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Matthew Llewellyn Talks ‘The Murder Pact’ Score (Interview)

This Sunday, Lifetime will be airing their Edgar Allen Poe-inspired film The Murder Pact, which is an adaptation of “The Tell-tale Heart”.

The full synopsis for The Murder Pact reads:

After witnessing the accidental death of their classmate Heidi, a group of friends – four rich socialites – flee the scene, not realizing that Heidi’s roommate Lisa witnessed everything. When Lisa starts to drop hints that she knows about the “accident,” the friends decide they can’t trust her to stay quiet, and plot to kill Lisa before she rats them out, burying her body beneath the floorboards in one of their basements. Before long, though, the guilt and paranoia starts to consume them, and they become convinced that Lisa may actually be alive and looking for revenge.

The movie features an analog synth score from composer Matthew Llewellyn, who has written additional music for Far Cry 3 and John Dies At The End. He has also scored Dead Souls and Deep in the Darkness.

We caught up with Llewellyn and asked him five questions about the score to the film. You can check out our exclusive interview below.

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The Murder Pact was directed by Colin Theys and stars, Alexa Pena Vega, Beau Mirchoff, Renee Olstead, Michael J. Willett, and Sean Patrick Thomas.

The film is based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, which is a classic tale of guilt and paranoia. How did you capture those emotions and feelings for the score to ‘The Murder Pact’?

Despite being entirely electronic, this score is very thematic. I always make it a point to write themes for my scores, I feel that they are the film composer’s best tool to make story-telling stronger. Since the the film is an adaptation of “The Tell-Tale Heart”, I knew that I should incorporate a heartbeat-like sound into the score. This was the first thing I focused on and it turned out to be a little trickier than I would’ve thought. The heartbeat, which is mostly percussive, morphs throughout the score as the film progresses. Sometimes it appears as percussion, other times as a synth pulse. I felt that it was important to keep it fresh with each appearance to make sure it’s not intrusive to the audience’s experience. The heartbeat appears mostly with Lisa’s theme as she haunts each character from the afterlife. Some of the other themes you will hear in the score are Camille’s Theme, Will’s Theme, The Relationship Theme, The Remorse Theme, and Poppy’s Theme. The relationship Theme, which only appears once in the movie, strengthens the bond between Camille and Will. Will’s theme is very dark and ominous with an “arch-like” flavor to give him that villainous quality. Camille’s Theme acts like a bookend for the film appearing only at the beginning and at the end as to not give away her true motives.

I’m told that the score is all analog synths, which often have a very warm sound to them. What made you feel that this was the best approach for this film?

The analog synth sound has made a resurgence in music world in the last 5-6 years not only in pop music but in film music as well. In the film scoring world, the tide turned pretty quickly when Trent Reznor won the Oscar for “The Social Network” score. It was a very unique and fresh score; a sound that everyone clawed for after that film. The last few films that I’ve done with Colin have been purely orchestral and we didn’t really think that would be the “right” sound for this film. We went back and forth with various ideas and concepts but ultimately we asked ourselves the question, “What would these characters listen to?” That was the starting point for this score.

The main characters of ‘The Movie Pact’ are rich socialites. What role did their affluence and glamorous lifestyle have on the sound of the music?

Sonically, the score needed to mesh with their lifestyle which only enforced the idea of creating a score that you could imagine the characters listening to. The score needed to be sleek, fresh, with a hint of attitude. One of the most important elements of the score is the drive and overall tense feeling. This was achieved by utilizing synth pulses and echo-ing percussion and manipulating them in such a way that I could have a beat chugging along and then have it slowly deteriorate as the guilt of the killing of their classmate overwhelmed them.

You stated that you approached scoring the film by breaking the analog synths into “distinct electronic sections”. Tell me a bit more about these sections and their roles in creating emotion and heightening the suspense and drama of the movie?

What makes writing electronic scores especially challenging is that not only are you creating the music but you’re also creating the sound palette of which the music will be extrapolated from. I’m a very traditional composer that relies on melody and harmony so when it came to writing this score I had to first figure out what sounds I was going to use. I spent at least two weeks creating and compiling sounds that I felt would help tell the story that Colin and I wanted to tell. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it’s like throwing a bucket of paint at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s a very fluid process and the sound palette often morphed and grew the further I got into the film. In some cases I went back to cues I had already written and added sounds that I discovered days later. One electronic section that I created called “FX Glue” was comprised mostly of sounds that weren’t necessarily tonal but provided an extra layer of uneasiness and helped glue musical transitions. The most common “FX Glue” sound appears with Lisa’s Theme and almost sounds like electrical power lines swirling around your head.

The theme song features Spelles. Tell me a bit about working with her and how that collaboration came to be.

Kathryn (SPELLES) and I went to Berklee together and we met through a mutual friend around 2005-2006. I always thought she had an incredible voice so when the opportunity arose to write an original song for this film she was my first choice. Her solo work is actually quite different than “Deadly Romance” but I knew she would capture the right tone for this film. She was an absolute pleasure to work with in the studio; I like to say that she’s a “one-taker” often singing parts perfectly the first time. It was a truly collaborative process; I focused mainly on the music while she focused on the vocals and the lyrics. We sent ideas back and forth for a few weeks and then recorded the track with my good friend Bryan Morton.

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