‘65’ Filmmakers Beck and Woods Just Want to Bring Some Mystery Back to Movie Theaters
65 filmmakers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods long for the days when moviegoing was filled with mystery and intrigue regarding the experience that lies ahead.
Nowadays, cinemagoers are more aware than ever before of what they’re going to get on screen, due to increasingly revealing trailers that are turned into events and dissected to no end by fans and media outlets. There’s also no shortage of social media scoopers, but unfortunately, some of these parties fail to recognize that there’s a big difference between a scoop and a spoiler. Ultimately, even if you’re not seeking out such information, it’s very difficult to let the mystery be when more and more social media algorithms are feeding us information we didn’t exactly query.
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'65' Review: Adam Driver Fights Dinosaurs in an Underwhelming Sci-Fi Actioner
In Beck and Woods’ case, they hoped to take a page out of Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield playbook by not revealing that their Adam Driver-led sci-fi thriller 65 was set on Earth during the prehistoric era of dinosaurs. However, in a calendar month that’s filled with sequels from the likes of Creed, Scream, Shazam! and John Wick, the two Iowa natives, along with Sony, knew that they could only play coy for so long.
“It was something that we had talked about early on, but at the same time, the dinosaurs are kind of the marquee of what the movie is,” Beck tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So, to be honest, we were torn between what’s going to get the most amount of tension and what keeps it secret. We shot this film though trying to keep that [dinosaur] secret as much as possible, without it leaking out onto the Internet.”
With so much attention on opening weekend box office, it’s often overlooked that movies live well beyond their theatrical release, and for certain generations, their only relationship to something like the original Star Wars trilogy is through home video. So the Quiet Place writers are optimistic that future viewers will enjoy the surprise of 65’s premise as a result of not having present-day framing.
“So many of the movies that I’ve come to love, especially during my childhood, I discovered twenty to forty years after the fact,” Beck says. “Our hope is that there’s somebody watching 65 down the line and they’re totally divorced from what the marketing is. So maybe it will still be a bit of a discovery for them.”
Below, during a recent conversation with THR prior to 65’s opening weekend, Beck and Woods also discuss the origins of the project, as well as the memorable day on set in which Driver blessed a rather unusual creative choice.
Well, I would’ve gladly spent more time in this world, but I’m quite grateful for the tight 90-minute runtime.
Scott Beck and Bryan Woods: (Laugh.)
It actually reminded me of something Chris Nolan said about Dunkirk’s 106-minute runtime, as long runtimes can exhaust the audience when dealing with suspense. Did you have a similar thought process?
Beck: Absolutely. We looked at films in this genre where there’s a degree of a roller-coaster ride. Something like Gravity, or even Apocalypto, don’t want to overstay their welcome, but there were certainly times in the edit where the movie ran a little longer. It was never that classic, quintessential thing of like, “Oh, there’s a three-hour cut of 65 that exists,” but there’s an hour and fifty-minute version. And the amount of endurance that you have to suffer with your characters, you want to make sure that you’re leaving the audience catching their breath and not feeling like they’re exhausted, in a bad way, by the end of the journey. So that certainly was a benchmark that we were looking for.
Since we’ve got some time today, what’s the CliffsNotes version of the Beck and Woods origin story?
Woods: Scott and I met when we were 11 years old, and it was an amazing moment because I had found somebody who liked making movies as much as I did. Independently, we had both been bothering our family members and our other friends to help us make movies, and they were all kind of annoyed with us. And one of the first movies we bonded over was Jurassic Park. We had all of the Jurassic Park dinosaur figures, and it was such a monumental movie for us that it would eventually lead to 65.
When we were in middle school, we’d make feature-length films. We’d do our version of Magnolia, but as 16-year-olds. It was absolutely terrible. We had zero life experience, but we learned how to shoot, edit and cast. We never went to film school, but once we graduated from the University of Iowa together, we realized that we had to sharpen our skills as writers. And so we spent five years, post-college, just hammering out our ability to write.
