Saban Films released Assassin in select theaters and on VOD last month. The science fiction action film stars Nomzamo Mbatha, Dominic Purcell and Bruce Willis, and was directed by Jesse Atlas, Based on Atlas and Aaron Wolfe’s short film Let Them Die Like Lovers, the feature is centered around a futuristic microchip technology that enables the mind of an agent to inhabit the body of another person. That person can then carry out covert, deadly missions.
Los Angeles-based composer Mark Tewarson (pictured, below) created a pulsing score for the film. Tewarson’s credits include the score for the HBO documentary Momentum Generation, which was nominated for a sports Emmy for outstanding musical direction. He also worked on the documentary about NBA star George Gervin, titled
Iceman. Here, he shares some insight into his work on
Mark, how did you get involved in Assassin, and what drew you to the project?
“I scored the short version of this film, entitled Die Like Lovers, in 2017. The director, Jesse Atlas, and I had met a few years earlier, and had become fast friends. We shared a taste for sci-fi and narrative, and we always had good chats about movies and books. I liked the story and vibe of this film from the very early days. It was a total joy to score!”
What was the timeline to create the music?
“I think it was about three months total.”
What exactly were the musical needs of the film?
“The film seemed to need just a couple themes, a healthy dose of ambience and atmosphere, and a touch of action.”
Can you detail some of the gear you use for recording?
“I created a lot of the sounds with my modular synthesizer and my tape delay units (Echoplex) — two of my favorite toys! Modular synths lend themselves to experimentation, happy accidents and spur of the moment action, which is what makes them so fun to use, in my opinion. For the pounding, action drums, I ended up using a fair amount of my son’s kiddie drum set toms, which was pretty funny!”
What conversations did you have with the director regarding the sound for the project?
“At the very start, I played him my synth sounds versus some more traditional scoring cues, and he definitely preferred the synth stuff. That really helped me get started down the sonic road for the film. After that was established, most of our conversations dealt more with storytelling elements and the emotional needs of a particular scene.”
How many cues and themes did you create, and what are their approximate lengths?
“By checking the soundtrack album, there are 31 tracks, all between about :30 and two minutes. That said, in context, some of those cues are really small chunks of much longer segments.”
Do you have a favorite theme or cue from the score?
“I think ‘Alexa’s Theme’ is the most melodic of the cues, but I also really like ‘Then Limbic System,’ and ‘Not a Date.”
In addition to your modular synthesizers, what other tools did you rely on?
“The main tools were modular synths, my viola, piano and drums. One thing I used for the first time was Tibetan singing bowls. I wanted to create the feeling of disorientation and almost an inner mind ‘hum,’ and the sound of those bowls came to mind. I think they worked well!”