Marching to the beat of his own drum: ‘Sound of Metal’: Ashfield filmwriter releases critically acclaimed movie

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    Darius Marder, of Ashfield, and his brother, Abraham Marder, of Amherst, stand outside the Greenfield Garden Cinemas ahead of the release of their new film, "Sound of Metal," Thursday afternoon. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

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    Darius Marder, of Ashfield, stands outside the Greenfield Garden Cinemas ahead of the release of his new film, "Sound of Metal," Thursday afternoon. The movie’s promotional poster can be seen in the background on Main Street in downtown Greenfield. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

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    Darius Marder, of Ashfield, stands outside the Greenfield Garden Cinemas ahead of the release of his new film, "Sound of Metal," Thursday afternoon. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

  • There are many similarities between the location Darius Marder selected as one of the film's primary settings and the farmhouse on Parsons Road where he grew up. Contributed photo/Darius Marder

  • There are many similarities between the location Darius Marder selected as one of the film's primary settings, seen above not far from Ipswich, where much of the movie was filmed, and the farmhouse on Parsons Road in Conway where he grew up, pictured below. Contributed photos/Darius Marder

  • There are many similarities between the location Darius Marder selected as one of the film's primary settings and the farmhouse on Parsons Road where he grew up. Contributed photo/Darius Marder—

  • There are many similarities between the location Darius Marder selected as one of the film's primary settings and the farmhouse on Parsons Road where he grew up. Contributed photo/Darius Marder—

  • Photographs of Darius Marder as a child, taken by his grandmother, Dorothy, who was a prolific activist and photographer. She became suddenly deaf from an antibiotic administered to treat a serious bout of pancreatitis. Contributed photo/Dorothy Marder—

  • A photograph of Darius Marder as a child, taken by his grandmother, Dorothy Marder, who was a prolific activist and photographer. She became suddenly deaf from an antibiotic administered to treat a serious bout of pancreatitis. Contributed photo/Dorothy Marder

  • Above and below: Sequences of movement are pictured here from Darius Marder's upbringing in Conway at a commune where practitioners pursued the teachings of philosopher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. The piano piece played for the movements is featured at one point in 'Sound of Metal.' Contributed photos/Darius Marder

  • Sequences of movement are pictured here from Darius Marder's upbringing in Conway at a commune where practitioners pursued the teachings of philosopher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. The piano piece played for the movements is featured at one point in 'Sound of Metal.' Contributed photo/Darius Marder—

  • An acting headshot of Darius Marder from the 1990s.

  • Young Darius Marder can be seen in the plaid shirt posing with the Conway community with a Tibetan Lama. Contributed photo/Darius Marder

  • Darius Marder with his sons, Asa, 21, left and Ezra, 16. Contributed photo/Darius Marder

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    Darius Marder and his son, Asa, working on "Sound of Metal" with Director of Photography Danïel Bouquet and the film's producer, Sacha Ben Haroche. Contributed photo/Darius Marder

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    Darius Marder on the set of "Sound of Metal." Contributed photo/Darius Marder

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    Darius Marder on the set of "Sound of Metal." Contributed photo/Darius Marder—

  • Darius Marder talks with actor Riz Ahmed during a scene for “Sound of Metal.” Ahmed plays a hard rock drummer who suddenly becomes deaf. Contributed photo/Darius Marder

  • Darius Marder, seen at left in the blue sweater, talks with actors during a scene of “Sound of Metal.” Contributed photo/Darius Marder

  • Darius Marder Contributed photo

  • Darius Marder Contributed photo/Darius Marder—

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    Darius Marder plays drums on the set of "Sound of Metal." Contributed photo/Darius Marder

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    Darius Marder on the set of "Sound of Metal" with Actor Riz Ahmed. Contributed photo/Darius Marder

  • In this movie still from “Sound of Metal,” Actor Riz Ahmed plays the drums inside of a club. The movie, which has received stellar reviews so far, was released Friday in American theaters and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime as an Amazon Original film Dec. 4. It was directed by Darius Marder, of Ashfield; the screenplay was co-written by Darius Marder and his brother, Abraham Marder, of Amherst. Contributed photo/Amazon Studios