We ended up generating ten terrible screenplays in that time, but we learned something every single time we wrote one. And then we finally got a tiny independent movie made called Nightlight, and it was the first time one of our scripts was actually passed around the business and considered a good piece of writing. So that was our first break into the business.
Oftentimes, when a movie becomes a success, other studios try to come out with their own take on similar material. For example, when Knives Out hit, murder mysteries were all the rage again and they were green lit all over town. So why has no one really gone out of their way to get a piece of the Jurassic audience much sooner?
Woods: What you just said was the pitch we made. We wrote this script on spec. We knew we could pitch the movie and probably get it set up, but we wanted to write the script and make sure that whatever studio wanted to make the movie liked where we were going with it. But once we had the script, we went around and pitched every single studio in town. And there was a big moment in our pitch where we said, “Why does Steven Spielberg get to have all the fun? Why are you letting Universal have a monopoly on the dinosaur picture? Why are there not as many dinosaur movies every single year as there are superhero movies? It’s insane to us.” (Laughs.)
So we were asking ourselves the same question you just asked, and I don’t know what the answer is. Dinosaur movies are certainly expensive, and the concept alone of Jurassic Park was so brilliant that it probably scared everybody else off of the genre. And rightly so. But we’re grateful to be able to take a swing in this subgenre. It’s a subgenre that Hollywood used to make even before Jurassic Park, such as The Lost World (1960).
Beck: I remember watching this ‘60s B-movie as a kid called Dinosaurs! They took a thawed dinosaur, and then all of a sudden, it’s running amidst humans. So that collision of genre — mixed with this more atmospheric, tonal filmmaking like Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven — is what I think inspired any film that we do, but certainly 65.
Given the intriguing, high-concept premise, I assume 65 was a quick sell once you took your spec around town. Was that the case?
Beck: Well, as soon as Sony heard the pitch, it was literally hours before we got the phone call that they wanted to raise their hand and make the play. But in the writing phase of it, there was a concern … We always try to write movies that are scalable. So, for instance, with A Quiet Place, that was made for the budget that it was made for, but we had written that for a budget of a hundred thousand dollars if no other studio or production company wanted to raise their hand. With 65, we knew it was a bigger-canvas movie, and so you either get a shot to make this at a studio or you don’t get to make it at all. It’s a big concept, but we’re also not attacking it as a multi-character story with tons of explosions. It’s through the lens of Adam Driver’s character, who is suffering a loss. There’s this quiet vulnerability that runs throughout the course of the movie that also aims to be a rollercoaster ride and a cinematic popcorn flick. So we’re trying to attack two different concurrent tones at the same time throughout the film.
And when was 65 conceived in relation to the rest of your work?
Beck: The idea of a dinosaur film probably came up a decade ago, and we were audacious enough to think that maybe we should write one. So we started keeping a lot of notes about what that could be, but it was truly the opening weekend of A Quiet Place back in April 2018. We had zero expectations about whether that movie would connect with audiences, and once opening weekend happened and Paramount soon announced they were going to do a sequel, our impetus in terms of the next job was like, “I don’t know about sequels or franchises or looking at offers from Lucasfilm or Marvel, but what about this dinosaur film that we’ve been thinking about all this time?”
Woods: And what about reinvesting in the culture of original films? We basically felt inspired and validated by A Quiet Place working as well as it did. We felt like, “Oh my gosh, there is an audience that’ll show up if they hadn’t heard of the property before,” and we also felt a weird responsibility to write another movie on spec and take another big swing.
Was Interstellar part of 65’s pitch deck like it was for A Quiet Place? The family messages element, while not exclusive to Interstellar, is certainly there.
Woods: Alien was certainly a big reference.
