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Sound of Silence: An Interview With the Directors and Lead

Photo courtesy of Sapkar PR

Sound of Silence is a new film from the writing and directing trio known as T3; it is a film about two contrasting forces: of sound and the past. The three filmmakers—Stefano Mandalà, Alessandro Antonaci and Daniel Lascar—along with their lead, Penelope Sangiorgi, met with me recently to tell me all about the challenges in making Sound of Silence.

I started by asking how their three-person dynamic works. Alessandro, the spokesperson for most of this interview, answered: “We’ve been working together for eight years nearly, and it works very well. We manage to bring together our three brains, and our different life experiences, and make them all work as one: so we have a bigger view in making the movie. Of course when we are on set, what is really helpful is that we are split. I look after the cinematography, the camera work, and the editing; Stefano manages the lighting and stage production and also cooks; and Daniel deals with the actors. The process keeps getting better, of course, but it’s definitely helpful, as it allows us to each focus on our own area, as we trust each other with those skills. We are working with very low budgets at the moment, so we have to do lots of things other than directing: the fact that there’s three of us is therefore a real strength.”

That sounded almost too good to be true, so I asked Penelope what it had been like on the set from her perspective. “It couldn’t have been a better experience for me,” she said. “It was my first time on set, and you almost don’t believe it when you’re there, but they really love each other in an almost spontaneous way. They project that onto everything they do, and they assemble an amazing crew, who were also incredibly loving. If you didn’t know, it wouldn’t have looked like we were filming a horror movie, it was all such a happy family!”

The film certainly didn’t show a happy setting at all but one that was stressful and tense throughout, as it should be for such a story. I asked the trio where that story had come from. “Actually, before making the feature,” Alessandro said, “we made a short called Sound of Silence, about the concept of sound going on and off. Then when the short was selected for Screamfest, we realised that we had something special and decided to turn it into a feature. At first, it wasn’t even supposed to be about a radio but about sound going on and off, but Stefano bought this old radio one day and brought it to the studio. We saw it and thought, wow, what if we make this about a vintage radio, a classic ghost story of something coming back from the past? And so we made the short…but then the feature film involved making the back story to the radio, and we were very happy that we’d kept the radio. By building the back story, we were able to deal with themes like the abuse of women and women’s empowerment. So we were able to make something commercial and fun, with the sort of scares like in Insidious, but at the same time, we could also make it more meaningful, due to that dramatic past. That’s how the story was born.”

Alessandro had mentioned making a feature out of the Sound of Silence short. I asked whether that was the plan for T3’s other shorts, too. “There’s a couple of shorts we have plans for,” Alessandro said, as the others nodded. “There’s one called The Crying Boy, which we made in 2019, about a haunted painting, and we have a very nice feature story for that, but it’s a bigger story, so we’re not ready to do it yet. We also have other stories that are not coming from shorts. For example, our next movie is something brand new. So we are open to both approaches.”

Back to the current release. When watching it, I thought Federico Malandrino did a terrific job with the sound and really made the film’s atmosphere. “Yes, he really did,” agreed Daniel.

I asked my guests what briefing they had given him. “He is a really amazing sound designer,” said Alessandro, “one of the best. Basically, we had to make sure that sound was lethal, so we had to keep quiet and calm as much as possible so that when each sound came, it was a scare. Having a mostly silent movie might not be for everyone, so it was a struggle for us to keep that balance; that’s what we told him we needed help with. As directors, we are very much into the post-production process and we gave him very strict notes on everything so that he would keep the T3 vision in his sound. It was really great and careful to make the movie as realistic as possible in terms of the sound. He was catching sound on every single room, corner, and location, so as to keep it real. We are aware how lucky we were to work with him because sound was the most key thing in this movie, but actually sound is important in every horror movie.”

Alessandro Antonaci, Stefano Mandalà, Daniel Lascar of T3 Directors
Photo courtesy of Sapkar PR

“He really understood,” added Daniel. “He did an amazing job—an amazing person.”

“Then of course we had him watching a couple of horror movies as reference,” Alessandro went on. “The Conjuring 1, 2, and 3, and a couple of Insidious films.”

I mentioned to my guests that JP Nunez, who has reviewed Sound of Silence, saw similarities in Lights Out and of course A Quiet Place; so I asked whether those films had influenced their writing. “Definitely,” said Alessandro. “I like describing this movie as A Quiet Place meets Lights Out: it’s a ghost version of A Quiet Place, and a sound version of Lights Out. So yes, they were in our minds when we were creating this movie. Every time we work on something, one of the first things we focus on is how commercial or saleable this project is; we put together a poster test to see how effective that might be, and so when we had the concept of ghosts and sound on and off in Sound of Silence, we thought it was commercial and interesting enough for audiences, especially because those two famous movies were very effective.”

