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Character Development
April 14, 2021

Screenwriting Lessons from ‘Sound of Metal’ Writer: What’s in Your Character’s Pockets?

Sound Of Metal is one of the best movies of the last twelve months: an emotional gut-punch well-deserving of its six nominations at this year’s Academy Awards.

The film explores the journey of a punk drummer whose world is thrown into disarray when he’s suddenly impacted by hearing loss. Writer/director Darius Marder shares his incredible process of developing the captivating characters in the latest episode of Script Apart, my podcast about the first-draft secrets of great movies.

Listen to the episode below to learn about Sound of Metal’s fascinating evolution, and discover tips that might just unlock your next script.

Download and read the Sound of Metal script!

Character Development is Key

“Get to know what’s in your characters’ pockets.” That’s the advice Marder has for screenwriters wanting to recreate the lived-in, authentic feel of his stunning Oscar-nominated drama Sound Of Metal.

It’s a phrase that means to write beyond what you’re showing on screen. Darius and his brother/co-writer Abraham Marder wrote 1500 pages of backstory and notes on protagonist Ruben and his girlfriend Lou in the process of writing the film. The pair knew barely any of this extensive character work would make it into their 90-page screenplay. So, why do it?

“It’s about filling your character with undeniable truth and knowing them inside out,” the 46-year-old told me. Spend time fleshing out your characters, right down to the contents of their pockets, and your characters will begin to feel less like conduits for your story and more like living, breathing people, in other words. “Authenticity,” he says, “is born in the writing.”

Sound of Metal
‘Sound of Metal’

Get Personal

This wasn’t the only invaluable lesson on the craft of screenwriting that Darius shared in our conversation. He also talks about the merit of channeling your own pain and past experiences into your story. “This script ended up marking the end of a relationship for me, and that’s on the page,” he says. “Anyone can write a line, but what happens when that line comes from the point in you that really hurts?”

We also delved into the importance of titles, how to find stakes in your story and why sometimes, the best dramas are specific stories that contain universal emotions.

Not many of those watching Sound Of Metal will have experienced Ruben’s exact situation, but within his tale is a widely relatable experience: needing to let go of something or someone. “Everyone’s experienced that,” Marder explains, in what’s one of the most honest, vulnerable episodes of Script Apart to date.

Script Apart (supported by Arc Studio Pro and Coverfly), is a podcast about the first-draft secrets of great movies. Listen to the other great episodes here!

Screenwriting Lessons from ‘Sound of Metal’ Writer: What’s in Your Character’s Pockets?
Al Horner

Al Horner is a London-based journalist, screenwriter and presenter. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Empire Magazine, GQ, BBC, Little White Lies, TIME Magazine and more.

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Anna Klassen
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