Beck: Yeah, and Oblivion. But there probably was a bit of Interstellar. One of the things that we created — not just for pitching to the studio, but also pitching to Adam as an actor — was this verbose pitch of what the movie is, with visuals. Before we even went to studios, Sam Raimi came on board as a producer, and he was a great guide for how to set up a big canvas movie at a studio. And so we brought on concept artists really early in the development process to figure out what this world looks like in terms of the technology and Pangean Earth. We also wanted to start knocking loose some dinosaur concepts in terms of how they look and how they behave. And using all those materials was a great way to start getting underneath the hood as directors, but also showing the studio, and Adam, why this is an exciting film and an exciting world to build outside of what Jurassic Park and Jurassic World has given audiences.
I spoke to Matt Reeves recently, and one of the topics we discussed was how he couldn’t have marketed Cloverfield with the same level of secrecy today due to social media and scoopers. So was there ever a reality where this film was going to be marketed a la Cloverfield without revealing the dinosaurs?
Beck and Woods: (Laugh.)
Beck: There’s probably two answers to this question, and one would be from Sony and marketing. And then there’s the other answer from us. The whole pitch for the script, even the script itself, doesn’t reveal what the concept is until 15 or 20 pages or minutes in. It was something that we had talked about early on, but at the same time, the dinosaurs are kind of the marquee of what the movie is. So, to be honest, we were torn between what’s going to get the most amount of tension and what keeps it secret. We shot this film though trying to keep that [dinosaur] secret as much as possible, without it leaking out onto the Internet.
Woods: Yeah, I think Reeves is right. The theatrical ecosystem, it’s a tricky time. We feel grateful when we look at March. We feel grateful that we are the only big budget studio movie that doesn’t have a number in its title. We’re the only not-sequel. There’s Shazam! 2, Scream 6, Creed 3 and on and on. So, for an original movie, it’s tricky out there. Could you do Cloverfield now? It’s such a great question, and it’s something that keeps us up at night.
Beck: We’re always trying to figure out the next mystery box movie where you can really keep it secret until people are intrigued enough to show up on a Friday night.
As Scott just touched on, the title card comes up at the 15-minute mark and adds some context to what we’ve been watching to that point. So it basically serves as an announcement to those viewers who may not know the premise already, whether that’s now or in the future. Was that the idea?
Beck: Yeah, when we’re making movies, there’s so much focus on the opening weekend, the marketing and everything leading up to that. But so many of the movies that I’ve come to love, especially during my childhood, I discovered twenty to forty years after the fact. And so there’s a degree at which it’s the Pepsi versus Coke Challenge in terms of what is going to last. And our hope is that there’s somebody watching 65 down the line and they’re totally divorced from what the marketing is. So maybe it will still be a bit of a discovery for them, but if nothing else, it does put yourself in the footsteps of Mills, who is discovering this world for the first time. We, the audience, are one step ahead by knowing what dinosaurs are, but Mills, being from a different civilization, is now discovering this and he may as well think that these dinosaurs are aliens. And so it’s somewhat about the character’s standpoint and point of view, too.
M. Night Shyamalan and I discussed this recently as well. When he screens something like The Village now, the audience has a completely different framing than the audience had at the time of release. And so the reactions are now markedly different than the reactions back in 2004.
Woods: That’s true. Thinking about Shyamalan’s career, Unbreakable is a movie we love so much.
Woods: It is a masterpiece, and we saw it probably four times in theaters. We then forced our friends to go, and each of our friends were like, “I don’t get it. I don’t know what this is.” It was ahead of its time.
Beck: Even when we worked at AMC movie theaters in our mid twenties, Bryan, on his name tag, said his favorite film was Unbreakable. This was just over a decade ago, but even then, it didn’t seem that cool. There weren’t many people coming up to him and being like, “Oh yeah, Unbreakable. I love that movie,” but there are lots of people who’d say that, today. So, after 23 years, it’s totally changed and the context is ever evolving. So we’re always trying to think about the longevity of a film’s life and the best way to position it down the line, in addition to what is best, immediately.