Turning to Penelope…I felt like she fitted her part well, so I asked her if there was singing or music in her background. “I do love to sing,” she said, “and I have been trying to become more confident in singing live, so I definitely related to that side of Emma, who couldn’t really bring herself to sing in front of people. That was really the point of access to the character for me, and we tried to get my character to sing a little bit, but it didn’t work out in the end,” Penelope laughed. “Absolutely, I enjoyed the entire process, whether or not I was going to get to sing. I didn’t think that was going to be the main point anyway, though of course it was related.”

Emma had some understanding of the sound equipment, for sure, as we see in the later scenes of the film. “Yes,” said Penelope. “I did love the idea that Emma had been working with her Dad ever since she was little, and therefore familiar with recording, volume levels, and all those things. That’s increasingly common for musicians, too.”

I couldn’t tell from Penelope’s voice, so I asked and she told me yes, she too is Italian. I asked what prompted the three directors to make Sound of Silence in English. “First, we are huge fans of American cinema and American horror movies,” said Alessandro. “I’d say those are the main movies we watch on a daily basis, so it’s definitely what we’re interested in. Another reason is that having a movie in English makes it much easier to be distributed and seen by the entire world; it’s of greater interest to the distributors. We really wanted this movie to get out there and be seen by most people. Actually, we made in 2017 our first experience of horror movies together, even before we formed T3: it was a very low-budget horror movie in Italian and it was selected at Screamfest. And even though it was in Italian, the movie was distributed in some places. It was called You Die and it was about a haunted phone app.”

“It was made before Countdown,” Daniel interjected.

“What I was saying,” Alessandro came in again, “that’s when we saw the struggle of the movie because it was in Italian, of not getting seen in some areas. Even if the movie is not perfect, if it was in English it might have had more chances. So those were the reasons…but also I love English, so that’s really my main reason.”

I had to wonder how well the English-language film would go down in Italy. “What’s interesting,” said Alessandro with a smile, “our hopes are that sooner or later, one of our movies will come back after distribution around the world, and then they get dubbed into Italian for distribution here. That would be a great experience. I’m not sure if that will happen for Sound of Silence, but maybe the next one. For now, we’re dubbed in other languages, but not Italian.”

What contrast to the old giallo films, which were dubbed before they left Italy!

Back to Sound of Silence again, then; I asked how the three found the house that featured in the film, such an atmospheric set that it was.

“A lucky strike,” said Daniel.

Penelope Sangiorgi as Emma in Sound of Silence
Photo courtesy of Sapkar PR

“We were very lucky,” agreed Alessandro. “When you write a movie, you picture your location, and when you have a very small budget, you can’t pick the location; it’s not easy. The movie’s financier said to us, ‘I have a house, and you can see if it works,’ and when we saw the house, we were shocked, because it was exactly right for the movie. That never happens! We had described a house that had things that are not always very common and had no idea how to find one just right, so it was very good for us. Then, we tried to transform it with lighting, because it’s very simple with no colouring and so on. Since we’re very into our cinematography choices, we try to make everything look good all the time, and we decided to transform it with lighting and set design, to make it even more creepy than when we first saw it.”

The sound elements and ghost effects all seemed to fit there, for sure.

“Thank you,” said Alessandro. He paused: “We had a ghost, I think. I don’t know. There were a couple of things happening. I had one once—it was a break day, no shooting, and I was alone in the house organising some details; and someone rang the bell out of the blue. I jumped on the bed and went, ‘Who is out there?’ and there was no one. I don’t know, but she says we had a ghost…” looking at Penelope, of course.

“I experienced all sorts of things,” she confirmed. “Because it’s a country house, it wasn’t lived in as much, and so we would find little corners with objects that fitted incredibly well with the concept of the film. It was almost furnished for the film like that. These objects were just the right amount of creepy that would give you the perfect amount of chills to get into the scene. Then everyone was staying in the house too because it was so low-budget. A lot of people slept there, and the people who slept there have even more stories about what they may or may not have seen.”

Sound of Silence was Penelope’s first screen role and one which she carried largely by herself. I asked her how demanding she found it. “Certainly I felt overwhelmed going into it,” Penelope said. “I definitely doubted myself, and I was feeling a lot of pressure. But then as soon as I got on set, the day before we started shooting, the whole crew welcomed me as if they had known me for ages. They were, ‘OK, let’s do a costume fitting,’ and, ‘Let’s try this,’ and so on. It was so protective and welcoming that it took a whole load of the pressure off. Then when it came time to do the work, Daniel was a godsend. He’d help me get to the different emotions and nuances that I needed for each scene because I found myself in the same room multiple times throughout the story, but it was a completely different moment, so I had to fine-tune what the character was going through. And obviously, my wonderful partner, Rocco Marazzita (who plays Seba in the film), is just a phenomenal guy. Not only did he get me the audition for this role because he knew T3 before, but he’s just so generous, so caring, so careful. I think he was a perfect fit for Seba. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s something that happens to him in the movie, and we see a completely different side of him which in practical terms on the set can be potentially dangerous on the set if you’re not careful with it, if you take too much liberty or you’re not mindful of your co-stars and other people that work with you. But that was not the case with him; he was amazing to work with.”

