The Amazon Studios feature Sound of Metal, filmed by Daniel Bouquët and directed by Darius Marder, takes a musical journey like no other.
by Pauline Rogers / Framegrabs Courtesy of Amazon Studios
During a series of adrenaline one night gigs, Greenscreen punk metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) suffers from temporary hearing loss. When a specialist tells him that his condition is going to worsen quickly, he believes that his music career – and with it his life – is over. His bandmates and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) take him to a remote, sober home for the deaf in hopes that it will prevent a relapse into drug use and help him cope with his impending disability. Although Ruben is welcome at the facility, he still struggles between this new reality and his innate pursuit of music and fame.
Writer / director Darius Marder got the idea for his feature film debut while editing Metalheads, a documentary by writer / director Derek Cianfrance (ICG Magazine – Deep Dive – I know a lot is true) that was ultimately scrapped. Marder, who also co-wrote the director's Sundance film, The Place Beyond the Pines, with Cianfrance, says Metalhead's non-fictional plot about a drummer suddenly suffering from hearing loss stuck with him. Over the next ten years, Marder built a team of musicians, actors, sound designers, and other artists to create the narrative feature Sound of Metal.
Marder says he wanted to take his audience on a linear journey by shooting to a remote community in chronological order of Rubens' adrenaline-pumping performances and the desperation he hides in his Airstream trailer as he processes his hearing loss, which helps him adapt and try to regain his former life and to see where he fits in the world around him. Filming was always a matter of course. Working with cameraman Daniël Bouquet (Golden Calf for Best Camera at the Dutch Film Festival for Nothing Personal), the couple opted for Techniscope 35mm 2 perf material.
“When Darius and I had our first call, I expressed My wish to shoot on film, ”says Bouquet,“ and preferably in autumn or winter. I could imagine that the character of 35 millimeters and the acoustics of the snow would go well with the story. Especially because of all the noise in their lives, the silence would be important in the beginning. Because we felt like we were making a bit of a documentary, "adds Bouquet," with less light, a lot of space and freedom for the performance and the duration of the (film) magazines. It would give us the character we wanted and, with a limited number of roles, a lot of focus and focus on the set. It's a very different approach than digital photography. "
To achieve a similar look to The Place Beyond the Pines, Marder and Bouquet chose the lightweight and compact Aaton Penelope cameras, which work almost silently with 2-Perf, and the Sigma Cine Prime lens series. The package would give the camera crew plenty of room in the mole house of the Airstream / Sound studio that was so important in the film. “We mostly settled on that one lens,” continues Bouquet. “Then we switched to a different lens when it came to a certain sound perspective. I think we used maybe three or four in the (Sigma) series throughout the film. There are some handhelds out there, but I don't believe in Steadicam very much. I like the feel of the camera's weight. "
Bouquet says that when a certain emotional focus was needed, the camera would physically move closer "instead of using a long lens," he explains. "To support this, we chose a slightly longer focal length to reduce distortion in the close-ups."
The camera design started out rather calmly where everything was balanced – even in the middle of the chaotic music. When Ruben has to move, the camera moves too. "I tried to follow his mood," explains Bouquet. “Wide would say where we were, Close would show what he was experiencing. Not so much in between.
“We tried to avoid adding an“ effect layer ”on top of the sound effect you sometimes get in other films,” adds Bouquet. “We thought there was too much information from both a sound and a camera perspective. Removing all of the sound from a listening audience is such a powerful tool. We decided to keep this moment for the end of the film as it is almost the climax after all the noise. "
The explosion of music and hardcore sounds in the opening concert sequence surrounds both the performers and the audience. The love for music, for sound, even for the cacophony of heavy metal is immediate. The concerts attract audiences and combine their travels with Rubens' journey. Bouquet says they had a day to film both concert scenes, with both main characters performing the music.
"We shot their live performances on stage and registered both the film and their music," he recalls. “We did handheld recordings with Riz behind the drums and Olivia in front of the microphone with a single camera and close to the performers. And like the concerts they would have on this scale, they came to the clubs the afternoon before the show with just instruments and some speakers / amplifiers. No sound crew. Overall not too pretty and quite dark. "
When the story of Rubens' life moves on stage As a nomad musician, the home / studio / transport Airstream creates another intimacy. Production designer Jeremy Woodward made the Airstream more camera-friendly. “Although the camera was everywhere and mostly in hand, it was extremely doable,” adds Bouquet. “The heat was a challenge, especially on sunny days because we preferred to keep the windows closed for noise. Our US top lighting technician Michael Peterson replaced the skylight / portholes with two-tone LED light tiles so that we had a little more filling during the day and a tungsten-balanced atmosphere in the evening. “Since the film is shot chronologically, Ruben is selling his instruments, which allows for more space in the Airstream and a clear picture of the loss during deflation.
One of the most poignant moments in metal is when Ruben wanders into a classroom with deaf children. He takes them outside where they begin to communicate through drums. “Ruben gets a child's attention and a little lesson begins,” recalls Bouquet. “During the research and preparation, Darius discovered many beautiful ways in which non-hearing people communicate. It is like “hearing” the vibration of the keys on a piano by placing your hands on the wood. Somebody told us that it is obvious that when they are watching movies they prefer action to dialogue. "
According to Bouquet, it is a challenge to visually capture dialogues in sign language, “because you always have to see both hands, which makes close-ups almost impossible. Not showing it is the same as turning off the volume in a conversation. A close-up could only show an expression or a reaction to what someone was signing. Otherwise not much. "
The biggest visual transition in history is with Ruben travels to Europe – from Boston – to reconnect with Lou. "We found a nice house in Antwerp for Lou & # 39; s father's apartment," explains Bouquet. “It was built in such a way that the horse-drawn carriages that were dropped off by the owners or guests could enter from the front and continue under the house to the rear.