  • Contributed photo/Amazon Studios Contributed photo/Amazon Studios

  • A promotional poster for “Sound of Metal” seen outside the Greenfield Garden Cinemas Thursday evening. The film opened in American theaters Friday. Staff photo/Andy Castillo

  • Garden Theater Marquee on Main Street in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Garden Theater Marquee on Main Street in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Movies playing at Garden Theater on Main Street in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 12/3/2020 3:54:20 PM
Modified: 12/3/2020 3:54:09 PM

A cold November breeze swept beneath Greenfield Garden Cinemas’ iconic Main Street marquee on a recent evening, rustling a poster promoting an upcoming release displayed just outside the glass doors: “Sound of Metal. Music was his world. Then silence revealed a new one.”

On this night, instead of a red carpet, yellow tape spaced 6-feet apart welcomed moviegoers braving the cold and the coronavirus.

It’s not exactly the setting one might expect for the American release of a critically-acclaimed film that’s been five years and a lifetime in the making. But then again, Darius Marder, 46, of Ashfield, isn’t the typecast of one who is basking in the glow of Hollywood’s glistening lights, even if he looks the part — lightly draped scarf, leather Chelsea boots, styled gray hair and all.

“In a million years, I couldn’t imagine (opening at) the Garden Theater in Greenfield, the cinema where I grew up and saw ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’” said Marder, the writer and director behind “Sound of Metal.” He recently moved back to Franklin County after living in New York City for 25 years. “In a way, it’s beautiful. And it brought me home.”

Standing beside him, Abraham Marder, of Amherst, his brother and the screenplay’s co-writer, is quick to step out of the spotlight.

“I’m mostly so proud and thrilled for my dear brother, here,” he added.

So far, “Sound of Metal,” which tells the fictional story of a hard rock drummer who suffers sudden hearing loss — portrayed by Emmy Award-winning actor Riz Ahmed — has been met with high praise from reviewers. And the film won the Golden Eye for Best Film in the International Feature Film Competition at the 15th Zurich Film Festival and has been nominated for a Golden Athena Award.

With a theater debut last month, “Sound of Metal” will be available to stream digitally on Amazon Prime Dec. 4 as an “Amazon Original” movie. Its release is the culminating achievement of Marder’s hard-fought film-writing career — a journey that was first sparked in Greenfield teacher Ruth Charney’s literature classroom at The Center School, where he attended before moving on to South Deerfield’s Frontier Regional School.

“The movie is coming out in theaters,” Marder said. “It’s my dream. Literally, my lifelong dream. But it’s the worst time to come out in theaters.”

Slightly unusual, varied

Hollywood’s glamorous lifestyle is a far cry from Conway’s quiet hills, where Marder grew up. To say the least, he describes his Parsons Street upbringing as “slightly unusual and varied.”

His parents, Lauri Marder, an artist, of Shelburne Falls and Efrem Marder, an abstract painter from Conway, were New Yorkers who moved to a local group home of about 35 practitioners in pursuance of the teachings of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a Russian philosopher and spiritual leader who promoted a discipline known as “The Work” as a way to achieve a higher level of consciousness. In his 1949 book “In Search of the Miraculous,” author P.D. Ousepensky writes that Gurdjieff believed most humans lived in a state of a hypnotic “waking sleep.”

The community, comprised of people hailing from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds (not all of whom lived there), “was an infusion of real diversity of perspective,” Marder recalled. “The people drawn to Gurdjieff were not of a particular political bend; they were seekers.” According to Efrem Marder, the teacher of the Gurdjieff community, Paul Anderson, “invited various Tibetan Lamas to work with the group, the first of which was Khenpo Thupten” in the late 1970s and Tibetan Dzogchen Master Chogyal Namkhai Norbu in 1982.

New York City

While New York City, Marder held an assortment of jobs — he was an actor for a while; he was a personal chef; he ran a catering company; he was a singing cowboy on a mystery train; he filmed wedding videos and helped out on Hollywood sets; he wrote scripts without compensation; he made his first movie, a silent film about a man stuck working at a gas station, and projected it onto the wall of a barn for an audience of friends.

