With Sound of Violence having just had its UK premiere at Arrow Video FrightFest and hitting Blu-ray and DVD this week, we caught up with writer/director Alex Noyer to talk about the film that bombards all the senses…
STARBURST: Sound of Violence started life as a short, Conductor. Was it always the plan to expand it?
Alex Noyer: Firstly, the short was purely meant to be a short. I just finished and delivered this huge music documentary called 808, and I was exhausted with my documentary career. I needed a new challenge, and my wife told me to get into horror movies because that's my lifelong passion. And long story short, I was developing a few movies, and I had a lightbulb moment. I was reminiscing about the documentary, which is about the Roland TR 808 drum machine. And I thought, ‘I need to kill somebody with a drum machine’. So then the idea of Conductor came up and very quickly came together. My producing partner Hannu Aukia and I shot it in March 2018, and then we started touring it. The response from festivals was crazy, and I was developing something else at the time. The questions I was getting about Alexis [the character in the short] really got me thinking, so I wrote her backstory. It was potentially going to be another short, but the writing was coming out of me. Because there is a good idea, it just kind of planted a seed and organically continued.
So it developed quite quickly?
I went to Canada in May 2019 and received a lot of interest, so I returned and rewrote the script, so I broke down the script completely and rewrote it in four days. Of course, there’s still some tweaking on how we shot, but that version that I wrote got us the rest of the way to greenlight the movie. The film's first draft was written in January 2019, and we shot the movie in October 2019. I hope every movie development I have goes like that; the next one will probably take five years to get off the ground!
Did you research the medical condition synaesthesia?
Yes, I think it's important that people are held accountable for how they write topics like that and try to bring authenticity to it. If it only takes us to research, then we have no excuse to try to get it wrong, and so I researched, and we consulted. As far as hearing loss and how to address the fact that she's not deaf, she lost her hearing. So how do we address that? Well, never use the word deaf. Okay, no problem. The way we use sign language, the fact that she's quite clumsy about it, and she speaks at the same time because she lost her hearing, so she was speaking. I never felt the consultation was any way of a hindrance or slowed us down. In fact, it made the writing more effective because it came out like ‘this is how it must be’. Then with synaesthesia, it's fascinating; it's called a condition, but I call it an ability because the idea of it being able to see and experience sound is next-level stuff. I realised that synaesthesia is something that is very individualised. There's no one way to picture it.
You do a good job of putting it on screen, though…
Again, through research, I realised that we could really craft synaesthesia for Alexis, and, perhaps from my Nordic origins, I thought of the Northern Lights; to kind of float. I knew I couldn’t just have blue blues and greens; I needed to have something a little bit more psychedelic, so we expanded it, and some of them needed to be a bit fiery; we needed to be able to create the sense of the harshness of certain sounds. I hope you can hear how much fun it was to craft this. The research was never a hindrance, just all inspiration; like the murders, I tried everything I could. I was like a mad scientist trying to piece things together.
That brings us to the murders. There’s one scene - which we won’t spoiler - in the studio that features a great surprise.
Yeah, that's a great effect. It's a great shock as well, but you get a bit of a giggle out of it, and you’re supposed to. That scene is a pivotal moment in the movie because it's a pivotal moment for Alexis where she's like, "that's it". Especially because of the classroom event, it's like all bets are off. And, because of the person as well in the booth! This is the moment where we take the handbrake off. It's funny that you mentioned it because I love that scene as it’s the film's turning point. And also, as far as the audience, this is the moment where some are like, “What are you doing? How dare you!” And I'm like, “I know!” After that, there’s an emotional crescendo, but we needed that moment of relief, and you have the comedic effect, which is very much on point. Some people have said what movie is that you are making? You keep shifting your tone, and I say, “Are you realising what psychological rollercoaster this is for Alexis? The dread, the lightness and the catharsis she's going through. It's going in every direction”. With the amazing performance of Jasmin [Savoy Brown], it all comes across. Look at her eyes; she acts with her eyes and brings so much to it, and all those moments are there, not just from my choice of writing. She brings them, and the climax of that studio scene sees her reaction and tells me it doesn't feel like she got it. I don't even want to think about how the movie would be without Jasmin. She is a force to be reckoned with, and I can't wait to see Scream. I hope she has a prominent role in the movie because she's great. If we did this movie today, I probably would not get her in any of my films, so I'm very lucky.
What was the casting process like?
