Marlon Espino is the composer behind the new thriller Every Breath You Take, and has found himself a home in the genre. It comes on the heels of his work on the Simon Pegg and Lily Collins film Inheritance, and that movie ended up leading him to this one! I recently spoke to Marlon about his latest project and what it means to create music for a “psychological thriller,” especially if you’re trying not to foreshadow the plot twists.
Brittany Frederick: How did you become attached to the film? Is it similar to actors where you have to audition, or is there a specific way composers find their projects?
Marlon Espino: Each project is different. Anything from having an agent reach out and possibly having to demo and compete against other composers, to production reaching out to you directly, to being friends with certain people that maybe temp the score with some of your work. It’s all over the place.
As far as Every Breath You Take, I collaborated with director Vaughn Stein and Richard Barton Lewis on Inheritance. I got a call from Richard saying Vaughn asked for me and they’d love if I’d come on and be part of the creative team for this one. I was thrilled to collaborate with Vaughn again; he is a brilliant, amazing storyteller, and fantastic to collaborate with.
BF: When you’re working on two films with the same people, especially in the same genre, does that impact your work at all?
ME: These two films are in the same genre, but the stories are very different. The first film Inheritance is a thriller with mystery, surprises and reveals surrounding the nature of legacy, the conceptual significance of a family’s name, and money. Every Breath You Take, while also a thriller with surprises, reveals and betrayal, is about a family who, after tragedy, isolate themselves and live their lives separately in the same home.
Vaughn and I discussed his vision of incorporating themes of grief and tragedy. I tried to approach the score in a way that honors each character’s story and journey. While both films are in the same genre, they each had their unique challenges, spirit, feelings, exploration, and atmosphere.
BF: Your career didn’t start in the thriller genre, but now you’ve done two of them in short order. Have you found a new strength here?
ME: I love thrillers. it’s one of my favorite genres. Thrillers tend to cross genres, lending more creative freedom [for the composer]—which can involve creating new sounds, taking risks, creating sonic landscapes that are unique and fresh. Thrillers are exciting to compose music for, because they surprise and provoke intense emotions from the audience.
BF: In this particular film, what was your favorite portion to score? What should we be listening closely to?
ME: The moment I really loved scoring was Grace’s theme. My family, like so many others especially in the past year or so, experienced loss. Grace’s character, played by Michelle Monaghan—who is amazing—is a grieving mother trying to navigate through loss and tragedy. I felt a connection with Grace and her grief, which made writing her theme feel authentic and real.
BF: You have to listen to these cues over and over again throughout the creative process. Does that create any kind of emotional connection or reaction in you, when the music is designed to be sad or particularly intense?
ME: It does. I was working on some of the grief cues and noticed the effect it had on my mood and state of mind. When working sometimes 14 hours a day, which can be every day, lasting for months, it can be hard to avoid. But also there was a therapeutic quality to the process. Like I said before, my family has experienced loss in the last year or so; being able to connect to the characters in the film through music was healing in a way.
BF: What comes next for you? Or what would you like to see come next?
ME: Right now, I am working with the master Mark Mancina on an American neo-Western drama based on a novel, with hopefully more projects in the works. While the past year or so has been very challenging and surreal I’m always in the place of wanting to try new things, and push my music into new, fresh places. Music is so powerful; it can be an escape, elicit memories of better times, give hope, or comfort, which is a gift so many of us need right now.
Every Breath You Take is available through video on demand platforms now.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.