The Directors UK Podcast returns. In this episode, we’re joined by Darius Marder, director of the multi Oscar-nominated film, Sound of Metal.
In a fascinating discussion, Darius talks to fellow director Beeban Kidron about what he would and wouldn’t compromise on, collaborating with Riz Ahmed, and nailing a rare and formidable sense of first person perspective.
You can all scroll below for a full transcript of the episode.
Beeban Kidron: Okay, we are all agreed it’s fantastic and it was indeed, Darius, such a fantastic film. So, you have conquered London in the form of us lot here, and I can’t wait to have questions from the audience, but I actually get the privilege of asking you some questions first. So, I’m actually going to ask you a little bit about your history and then go into some thematics about the film, and then maybe some very particular things, just around the question of deafness and some technical things about the movie - because our audience today is made up of directors and there is nothing that they like better, we like better, than hearing about some of the problems and some of the solutions you came to. So, this is your first film as director, how did you get to this point? What were you up to all this time? Why have you made us wait this long?
Darius Marder: Well, it’s my first fiction film as a director.
Beeban Kidron: Fiction film, sorry.
Darius Marder: Yes, and I don’t even say first narrative film, I always think it’s interesting that people don’t call documentaries narrative because, indeed, they are. Yes, so that’s a good question. I think my road has been a bit circuitous insofar as I don’t really know how everyone else is making movies, it’s not easy. It’s not like you just are allowed to do it. I started dreaming of it, and I think it bears mentioning, especially in the United States there’s no government money for anything, you have to somehow manage to thread this needle of getting financing and doing this, and it’s just damn hard. My road has been definitely unusual. I don’t come from any kind of film background, I didn’t go to school, I was a bit of a renegade kid, and I kind of had this idea that rather than go to college - in those days I had a lot of attitude about college - I didn’t want to be babysat, I just wanted something that felt real, so I kind of was in a very dark place in life. When I say dark, I was just lost, the darkness of teen years and travelling, just trying to find something that felt real, but also dealing with some real issues, and I say that because I think a lot of it actually came back into this script.
But, I was actually contacted as a teenager by my seventh and eighth grade writing teacher, who was that one teacher for me, who was that one teacher that kind of brought me into an elevated writing group and she called me at a very difficult moment and she said, ‘Would you like to come teach with me?’ and it really struck me. I went and taught for four years, seventh and eighth grade which is twelve and thirteen-year-olds, and teaching them was really important to opening up the channels of my own relationship to my own writing, and a lot of the healing that occurred and kind of ushering me into adulthood was through children, which again, shows up in this script. So, there are some interesting things that I found myself mining even unconsciously as I ended up writing. But then I had children early, and I won’t be too long-winded, but we have time, don’t we, Beeban?
Beeban Kidron: We have a little time.
Darius Marder: Okay, that was a little bit like, ‘We have time but hurry now.’ So, I had kids early and then I’m in Brooklyn with uninsured children. I was a personal chef in New York for years, just trying to pay the bills, and then I was a food stylist which is a job, and the whole time I was writing scripts and just trying to think like, ‘How the hell does someone make a movie, you know?’ And, I had kind of given myself this whole film education and everything, but really, that twenty years, from age twenty to forty was this incredible hustle, and this script and this story took twelve years to make, so it ate up a huge chunk of my adult life. And I’m glad for that, I think the film is what it is because of that. But, there’s a lot to say about that road to finally making a film…but mine was certainly unusual.
Beeban Kidron: Yes, it was and it’s really curious, some of the things that have shown up in the film that you’ve already mentioned. One of the things that I was wondering was about The Place Beyond The Pines, which is something that you wrote, right? And, that has a feeling like it comes from that same journey as well. Do you see that as a step on the way? Do you see that as a totally separate experience? How does that fit in, that next piece of narrative?
Darius Marder: Really important step, yes. I never was interested in writing just to write. Writing screenplays is so interesting, screenplays are blueprints for something else, they’re not really a product unto themselves, and I always was in the game to direct. I never was writing just to write for other people. I can’t even do it, I can’t do it, I need to be making my own films and writing for a film I’m going to make myself. But, when I met Derek Cianfrance, who made The Place Beyond The Pines, he and I had such a palpable connection and a real creative kind of overlap around where truth and fiction, the line is, and I was working on this documentary, Lewd, at the time, which is a highly narrative doc, and he was working on this other doc, and this was thirteen years ago when I met Derek, and that doc is actually the seed of what became Sound of Metal. So, we’ll get back to that, but a couple years later, I had committed in this ridiculous way to only writing or directing. I decided, I made a rule for myself and my life that I would stop, I had already stopped chef-ing and food styling, but at this point I was making my living as an editor and I decided I have to stop that too because the thing about these various jobs is, you can get comfortable in them. I loved editing, but I can’t make other people’s movies, and that was really clear to me.
