Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan has an e-chat with Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, editor of Sound of Metal.
The slightest change to a scene can completely alter the perception of it, which is why editing can be so crucial to a film.
For example, toward the beginning of Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal, Ruben (Riz Ahmed) has a breakdown in the Airstream, destroying everything around him in a fit of frustration after visiting the deaf community and Joe (Paul Raci). We as an audience are taken into this scene via his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke), who awakens to find Ruben like this.
If this is in the point of view of Ruben and a visibly scared and silent Lou comes out, this might completely change the perception of Lou to the audience. Does she really care about him? Is she trying to get rid of him and his problems by pushing him to stay with Joe?
As I learned with my email conversation with Sound of Metal editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen, these subtle changes in perspective were purposefully done to help the audience develop a relationship with Lou and Joe, in addition to the one they already have with Ruben.
Awards Daily: I feel like the only time we’re ever taken out of Ruben’s point of view is right before Lou leaves, where we’re kind of getting her perspective of him as he’s having a breakdown. Was that important in order to set up the payoff at the end? She might seem more “antagonist” to us if we don’t get this scene in a bit of her point of view, how she truly does care about his well-being.
Mikkel E.G. Nielsen: You’re right, but we did try to make the shift of perspective as subtle as possible, and in order for it to work, we needed to end scenes on Lou a few times before.
First time is in in the diner, when Ruben leaves and smokes a cigarette. We stay on Lou as she looks out of the window and looks worried.
Second time is when Joe ask Ruben to go and get Lou. We cut to Lou but we also end the scene in Joe’s office on Lou, after Ruben leaves the room. Then, we also start the scene in the Airstream on a close-up of Lou looking at Ruben.
AD: When it comes to the sound design, did you have to work a lot with that team in order to know what editorial decisions to make?
MEGN: It was super interesting to be able to use the sound as a storytelling tool. The ability to put the audience inside of Ruben’s head and to balance how much information we give in a scene like Ruben at the pharmacy. This scene is key to the language created to let us, as the audience, feel we are inside of Ruben’s head.
We also got all the ambience sounds Nicolas Becker recorded for the movie, so we didn’t have to use library SFX in the edit process. Nicolas also gave us an audio program so we could create the sounds for the cochlear implants. This gave the possibility to find the right balance, when to be in Ruben’s perspective.
After the final mix, we also got a chance to edit for another week. We took out 12 minutes of the movie. We felt we could be more precise in some scenes based on the learning process of the final mix of sound and music.
AD: One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Ruben is at the garden party outside toward the end. There’s such a degree of loneliness and isolation, more so than any other scene in the film. What did you do to give the audience these clues to how Ruben is feeling without spelling it out?
MEGN: From the wide shot of Ruben entering the house of Lou’s father and until the garden party, we don’t hear things from Ruben’s perspective.
The idea was to almost forget about how it sounds in the head of Ruben. We as the audience meet Lou’s dad and then the scene where Lou is waking him up in the bedroom. Our hope was that when you then enter the garden with people speaking in French and with so many different sound sources coming from different directions, it becomes very clear how difficult it is for Ruben to navigate in a soundscape like this. The end of the scene where Lou looks at Ruben in his own world without them having eye contact, makes it heartbreaking. Especially with the last image being from a low angle which is the first time we use such a shot.
AD: I noticed that! Juxtaposed against his early scenes with the deaf community, where there’s a degree of isolation, but not necessarily loneliness. I feel like it’s interesting that you can feel more lonely at a noisy party than you might at a party of nearly complete quiet. What kind of editorial decisions did you make when contrasting these scenes?
MEGN: Joe’s place is full of care for each other, and for us, it was really important to show how much fun, energy, interaction between people and laughing, a dinner scene in the deaf community could create. Even though you fell isolated, you also feel that people always look out for each other and are being very helpful.
AD: Another one of my favorite scenes is the final one between Ruben and Joe. You hold onto Joe at the end after Ruben leaves, another moment where we get a bit of someone else’s point of view on Ruben. That had to be a really intense scene to edit. What was that process like?
MEGN: The process was really great and what an amazing scene Darius wrote and shot. I really love editing this kind of dialogue scene, and I’m so grateful getting a chance to work with Paul and Riz. Their acting is so pure, real and intense. I really feel both of them.
Working with Darius on this scene with the rhythm of the dialogue, the pacing, the status between the characters, their small pauses, their hand gestures, their eyes. Little by little did we find the scene through each pass and ending on Joe just had to be.
AD: I’m obsessed with the final scene of the film, all of the things going on around Ruben. In that final shot, how did you decide when to cut to black?
MEGN: For the ending to work, we needed a language that would do the same as what the smoothie shot and the coffee dripping did for the start of the movie. First the image of the church and the two kids fighting, being a little aggressive with all the distorted sounds. Then cut to the same images in silence. Church and kids, but now being nice to each other and peaceful. We stay on the last image of Ruben in silence a little too long, and then a little. We as the audience start questioning and maybe we even become a little aware of ourselves in the situation.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.