Soft and Quiet Trailer: Why the One Take Technique Was Right for the Movie

Exclusive: Check out the first trailer for Beth de Araújo’s thrilling debut feature, as the filmmaker tells IndieWire about her unique production schedule.

When first-time filmmaker Beth de Araújo began writing her first feature, the heart-pounding thriller “Soft & Quiet,” she didn’t just tell provocative stories. She wanted to film it using techniques that echoed the feelings of confinement and claustrophobia rooted in its story. The result: real-time drama that never stops, neither in its plot nor in the ambitious way the plot is told. Oh, and she shot it four times in a row, back to back, night after night.

The film, which debuted at SXSW in March with backing from Blumhouse Productions, is designed to be unsettling, but that doesn’t mean it’s unattainable. According to a synopsis written by de Araújo, the film “follows a single afternoon in the life of an elementary school teacher as she organizes a mix of like-minded women. When the group returns home, the teacher meets a woman from his past, which leads to a volatile series of events.

In clearer terms, it’s a movie about a group of white supremacist women who end up attacking a pair of POC sisters.

Featuring frequent Araújo collaborator (and close friend) Stefanie Estes, plus an incredible cast that includes both new and emerging names (Cissy Ly, Melissa Paulo, Olivia Luccardi, Eleanore Pienta, Dana Millican, and more ), the film was inspired by various feelings of confinement. At the start of the pandemic, de Araújo, Estes and other friends shared a little lockdown mod, which inevitably led the creative duo to start hankering after creating something COVID-friendly. But what was possible?

“I started writing something that maybe we could shoot at my house, something about Stefanie in an abusive marriage, but then I struggled to find my connection to it,” the filmmaker recalled in a recent interview with IndieWire. “I said to her, ‘It’s sometimes very difficult to write from a white woman’s perspective because we move through the earth in very different ways and our bodies are treated very differently. “”

Then this viral video of Central Park dog walker Amy Cooper surfaced. See the white woman yell at black bird watcher Christian Cooper for simply asking her to leash her dog, then call the cops and tell them she was being threatened by ‘the African American man’ and come and arrest her immediately struck something deep within Araújo, whose mother is Chinese-American and father is Brazilian (the San Francisco native holds dual citizenship in the United States and Brazil). She suddenly had a new idea.

Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

“I texted Stefanie, ‘Could you play female white supremacy?’ We talked a bit about the character and what would happen in that moment, and she had the courage to say, ‘Yeah, let’s go,'” the filmmaker said. “Then we went from there, and I was inspired by everyone that Amy Cooper reminded me of and that I came across in my life.” (One of them was her own sophomore teacher, which is why her production label is called “Second Grade Teacher”.)

With the casting of Estes and the character of Emily finalized, de Araújo was ready to build out the rest of the script, from the other characters to how she wanted to shoot it. “[I knew] it wasn’t going to be a lighthearted movie, I knew I wanted it to be as suffocating and as intense as a real, real hate crime,” she said. “I wanted it to happen with this frenzy [energy]and I knew before I started writing that it had to be in one take.

She traveled to the small northern California town she wanted to shoot in, a place where she spent part of her childhood (she doesn’t name it for privacy reasons), and started mapping that which was logistically possible. “I knew if I could get all those pitches, I could do it any way I wanted,” de Araújo said. “I cleaned up the places first, then I went back to LA, and I started writing as fast as I could. I wrote it for those specific places and for the design of this one, because that I wanted it to feel incredibly claustrophobic and inescapable.

De Araujo’s plan? Shoot the film from start to finish, in real time and with minimal cuts, over four consecutive evenings. They began shooting nightly at 6:34 p.m., compressing each shot by about 30 seconds to account for the timing of the sun. (Yes, she thought of everything.) For her actors, it was a simple pitch: “We’re just going to shoot a moving play for a week like you go Monday through Thursday on your run of your play.” she says.

They rehearsed for four days in advance, but de Araújo encouraged his cast to rest on filming days before getting to work. “On shooting days, I just said, ‘Sleep, rest, and then we’ll have our security meeting, show time, and lunch,'” she recalled. “I would tell everyone to go to the bathroom before you start because no one is going to take a pee break for like two hours and then we go.”

The final film is not a single take, although de Araújo said the majority came from the fourth and final day of filming, when everyone was fully immersed and prepared for the run. The first day was basically “a warm-up”. There is a “little section” from day two in the final cut (one day de Araújo admitted to being “a disaster, so we barely used it”). There’s a “bit of the third day” to a pivotal cabin sequence that unfolds in the film’s second half, mostly because that day “seemed the vilest” to de Araújo (when audiences see it, he will know, that is with certainty).

De Araújo knows “Soft & Quiet” is no easy seance, fun watch, but that’s exactly how she designed it, marrying her themes and technique to create something truly unsettling but with real purpose. When it comes to movies, television, and other forms of entertainment, de Araújo is like everyone else.

“I think it’s so great to go take your mind off things and enjoy something that’s super nice and just makes you laugh a little bit,” she said. “But I also believe there should be just as much room for films that push you and make you feel uncomfortable and have you sit in on different themes and discuss them.”

Watch the first trailer for “Soft & Quiet,” available exclusively on IndieWire, below. Momentum Pictures will release the film in theaters and on VOD on Friday, November 4.