So, I actually stopped editing and I told everyone I wouldn’t edit, and I was showing up in an empty room and writing every day and it was super lonely, super hard. But one of the things I would do when I dropped my kids off for school is Derek and I would go have coffee and talk about film, and that led to discussions around The Place Beyond The Pines, and eventually I ended up writing it with him. And, it was so important because he and I share so much, kind of, cinematic energy together. We didn’t really write as anyone being subordinate, we were just two directors, writers, beating the shit out of each other, and really trying to find the heart of a very brave movie, and it was just an incredibly exciting time, and also really fed what ended up being a lot of the Sound of Metal process.
Beeban Kidron: So, I have part of my brain sitting here worrying about your uninsured children while you’re in this room.
Darius Marder: As well you should.
Beeban Kidron: But, the bit that I actually want to pick up on there is this working with friends thing. Working with, almost, comrades, and I’m going to come to the actor bit of that later, but it is interesting, that description you’ve just given us because you then go on to work with another friend and then you work with your brother. What is that about? Is it about process? Is it about comfort? Is it about not going crazy? What’s that about? Why do you need that particular thing? Or, maybe I’ve got that wrong.
Darius Marder: Well, I think the word need is not necessarily the word, but want - or why it’s right for a certain film, maybe not another film. But, I do find, particularly for me, and everybody has a different process, but I really like engaging with people when I work. Yes you sit down in a room, ass in the seat, and writing has a lot to do with that, but I find so much comes from those little weird moments, those ineffable kind of firings of things that happen and can only happen with other humans. So, I’m a bit of a nomadic writer anyway, I actually write a lot in London and I really enjoy that city for writing and walking, and talking and then writing. But, when it comes to working with friends, it’s never just anybody, it has to be this really right kind of energy, that often I find is about allowance and joy. My writing process with Derek or with my brother, they’re really like a live process, a lot of cooking, a lot of walking and arguing and a ton of laughing, and so it’s a lot of movement. And it is heuristic, you become greater than the sum of your parts when you have that special kind of energy. And, it’s exciting, and I think there is a moment. For me, I find that no matter who I’m writing with there is a moment when you have to kind of move out of that and just go into a lone world, but it’s something about the give and take, at least for me.
Beeban Kidron: Okay. So, tell us a little bit, I want to turn to the film itself, but I do want you to just explain for anyone who doesn’t know the role of the documentary and then how it transformed over time into a whole different project with you at the helm.
Darius Marder: It’s really weird. I mean, I haven’t heard of it happening like this, and I love it because it’s the very thing I was just talking about. It’s the way that this began with a conversation. Derek and I were actually talking about this movie, it wasn’t this movie yet, but the seed that would become this movie, within like two minutes of meeting each other thirteen years ago. And, I just loved it, I just loved what Derek was doing. He’s such a wonderful film maker, he has such an alive mind and he was out there on the road filming this band, Jucifer, and Jucifer, they’re still touring, they’re an amazing mental band, and they’re made up of a man and a woman, and Derek had been a metal drummer himself and had dealt with hearing loss, so that’s what kind of drove him to suss out this story, and the way he was doing it is he was shooting, there was no script, but it was a bit of a hybrid movie so he was bringing the narrative element of deafness into these real band’s worlds and just kind of riffing on it, and putting them in situations and seeing what arose. And, that’s a testament to Derek’s bravery as a film maker, he’s really after trying to find a seed of something real, and the footage reflected that. It was really, really beautiful and there was just so much truth in it because they were a real band, and yet it didn’t have necessarily a complete structure, because it wasn’t scripted. But it did have some structure. And, then it became clear. So, I ended up taking that footage and editing it, and I sat with it for months in my office just working with the footage, just for the pure love of it. I just loved it. It wasn’t about any kind of role or even ownership or anything, I just enjoyed it.