We had an amazing casting director called Amey René, and she's the one who suggested Jasmin. I was like, “Oh my god, this is such a good idea”. I loved The Leftovers, and she stood out to me, so I immediately wanted her. Then we met, and that was it, I had met Alexis! When it came to the role of her friend Marie, we looked at various options, but I always had an eye on Lili [Simmons], but she wasn’t going to be available, so I had to look again. Lili then became available. Okay, this is amazing. And James Jagger is one of those actors that I had in mind to work with for a while, and so when I was crafting the role of Duke, I remember he's one of the people I had in mind. He read the script and came in and took on the role. When we met him, he admitted that he was mad at me as far as the ending, and I was like, “This is great because you should be!” We really hit it off, and this was helped by the fact that we support the same football teams - we're both Arsenal fans.
What was it like directing your first feature?
It was daunting. Then once we got going, I was really great. The good thing is I surrounded myself with amazing people. My cinematographer, Daphne [Qin Wu], is fantastic. My producing partner, Hannu, has worked with me on the short, so he knows my process. He knows what I'm going to drive him nuts with! What he always said is that the one thing I know is I know what I want. And I'm very clear about what I want. And therefore, my focus is always on performance. I never touched a camera. I'm all about performance because I surrounded myself with such a great team. My blood wizard Robert Bravo, who did the practical effects, and Gillian Chance, the production designer, know me because most of them worked with me on the short. So there was a really strong bond. We often say that the director is the least qualified on set, and that's because we're surrounded by amazing specialists, who we should trust the abilities of, and we have to explain clearly what we want. Then let leave it to them to come back with solutions. This was a 20-day shoot - fast, fast, fast - but I'm so proud of how we delivered it, and it's so exciting.
What about the gallery scene - that's a really shocking moment…
Did you flick your fingers during it? [Laughs] I can tell you when we shot it, Hannu got a bit queasy! I was behind the wall watching my monitor, and there was this echo in the gallery, so I was shouting my instructions, and I have a pretty deep voice, so that was echoing over the room! The scene was quite intense for everybody to watch, so occasionally, there was a little bit of chatter, and they would hear me, “silence!” It was a crazy thing to shoot and a tricky one as well to craft. It seems extremely simple, but he's actually, you know, we had to do with local audience boy we had to really figure out the mechanism. I'm the son of an artist, and I grew up in the art world, so the idea of shooting a horror scene in the gallery was amazing. I would say it's the most giallo scene of the movie; the contrast, the colours, the way we were shooting it upward and everything. It doesn't start as such, and that you know we're quite level where we're in that crowd, but then as soon as we’re on the main attraction, you see how we lowered up. Plus, we have Tara [Elizabeth Cho], the harpist; this was her first role in a feature film. She was first brought on because of her musical skills, but she really owned it, and I need to praise her because she did a fantastic job and was relentless. She was like, “No, no, no, I'm good”. She was tireless and kept going and again. I can't say anything because I don't want to spoil it, but it's a pretty intense scene to shoot and the craft of Robert Bravo to make it work. Again going back to surrounding myself with specialists, Robert Bravo had my back; he knows that I'm a stickler for how practical effects have to look; I'm a stickler for how blood looks. He knows me very well. He knows that I am never rude or anything, but there's one thing I will not go with is blood that doesn't look the way I want it to; we’re talking flow, luminescence, colour, everything, and he gets me. That's why I call in my blood wizard! The first award our short won was for the special effects, and he deserves it completely, absolutely.
Were there scenes that you wanted to film that you couldn't?
I wrote a few other murders. One was initially in the ending, and it was just too big. It was completely out of sync with the balance of the film. Budget-wise, I think it would have been way too expensive. So maybe it's something that I'll bring back if somebody is crazy enough to let me do a sequel. In my research about instruments and about what crazy things I could do with them, a few things could have happened. I'm very happy with the selection, though, and the ones that we cut would have just affected the balance of the film, so I wanted to keep everything very human-scaled
What’s next for you?
There are two things I'm working on. I'm writing a horror movie that is a Nordic-based story. That's going to be something that I'm writing and directing, and I’m in talks with a couple of studios, so let's see. I've also been approached to direct a PG-13 horror movie, which my daughters are very happy about. Yeah, because they can’t see Sound of Violence. I never stop, and I've had a couple of other conversations about interesting things, and who knows, maybe one day there'll be a sequel to Sound of Violence.
Sound of Violence is on Blu-ray and DVD now from Dazzler Media. You can read our review here.