'A Quiet Place: Day One' Director Michael Sarnoski Reveals How to Take on a Film Franchise—Without Selling Out

Director Michael Sarnoski and Lupita Nyong’o on set of A Quiet Place: Day One. All images courtesy of  Paramount Pictures.

Michael Sarnoski never thought he was going to make big studio movies. Then, in 2021, he directed the highly acclaimed Nicolas Cage-starring indie Pig—and the offers for big-budget projects started rolling in. 

"If anything, after Pig I was a little bit averse to the idea of, 'Oh, indie director does a tiny movie and then gets taken into the studio system and blah, blah, blah,'" the American filmmaker says during a recent Zoom. "I kind of actively wanted to avoid that." 

Sarnoski was ultimately convinced to take the leap into franchise filmmaking when John Krasinski approached him about making a prequel to A Quiet Place, the sci-fi horror film about a family surviving in a world where aliens gobble up anyone who makes a sound. (Krasinski directed the previous two installments, which starred his wife, Emily Blunt.).

The one requirement from Paramount was that the latest film be set in New York; the rest was up to Sarnoski. Once he came up with the character of Sam, played by Lupita Nyong'o, who totes a cat around during the beginnings of the apocalypse, he realized that what is now called A Quiet Place: Day One was something he wanted to pursue.  

Joseph Quinn and Nyong’o in A Quiet Place: Day One.

"It was a unique opportunity because I get the fun of playing in an established franchise," Sarnoski says, "and then also get this freedom of this spin-off.” Since A Quiet Place is still a nascent franchise, he had to deal with neither the pressure of Star Wars-style superfans nor the requirement to maintain a consistent tone. "This was about, 'play in this sandbox and do something that feels like your vision,'" he says.  

Sarnoski's path is familiar: Make an acclaimed, personal film and then take on a massive project in some sort of cinematic universe. Chloé Zhao won Best Director and Best Picture at the Oscars for Nomadland and then went to Marvel for Eternals. Barry Jenkins, of Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, is behind the upcoming Lion King prequel, Mufasa: The Lion King. Sarnoski isn't even the only filmmaker following this playbook this summer. Twisters, the reboot of Twister, is directed by Lee Isaac Chung, who made Minari, the quiet A24 drama about a Korean family in Arkansas. 


But in our conversation, Sarnoski makes the case that heading into the world of explosions and intellectual property does not mean selling out. In fact, he described the experience as not all that different from making a film like Pig, which centered around Cage's truffle hunter searching for his missing swine. He's still having the same kinds of conversations with collaborators about production choices, just on a much bigger scale with more people involved. "All creativity is kind of about restrictions and wild ideas and where those things meet and how you compromise but bolster and bring out the best of both worlds," Sarnoski says. 

Doing A Quiet Place: Day One also helped Sarnoski get his next film, The Death of Robin Hood, off the ground. That one, a drama about an aging Robin Hood reflecting on his legacy, he says lands right between Pig and A Quiet Place in terms of scale, and is set to star Jodie Comer and Hugh Jackman. A24 has already acquired the rights.

"Without Quiet Place, I probably would have found a way to make Robin work and just fight hard for it," Sarnoski says. "But I think coming off a big franchise movie, having people know that I can handle that scale, helps." 

A Quiet Place: Day One also saw Sarnoski change his mind about other aspects of filmmaking as well. After Pig, Sarnoski wanted to take a break from working with animals. But then he came up with the idea of a cat sidekick for Nyong'o's Sam. "It just became clear that we needed that cat," he says.