In that time I stumbled editorially into this idea of point of hearing, which I’m calling point of hearing which is not point of view, but you’re watching through someone’s ears essentially, listening through someone’s ears. So I started playing with that in a really lo-fi way, twelve years ago, and that got something going in my brain that I couldn’t let go of, and I knew I couldn’t fulfil within the construct of that film. And, then Blue Valentine came into Derek’s life and he said to me one day ‘Man, I’m never going to make that movie. I know I’m never going to finish that movie. Do you want to finish the documentary’, and I said, ‘No, I don’t want to finish the documentary. I want to write this thing. I have to write this thing.’ And so, we wrestled around with that idea for a little while and then as he said, he gave his child up for adoption, and I adopted it and I started that long writing process which went on for a while before I invited my brother in.
Beeban Kidron: I mean, it is an amazing story and it is amazing in exactly the way you say, that more than one person can bring up a child, and you have to give credit to all parties because often it does take more than two. I really wanted to ask you, and this may seem like a very stupid question, but what is the film about? And, what I mean by that is that, on the surface maybe it’s about death, maybe it’s about addiction, but actually there is such a complex kind of thing about alienation and loneliness and learning, and teaching, and there seems to be so many things that I just wanted to hear it from your voice. If someone says, what’s it about, not what the story is, but what was that piece of cloth that you were putting in front of us?
Darius Marder: Well, if someone asked me that I’d turn it back on them almost invariably. But, I get the spirit of your question. Yes, I mean, what was really exciting for me and my brother when we were writing, is to make a film that disarmed you. So, you being the viewer would go into this film pretty sure of what you were about to watch. Maybe you knew it was going to be a film where someone was losing their hearing, or you certainly knew it was going to be a film that involved music, metal even, and that was important to disarm with the title of the movie, Sound of Metal. Because there is an element of this movie that I’m really interested in which is about peeling back the layers of expectation, the layers within us as viewers, not just with the character. And the reason that I make that distinction is because the movie is dogmatically putting you in a first person perspective, and that’s really rare in films. That doesn’t happen everyday. Usually, films generally cross cut, and I’m not trying to be professorial here, like, everybody knows this, but I say it because it’s interesting that sometimes we take for granted that, a dogmatically first person perspective is just not very common, and the reason it’s not very common is it’s damn hard. It’s nice to have a B-plot to cut away to, but if you were going to have a first person perspective, you have to have it. It’s not something that you just kind of use every so often. But, what is exciting about having that committed perspective, is that it can give way to audiences merging with a character into actual experience rather than Morgan Freeman telling you about the penguins. It can be uncomfortable, but the upside of that discomfort and that feeling of visual involvement is that we become involved thematically in the movie. Our expectations are Reuben’s expectations, are the main character’s expectations. Our kind of denial is Reuben’s denial, or Reuben’s denial becomes our denial and we have to actually start to engage in that process in our own selves. Because the movie is about letting go. The movie is about letting go, and that’s not interesting unless we have to let go also.
Beeban Kidron: Yes. That’s a fantastic explanation, and I think that one of the things that I was really interested in - I mean, so much has been written about the sound and I do want to ask you about the sound, and the presence and absence of sound - but I think the thing that struck me was in the first scene, was that it was between the two of them.
Darius Marder: Oh, great.
Beeban Kidron: I mean, how extraordinary. You were so denying me the view that I thought I was going to get. It was a bit of a “you had me at hello” moment, actually, because in that scene I recognised that there was something very disciplined, and there was something also quite demanding, and I just wonder whether you think that, as an audience, we’ve got a bit lazy and you were prepared to challenge us to saying “you are going to see it exactly my way and you are going to have make up all the missing bits. You’re going to have to do some work here of both coming on my journey but also, imagining some things that you might need to tell your own story around this.” Was that a conscious thing, or is that just how I hit the movie?
