'Sound of Metal' Co-Screenwriters Reflect on "Dark Places" That Inspired Film

Darius Marder and Abraham Marder
Courtesy of AMAZON STUDIOS; Andreas Rentz/Getty Images; Courtesy of Subject.

'Sound of Metal' (Top inset: Darius Marder; bottom inset: Abraham Marder.)

Brothers Darius and Abraham Marder share how real-life hardships breathed life into Riz Ahmed's Ruben, Olivia Cooke's Lou and Paul Raci's Joe: "It was always important that this story is universal. … It's really about something that is pervasively human."

The journey to write Amazon's Sound of Metal took well over a decade. But for writer-director Darius Marder and his writing partner and brother, Abraham Marder, that length of time was necessary to tell a "universal story" that explores "something that is pervasively human."

The film follows Ruben (Riz Ahmed) and his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke), who perform as the heavy-metal duo Blackgammon. Their hopes of making it big are sideswiped when Ruben begins to lose his hearing. Urged by his girlfriend to do so, Ruben enters rehab in a rural deaf community led by Vietnam War veteran and addict Joe (Paul Raci). The drummer struggles between accepting his hearing loss and raising enough money to pay for cochlear implant surgery so that he can hear again.

Darius tells The Hollywood Reporter that the idea for the film came 13 years ago when he met writer-director Derek Cianfrance, with whom he co-wrote The Place Beyond the Pines. Cianfrance had been shooting a documentary about the heavy-metal band Jucifer and had played drums himself for a band but quit after being diagnosed with tinnitus. Darius says this sparked inspiration "around the perspective of hearing, what I've been calling POH because it's a point of hearing. It's really a different kind of language."

Sound of Metal's script began to form after Darius and Abraham headed to a cabin in upstate New York, which became a creative escape and healing process for both. The brothers admit they were both in dark places at the onset of their collaboration, and the mental and physical journeys they experienced sparked much of the struggle and successes seen in Ahmed's Ruben.

Abraham recounted having gone through a series of hardships before writing the script — terrible jobs, being mugged, and then a severe back injury. "My body just failed on me completely. I couldn't play guitar," he says. "I couldn't sing. For a long time, I was really lost." As for Darius, he noted navigating a "wonderful but long-term relationship" and "struggling to live this crazy dream I was living."

One of the highlights of their brotherly creative process was the way they began communicating as the characters with each other, which Darius found therapeutic. "We would sometimes trade voices. One voice that I had almost always was Joe's," Darius says. "Sometimes we would have conversations both as Ruben, because we love him so much … We both love these characters so much that it was literally physically painful for us to feel the journey they were on."

Looking back on the lengthy journey "to get to the truth of their vision" for their debut independent film (which included thousands of pages of variant versions), Abraham says it was "magical" to witness their characters come to life, especially with actors who were willing to fully immerse themselves in their vision. For instance, to prepare for his role, Ahmed worked with a deaf advocate to learn American Sign Language. "What's the chance that we find the actors to pull that off after so many years of writing those scenes?" Abraham says.

As Sound of Metal garners acclaim, including a recent Gotham Award for Ahmed, the Marders agree there are two key takeaways from their collaboration.

"It was always important that this story is universal, that it isn't about what camp of identity you're in, in any way," Darius says. "That this was a story that was always going to be available for the deaf community, for the metal community, for people in relationships and people out of relationships. It's really about something that is pervasively human."

Abraham adds, "I think it's this flicker of hope that I feel at the end of that story. To have people feel that flicker of hope in the way we do in life so fleetingly when things can feel so utterly dark for so long … We both really relate to that. We are aware of our darkness. And I think that's why we work well together. But we also relate ultimately to love and hope — even if it's just flickering in the background for a second there."

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.