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Interview: ‘Sound of Metal’ Co-Screenwriter Abraham Marder on Composing the Oscar-Shortlisted Song “Green”

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Abraham Marder is the co-screenwriter of the Amazon Studios film Sound of Metal starring Riz Ahmed and directed by his brother Darius. Sound of Metal was nominated for Best Actor – Drama for Ahmed at last Sunday’s Golden Globes, and has received 5 Critics’ Choice Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor for Paul Raci, and Best Original Screenplay, where Marder is nominated. In addition to co-writing the script, Marder also composed the Oscar-shortlisted original song “Green” which acts at the theme to the film. Marder was kind enough to chat with Awards Radar on Sound of Metal and the inspiration behind composing “Green”.

Sound of Metal is based on a story conceived by your brother Darius and Derek Cianfrance. How did you get involved to adapt it into a screenplay? Was there something in particular about the story that compelled or intrigued you to get involved?

I came on board this journey a couple years after Darius had already been hammering away at the script. Darius invited me on a trip upstate during a crap stretch in my life and we ended up having great conversations about the screenplay. Eventually he said, if you want to write some things down, you should. Years later and we were still writing. I felt so honored to be invited into the project by Darius as I’ve always hugely admired his mind for storytelling and more than anything the spirit with which he lives life. His energy is infectious and as a storyteller and human, he’s incredibly empathetic and intuitive. In terms of the story, I was immediately compelled by the theme of utter alienation as it related to a musician losing his hearing and therefore his identity as well. Ruben’s journey felt immediately terrifying, and for that reason I always had a sense that the possibility of an ultimate, catharsis, was that much greater. A songwriter named Casey Black has a line I’ve always loved- “Hard alee, deeper the darkness, deeper you see”.

What was the dynamic like to work with your brother Darius during the writing process? Did it make the working relationship easier in any way, or present any challenges?

Working with Darius was a wonderful and profound experience for me. This happened to be a story that resonated so deeply for both of us and I think being brothers had a lot to do with it. We have a shared sense of humor and perhaps some shared pain as well. I deeply trust Darius’s artistic motivations and I know them so well as we’ve been sharing and talking about each other’s work since forever. I don’t know If I ever would have written a screenplay if it weren’t for this collaboration.

As a musician yourself, did you find ways to relate to the character of Ruben Stone through your writing?

Absolutely. I got to write this character Ruben who has loads of passion but no fame, money or health insurance. I was like, yep, that sounds right. Beyond relating to the inherent shame of being a broke artist, I was intoxicated by the possibility of building a language of sound design and score in the screenplay. I wrote vast sound descriptions in which Ruben worked on and created music through old analog reverbs and compressors. Ultimately, ninety five percent of this didn’t end up in the screenplay, but it was essential to understand Rubens obsession with sound as it was the thing he was going to lose. Being a musician, I spent years in geek heaven dreaming of deep, reverberating sound as it related to great loss.

In addition to co-writing the screenplay, you also composed the original song “Green”. What was the inspiration behind this song, and what function did you aim to have for it in service to the story? Was the idea for the song come after the screenwriting process, or during?

The initial inspiration for Green came during the infancy stages of Sound of Metal when I was going through a rather monk-like period of solitude and reflection. I was waking up at 4am every morning and free association writing. The work I was doing was not dissimilar from the writing Riz Ahmed’s character performs every morning at Joe’s house in the film. It was all about exorcising voices, demons in effort to simply be. The main bones of the song arrived effortlessly one of these mornings like a guardian angel. However, over the years the song started to morph and exchange in unexpected ways with the film. For years there were aspects of it that I couldn’t get right. Ultimately, I feel like the final cut of the film helped me understand where the song needed to get to. The well earned silence at the films end is so sacred so it was intimidating task to make a recording that would serve and not deflate this precious moment. My main goal was always to blend the varying sonic languages of the film together in a subtly, yet cathartic manner. For the intro, producer Thomas Bartlett created beautiful low, wind noises that lead to piano which I rid of most high frequencies and dropped an octave to conjure Ruben’s deaf perspective from the film. The futuristic vocal effect recalls the cochlear implant effect in the film and later we also hear sounds of rain and children laughing from Ruben’s time spent in the deaf community. These were the easy parts of creation. The toughest part was finishing the lyrics which had long eluded me. I had no end to the song when I went into the studio to record. Still, for weeks the word “safety” kept coming to mind as I dreamt of Ruben sitting on that park bench in the final frames of the film. The last line ended up being “gone to safety” which felt both true to the origins of the song for me personally and also in line with my greatest wishes for Ruben and the somewhat ambiguous scenario with which we leave him. For this reason, Darius said he wanted the song to act as a healing, last scene in the film. Like all aspects of the film, the songs creation was a terribly long and cathartic process.

In addition to receiving several accolades with your brother for the screenplay, “Green”; was also recently shortlisted as one of just 15 songs for Best Original Song at this year’s Oscars. What sense of responsibility do you feel in representing the deaf and hard-of-hearing community fairly and accurately now that Sound of Metal has received this critical and awards success?

That’s a worthy and tough question. I don’t know if I can take the responsibility for representing the deaf and hard of hearing community accurately. I believe Darius’s intention with the film was to invite the deaf and hard of hearing community to represent themselves. This always felt right to me. From my naive hearing perspective, I feel something enlightening and authentic when I watch this section of the film that allows me to understand many aspects of deaf culture that I didn’t before watching. This is credit to the deaf and hard of hearing cast and all the ideas and life they brought to set. I of course greatly hope the film helps create more roles for deaf and hard of hearing actors. Otherwise, It may sound silly but I feel my greatest responsibility at the moment is do the one small thing that Riz’s ASL teacher in real life and Ruben’s in the film, Jeremy Stone, asked me to do. He told me deaf people enjoy reading song lyrics and encouraged me to make mine available. This is something small I will do. The bigger work requires more conversations and ones I’d love to have.

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Written by Max Geschwind

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