A Quiet Place: Day One came along.”

It was December 2021 when John Krasinski, who directed A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place Part II and is a producer on A Quiet Place: Day One, reached out.

“On paper, it seemed like a crazy idea that I would make a prequel to a horror franchise with a big studio. Was that really what I wanted to do next? It was almost because of how John approached it, saying, ‘I love to Pig, can you bring that touch to the Quiet Place universe,’ that gave me the freedom to explore,” Sarnoski explained. “I got excited about it.”

That’s when he found the character of Sam, played by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, who “had a unique lens through which to explore the end of the world.”

“She’s a dying hospice patient who decides to go on this on this journey and almost live again when the world is ending,” Sarnoski said. “John and Paramount were willing to let me explore this unique angle and make it my own. It was extremely generous. John made a point of saying, ‘This is a Michael Sarnoski Quiet Place movie. That’s why I’m hiring you. We want you to bring your voice to this because we don’t want all these moves to feel the same.’ That was a really smart move.”

A Quiet Place: Day One, which is only in theaters and unavailable to stream, follows Lupita Nyong’o’s Sam, who finds herself trapped in New York City as an alien invasion unfolds. Before too long, Sam and her service cat, Frodo, come across English law student Eric, played by Joseph Quinn, and together, they set out on a journey for survival and pizza.

“What I liked about this was that it’s more like a spin-off from the first two films than a prequel. It’s pretty much totally different characters, and I liked that it could be its own self-contained movie,” the filmmaker explained. “You don’t need to have seen the other Quiet Place movies to see this movie and get it. You watch this as a standalone thing, which is harder with a sequel because you are expected to continue something. A prequel or spin-off can be its own pocket thing. When it comes to whether I’d rather make a prequel or a sequel, I think it would depend on the material and what that world is.”

While Nyong’o and Quinn are the stars of A Quite Place: Day One, Frodo the cat is stealing scenes all over the place, remaining largely unphased by the end of the world as they know it. Finding the perfect feline co-star was an involved audition process.

“We probably looked at something like a dozen cats,” he said. “We worked with this company called Birds and Animals UK, and Jo and Kim were our animal trainers. They brought in a bunch of different cats, let them walk around the office, and we’d play with them and coochy coo a little bit, see what their swagger was like and how they moved. Schnitzel very quickly became the cat that appealed to me. There was something about him that felt streetwise, and he was cute but not cutesy.”

“Some of the cats were too cartoony, and you could see him in a cat food ad or something, so he was almost too adorable. You want to believe that this is a cat who had maybe grown up on the streets in New York, could have gotten into some cat fights, had a little gray in his hair, and had a way about him that felt self-confident and wise. Schnitzel became that hero cat, but it was an adorable casting process.”

While this does count as a spoiler, which I usually avoid at all costs, for those already worried about Frodo’s fate, the cat survives.

Perhaps even more so than with A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place II, the influences of films such as Aliens and Jurassic Park are evident, although not intentional.

“We were aware of those presences,” Sarnoski revealed. Aliens, certainly, because you’re going from the smaller, more contained film to the larger, more action one. I definitely see the Jurassic Park comparisons. They weren’t things that we consciously tried to achieve. We knew there were going to be elements of that. We were like, ‘We can play with that a little bit,’ but it wasn’t an overly intentional thing.”

“One of our biggest references that the cinematographer Pat Scola and I talked about a lot was Children of Men because that movie captures the feeling of massive stuff swirling in the world around the characters but being very focused on this boots on the ground, gritty experience. You’re always bouncing a bunch of different ideas around.”

While not short on appearances of the intergalactic predators, the filmmaker wanted to use shadows and silhouettes of the invaders to heighten the tension.

“We wanted to fulfill the promise of many creatures and the scope of what it would be like in this big city but I also didn’t want it to be constantly in your face,” he said. “Sometimes, the more you point a camera straight at the creatures, the less interesting they become. You want to keep that sense of mystery and lurking and that sense of if you make a sound, something will come out of the shadows and kill you.”

“That’s scarier and more engrossing than, ‘Hey, there’s the thing with big claws and teeth.’ It keeps some of that mystery and lends itself to this Day One idea. Our characters are kind of discovering these creatures for the first time, piecing them out a little bit, and starting with shadows, then moving into close-ups, then getting into full body shots, then getting into herds, gradually building up to that felt exciting but also how the characters would be experiencing these gradual discoveries.

In A Quiet Place: Day One, the intergalactic predators have a cocky edge to them, a swagger, and an arrogance that wasn’t as present in A Quiet Place or A Quiet Place Part II. That’s something Sarnoski was keen to play with, and he found the urban environment to be the perfect place to do it.

“Part of it comes from the scale. We’re in the city, there are many more of them, it’s a louder and a bigger place, and you’re playing with the verticality of these buildings,” he explained. “I liked the idea that they were an infestation in this movie, whereas in the other movies, in theory, they’ve infested the world, but you’re on the outskirts where there are a few stragglers, like scouts exploring the more rural territory. Some of that comes from that sort of swarming infestation, and some of it comes from the idea that they’re so durable that they are almost a little clumsy, swaggering, and sloppy in how they moved.”

“It’s clear they have some way to navigate the physical world, using a little bit of echolocation, because they have to be able to run into stuff, but sometimes they bump into things. You want to feel like they have a sloppy ability to deal with the physical world around them, and that’s all combined to create that sort of personality.

Although it is set in New York, A Quiet Place: Day One was filmed in London. Early in the film, it’s made that what is happening there is being repeated worldwide. There was a time when Sarnoski did consider just setting the story where they were filming to make things easier.

“There were moments when we were out there, like, ‘Couldn’t we just have this take place in London?’ However, I think that having to film it in London and create New York allowed us to craft a pretty specific version of New York that feels a little bit nowhere,” the filmmaker admitted. “We were not trying to create a specific street corner; we’re trying to create the vibe of Chinatown or the vibe of the Lower East Side. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, our character is walking by the Empire State Building,’ it was more a case of, ‘We’re immersed in the feeling of New York.’ In some ways, having our hands tied allowed us to lean into something that felt more immersive and weren’t trying to make too fine a point of where some things were.”

“London is a beautiful city with a lot of really deep history and places that feel so lived in. We also tried to use many interiors and places in London that already exist and feel like they could be New York because they have presence. It was nice that we could draw from a lot of the beautiful history there.”

It’s clearly signposted when Sam and Eric whisper details about their families, and he makes a very specific reference to his parents being in the county of Kent. Quinn, the actor playing the student, partially suggested that.

“I remember talking to him about what we wanted his backstory to be and what kind of place we wanted him to come from, which would feel a little bit like it would be a leap to come to New York City. He suggested Kent,” Sarnoski remembered. “At one point, we were talking about maybe using Slough. There are all sorts of different ideas of where that could be. There was definitely a conversation with Joe about where his character Eric could come from.”

As safety and pizza are the goals in A Quiet Place: Day One, where would Sarnoski head for his last meal should an invasion come from the skies?

“I do love food. One of my favorite foods is sushi, but I feel like that would be a hard one in the apocalypse,” the Pig filmmaker mused. “There’s a Korean fried chicken spot a few blocks away from me in New York that would definitely be a spot I would be willing to brave the end of the world for. In LA, it used to be Milk Jar Cookies. I loved their cookies and would have gone anywhere for those, but then they closed down, which was a real bummer.”

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