Darius Marder: You know, it’s one of the really great questions I’ve ever gotten about the movie, Beeban, the way you describe that, and it’s really an honour to get the question framed that way frankly. Because it’s so on purpose and so disciplined, and yet sometimes people don’t understand it - however I think they feel it even if they don’t understand it. So yes, to speak to that, there’s a very, very disciplined language editorially, cinematically, sonically, in the movie, and it’s again that process of disarming. Maybe it’s my years of editing, but I’m fascinated in the process of, what is it about, why do we lean into a movie? Why do we want to see what happens next? I’m kind of obsessed with this idea, and I think everybody, when we focus on the craft of film making, everybody, producers, directors, writers, they all think about wanting to grab an audience. However, in wanting to do that, we frequently lose the audience and we don’t understand why. Like, an action film or any kind of film that plasters the film with music say, or narration, or anything like this, it’s telling an audience what to feel or telling an audience what the film’s about. But, what happens when you do that is an audience doesn’t lean forward - they lean back because they’re taken care of. I think story is so deep in the fibre of who we are, as humans, so deep, deeper than anything and everything, that if it’s told in a specific way, we have muscles we will engage if needed.
And, the engaging of those muscles actually feels good because we want to know more if we aren’t necessarily told, if we’re shown. And so, that’s a language that’s really exciting to me and setting the tone of that is the first concern. So in Sound of Metal, that’s the first thing you hear, you hear the sound of metal. You hear it before you see an image. The image you see lasts a little longer than it should on Reuben, but that’s also telling you something: this is his story, and we’re moving toward him actually, we’re moving into him, into his perspective in that first shot, and it’s his eyes that bring us to Lou - and that happens repeatedly through the film - and then we see Lou. Now, I was working with Daniel Bouquet, the cinematographer on really committing to a language that didn’t employ POV. You don’t get Reuben’s POV actually until the last scene in the movie. You get it once or twice, but they’re at very, very specific moments. Anyway, a lot of people haven’t seen this film so I won’t go into it.
Beeban Kidron: I think that our audience will have probably seen the film already.
Darius Marder: Oh, good. So, the POV is only used in very judicious and in-purpose moments. Generally what we are doing is actually backing away from a POV, to establish a language of this POH, this point of hearing, and so that concert actually, I thought of like a scene in a living room between a couple. This is a scene where, yes, you are deprived of the cutaways, of the camera showing you that Reuben’s an amazing drummer and showing you his feet on the double bass pedals, and showing you the crowd going like this, because what’s that? That’s not what that scene’s about. That scene’s about a co-dependent couple who’s being kept alive on a high wire by this music, by their connections, and so it’s establishing this language, not just in the concert itself, which I thought about with my editor, Michael, about awakening the senses. That’s about awakening the senses in us and working toward that hard cut right in that concert when Reuben spits into the air like an ejaculation, and then you get that hard cut into the air stream. And it’s like, it’s all gone and suddenly you realise, wait, that’s wasn’t about the drama of the music, this is actually a language of how we use our ears in this movie because we’re actually in a point of hearing almost immediately, we just don’t know it. So, that was a language that I am really excited by.
Beeban Kidron: To be honest, it gets my greatest compliment of a movie which is it’s vertiginous. you’re following the movement and you don’t actually have a choice. So, demanding, not demanding, who cares? You have to go.
Darius Marder: You have to and you’re in for the journey, yes.
Beeban Kidron: You’re in for the journey. So, I just want to ask one more very over-arching question which is, really in your mind, is there a conscious desire that we see our weakness in Reuben, although we understand those things that maybe are different from us in him? I think I maybe know the answer to that, but I think it’s more interesting to hear it from you.
Darius Marder: Did you find that to be true for yourself?
Beeban Kidron: Yes, I think that’s where the emotion lies. I think you touched on it a little earlier when you said it’s about letting go. So, we all have different shit to let go, but we all have something to let go, and I think that the emotion lies in my experience of my weakness seen through him. But, that’s how I experienced it. Is that part of that absence-presence that you’re playing with in this movie?
Darius Marder: Yes, definitely. I’m interested in it. I kind of feel like it really is about how everybody watches movies differently and some people are able to enter into that place and some people have some walls up and that’s okay. But, I do think the movie demands a bit of that. I was listening to something recently about Aristotle talking about tragedy and how we need tragedy so that we can play that out through story in order that we don’t have to necessarily play it out in our lives. This is a little bit of that but it’s also this kind of canvas that people can bring their own emotion to, and cathartically live that out with and through Reuben - and I’m really interested in that. I’m really interested in the way that you can build a language in a movie where you unwittingly find yourself processing something. The test of that, I think, is when it lives in you a day or two, or three later and you find this kind of vibration - not necessarily the thought of it - but this energy of it staying with you, and that’s that test, and I think some people have that and some people don’t, but that definitely is the aspect of this film that interested me the most.