There were some earnings calls recently among various media conglomerates, and a number of them made a point to emphasize franchise storytelling while spending less overall on film production. So does the state of the original movie worry you more than ever?
Woods: In order to sleep at night, we have to believe in a world where a great idea, if executed well, can still break out and get people talking about it. And I do believe that. I absolutely think that can still happen. Inevitably, there will be franchise fatigue. It’s just inevitable when you think about comic book movies, which we’re fans of. They’re done at such a scale that’s mind blowing, and they’re executed so well most of the time. They’ve had a stranglehold on the box office for 20 or 30 years, but there was 70 years of cinema where the only thing people would go see is the Western. The Western dominated 70 years of cinema, and then one day, people were like, “I’m done with the Western. I don’t want to see the Western ever again.” And now there’s only a couple that come out a year, so it’s all cyclical. Things will change, but I believe that there’s always room for a splashy concept that’s executed well.
Beck: We’re in a weird transitionary ecosystem right now, especially with how Covid accelerated, to a degree, the big questions of, “Is it day and date? Is it streaming? Is it theatrical?” And there’s a degree at which nothing’s really settled. And from a higher up standpoint at different studios and corporations, it seems that the franchises are a safe bet for the theatrical landscape right now. I don’t know that it’s always that way, but this is coming from two guys who are currently building a movie theater in Davenport, Iowa called The Last Picture House. Common sense might say that building a movie theater is maybe the worst financial decision, but we believe that there’s a community aspect and a love of not just modern movies, but cult movies, too. It’s the way that Tarantino runs the New Beverly, and it really creates a sense of importance for what films are and being portrayed on a big screen.
If you go back and read the landscape of Hollywood in the 1920s and you remove the date from the headline, it’s almost like you’re reading The Hollywood Reporter in 2023. Things evolve, and you can either be reactionary to it or you can forge ahead and carve your own path. And just the little that we can do as filmmakers, we’re always going to be interested in trying to carve our own path and make something new, and not necessarily stand on the shoulders of sequels or remakes.
Woods: One of my new hobbies is buying Hollywood yearbooks from the 50s, 60s, 70s, etc. They’re these hardbound books that have [excerpts] like, “Here’s what Hollywood Reporter thought was the best movie of the year,” and the exhibition’s point of view and Oscar nominations. And each of these books has the thing that the business was terrified of at that moment, and it’s always the same. It doesn’t matter if you pick up a book from 1958 or 1972, it’s the same worries and fears as ours today. It’s a business that’s built on imagination, and that imagination comes with anxieties and premonitions and fears. So it’s probably best to just enjoy the ride, and don’t worry about it so much.
It’s pretty cool how you took one of the very first history, or prehistory, lessons we learn in grade school and added a wrinkle to it. Quentin Tarantino obviously likes to do this, too, but do you guys have other ideas that involve tweaking history at all?
Beck: We love what Tarantino has been doing from that standpoint because it’s always a big what-if, and that’s certainly how 65 was concocted. What if you actually were around 65 million years ago and you had to face dinosaurs in this landscape? So there’s a couple that we are cooking up in our heads. We obviously don’t want to share them because, like Matt Reeves, we would love to preserve that mystery. Inglourious Basterds is one of my favorite films of all time, and it’s one of the greatest what-ifs. What if you could go back and kill Hitler? And to see the execution level at which Tarantino nailed that just makes it all more fun.
You guys said something to THR years ago that’s stuck with me ever since. It was on the subject of John Krasinski getting the spotlight on A Quiet Place, and your thinking at the time was that he’d paid his dues for a long time to get that moment. And in due time, the two of you might find yourselves in a similar position to get a moment like that. Where did you guys develop such a mature mindset about all that? Is it your Midwestern values?
Beck: Well, thanks for saying so. We had to develop thick skin early on, but we brought it upon ourselves. In high school, when we made these short films and feature films for no money, we would test screen them at the local community college. And we will never forget our first scathing review of one of our films. We were 17 or 18 years old, and at that age, you’re incredibly vulnerable while still trying to find your voice. And yet it opened our eyes to criticism. You can learn from it as long as it’s a critique. There’s something to pull out of that, and that’s coming from two people who’ve read film criticism for ages from many different outlets. You also learn that you can’t please everybody, and things are not always in your control.