We didn’t want to step into spoiler territory, of course, but Penelope had been touching on some of the dynamics between men and women as explored in the film. I asked my guests if that’s where they felt the message of the story was to be found. Penelope didn’t feel confident to answer and handed it back to Alessandro (and some mild spoilers follow here)…

“That’s where we found ourselves when we started writing the back story of the radio,” he said. “It felt really right for the movie’s concept and so we went right into it. We loved the idea that Emma could help other women from the past to find a voice that they were never able to find in life. One of the first scenes we wrote was the final…I don’t want to say that.”

Daniel stepped in to help: “The past is very important because we are made from what happened in the past, so to give a voice to something that is no more is very important, I think.”

“Yeah, that scene,” Alessandro said, without describing it, “I think the message is right there. We really hope that it’s as effective as we believe it to be.”

T3 directors: Stefano Mandalà (L), Alessandro Antonaci (C), and Daniel Lascar (R).
Photo courtesy of Sapkar PR

“It has been effective that day because Penelope did an amazing job,” said Daniel.

“When we shot the flashback sequence,” Alessandro said, “it was two days of shooting and sixty or seventy percent of the shooting, so we were all very emotional and tired by all of it but very happy. Those two days, we all cried, more than once, partly because of the scenes that were taking place before our eyes. I cried, and I still don’t know how it happened, but when we did Penelope’s final take of her reactions, I just couldn’t stop. I just cried. And then when I rewatched it, I don’t know what happened to me! Except Penelope happened.”

“You guys happened to me!” said Penelope. “I do want to say that while there is a very empowering message for women throughout the movie, it’s not done by necessarily antagonising men. It’s not just depicting a gratuitous conflict; there is a reason behind the trauma that we see in the movie and all the trauma related to the haunting of the radio. They didn’t just decide to write about a clear bad guy with no motive. How people often perceive feminism, they often overlook the highlight that it puts on men’s struggles as well. These guys were not trying to leave that out of the picture but leave a good message and be thorough with it.”

I checked my understanding with her: the “bad guy” was mentally ill, rather than downright evil, right? “Exactly,” Penelope said. “They gave this guy a really good reason for acting the way he acted. He was not being horrible to women for the sake of being horrible to women; this person has gone through something, and they have tried to include that in the storytelling of this character without making it a one-sided bad guy who did a bad thing. But even in that case, you still have to protect yourself and hold your ground, and that’s how the ending happens.”

“We had a conversation with the actor,” said Alessandro, “and he is one of the sweetest men in the world: Daniele De Martino. We’ve never seen such a sweet man, crying on set. When we talked to him, we said to ourselves, this man hasn’t always been like that. He was different in the past, and we wanted to make sure that he knew that his character is not just evil, but something made him into this monster.”

Daniel came forward again with his insight: “I think it’s important to understand that this is not an excuse. There is always an excuse in these stories of violence, you always see that, but it’s not enough in real life.” Daniel’s command of English reached its limit and Alessandro returned.

“It’s like saying you should stay for this man because he was good, but if he is not good now, then maybe there’s nothing you can do about it. The only thing you can do is run away. But we also wanted to make sure that at least the actor knew that his character had not always been what he had become. Choosing an actor like him, who looks aggressive but is not, was very effective for the character. Even with the final song that we chose for Emma, the lyrics were about a woman fighting for herself and finally realising for herself that she has to fight…we loved the idea that Emma was not just finding her literal voice and able now to sing in front of others, but she also found somehow her voice in the writing of this song; she brought her experience into it. We tried to get these details into the writing, but not make it too obvious.”

That hadn’t been quite the final scene, though: there was a coda that took place outside of the main house. I asked the three filmmakers if they were setting things up for a sequel. “It has been our dream forever,” said Alessandro, “to build a franchise or horror universe with haunted objects. So that’s why we decided to explore a new object in this final scene. It’s like, we’re done with the radio, but there’s something new now; passing the torch. That scene wasn’t in the original script, but then we shot the movie without it, so we could see what the movie would be like without it; and when we saw that the movie was working, we felt confident enough and so we shot the additional photography and added that scene.”

Daniel added: “We used the actress from the short there.”

“Yes,” said Alessandro, “we really want to thank her. She’s a great actress. We loved the idea of having the same actress involved, and that’s why she’s in the final scene. And we have some other haunted objects in mind for other projects.”

I had to find out some examples.

“There’s a concept we’re going to explore that involves a typewriter,” said Alessandro. “We have a typewriter scene in Sound of Silence, but that was a light tease. It’s going to be a bit different, still a vintage typewriter, but with a new strong concept behind it. We have a short for that, and ready to explore more.”

In the meantime, Sound of Silence is available on VOD and digital.

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Written by Alix Turner

Alix discovered both David Lynch and Hardware in 1990, and has been seeking out weird and nasty films ever since (though their tastes have become broader and more cosmopolitan). A few years ago, Alix discovered a fondness for genre festivals and a knack for writing about films, and now cannot seem to stop. They especially appreciate wit and representation on screen, and introducing old favourites to their teenage daughter.

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