A Conversation with Sound of Metal’s Darius Marder

As you may have seen during this week whether it be the News write-up, or the review that we just posted, I loved Sound of Metal. After three viewings (first time at TIFF last year, and the two over the past week), it is a film that I’ll continue to hold close and dear for the forseeable future.

I had the extreme honour to sit with the director of Sound of Metal Darius Marder over Zoom. To try something new, here is the Zoom recording, alongside a transcription below for those deaf, or hard of hearing.

Andres: How have you been during quarantine?

Darius: You know, you always have to qualify that answer with the fact that I’m healthy and I can work. Because I write. So both of those – that’s the first thing, you know. Both of those things are really important and they’re two things a lot of people don’t have. The ability to work, and health. So I’m happy about those, but it’s also been really challenging. And I think it’s challenging for all of us – we’re such social beings, that’s who we are. That’s the essence of being a human. And we’re being deprived of that right now. And it’s really challenging.

Andres: I think it goes a bit back and forth because there have been times where I feel like personally I’ve wanted a break from certain stuff. It’s too much, it’s everything – it’s been a nice, unfortunate breather from everything.

Darius: Yeah, yeah.

Andres: At the same time, like, there are days like “oh, it’s been 3 weeks, and I’ve just been home. And that’s about it, and the like.” You know.

Darius: Right, it does feel like a big, a truly global meditation.

Andres: It’s been interesting.

Darius: Yes, really.

Andres: So I’ve now seen the film three times –

Darius: Whoa!

Andres: I saw it last year at TIFF –

Darius: Okay.

Andres: And loved it. And then saw it twice over the weekend. Once incidentally was a double feature with Baby Driver that was unintentional but then, also really worked.

Darius: What? That’s fascinating. That is so funny, I wouldn’t have thought of that pairing, I love that.

Andres: And then more and more – after Sound of Metal started, it was like, “this is a really good double feature?”

Darius: Which one did you see first?

Andres: Baby Driver.

Darius: That’s, that’s amazing.

Andres: I had seen both of them on second or third re-watches but I was showing Baby Driver to my girlfriend cause she hasn’t seen it before. And she loved it. As I said, I’ve seen your film three times, so I’ve very much loved it.

Darius: Well, that’s an honour right there. I have to tell you, as a filmmaker, when people watch a film more than once – it really is just an honour in and of itself. So I really appreciate that, that level of attention.

Andres: I wanted to ask – I read a bit on the statement [Director’s Statement], but how else did the story come to you?

Darius: Well, you know, they – I’ve talked about the doc that it came from, and my collaboration with Derek Cianfrance and that’s kind of the literal seed that it was in the beginning. And that’s really important and – but actually the story itself, the essence of the story, was something that was really, it took years of mining for me. And you know, you don’t really know that when you begin a project. What it’s going to take, and what you’re going to find. And I think that’s partially because it was scary. It was like what I was actually unearthing in this film, was really challenging for me. It was bringing up this concept of how hard and tight we hold on to things, believing we are protecting them, when in fact, it may not be the case. It may be, time to let go. So, that, finding that, the heart of the story that was the real surprise. You know, that was the real treasure of it was that that co-dependent relationship and the journey that you get to go on, through the whole deaf culture and everything. But really, out the other side.

Andres: What was the energy on set like, cause it’s kind of an intense film in some ways.

Darius: Yeah, I think so. You know that, we had such a family on set. I mean, this was a remarkable journey because – first of all, I insisted on us shooting chronologically for this film. And that’s incredibly important. Especially for this movie, because it’s such a chronological journey. I mean, literally the phyiscal process of losing hearing – Riz literally went through that – we began with this intensity, and music, and like a live club and a real room in Boston. All of these things were kind of how I approached the process, it had to be real, it had to be a lot at stake. And there had to be no safety net. That was the vague premise of everything when we shot. And because of that, and we’re shooting on 35, so you can’t just roll and roll and roll. And because of that, like level of intentionality and level of focus. It was really intense, and exhilarating and kind of awesome. You know, it was like you hit the ground and you’re okay, you’re in a club one day. And then in you’re, you know, you’re doing a live show, and then it’s done, and it’s over. Then you’re in an airstream, and now you’re flying through the country, and Riz is driving because that thing is too big to put on a trailer. And that’s exhilarating, and you know, it’s a road trip, and you’re in it and experiencing it. And everything felt palpable like that. And the essence of chronological shooting is wonderful because things – there can be stuff at stake. So for instance when Ruben and Lou split, like that’s goodbye. Goodbye. There’s an actual goodbye.