In this crazy film business, you can have a go-movie, and all of a sudden, something goes wrong and it’s decimated. You’ll be lucky if you get that back on its feet, but if it’s out of your control, you have two decisions. You can either decide to give up, or you can keep moving. And we just keep encountering these moments where we could just throw our hands in the air and give up. But luckily, there’s two of us, so we have that internal therapy that tells each other, “Let’s just keep forging ahead no matter what the cost.”
The Quiet Place franchise is making its third film right now, a spinoff of sorts, with Pig director Michael Sarnoski. Do they keep you in the loop at all as a courtesy?
Beck: Yeah, we’re occasionally in the loop. When Jeff Nichols was attached [to the spinoff], we had a whole sitdown with him, which was great. But to be honest, our excitement is about being in the audience at this point and seeing what the other brilliant minds cook up. Michael [Sarnoski], who’s directing this spinoff, is the pitch-perfect casting as a writer and a director. We adored his film Pig, and the tonality at which he sunk into every single scene. We can only imagine, in the best way possible, what he’s going to do with A Quiet Place.
In hindsight, are you glad you made Haunt before leveling up with 65?
Woods: We’re at a point where we’re trying to decide what our relationship is to our work, because we’re very critical of our own work. It always becomes a learning process, but at what point are we enjoying the work and at what point is it all just a science experiment to try to do better work? So it’s hard to answer this question because I’m self-reflecting in the moment.
Ariana Greenblatt: Do you guys want me to help you answer the question?
Beck and Woods: (Laugh.)
[Writer’s Note: Greenblatt crashed the interview to say hello to her directors and come up with a plan to catch up after our interview.]
Beck: In terms of Haunt, there is a kinship in that it’s also a 90-minute roller coaster ride. There’s characters that you care about, but it’s also about the exhilarating adventure. One thing that we were self-conscious about once we had some perspective was putting the audience under too much, and that was always something that we were gut checking on 65. And to be honest, we’re not going to have our own analysis of 65 for months, if not years, from now. But Haunt was a litmus test for if there’s too much adventure and too many set pieces.
Decades from now, when the two of you are strolling through the cornfields in Dyersville, Iowa, what day on 65 will you remind each other of, first?
Beck: What immediately comes to mind is a day in December while we were on set. We were probably only ten days into the production, and I was standing on a boardwalk of Mills’s crashed spaceship. It was built practically inside the Louisiana Swamp where there could or could not have been active alligators or crocodiles. And I was just looking out on the landscape of 300 people, who were doing hard work and incredibly artistic work. And I just remember feeling very satisfied, not necessarily by what we were doing, but that it brought this film family together. There was something about that sole image that struck me at that time.
Woods: Scott and I had this idea of getting a bunch of Cirque du Soleil performers to dress up in these giant raptor suits on set for the actors to look at and use. And while we were standing outside the soundstage, there were five performers doing raptor stuff, and Scott and I looked at each other and said, “This is the moment where Adam is gonna be like, ‘What? What are you guys doing here and why are you directing this movie?’” (Laughs.) And so we were so self-conscious about it. So we set the scene and we set the stage, and we walked in the dinosaurs.
And then Adam came up to us, and we were like, “Oh shit. Here it comes.” And he was like, “I fucking love that we have these here. I love that we have something to react to. This is so cool.” And we were like, “Oh, thank God.” So it was just this really amazing moment for us, because directing this big studio movie with one of the greatest actors of our time was an extremely intimidating experience. And for Adam to come over and give us the thumbs-up on a creative decision for the performances and also the camera and everything else meant the world to us. And we’ll never forget that.
65 is now playing in movie theaters. This interview was edited for length and clarity.