featured Interview

Interview: Director Darius Marder Talks ‘Sound of Metal’

December 4, 2020Ben MK

Sometimes it's the things we take for granted that we miss the most when they're gone. But as we see in Sound of Metal, it's not always about trying to recover what you've lost. For when a heavy metal drummer named Ruben (Riz Ahmed) finds himself suffering from a sudden loss of hearning, he and girlfriend/bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke) discover a world they never knew existed — one that will change Ruben's life forever.

I caught up with director Darius Marder to chat about Sound of Metal and what stars Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke brought to the film, as well as being authentic in his portrayal of deaf culture and, of course, the sound design.

First of all, how have you been doing during the pandemic and how have you been keeping busy?

Marder: I'm writing. It's a great time to be a writer. I feel really lucky to have that because otherwise life would be difficult. And it is difficult for so many people. It's difficult for all of us in the sense that we're locked away and we don’t have our social outlets, etc. But I have my health and my work, so I'm lucky.

I was at the Sound of Metal premiere at TIFF last year where you mentioned that the film originated from a documentary you were working on. Can you go into more detail about how the movie came about?

Marder: Thirteen years ago I met Derek Cianfrance. Our two kids were at a school picnic together, and the very first thing we spoke about was the seed of the movie [Metalhead] that this movie became. That was a documentary that Derek was shooting about the band Jucifer. [They're] a two-person band, very much like Ruben and Lou, that travel around in a winnebago. And I think Derek was really interested in the sonic experience and how loud they were, but also the American dream and how far people will go for that and this kind of nomadic existence.

I ended up editing it for a while and that was actually the beginning of the writing process, although I didn't know it at the time. It was just the beginning of forming these stories. And then when it was clear that Metalhead wasn't going to get made, Derek and I ended up writing The Place Beyond the Pines and I took [Metalhead] from the ground up. That was probably ten years ago, so it's been a bit of an odyssey.

Of course, the film wouldn't be the same without Riz Ahmed's performance. And at the TIFF premiere last year you talked about how method he was in his approach to his role. What did he, as well as Olivia Cooke, bring to the movie?

Marder: Oh boy, so much. Both of them committed to this movie in a way that I really want people to commit. And it's hard to find people that are in that way and willing to engage in a very scary process. Because I wasn't giving them much of a safety net. I really was interested in daring them to show up in an extremely brave and vulnerable space.

And in the case of Riz, it wasn't enough for him to learn the lines of ASL that he needed to learn for the movie. He had to be able to communicate within deaf culture the way Ruben would have had he been immersed in it for four to six months. So that meant a pretty heavy duty degree of understanding of the language. And I also said, "You gotta learn the instruments. We're gonna go to a club. We're gonna have an audience of real music lovers there and you guys are gonna play a show." Normally, in a movie, you shoot the drums by themselves and the singer by herself and they you would mix them together. We didn't do that. We bet the farm on the energy that they would create together and didn't give ourselves an escape route.

[Riz] did become quite facile [as a drummer]. He's pretty extraordinary in these ways, and Olivia too. Olivia actually learned to play the guitar and she was looping in real time and she was singing. It's an incredible amount of coordination. Both of them just had this remarkable ability to put themselves to it and pick it up. We dared them and they pulled it off.

The cast also includes a number of deaf performers. How important was it to you to portray deaf culture accurately and to cast people who are actually deaf?

Marder: It was essential. I wasn't going to make the movie any other way. And it was incredibly important. It wasn't negotiable. I never look at it as me representing deaf culture; I always thought about it as being invited into deaf culture. The main character is a hearing character who's invited into deaf culture, and that's a little bit how I felt the film and the process was. Everything that you see on the screen that is related to deaf culture really came from deaf culture; it didn't come from me. It was really a gift to the movie and a gift to audiences to be able to see that. It was a real honor for the deaf community to share that with me.

A huge part of portraying what the experience of being deaf is like is the sound design. After all, the film is called Sound of Metal. Can you tell me a bit about the sound design for the movie?

Marder: The sound design was really an odyssey. Just our mix was twenty-three weeks long, and it actually started way before that. It was an exploration. It was a really pure, creative process to embody this point of hearing that nobody had ever seen or heard. And we really wanted to see what could be done. How could we explore this language and how does it merge with the visual language? How the two interacted was a very complicated conversation.

I actually looked for the right sound team for a long time. I had a hard time signing people on for it because it was a special experience and it needed this very particular kind of authorship. And eventually I met Nicolas Becker in France, and he and I started developing the idea and the sound a couple of years before we shot. And then he came to set, recorded everything [with] underwater and multidirectional contact microphones. It was a very in-depth experience of field recording, and then the post process had to be being concurrently with the picture editing process.

This is also a very personal project for you, as the movie is dedicated to your grandmother, who went deaf later in life and devoted herself to captioning for films. What does Sound of Metal mean to you and what do you hope viewers will take away from it?

Marder: I do think its apropos at this time, where everybody's dealing with the loss of the life that they thought they had and everyone's dealing with the loss of the identity they thought defined them. I think a lot of people globally are dealing with that right now. We're all social beings and we're being forced away from each other. It's absolutely extraordinary what we're all living through. And it's very much at the heart of what this film's about.

Last but not least, you mentioned your frequent collaborator, Derek Cianfrance, earlier. And the two of you have a new film that you're writing. Can you tell me a bit about that one?

Marder: We started that many years ago now. It's an incredible story called Empire of the Summer Moon. Right now, we're expanding the concept even though we already have a beautiful script. I don't know when it will go into production but we're really developing it more and more. We always were trying to find a way to tell a story that involved the Comanche community and the American viewpoint. Because that's what this story is — this merging of these two empires that meet at one point in American history.

Sound of Metal is available to stream now on Amazon Prime in the U.S. and to rent exclusively on the Digital TIFF Bell Lightbox in Canada.

You May Also Like