“Sound of Metal” production designer Jeremy Woodward credits the script for informing his designs on the Amazon film that follows a heavy metal drummer, Ruben (Riz Ahmed), who loses his hearing. “The script is really very smartly written,” Woodward says of the screenplay by Darius Marder, who also directed, and his brother Abraham Marder during Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Film Production Design panel (watch above). “There’s a lot of ways where the settings as the movie progresses are talking back to Ruben’s journey of losing his hearing and the way different settings reflect where he is and can participate in this storytelling in sort of more or less overt ways.”
Indeed, in a film in which characters literally do not say a lot, its visuals communicate much of Ruben’s arc and struggles as he learns to cope with his new reality. Before everything changes, he’s a rock star on the road, living in an RV with his bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). The vehicle is overflowing with their equipment, pictures, posters, clothes — their life. “For me, the RV was a really great opportunity to do a really careful bit of portraiture to really create a setting that compresses all the aspects of Ruben’s and Lou’s lives,” Woodward explains. “There’s music, there’s their lives together, their travel. You’ve got aspects of the outside world with clippings. … It’s fun to do settings that are organized and planned and crafted and built by the character. This was that plus one.”
After he loses his hearing, Ruben begrudgingly stays at a sober house for the deaf led by Vietnam War vet Joe (Paul Raci). The house — a real farmhouse that had been used as a dorm for a nature preserve — has the complete opposite energy of the RV: bare-bones, white, minimalistic.
“A halfway house, communal living where people come and go, you literally walk in with a bag. Personal touches are gone. It’s a house that’s sort of paint everything white, easy to maintain, very sort of bare-bones look, which was a really great way to physicalize everything that he’s lost,” Woodward states. “Just watching it subtly, you’re sort of going through a sensory deprivation. You came from this dense texture and color in this very busy life and at the same time sound goes away.”
Working with his housemates and children at a nearby school, Ruben learns how to be deaf. Deaf actors, including Tony nominee Lauren Ridloff, were cast for those scenes, and Woodward collaborated closely with them to properly design spaces for the deaf. “I hadn’t had a lot of contact with that community at all. There was a bit of a learning curve for me to sort of discover in a school situation, how does a deaf community occupy space so they can communicate?” he shares. “It’s a really simple question to ask, but it turns out it’s sitting in a circle. When you look at deaf folks occupy schools and conference rooms and anytime they’re in a group, you go in the room and everything’s pushed to the side and there’s all the chairs in the circle.”
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