Beeban Kidron: Great. So, I’m going to just ask you a few things that always interest our particular crowd. So, you made some interesting decisions about shooting on 35, about shooting chronologically, and those are potentially limiting in the sense that we’ve already spent quite a lot of time talking about - but also liberating and demanding, expensive, etc. So, in the balance there were some things that really mattered to you, and I’m just interested, both as a first time director, but also just period as a director, how you came to those things and why you held on to them through what I bet was a few objections on the way.
Darius Marder: Yes. There was plenty of objections. I mean, I think a lot of film making is strangely not about the actors, it’s set up to be about everything else and yet I don’t think people necessarily always know that, and I was really interested in making it as hard as humanely possible for sure. And, a lot of these choices, yes, they made it hard, they made it more expensive, there were arguments, they were really difficult decisions to pass, and I can speak to each one of them. I mean, shooting chronologically: I think some part of the question you asked is the fact that this was my first fiction film, maybe why did I have those convictions so strongly, and I definitely have a background in acting first of all, and I feel I’ve had the experience myself. Not even through film, but just about acting process and what that is, and I also have just been studying and fixating on this for years, and interestingly some of these convictions came through the process of making documentary work, which I think we often think of as a different muscle. But, I don’t think it is. I think that when you shoot a documentary you’re taking something ostensibly true, you’re raising a false construct of the camera, and then you’re kind of ushering it back into a truth – and that process of doing that: if you were to watch some documentaries get made where people go ‘I’m really after truth’ and then they’ll go, ‘Okay, come in and put some lighting over there, and if you guys could just step out over there and then walk into the room’, and all of a sudden all truth is gone and it’s just been replaced by the construct of filmmaking.
And so, I found in the process of making a documentary, it was so much about entering into a process that was actually about what you were doing, not about everything else, and I found it very similar in fiction work where it’s not about the rain machine, it’s not about the doll, it’s really about the actors. It’s about the life on the screen first and foremost, and every one of those choices had to do with that.
Beeban Kidron: Okay, that’s really interesting, but I’m going to actually double down on this because I happen to know that you had a few key kind of murderous points where most people, in my experience, would have capitulated or compromised on something, and you went. ‘No, doesn’t matter, I’m seven years in, I’m twelve years in. I’m not going to do it.’ So, I’m thinking about the uninsured kids, I’m thinking about you giving up making food look pretty, you’re sitting in the room, and you actually had a sort of determination that is very rare. Now obviously that is why the film is so terrific, and mazel tov, but I’m just interested how that felt to you in those moments. Whether there was no other way than the way you saw it, or whether there was some other part of your personality that was operating, that got you through those moments to make the film exactly the way you wanted to make it.
Darius Marder: Yes, I mean, I think everyone you talk to who I worked with will tell you that I love working with people, and I really invite people’s perspective and I generally want to surround myself with people that make me better, so I wouldn’t want to suggest that it’s kind of like, I’m not a ‘my way or the high way’ kind of a director at all. But, I think that a lot of what directors do is they set the culture and the tone of a set, and once you start giving away your convictions in certain very key ways, that will never stop. That becomes the culture. And so, there were things that were not going, I wasn’t going to give up. And, I think part of the reason the film took so long to make is because of that, you know. It almost got made quite a number of times but I just wouldn’t give up some things. And, that actually began six or seven, eight, years ago. Even meeting the first actor I met, it would’ve immediately financed the film with, probably, twice the budget that I shot it with. And, I said, ‘No.’, because I didn’t like the movie. And it had nothing to do with the actor, the actor was a wonderful actor, I just didn’t like that movie, I didn’t want to make that movie, it wasn’t exciting. And so, I said, ‘No.’ And, that pissed off a lot of people and people thought I was crazy. And I did that a lot of times while in the process of casting.
