Mikkel E.G. Nielsen interview: ‘Sound of Metal’ editor
“Sound of Metal” editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen worked closely on keeping the film focused on Ruben’s internal journey. Ruben (Riz Ahmed) starts the film as a heavy metal drummer who suddenly loses his hearing and we follow him as he is suddenly forced into a new world of communication at a sober house for the deaf under the guidance of mentor Joe (Paul Raci). “The whole start has a completely different pace than at Joe’s house,” says Nielsen in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “And then you have the end, which is different as well.” Watch the full interview about the Amazon Prime movie above.
Nielsen observes that the title “Sound of Metal” is reflected in the three acts. The first part represents “sound,” which is Ruben’s final experiences of being a proper hearing person; the second is “of,” the transitional point for the character; the third act is “metal,” where Ruben makes the choice to force himself to hear again via metallic-sounding cochlear implants. Nielsen worked closely with sound designer Nicolas Becker to reflect exactly how Ruben is hearing and processing the world around him at all points of the story. “The way we worked with the sound and the image is that it had to feel extremely organic up to the point where it has to feel extremely metallic,” explains Nielsen.
The editor intentionally crafted how the audience experiences “Sound of Metal,” with burnt-in closed captioning to be accessible to both hearing and deaf watchers. But the captioning goes away once Ruben enters the sober house for the deaf, where everyone communicates through American Sign Language. This reflects how Ruben feels isolated, unable to comprehend what is being expressed. “When he enters the deaf society, we won’t be able to understand the sign language and everyone else knowing sign language will be able to understand it,” notes Nielsen.
There is also poetry in the first and last shots we see in the film. The opening scene finds Ruben restless as he furiously plays drums while the final scene features him sitting outside, finding peace in the silence. It wasn’t always planned for the film to have that kind of symmetry. “It wasn’t until very late in the edit process that we actually made that arc the whole of the film, where we found out the concert should be the opening,” reveals Nielsen. “So by having these two images, it’s the same character, it’s the same size of image, him sitting at the drums. One he’s eager, the other one he’s just pure silence.”