“We had to shoot day after evening, so we planned the garden scene at the end of the day and used a bedroom on the first floor on the shady side of the house – a late sunny introduction with her father and a cooler, darker interior in the evening and early morning . The bedroom on the first floor faced the street without much space, so our European skylighter, Janneke Hogenboom, placed two large LED soft boxes on elevators to get up through the windows of Lou's bedroom. In the garden, she organized dropdowns at 2.5km from the balcony to create thin sunlight so I could look into the garden behind Mathieu Amalric's character. "
The last scene in Sound of Metal brings it all back to the beginning – but in a different way. It takes place on the streets in front of Lou's family house. Ruben is lost, realizing that Lou is no longer in his life but not sure where he is going with his own. "It comes from the 'sound portraits'", recalls Bouquet. Ruben observes what is around him. He sees and listens to children playing, people talking, street noise. But it starts to irritate him. "The sound of the cochlear implants he received is unbearable," adds Bouquet. “We lifted the real silence for the moment he takes it off. I had a discussion with Darius because I wanted him to just sit and listen before taking them off, but we felt it was important that we make the connection between what he hears and sees. "
One of the most unique creative relationships on Sound of Metal was between Marder, Bouquet and sound designer / editor Nicholas Becker, whose concepts influenced every step of the project. Marder had contacted Becker a year before production started and talked about how the tone would affect the script, costumes, imagery, and even post-production. Bouquet joined the two men in Paris to discuss the different approaches and find common ground. "Such an exchange between the DP and the sound designer is very rare," explains Becker. "The only other time for me was with Darius Khondji (ASC) when I was doing a project about the artist Philippe Parreno."
Becker, who says that he has always been fascinated by the interplay of image and sound, notes that Sound of Metal really showed how much sound can influence image production. "It can give the illusion of changing the perception of the image through the tones we choose and use," he shares. “Sound can define a strategy that influences the viewer's gaze. To support or disrupt the perception of light, movement, time and the journey of the gaze.
“For this film,” he continues, “two important things have been brought together. The first is obviously how to frame Ruben, the main character who is losing his hearing, from a subjective perspective. Daniël's work with Riz achieved this. The second part is more about editing scenes in which we change the listening perspective. It had to be clear, but not too repetitive. Daniël offered us many opportunities. We spent a lot of time with Mikkel, the image editor, to find the right balance between classic and subjective shots so that it wasn't too mechanical and too strenuous. "
Becker says that the combination of sound and subjective images after building up a vocabulary can lead to deviations that lead to variations in order not to exhaust the viewer. “For example, it can be the image or the sound that switches to subjective mode, but the viewer always sees the change of perspective and their brain does the work,” he adds.
The designer's ability to work with both the director and the director Cameraman to fully incorporate the sound into the story immediately showed. “We rehearsed the music for the concerts for months,” explains Becker. “We wanted to make everything documentary, whereby the audience recognizes that our sound and our images are natural and not synchronized. That set the tone for a sound plan that spanned the entire picture. "
One of the most interesting sound integrations is a simple scene outside the isolated recovery center where Ruben interacts with a boy who is playing on top of the slide. Ruben sits in silence at the bottom of the slide, thinking he is alone when he begins to feel vibrations. He looks up and there is the kid making his kind of music.
“The scene makes it clear to people that even if we become deaf, we can continue to perceive a certain low level of air vibration, and even more so as soon as we come into contact with vibrating objects,” Becker offers. “The brain can restore the sensation of a sound from these vibrations perceived by the skin or the bone cavities. The scene is quite poetic and draws the audience into the reality of life without sound. "
Becker says his influence in the closing sequence in Antwerp was calculated. "Darius wanted the silence to be different from traditional cinema, where silence is never nothing," he recalls. “He wanted emptiness. When it is "quiet" people are usually in their living room and hear the sound of the air conditioner, the noise of the neighbors or the woman eating their candy, and we listen. But what do we hear from the screen? The silence that Ruben accepted as the next part of his life. "
To achieve this, Becker used multidirectional microphones that produced hyper-real quality, as well as condenser microphones. He placed microphones underwater and on Ahmed's skull, and even recorded the sound of his closed eyelids.
The partnership between story, image recording and sound fulfilled Marder's goal of showing that "deafness is not silence," the director concludes. "It's a different way of experiencing sounds and vibrations. The audience often hears what Ruben hears – or doesn't hear. We have constantly played with the dichotomy of omniscient sound and perspective sound. Sound design and story work hand in hand, forced the audience to experience more than just the sound of silence. "
Bert Hamelinck from the Caviar Group, one of the producers of Sound of Metal, sums up the feeling behind the indie project. "It's something unique," notes Hamelnck. “When the main character loses his hearing, he has to go on a roller coaster ride in search of his true self. The entire emotional arc is evident, but getting the film to work for a hearing and a non-hearing audience alike has been a difficult task. Sound is essential in most films. But here the lack of hearing, combined with the main character's other problems, enabled us to experience something very tangible in the visual experience, not only emotionally but also physically. While the story of a deaf drummer is a strong catch, the film goes much deeper into examining who we are as humans. "
Local 600 Camera Crew – Sound of Metal (Boston, MA)
Cinematographer: Daniël Bouquet
1. Camera assistants: Richard Crumrine, Doug Durant
2nd assistant camera: Matthew Hedges
Loader: Joshua Weilbrenner
Still photographer: Robert Clark