Every artist has their own unique process, and composer Marlon Espino took a particularly different approach to his work on the new thriller Inheritance: he handled the entire film backwards.
As the title indicates, Inheritance is a suspense picture that stars Golden Globe nominee Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply) and features a surprisingly creepy turn from the normally hilarious and loveable Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz). But how does a composer create dread for a thriller without having the music give away the shock? And why, exactly, did Marlon decide to go in the completely opposite direction that anyone else would have gone?
Brittany Frederick: Inheritance is your first feature score as the sole composer. What does it mean to you just to have the film out now and people are getting to hear it? This must be an incredible moment for you.
Marlon Espino: It is. I’m super excited. I’ve been in the trenches for a long time, learning from some great, great people and mentors, and it just feels really great to actually have this one under my belt. It feels like all that hard work is paying off.
BF: You didn’t compose the score chronologically like most composers would. What was it about this movie that you felt motivated to take a different approach? Or did you just want to do something different and it worked for this?
ME: It’s a little bit of both. I think it’s kind of like a muscle memory thing – you do something for long enough, you tend to go to things you know work. I didn’t want to do just that, and I wanted to give Vaughn [Stein], the director, something original and different.
I tried to do some stuff away from the picture, by going off of the script and really trying to hit those emotional beats. At a certain point we brought in some musicians and I had some charts. We watched the film, and then we tucked it away and we just really tried to get in that emotional soundscape. It was fun. I think we ended up with some stuff that we wouldn’t have if I would’ve just sat down at a keyboard and done it the way I normally do.
BF: Inheritance is very different from the projects that you’ve worked on before. So was any of your past experience applicable to the score of this film, or was it also a learning experience for you?
ME: it was different. I tend to do a lot more sound design and guitar when I’m working with composer Mark [Mancina] on some of his projects. So it was great, because that was kind of the forefront, and I could really be free to explore that. I think my background came in handy in certain sections, but for the most part, it was so much fun designing sounds and playing around and coming up with things that aren’t normally in my day-to-day. It was an incredible experience.
BF: How did you handle creating suspense without musically giving away any of the movie’s reveals?
ME: For me personally, I tend to go backwards. I’ll kind of go through the script and I’ll find those moments for a specific character and say, “Okay, this is the moment where he ends his journey and this is where it begins, and this is the whole arc of his character development.” I’ll tend to write that part first and then I’ll work backwards, just so I know how much to give away and when.
BF: You mentioned sound design earlier. With current events, people are watching movies at home on their computers and TVs rather than in theaters. Does that have any effect on you as a composer?
ME: That’s a tough one. For me, it matters quite a bit; it’s a whole different experience [at home]. I’ve gotten into discussions with some engineering mixer friends of mine, where they actually do mix specifically for laptop speakers. It’s not the same thing. I go back and forth about that. I tdo my best to try to make it work across all platforms when we’re in the mixing stage. I think we’ve been somewhat successful and I feel pretty good about it.
There’s some sounds you can get into and they’re the kind of stuff that you feel more so than you hear. When you’re not listening in an environment that’s made for that, you lose a little bit of that. But I think you can maintain certain things, like certain melodies, motifs, that can come across no matter what. I wish there was this standard [across all viewing platforms] because you don’t know what people are listening on.
BF: Is there anything else you wish film viewers knew about composing?
ME: When I talk to people, they think I get the full picture or a finished film and I get the right music to it instantly. There’s a lot of moving parts, and I don’t think they realize how many moving parts there are. Most people don’t realize you’re conforming and rewriting, the picture is changing, there’s opinions. It’s a collaborative process, moreso than just sitting down and writing.