Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Have you ever heard a ringing sound in your ear while you’re trying to work? Have you ever been watching a movie, and the noise is so loud that you feel like it’s screaming at you? Imagine if you could just make those sounds disappear. Imagine if you could have every sound in your life in tune and in harmony, and you’d get the premise of the new film The Sound of Silence. The movie set in New York centers around a “house tuner” who caters to those who want to live a better, more productive life. The tuner goes to clients’ homes, tuning the sounds in their homes in hopes that it will make their lives more productive. His form of therapy is the talk of the city until things take a turn for the worse when his therapy struggles to solve one client’s problems.
The Sound of Silence was based on the short film Palimpsest, which was also a Sundance selection. The short centered around the character and background of the house tuner and explores the idea of why people want all there sounds to be in harmony. Both films explore the effect sound has on us.
We sat down with the director of The Sound of Silence, Michael Tyburski, to talk his about his newest masterpiece, which was an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Nicholas Leblanc – How does the feature film differ from the short’s subject material?
Michael Tyburski – Well, it shares the same main characters: the house tuner and his clients. The main client, played by Rashida Jones, causes the tuner a little distress because his usual formula isn’t working, so that shares the same parallels with the short film. To me, when I made this feature, I really wanted to start from scratch and continue those characters – but tell the story differently. We shot in a different way, which was important to me as I really didn’t want to repeat myself. I knew I had more story to tell with the characters and wanted to build their world. The feature allowed me to tell this small story in a bigger way.
NL – What inspired you to tell this story?
MT – I worked on the short with my co-writer, Ben Nabors, and he came to me with this idea of a house tuner character, which sounded really intriguing with the nature of his practice. I right away could picture what this individual would look like, how he dressed, his mannerisms. There was just something I was naturally attracted to, and the house tuner is what inspired the short. I was really intrigued and fascinated by sound and sound history and how we are affected by it. I knew there was a lot more, and I really wanted to dig deeper in.
NL – How was the cast dynamic on set?
MT – I got to say with it being my first feature, I was really fortunate. At first, I was able to select the fantastic cast. When you make an independent film, everyone knows that they are in it together. You build this little family with your collaborators for this short amount of time. It is long hours and hard work, but everyone believed in what we were doing, and that was really important. It was a very fulfilling process. There is a lot of stress involved, but at the same time, you are making a movie – which is still fun at the end of the day!
NL – With it being your first feature, what were some challenges that you did not expect?
MT – So many! We shot this film just in a month, and I knew we had to cover a lot of ground because we switched locations a lot. Sometimes locations fall through or weather doesn’t cooperate, and you have to be ready to come to change the plan and embrace the elements. We were no stranger to those scenarios. We had one big set piece which we filmed in Central Park. The sun didn’t have to be shining for the scene, but at least it had to be a clear day. At the time we were filming this, it was below freezing, and I wanted our key character to be wearing this tweed jacket. We had to have a lot of breaks and warming periods to make that work! Everybody is in it together. Everyone believes in doing this one thing, so you make it work. We were pretty fortunate with dodging a lot of weather bullets!
NL – What about New York make you want to set it there?
MT – I grew up in Vermont. Though I’ve lived in New York for 10 years now, I still see the city the same way I did when I was growing up and seeing it in the movies. I saw Ghostbusters when I was a kid, and that’s the New York I know, which is this artificial New York that still deals with the real city. So many people have set out to make a love-letter to New York, and this my attempt, my first love-letter to the city.
NL – What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
MT – I think it is the same thing I always wanted when I was making this film. I really hope that people can consider space sonically. I think sound affects us a lot. Whether we are aware of it or not, it can have an impact on you. I think it is really important to be aware of the sound around you, even if you can’t control it, even if it might be a lost cause. I think being aware of it is the important thing.
The Sound of Silence premiered at Sundance in early 2019, and the film is projected to be in theaters this fall.
Featured Image via Eric Lin