Andres: Right.

Darius: And then she’s gone. And all of a sudden, you’re “wait, we were just in a club, and now we’re in a deaf community.” And we are in a deaf community. And our lunches are silent – on set. And we are you know, meshed in that feeling which was utterly magical. And like, you know, everything felt like that, it just felt like a real experience. Like we all collectively everyone experienced the movie.

Andres: How did Riz and Olivia both get involved – like I’m massive fans of both of them but –

Darius: Cool.

Andres: Sorry?

Darius: No that’s cool that you know both of their work ahead of this. Some people do, and some people don’t. And I think they’re really both extremely special actors. You know, it’s so weird, I didn’t know about either of them. And I cast the movie for quite a few years, and went through so many actors. And was really looking for actors that wanted more from an experience from making a movie then just the product of a movie.

Andres: Right.

Darius: I was looking for people who wanted transformation, who wanted like, you know, actual transcendence. Something to change and shift in them, and to be vulnerable in that way. And they both have that quality, Riz and Olivia both if you look at their work, the level of talent that they have is kind of ridiculous. They’re both just extraordinary natural talents. Just instinctively amazing. But they also both had this opportunity to do something that they had never done before. And Riz, I gave – I offered Riz the role halfway through lunch when I met him. It was so clear to me that he had that hunger for something special. And he – that’s hard to find. Everyone likes to talk about process, or talk about Daniel Day-Lewis who spends a year getting into character, but no one wants to do it. You know, who’s going to turn off life and stop backing up projects one after another, and shut everything down to learn ASL, and learn the drums, and go to AA groups. And mine the depths of your soul, who’s doing that? You know, who’s actually doing that work. Especially for a first-time director. You know, that’s a tough sale. So, I met this guy, and it was very clear very quickly that he was not just down for it but he was appropiately scared and really excited. And I love the balance of that, I love the fear and the excitement, if there wasn’t any fear, I’d be nervous. Cause it should be scary. And Olivia too. Same deal, like she came on later. Like Riz has been practicing these two things for months when Olivia came on. I didn’t know her work even before I met Olivia. And I met her and was just kind of blown away by this person that I saw it again, it was very similar. I called my producer – literally walking out of the meeting and I said “let’s do this, let’s do this.” She was right.

Andres: Was it both – they seem outside of their work, and in their work that I’ve seen that they both seem like very genuine people. And that comes across within the film as well.

Darius: Yeah, you know the audacity of sincerity. Like so much of what we see is masked and ego, and all sorts of things, you know, I love sincerity. I love how brave it is to put something sincere in the world. And they are that, you’re exactly right. They’re not pretentious, they just wear themselves very honestly.

Andres: So you and Riz had met – it was four months prior to the shooting –

Darius: Oh no, way before that.

Andres: No sorry, to do all the prep work.

Darius: No Riz actually moved to Brooklyn I think it was 7 months before we started shooting to do the prep. Something like that. The commitment was pretty big in that way.

Andres: Was it you, or him, or a combination to come up with some of the tattoo ideas? Cause every once in a while, I’ll look at some and be like those are funny or interesting or something.

Darius: Yeah, we spent a lot of time on the tattoos. I would say that I really feel like the tat’s were Riz, but also Sean Powell who is the drummer of Surfbort who is this kind of spirit guide for Ruben and spent a lot of time with Riz in Brooklyn. And he’s an incredible guy, he’s like – he was an heroin addict, he was covered – you gotta look up Sean Powell, and you’ll know immediately what I’m talking about. And some of his tattoos are actually on Ruben. And I actually think his accent is the locality of where he came from is in Ruben as well. He was real part of the DNA of who Ruben was on screen for Riz.

Andres: Were you previously fluent in ASL for your grandmother, or was there a translator on set?

Darius: No, because my grandmother was late deafened, so my grandmother didn’t know ASL, and that’s why she was such an interesting inspiration for the movie. Because she was stuck betwewen the two cultures, you know she was an alcoholic, she was an incredible – she was a cinephile, she knew everything about every movie. I mean, she was just an incredible intellect, a gay Jewish woman in New York, and very intense person. And she lost her hearing after taking an antibiotic, and so all of a sudden, she just you know, this person – talk about, we were talking about the pandemic and what it does to us and all of a sudden she was just like, she couldn’t talk, she couldn’t communicate with the hearing community, and she couldn’t communicate with the deaf world. She called herself a Queer Deafie. But it wrecked her, she was consumed with alcoholism and many other things. It was very hard on her, and hard on the family around her. And that’s the experience that I mined from her, and witnessed.