By that point, Marder says he was finding success as a chef, having recently been featured in Martha Stewart and Gourmet Magazine. But the filmmaking experience inspired him to take a risk on what had become a dream. His cinematic breakthrough came a short while later while watching Asa, his oldest son, play in a sandbox at the 9th Street Playground in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. A man named Dan Campbell, who had recently moved to the city from Utah, by chance sat on the same bench and told him about a Mormon used car salesman from back home who, in turn, knew a World War II veteran who’d allegedly buried a treasure somewhere in Europe during the war.

“I was struck by the energy (of) the story and I said, ‘I’m going to make this movie,’” Marder recalled. “He said, ‘I guess I’ll produce it. What does that mean, produce it?’ I said, ‘That means you’ll pay for it.’”

They had drinks that night and flew to Utah a few days later.

The ensuing documentary, “Loot,” took five years to make and won “best film” in the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival, an accolade that came with a $50,000 prize. It was subsequently streamed on HBO in 2009.

Back home in Conway, Darius Marder’s father recalled that time as one with a lot of uncertainty.

“For a couple of years, I was quite skeptical,” Efrem Marder said. But after watching “Loot” for the first time, “My jaw just dropped. … In some ways, the making of ‘Loot’ is almost more extraordinary (than ‘Sound of Metal’) because Darius started from ground zero — against all odds, on a shoestring budget,” he continued, noting that by that time his son had two young sons of his own, Asa and Ezra.

Following “Loot,” Darius Marder co-wrote “The Place Beyond the Pines” in 2012 — starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes — with writer/director Derek Cianfrance, who is known for “Blue Valentine” and “The Light Between Oceans,” among other productions.

‘Sound of Metal’

The ensuing production, which runs 130 minutes, stars Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff and Mathieu Amalric alongside Ahmed, whose discography includes notable titles “Nightcrawler” in 2014; “Jason Bourne” in 2016; “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in 2016; and “Venom” in 2018.

Efrem Marder said that “Sound of Metal” features a filmmaking style he’s come to expect from his son: “Uncompromising.” And, even if the coronavirus has put a damper on things, its American release is “just a beautiful moment for Darius and Abraham,” he said. “It’s thrilling to see that the two of them were able to manifest their skills together. ... I’m a really proud dad.” Lauri Marder described the film as unique: “I haven’t really seen anything quite like this because it’s not weird in an independent film way. It doesn’t require you to give up your perspective. It tells its story very clearly.”

Marder drew some inspiration for the main character’s relationship with girlfriend and co-musician, Lou, from aspects of his own longtime marriage and recent separation from artist and high school sweetheart, Liza Cassidy. One of the film’s primary locations, a rambling white farmhouse, is incredibly similar to the Parsons Street Gurdjieff community in Conway.

While successful now, Marder says making “Sound of Metal” posed an uphill battle from the start.

Writing the film “Was a complete act of faith. There was no money. Eventually, I brought my brother (Abraham) on board to write with me. We probably wrote 1,500 or 2,000 pages to get to this script. It was a lot of work,” Marder said.

Then, 10 days before filming was scheduled to start, the financing fell through and he had to send an email to friends Bill and Kathy Benz in London that read something along the lines of, “Do you want to finance my movie? I need an answer by tomorrow. … They did it. They wired the money without a contract. That’s how we made the movie,” he said.

Logistically, while filming near Ipswich only took about a month, the casting process took more than four years to finalize because of Marder’s incredibly stringent and specific standards.

“I wanted the actor to learn the drums, from scratch. I wanted the actor to learn (American Sign Language) … to a certain degree of fluency,” Marder said. “The casting process was very hard; I scared the crap out of every actor I ever met.”

More broadly, trying to forge a career in the arts as a parent has also been an unforeseen challenge for Marder — and one that’s reflected abstractly in the film. These days, his two sons, Asa, who worked behind the scenes on the project and Ezra, an actor in the movie, are 21 and 16 respectively.

“I can’t impress on you how hard that journey was. They saw me fail year after year. They saw the film get set up with an actor and then fall apart. They saw financing get set up and then fall through,” Marder said. “There were so many moments of despair. Absolute despair. In a funny way, I knew I was going to make it. All of it. I always knew I was going to do this.”

Andy Castillo is the features editor at the Greenfield Recorder. He can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com.


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