But, it’s wonderful what happens when you start to say no because what you’re really doing is you’re saying yes to something that is going to come. And, that can feel nuts at times, you feel like you’re out there on the Santa Marina, on the ocean, looking for land and you don’t know if it’s there or coming, and it definitely feels like that in year seven, year eight, year nine, and when your kids are uninsured. And, truly, they would tell you it’s crazy-making but it’s also galvanisingwhen you know your limits, when you know the line. I compromised a lot in the filming process, you have to in many ways, and by compromising it I cut the script down by twenty pages before we shot. I made it shoot-able, I didn’t shoot certain things because they were too expensive, there were all sorts of ways that I made this movie makeable. But, I would not compromise actor process, I would not compromise shooting on film which made people nuts. And, there are reasons for that, it’s not just because I like film grain. And, I would not compromise on chronology, especially in this movie where you have hearing loss, where you have Riz was wearing ear sound blockers in his ears and you don’t want to go “one scene you’re hearing, the next scene you’re not, this scene you know ASL, and this scene you don’t”. That would be terrible for an actor.
Beeban Kidron: So, I can tell you, if we were doing this in a room, you would’ve just gotten a huge cheer from everyone listening. I just want you to know that because, consider that everyone listening, it’s an audience of directors, we understand what that means. I’m going to ask you a couple of questions about actors and a couple about deafness, because I’m beginning to get some good questions up here and I’d like to go to those. You just started talking about Riz and he puts such a lot into this movie, and I want to know whether that was the deal or whether that was just what he brought. And I also want you to tell us a little bit about Paul’s extraordinary story and just what that meant to you in the heart of this film.
Darius Marder: Well, I think as far as Riz is concerned, it was the deal but it’s also what he brought. You can lead a horse to water. I think what’s amazing is I had spoken with so many actors, it’s embarrassing the number of actors I had spoken to and actually gotten deeply engaged in this movie with, and I really perceived the difference. So when I finally met Riz, something very exciting happened. Because I knew he was super talented but I didn’t know if he was Ruben yet, until I sat with him. And, when I sat with him, I saw this very intense…he was really analysing me, really wanted to just get every little, tiny little detail of how I was thinking. hHe was sizing me up. ‘Can I trust this guy? Does he know what he’s talking about?’ He was really running some analytics. And, I loved that because what I saw in that was number one, someone who took themselves very seriously, took the work very seriously, he wasn’t fucking around, and number two, he was all about control. That was really exciting to me because I knew I could take it away from him. And, here’s the thing: Ruben’s all about control, Ruben’s written that way, that’s why his body needs to be in perfect shape, that’s why he makes the smoothies in the morning, and he drives the Airstream - he’s all about control, and his story is about letting go of that as well. So, I thought ‘Shit. This is a perfect opportunity.’ And, I presented that to Riz, right off the bat, and he presented it to me. It was something he wanted, as well. And so this was going to be crazy.
So, in that moment, this was going to look like eight months of saying, ‘No’ to Hollywood, not doing this, not doing that, not reading other scripts. Who does that, right? Who does that now? No one does that. And, especially at that moment in Riz’s career when he’s getting that kind of notice, and he’s in tentpole movies, and blah, blah, blah - he did that! You can’t make someone do that but that was our agreement. It just turns out Riz actually has integrity, and he actually showed up in Brooklyn, and he actually went to a sweaty little room every single day for hours and practised drums, and he actually went to the gym with a guy and worked on his body, and he actually learned ASL every day.
There was one day when I woke up to get a coffee in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and I was just walking to get a coffee: I look to my right and Riz is sitting there with his sign instructor, Jeremy Lee Stone, and they’re having a whole conversation in ASL. And I stood and watched this guy, I just stood and watched, and I just thought, ‘This is the best moment of my life.’ Watching this guy put this kind of heart in, without medals or awards or anyone watching, he was doing it. He didn’t know I would show up for coffee, he was doing it. And, I mean, I just thought, ‘This is everything. This is, actually, what nobody does.’ And, he did it. And then, indeed, when he got to set, I removed all control from him. I’ve told the story a couple of times, but that was the day before shooting, I told him he couldn’t see dailies and that turned into this real, kind of, clash. Again, because he’s an artist, because he wants things in a certain way, and it was in the moment when I said, ‘Riz, I’m not going to be your enabler’ that he started laughing. Because the thing about Riz that’s great is, when he knows, when he sees it, when it’s true, he just knows it. So, he just laughed, we hugged, and that was that. And, he gave into a process of a relinquishment of control which is really exciting.
Beeban Kidron: Fantastic. So tell me, and it’s not a brief story but I’m going to ask you to be brief about Paul just because it is so extraordinary about what his background was, but in the interest of time, because I’ve done so badly…
Darius Marder: I’m such a talker. I told you I wasn’t going to give you a yes or no answer so…
Beeban Kidron: And I didn’t want one. These are marvellous answers. So, tell us quickly about Paul and then I’m going to turn to some of these questions here.