Andres: I think that part is very evident, especially in the early scenes with Ruben in the shower sort of trying like, come to grips with everything that’s happening.

Darius: Yeah, yeah. That lurking sense of something scary which – yeah. Which isn’t necessarily the hearing loss.

Andres: There’s a recurring theme of stillness and silence. The idea of being comfortable in that silence, you know. You said it yourself, it sort of starts off very loud in a club, and it ends up being very loud near the end as well. I’m someone that deals with a lot of anxiety and a lot of these noises in my head that I try to drown out, whether that be music, podcast, whatever to try to always keep myself busy. But there is something beautiful and fulfilling in that silence. When you finally feel comfortable in it. So how did you, design that rollercoaster ride throughout the film, like you get to a point where you’re comfortable in the silence or used to it throughout it, and then all of a sudden, the noise comes back again, and you’re like “get rid of it, please.”

Darius: That’s beautiful. And by the way, thanks for sharing that about yourself. Because, that’s the stuff that we often don’t speak of, you know. And I think that’s what I was interested in this movie, is being within someone, you know, we spend most of our time not really knowing what other people are going through in their own minds. Not knowing, we don’t know that you have those sounds or voices in your head, and you’re contending with it, and so that was, the aspect of this movie – one of them was that ability to enter that to a degree. And really what I was so excited about in the making of this film was, to try to create an experience that is alluding to something, referring something you were alluding to, which is what do we go through as an audience, as we experience this. Because it’s a bit phyiscal, isn’t it? It’s like, the phyiscality of the sound is, we’re uncomfortable in it, it’s loud in the beginning, even in the show, and you say there’s that mirroring at the end, which is entirely on purpose. And even, even literally a mirroring, there are sounds that overlap, so there’s almost this fateful return to a sound you thought you lost. But it’s happening in a different way. And like you say, you want that thing you just got used to back. But what’s also interesting in this movie is that some people have a hard time being in the deaf community. What I find fascinating reading reviews of this film, is the way people are absolutely sure which acts are not as good as the other acts. Like, you know “the first act was great and then the middle act was just too slow.” And you’re like, that person for whatever reason couldn’t find solace in that thing that you did –

Andres: Right.

Darius: Or “the third act was just jarring.” And you know, those things are really fascinating and compelling to me as a filmmaker because I think that’s what I was after, is what does this do for all of us as we go through this experience, how do we deal with it. And – ultimately, where do we sit, and how do we sit, you know. And – I’m really after that in this movie.

Andres: I think, all three acts are equally impressive. It’s a journey, it’s not – the whole point, weird to say but in my mind, it’s like the start to finish and the transformation in between. That’s what I want to watch, what I want to see. And I think I can talk to you about it all day, but then there’s also, I think I’d be upset with myself if I didn’t bring up that you also wrote The Place Beyond the Pines which also has a very unique three-act structure, and it’s so fascintating because you’re interested in a lot more, long-term journey wise of what things may mean, as opposed to just now, right now and everything found in that moment, you know.

Darius: It’s really fascinating what you end up writing and making, you know. It’s just so crazy the way, you know there’s so much crossover and interesting crossover with Pines, and then there’s of course, the Derek element of it also, and how he and I cross over creatively. And how we influence each other. But I think, The Place Beyond the Pines was really after a unique experience. Whether you like it or not, it’s very brave and it is inherently brave. And it’s asking you to deal with impermanence and legacy in a palpable way. It just is, in its nature. And some people can deal with it, and some people can’t. And it definitely challenges structure and form in a way that’s interesting and new. And I think that this film Sound of Metal does those things in a different way, in it also even though it’s very three-act based, it’s also kind of defies expectation at the same time. I like to see these crossovers with these projects.

Andres: Well, thank you very much. You have been great to talk to you.

Darius: Such a pleasure man, and like I said, just an honour – I really, really, am honoured that you watched the film three times and that means more to me than most things. That’s what I do this for, so thank you, I appreciate it.

Andres: Well take care, and I look forward to anything and everything you do next.

Darius: Thanks a lot, appreciate it.

As you can see, I could have talked for hours more with Darius Marder about the love I have for this project, and also The Place Beyond the Pines.

Click here to find out how to watch Sound of Metal.