Dylan Levy | 10.20.2014
For this week’s AFF Interview, our Film Department Apprentice, Dylan Levy, posed a series of questions to Justin Paul Miller, the writer and director of the AFF 2014 Film The Sound and The Shadow! AFF is hosting a screening of The Sound and The Shadow Friday, October 24 and Wednesday, October 29 at the IMAX Theatre. Join AFF and The Sound and The Shadow Writer/Director Justin Paul Miller and other cast and crew for the screening!
Dylan Levy: The film’s tone is very diverse, ranging from light and quirky to thrilling and even terrifying. How was the process in finding the right tone for this film? Did it differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?
The Sound and The Shadow Writer/Director Justin Paul Miller: In writing the film, we really tried to take an active approach to tone. Our characters are very quirky to begin with. But the contrast of using a somewhat lighter tone with a heavy subject matter is more meant to reflect Ally and Harold’s notion of their world rather than just highlight their comedic qualities. They are naïve in their approach to solving the missing girl case. And as they tumble into this adventure we use that shift in tone and genre to mirror the excitement and danger of being amateur gumshoes. In these roles they give themselves, there is a deterioration of innocence that the tone is trying to convey. So we aimed to have the tone evolve with them through the story. Sometimes that evolution was sudden. And we did want certain moments to feel like a punch in the gut from what the audience might feel the “rules” of the world were. But these moments still needed to be digestible. Music also plays a big role in our tone circus. (More on that later)
DL: Given the subject matter and plot, it’s difficult not to think of such other iconic “domestic spy” films such as Rear Window, The Conversation, and Blow-Up. What films, books, or other creative works were particularly influential in the making of this film?
JPM: Yes. Rear Window is my favorite Hitchcock film. It really is THE domestic spy film. Hitchcock is genius in his ability to create suspense in the very technique and parameters of how the story is told. But Rear Window is also about the relationship of it’s characters (Stewart and Kelly) and the sacrifices they make for each other. For me, that is really where it differs from The Conversation and Blow-Up in the genre (though they are all great movies). So I see us following, attempting to at least, more in Hitchcock’s footsteps in that we are using one story to help tell another.
Also, I think Haruki Murakami’s work was influential. Some years back, Sam, the co-writer and producer, turned me on to him. We were both reading his books while writing the film and I think that some of his writing did leave a stamp on the film because we were constantly talking about how Murakami tells his stories. His mysteries unfold in these often fantastical and surrealistic ways. In his work, there is a sense of the world morphing and conspiring against the main characters that underline themes of alienation and invasion. The push and pull of those two thematic forces was really what we were getting at while writing the script for The Sound and the Shadow, so perhaps we have Haruki to thank for some inspiration.
DL: Given that sound recording itself is a central plot element, how did you approach the film’s score and overall sound design? What did you want the soundtrack to contribute to the film?
JPM: In Rear Window (segue!!), I love how James Stewart’s camera is not only a big narrative and plot device but also informs his character by letting us look through his lens so to speak. That is something we strived to do with Harold. The way he treats his microphones and sound recordings is almost motherly. And sound is his main tool of perception. In limiting Harold to make his judgments almost entirely through sound an inherent suspense is built. So the sound design itself is subjective – the sound design picks out specific sounds that he is picking out by highlighting them in the mix. We really aim to tell the story through his ears.
Also, the relationship of off-screen sound to space is integral in defining and understanding the neighborhood that the film takes place in. Eighty percent of the movie is told in Harold’s house. In the film we are constantly using sound to define relation to the surrounding neighbors and allude to clues of the characters’ whereabouts. Even in heavy dialogue scenes, the background sound design is meant to highlight a specific aspect of the neighborhood. Our sound designer, Kevin Rosen-Quan did some awesome work in creating a true sound map of the film’s setting.
Which brings us to the music! It was a wonder to watch Layla Minoui-Hall develop the score. While developing our themes and instrumentations, Layla and I studied the score that Nino Rota did for Fellini’s Casanova – another film with quite a wild tone ride. (Listen to that Nino Rota score, its great stuff) We wanted to be able to take a musical theme from whimsical to haunting over the course of the film – reflecting tone. So Layla experimented with altering instrumentations, reversing and inverting melodies, changing time and key signatures. So the score itself undergoes a transformation with the story and interacts with sound design to voice the world that is surrounding and conspiring with our characters.
Layla, Sam, myself, and other cast and crew will all be in attendance at the Friday 24th 9:30p Bullock IMAX screening and would love to talk to you. So come see (and hear) the film!
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