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[SXSW ’21] Interview with Alex Noyer and James Jagger of ‘Sound of Violence’ on unlikable nice guys & killer drum machines

An interesting talk about the ‘Sound of Violence’.

Sound of Violence is a horror movie that takes full advantage one of the genre’s most important aspects. Sound is an important part of many scary films, but has never been used quite like it has in director Alex Noyer’s film. Alexis learns that brutal violence heals the hearing loss that has plagued her since childhood. AIPT spoke with Noyer and actor James Jagger about the story’s unique premise and interesting characters.

AIPT: How would you describe Sound of Violence?

Alex Noyer: Sound of Violence is an artist’s journey. It’s an unconventional horror movie because instead of envisioning a murderer’s journey, we’re following an artist. An artist who commits murder to make music. And I thought about it always as an artistic journey and shifting the paradigm of the traditional horror movie by following and staying with a complex killer who will leave the audience conflicted.

James Jagger: I thought it was a parody of Sound of Music, but I was completely wrong. Turns out I was completely wrong. No, I think it’s a fantastic character deep dive into synesthesia and into music as a cathartic force.

AIPT: What attracted you to the script initially?

Jagger: Man, curious as a cat I was. I read through it and I was, “Hold on a minute.” And it was really the… I was curious to see how the director, Alex, was going to visualize and stand this script on its feet. Because I read through and my imagination run wild because the description of these violent acts that Alexis goes through at the top of the film, I was very curious.

And I just wanted to understand how he thought of standing this up on film and how it was actually going to look once it was on cellulose. And that was really the curiosity. I went and had a chat with Alex. We met up for a coffee and we had a very long, rambling conversation for about two and a half hours. And I think the rest is history.

AIPT: What was your inspiration behind Sound of Violence?

[SXSW '21] Interview with Alex Noyer and James Jagger of 'Sound of Violence' on unlikable nice guys & killer drum machines

Noyer: Well, it traces all the way back to this documentary I produced, called 808, which premiered at South by in 2015. And it’s about the 808 drum machine, the Roland TR-808. And we had Beastie Boys and Questlove, Pharrell Williams, Phil Collins, and the likes. And that project took over five years of my life. And was really the reason, as well, I moved to the US from London.

And at the end of it, I was not really keen anymore to make documentaries. And my wife really pushed me to explore moving into my forever love, which are horror movies. And while developing one idea, I had a light bulb moment of reminiscing about drum machines and thinking maybe I should kill somebody with a drum machine.

And so, that’s where the idea for the short film, Conductor, was mourn. And as I developed that idea, I developed the character of Alexis. And the short film, which initially was not meant to be turned into a feature because I was working on something else, took a life of its own and really did well touring genre festivals and getting much appraise. And we even won awards, which was crazy to me.

And this is where I came up with a backstory, which I first thought would be a second short, but then I came up with the rest of her journey going forward, expanding on her universe. We added the synaesthetic element. We developed her trauma, her motivation, her artistic high. And really, it became a character thriller about an artist and I was really excited.

And this was happening organically and very fast. So, I really didn’t have time to hesitate. And I just kept writing and writing and writing. And then, next thing I knew, I was in Cannes with already a third of the movie financed and ready to go. And talking to people with the single line of, it’s the story of a killer who makes music and murders.

AIPT: Sound has a very dreamlike quality in this movie. What did you decide to give it that quality?

Noyer: Because sound is a character, in the same way as the wonderful cast are doing more than justice to the characters that I wrote and elevating them to a real presence. And I’m forever grateful for their performance. I need the music to also deliver. It was a question of not having the music overshadow the movie, like being too loud. But at the same time, it needed to be noticeable enough to be really part of the story.

And this moving the score in and out of the story, was a big challenge. And so, on the short, I worked with a composer, Jaakko Manninen and the supervising sound editor, Jussi Tegelman, who regularly works with Sam Raimi. And we really got to experiment about how to shift instruments into weapons and the sound of flesh into music.

But they all took on that challenge to consider my crazy ideas and deliver upon them for the music to be a real presence throughout this film. The music, the sounds, the Foley, everything is like, it’s a character and a dimension to the story that had to be on point because without it, the story really would fall apart.

AIPT: How would you describe Duke?

Jagger: I think when I first read the script, it was something that I thought was really important to add depth to this character, because you don’t want him just to be a simple trope. And that was… I wouldn’t say easy to do, but that’s a pitfall that’s something a character like this can easily fall into.

And the nature of Alex’s challenge as a filmmaker, was to try and have the audience follow this protagonist, Alexis, who is kind of dark and has to now follow her into some quite trying, difficult places. And I think my job in Duke’s portrayal was to create an antagonist for her, but not someone that can be viewed by the audience as an antagonist.

So it was actually a subtle feeling for that character, where I want the audience to sympathize with this guy. I want them to feel sad when things happen to him. And at the same time, I want him to be a sticking point in this relationship. I want him to be friction between this love triangle. So, it was a lot of things that I think were really important to adding depth to this character. He’s a nice guy you don’t like.

AIPT: I’m glad you brought that up, actually, because that’s what I found so interesting about the character is very easily could have been a trope. But he’s the antagonist, but you also kind of root for him in a sense. It was a very fleshed out character.

[SXSW '21] Interview with Alex Noyer and James Jagger of 'Sound of Violence' on unlikable nice guys & killer drum machines

Jagger: It was a fun character to play and working with Jasmin and Lili was a real pleasure. The whole cast was really talented and Alex gave us space to really play with our characters and get into the sandbox that he created. And it was really fun, a really fun experience.

There was definitely some technical, hard difficulties because there was some technical scenes and some scenes that had a lot of moving parts and a lot of difficulty. But it was really for us, and I felt like it was such an important aspect for an actor that you don’t have to worry about all these things. And while they’re working out these technical camera things, we’re able to talk about how we want the scene to come across or what we think is working or what we think isn’t working.

And despite only such a short truncated shoot, I felt like we were given lots of space and lots of time to work around the scenes. And work with Alex in the scenes and work with each other. So, it was a great experience. I really enjoyed it.

AIPT: What would you both like audiences to take out of Sound of Violence?

Noyer: I hope it will be a conflicted journey for the audience, because of course, I’m asking them to root for a gruesome killer. But at the same time, because she’s an artist. And with her synaesthetic abilities allowing us to immerse the audience in her world, I hope that they will sympathize a bit with her and at least care for her.

I’m the father of two daughters, and I hope that when they’re old enough to watch this movie, they also feel a little bit empowered. And the sentiment of actually following your creative drive and following and living your truth, being important. Yeah. Obviously, not in gruesome and crazy set up like this, but I do hope that the audiences are somehow inspired as well by Alexis.

Jagger: I hope that they go see this in the cinema, or at least able to see it in the cinema. And I hope that when they leave the theater, they’re walking down the steps and they are debating. Whatever it is about, whether they loved it, hated it, I hope they’re debating. Because that’s the thing that I love coming out of a film with a close friend and being like, “Oh man, that was so fantastic.” “No, it was bullshit man. I was just like this, and it was bullshit because of this and this and this and this.” And I love that. And I think this film really has an opportunity to create a great debate around it.

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