Darius Marder: So, Paul, the brief thing is I had done this again with Paul’s role where I needed financing for years and people tempted me. And, I did that on the hope and the prayer that there was someone from deaf culture that could inhabit this role. But there’s a lot of identities at play within this role. You have a veteran, you have addiction, and you have deafness and deaf culture. And finding those three in a way that’s true is near impossible. And it came late in the game that I got a tape from Paul and it was… Paul’s a CODA which is a child of deaf adults, his first language is ASL, so he didn’t learn English until he was six. He fought two tours in Vietnam, and he had dealt with serious addiction of his own. He had also been an addiction minister, and he had worked in… like, it’s just ridiculous the crossover. But, then on top of that, he’s just an extraordinary actor, he’s been acting for 40 years. And, I really mention that because people might take for granted, ‘Oh, he just had the character in him therefore he’s good.’ And that’s not the case with Paul. He’s got chops, I mean, that guy is an actor. The way I describe it to actors and think about it myself is just that we have this garden, we all each have our own garden to draw from, and some of those gardens are vast and some are less vast or more specific. Paul just needed to reach into his own, whether it was Vietnam, or whether it was addiction, or whether it was his own experience with his own family and the problems that came from that. It was so rich just reaching into his own garden and finding all those riches to bring and put on screen, and that’s what he did.
Beeban Kidron: Yes. You haven’t mentioned the one crossover that just blew me away, where he’s the front man for a deaf metal Black Sabbath tribute band. And, the thing that got me was not that there was an ASL tribute band but the thing that those lyrics needed translating, that that was what might be at the foreground. Anyway, moving on. First of all I just want to say that someone says here, Deva says, ‘Congratulations on your film, I loved watching it so much. I can’t wait to see it again.’ She asks about casting, you’ve just been talking about that. Adam Young asks about the subtitles that he didn’t realise going in how they were going to work, and he thought it was really clever that it gave the audience a deaf experience. I think it would be really great for you to talk a little bit about that because I haven’t covered it very well here. And, also, a little bit about the fight to make that a reality for the theatrical release.
Darius Marder: Well, first of all, just to be semantical, they’re captions not subtitles, and that is an important difference because, and to be further annoying, it’s giving the audience a hearing experience within a deaf world. So, that is, again, about being dogmatic about a first person perspective. This movie was made to be watched by hearing and deaf people, and hearing and deaf people will watch two different movies. They’ll watch the same movie but have a very different experience watching it because it’s made to create a dynamic where hearing people, like Ruben, are a minority in another culture, we, able-bodied or hearing people, become the minority and have to contend with that. And so, it’s really interesting as an editorial discipline to go into those scenes knowing that if you caption them they’re more interesting because you get the language, but that the totality of not getting the language is ultimately more interesting and it’s more committed.
So, the way that we looked at that is that the slide scene is the exact midpoint of the film, to the second, and that actually took months to achieve in the edit, I mean, it was impossible, but we knew it needed to be the midpoint. Anyone who cuts, and you guys all do know this, but you don’t just stick it in the middle, the story has to get there so that it naturally falls there. That is the midpoint of the film and at that midpoint something shifts emotionally. And, the rule for us, not just in the script and in the edit, is that the audience can never be smarter than Ruben. And so, of course, we can’t know the ASL that Ruben doesn’t know, that makes us smarter than him. But, at that midpoint, he becomes smarter than us. So, suddenly, he knows ASL and we don’t. And, suddenly, he’s making plans and we don’t know what the hell they are. Why is he in the office? What’s he doing? What’s this with the Airstream? What’s going on with him? He gets ahead of us and we have to start to claw - that’s part of that language of leaning in again - that thing of, like “I’m not getting everything here, what’s happening”. So, not captioning when he doesn’t know sign language is a very important part of creating that engine.
Beeban Kidron: Yes. Fantastic. I got a question earlier today actually - this is how prepared some of our audience are - John Dower said he’d love to know how Ruben’s character was decided upon and how much was influenced by Riz. And, he specifically says, ‘There was an implicit threat in the damage he might do given how dominant over Lou he seemed. And, how, potentially, he might self-damage.’ That tension of an internal violence, if you like. So, I think he was interested to know how much Riz brought to that, and how much that was something you found or had in the script, that sort of tension.
