Filmmakers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods are thankful that, 20 years ago, they sat at the same lunch table at Bettendorf Middle School.
That’s what launched a strong friendship and business partnership, made official in 2001 when the duo established their production company, called Bluebox Films.
And that’s what made their latest — and, so far, biggest — success possible.
The Bettendorf natives have sold their screenplay, “A Quiet Place,” to Paramount Pictures. The horror film, set for release April 13, 2018, has attracted actors Emily Blunt, recently in “The Girl on the Train,” and John Krasinski, known for starring in “The Office,” and producer Michael Bay, who directed “Transformers” and “Pearl Harbor.” Beck and Woods will serve as executive producers.
"A Quiet Place" marks the first on-screen collaboration for Krasinski, who will also direct the film, and Blunt, who have been married since 2010.
It marks a milestone for Beck and Woods, who are both 32 and live in Los Angeles.
“All of the sudden, the project went from zero to 60, which was much faster than Bryan and I ever anticipated,” Beck said in a phone interview earlier this week. “From the outset, we wrote this script to be something that could easily be shot in Iowa for next to nothing, like that was always plan B.”
Plan A, as it turns out, exceeded their expectations.
“So often these days, the only projects that make it in the movie theaters are super hero movies, remakes and sequels, so to be able to take something that’s original and fresh and get the studio excited is really a dream come true,” Woods said.
The movie’s plot is under wraps, but the pair said they started thinking about the concept while studying at the University of Iowa.
“It’s a project we have been working on for quite a while,” Woods said. “In college, we just had this cool idea that we kind of tucked into our drawer as we often do. About a year ago when we were going through ideas for movies, we pulled that one out and developed it into a script.”
Instead of pitching the idea as they have done in the past, Beck and Woods wrote the entire script on spec.
“This is one we were so excited about and so confident in that we just actually took the time out to write the whole project from beginning to end,” Woods said.
They met with a producer from Platinum Dunes, a company owned by Michael Bay, who loved the script so much that they took it directly to Paramount Pictures, a studio which has a first-look deal with Platinum Dunes. The studio also offered Beck and Woods a blind writing and directing deal for a second feature film.
That quick pace surprised the filmmakers, who last released a movie, “Nightlight,” in 2015.
“The motto out here is ‘hurry up and wait’ like everyone is hurry up, go, go, go and wait around,” Woods said. “Some projects you end up waiting so much that you don’t even know the state of them before several years in. For us, to hear the studio’s enthusiasm and hear that Michael Bay was calling up the president of Paramount and getting him excited about the project was so, so exciting.”
Getting Blunt and Krasinski involved was “more than we ever could’ve hoped,” Beck said.
“On an artistic level, we can’t wait to see what they do with these roles,” Woods said. "Not only are they great actors, they’re big movie stars, so it gives our movie a hope of finding an audience.”
Still, they say it’s a similar excitement to “stepping stones” from their earlier days, when they premiered films at the Adler Theatre in downtown Davenport or when, in middle school, they bonded over their shared passion for making nerdy stop-action movies with action figures.
“Everything is a stepping stone when you’re in a career for the long haul,” Beck said. “It’s nice to stop and celebrate those milestones ever so briefly and then keep our heads down and go onto the next project.”
That’s been their mindset since they started making movies together.
“Coming from Iowa, you can not be further from the film industry,” he said. “There was this naive belief when we were kids that if you put your head down and did the work, you could make your own opportunities.”
The partners find inspiration in a variety of places, from their favorite childhood movies to family life to the Iowa landscape.
They say "A Quiet Place" was made with a Midwestern setting in mind.
“It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of movies about middle America or the Midwest and that’s a very inspiring place for us to go,” Beck said. “We try to look for ways to combine our love of genre film making, but telling those stories in the context of the Midwest and a place that’s very near and dear to our hearts.”
Stories from their hometown have helped them stand out in Hollywood. Finding other Iowa-born people in the industry can feel like "finding a needle in the haystack," they said.
“Being from the Quad-Cities is always a badge of honor for us,” Woods said. “For the most part around here, everyone is from New York or California. We take a lot of pride in representing the Midwest.”
The Bluebox Films owners have so much pride that their goal is to bring productions back to Iowa in the future. That's their 10- or 20-year plan. For now, they're enjoying success one step at a time.
"It doesn’t feel like we’ve been doing it for that long because every project is challenging and every story is a chance to live inside a new world,” Woods said. “Being able to use our imaginations for a living — there’s nothing more fun than that.”