Last week, writer/director Alex Noyer celebrated the world premiere of his feature film debut at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. Entitled Sound of Violence, the story follows a young woman named Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown), who had previously recovered her hearing after a brutal family murder, and every day since has been a gift for her as she made her way in the world, studying sound. But as she begins to suspect that her hearing is once again about to fade away, Alexis decides that the only way to stay connected to her sense of hearing is by utilizing various forms of music in extremely violent ways. Sound of Violence also stars Lili Simmons, James Jagger, and Tessa Munro.
During the recent press day for Sound of Violence, Daily Dead caught up with both Noyer and Jagger to discuss their experiences collaborating together on the project, as well as what was the inspiration behind the story, the film’s grisly and elaborate kill sequences, and more.
Gravitas Ventures will release Sound of Violence this May—look for more details on the release in the coming weeks.
Great to speak with you guys today. Alex, I was reading your background and I understand that you also come from a world of music to a degree. What I think really stands out about this is that you’re not using traditional instruments. You’re using basically a drum machine, which I think is very intriguing, but also very cool and unusual. Can you talk about marrying these worlds and why they felt like the best tools to unleash all the horror that you do in Sound of Violence?
Alex Noyer: Well, I produced a documentary about the TR-808, a drum machine, that premiered at South By in 2015 and went to Apple Music afterwards. That movie took over five years of my life and was a great reason for me to move from London to here. And so, I had the drum machine obsession. After that, when I decided that I was going to move away from documentaries, my wife actually suggested that I should explore my lifelong love for horror movies. So I ended up with various ideas and then all of a sudden a light bulb lit up and I said, “Oh, wait a minute. I need to kill somebody with a drum machine now.” And that’s where the short was born. And the short film Conductor was just supposed to be a short; I’d never thought about it as a feature. It was just supposed to be a cathartic process of closure on my drum machine obsession.
But in the process of that, I created the character of Alexis and that started a whole different journey. When the short toured in festivals, people were really asking me about her, and with that, it became a very organic process of realizing that I needed to expand her universe. I wrote her backstory, which initially I thought I was going to shoot as a separate shot, and then I kept writing and I wrote her journey going forward. It was initially a very horror-centric movie, but I really didn’t feel it worked. So I chopped up 24 pages and instead, expanded on the character journey and following the artist rather than a killer. Then after that, I also had the challenge of finding experiments that were beyond a drum machine, and using those other instruments in gruesome ways was a different challenge. I’m not a musician. I just have a very deep passion for music, and I have a creativity about using instruments in strange ways. So, that’s where we landed.
So, James, for you coming into this, what was the initial appeal of being part of this project? Was it getting a chance to work with Alex, work in the genre, your character, or a bit of a mix of all those things?
James Jagger: Yeah, I think it was a definite combination. I don’t think there was one particular thing. I was particularly curious when I read the script and I saw these grizzly deep dictations and my imagination ran with them and I was like, “How are they going to film this? This is madness. This is not possible. I must know.” So, I was curious about that kind of stuff. Then, I think the attraction to act alongside Jasmin was definitely a draw as well because I think she’s very talented and just a fantastic person and a really nice acting partner, I would say. Working with her definitely was one of the big appeals to me.
Alex, for you, James just mentioned Jasmin, who is utterly astounding in this movie. What was the process like for you, in terms of putting this cast together?
Alex Noyer: First of all, a lot of credit goes through to our casting director, Amey René. She did a fantastic job. She grabbed the script with both hands and really felt she had a stake in it by finding the right people. When she suggested first that I met with Jasmin, I was very excited because I’m a fan of The Leftovers and I thought it was a brilliant suggestion. And when I met Jasmin, all the parts of the character that I had left open because they were not for me to project something, were answered then a lot in the identity of their character. Jasmin responded to all of that and filled those shoes to be Alexis. I really felt actually the first time I met her that I had met Alexis.
And it was her passion, her skills and dedication to her craft were just astounding. So, that was a fantastic start in order to, in the process of just having written this script, all of a sudden being able to see Alexis and put a face to Alexis. And that was fantastic. Then, when I got to meet James and Lili [Simmons], hearing that they were interested and that they read the script and decided that they wanted to be part of the journey with us, I felt very lucky. What I remember in both encounters was that their understanding of the characters was clear. Their enthusiasm to work with me to bring those characters to life and also add their own voice to it was very exciting. And similarly with Tessa [Munro], who plays Detective Fuentes, as well.
This project really came together quickly because I wrote the first draft in January 2019 and we were shooting already in October 2019, and in movie terms, that’s minute. It came together that quickly by having those fantastic actors reading the script and really latching onto it and being part of this journey with me. And also, I’ve been a producer for 17 years, but this is my feature debut as a director. The confidence that they showed in me immediately was great. The process I went through with those actors is something I’ll be eternally grateful for.
James Jagger: I will say as well from our perspective, it was just great because Alex was humble. He wasn’t trying to stake out this thing. He was not territorial about anything with us, and he gave us lots of space to actually explore these things. And if you said that they felt like the characters really stood up, that’s a great compliment to us all and thank you. I think the fact that Alex was asking for our collaborative efforts, we were able to really get deeply involved in the characters in a way that a director who has so many moving balls in the air might overlook something, because they’ve got 300 other things to worry about in that moment. It was really a testament to such a great collaborator that Alex was to give us the space to allow to create ourselves and to really explore the scenes and roles ourselves. So, it was fantastic as an actor to have that experience.
In terms of manifesting the kills in this movie, there’s a lot of ambition on display and it feels like there are a lot of challenging aspects to these scenes as well. Was that one of the bigger challenges for you, trying to figure out, “Okay, so now we have this idea of we’re going to kill people with a drum machine. Well, how does that actually look? And how does that translate on screen?” Alex, can you discuss the process of trying to figure all of that out for Sound of Violence?
Alex Noyer: I’ll take that as a compliment. Thank you. So, as far as the drum machine part, we were obviously capitalizing on the experience of the shorts and that allowed us to use the beats because they are inherently violent. So there’s this logic in trying to transfer that into a bigger, more violent setup. But then, when we brought in different instruments like the theremin, this is a whole different challenge because how do you turn that into a threatening weapon, and shifting the instrument into weapons and the sound of flesh into music was really a paradigm that I had to really take on.
And again, I was relying on amazingly talented people. But then adding to that, the musical background of all the actors involved, where Jasmin is a writer, soul writer, and a singer-songwriter, James understands music, and Lili understands music as well, so that helped create a legitimacy in the tools that we used. And we did everything that we could do to make it work. And then as far as how elaborate everything gets, there’s no budget limit when it comes to imagination. So I thought big. I jotted down crazy ideas. Some didn’t make it because they were too big. But in the case of something like the theremin, it’s an instrument that I’m fascinated with and I just decided that because it’s used very often in horror as part of a soundtrack, I just felt that was something that would add some extra emotion that we could use and try to escalate those sounds to something that was much more threatening.
[Image Credit: Alexis (Jasmin Savoy Brown) experiencing synesthesia, courtesy of You Know Films/No Office Films.]
Go HERE to catch up on all of our coverage of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival!
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Author: Heather Wixson