Darius Marder: Yes, that was all in the script. And so that’s always a weird one when you talk about what did Riz bring because he brought everything. But it’s all in the script. He was serving that character. And, that character we wrote, my brother and I wrote, thousands of, literally thousands, of pages of that character. And, I think what you’re talking about is toxic masculinity. And, I think it’s interesting to discuss that because it’s something that I focused on a lot. And, the way I understand toxic masculinity, and I think you eluded to this Beeban, is that it was in it’s inception is it’s about the way that men, when they act out those roles that they believe are what defines a man, become toxic to themselves, they poison themselves. So with Ruben, the idea of him lording over Lou, I mean, he is dogmatically, consistently really loving to Lou. He gets angry but he turns on himself, he is going to be a danger, he is going to poison himself. That’s really the only real threat, from Ruben. He’ll never hurt Lou and, as a matter of fact, I think he’d do anything in the world not to hurt her which is why their last scene is so difficult.
Beeban Kidron: So difficult.
Darius Marder: But that idea of toxic masculinity is really at the heart of the film, it’s just not in the way that we often talk about toxic masculinity, which is not what I think that term means. We always think of anger as something, or attack, and poison, and toxicity, as something outward but it’s actually inward. And, I think that’s actually what men do. I think men, more often than not, go inward.
Beeban Kidron: Yes. So, there’s a lovely comment here that I’ve got and it ends up with a question which you’ve sort of half-answered, but I think you need to hear this because it says, ‘I just love the very end, the silence, the stillness, the acceptance, and the sense of peace that seemed to come from that. To me, stories are about how we learn to be human and what was so stunning about the end was the sense of acceptance. It called on me, as the audience. Did you design that total absence of sound from the outset or did you come to it in the process of shooting and editing?’
Darius Marder: Oh no, that was from the outset. And, the whole movie is working towards that moment. It took years to find that in the writing. I recently wrote a piece for the LA Times where I talked about this, which I usually don’t talk about, frankly, because it’s a little personal. But it took years to find it, it was a little bit of a ghost calling to me about my own life, my own then very long-term relationship that I knew - and we both knew - was going to end and we just couldn’t deal with. It was too painful. So, there was a literal process of letting go, and part of the reason I couldn’t find that end was because I couldn’t usher that into my own life for a while. And I kind of had to write the script to do that. And that ending, the idea of silence, the absence of everything being cathartic, was so fascinating. That it was such a true North, that the whole film had to earn it, you had to work your way through the visceral hellscape, you had to be in it in order to actually feel that. It’s wonderful when you have something like that in a movie because if you listen to the movie, it’s telling you don’t give up on that vision, don’t worry about losing, don’t worry that it won’t be liked. Just trust that moment and earn it. And, it was cool to have that.
Beeban Kidron: I have to be honest, I have another hour’s worth of questions but we have to stop now and that seems like such a perfect way to really stop with the questions. So, I’m going to just end with something that I said to you at the beginning, and I think it’s just really interesting in the light of everything you said, which is how does it feel that you held on so tight, you were so determined, you worked so hard at this vision, and then it has been embraced? I mean, universally embraced. How does that feel?
Darius Marder: Man, well, it’s very encouraging.
Beeban Kidron: Excellent answer.
Darius Marder: (Laughs) It’s very encouraging.
Beeban Kidron: We’ll go again.
Darius Marder: Yes, when you trade everything for something, like I did with this movie, it’s remarkable, there’s a whole lot of self in that joy, that reinforcement of that energetic design of life, that symbiosis. But, beyond that, it’s a lot of the people that put their faith in me, like I was talking about Riz’s process and all, that was real, actual, faith, believing in something that didn’t exist, that had no guarantee of anything. And to see them rewarded is the most gratifying of anything, Paul, and Riz, and the editor, and sound people, our sound mix for 23 weeks long, they were there. To see them get rewarded, that’s just wonderful. You know what I’ll, actually, change it, that’s fantastic.
Beeban Kidron: That’s fantastic. And, I just want to congratulate you, it’s a marvellous, marvellous film and a wonderful conversation. Have a great run, have a great run.
Darius Marder: Thank you so much for great questions and it’s just such a pleasure.