Chris Tellefsen, ACE Talks About “A Quiet Place”
By Debra Kaufman
At the 2018 HPA Awards, Chris Tellefsen, ACE was honored with the award for “Outstanding Editing – Feature Film” for his work on A Quiet Place, the drama/thriller directed by and starring John Krasinski with Emily Blunt. Director Krasinski reached out to Tellefsen after he and Blunt saw Moneyball and Capote, two movies that Tellefsen edited. The movie’s premise – a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world invaded by predators with ultra-sensitive hearing – created unusual conditions for Tellefsen. “It’s so challenging to have one with such little dialogue,” says Tellefsen about the original screenplay.
To cut a film that is largely silent, Krasinski suggested that Tellefsen revisit Jaws. “He and Emily were totally obsessed by it,” says Tellefsen. “I did do it and it was a very interesting exercise. Jaws sets up the whole business of trying to live normally but being under a great threat that appears when least exepcted.” What he drew from Jaws, he says, was “the way it’s structured, it lulls you into not expecting something and then something very drastic happens.”
The movie was shot in upstate New York, where Krasinski had found an old house and barn on a large expanse of property. The production designer and crew designed and built a silo and planted corn. “It was an amazing set,” recalls Tellefsen, who was editing in New York City. Because the production shot film, he got dailies with a two-day delay. “I was cutting while they were shooting, and John came down on three or four Saturdays before the end of shooting,” he says. “I had a rough cut by the time they were finished shooting, and then he sat down and we dug in from beginning to end.” The process was fast; Tellefsen says he came on in September, and the film was ready in March for a screening at SXSW.
Although he says the whole picture was “challenging in the most wonderful way,” Tellefsen is proud of a section where he parallels what’s happening with the family members who have split up: father and son talking at the waterfall, Emily in the child’s bedroom, and the young daughter at her brother’s grave. “I thought it was a strong way of holding them all in the same place,” he says “I was very happy with how that came out.” It was also challenging cutting the scenes with the creature, before the actual visual effects had been added. “John was in a mocap suit playing the monster in the basement — the creature was wearing sneakers,” he says. “I hadn’t worked to a non-existent visual effect to that extent. I had to suspend my disbelief and work with the rhythm of it. Luckily we had brilliant people at ILM that did such a great job with the creature.” He also credits E2, co-founded by Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn for the stellar audio work in a movie where sounds are almost another character in the movie.
Working with film for A Quiet Place was familiar for Tellefsen, who had worked on three movies shot in film: True Stories, Moneyball and Capote. “And Capote was a negative cut,” he adds. “I love the grain and the texture of film. Although the Alexa is an amazing camera, 35mm film, as a capture and projection media, has a certain rhythm and life that’s different.” With A Quiet Place behind him, Tellefsen notes that, “within every film, I find the strong takeaway is understanding the dynamics and connection between characters.” “It’s one of the things that grounds that film and all films,” he says. “With a film like A Quiet Place that is ultimately a horror film, it wouldn’t work if there wasn’t a completely believable family with strong, interesting dynamics. The audience has to feel this family is made up of real people and care about them, so when the family is in crisis, they’re invested.”
Receiving the HPA Award for Outstanding Editing – Feature Film, was a thrill, says Tellefsen, who notes that it is “especially nice to have your work noticed by your peers.” He was nominated for an Eddie from American Cinema Editors in 1999 for Analyze This and Man on the Moon, about the same time he became an Academy member.
Tellefsen is currently working on a small film, The Kitchen, an adaptation of the DC graphic novel about the wives of imprisoned mobsters to take over their husbands’ turf in 1970s Hell’s Kitchen. Directed and co-written/co-produced by Andrea Berloff, who was one of the writers of Straight Outta Compton, it features Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish as the mobsters’ wives. “It’s stellar,” says Tellefsen. “I’m very excited about it.”