SAS: Red Notice is an action-packed thriller which was directed by Magnus Martens. The story is based on the famous novel of Andy McNab. The film’s soundtrack is skillfully done by Emmy & IFMCA nominated composer Benji Merrison.
Speaking of the soundtrack, action-thrillers are made better with the right score. The famous author, Hans Christian Andersen once said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” This is certainly true in the world of movies and even TV series. The best way to set up the atmosphere, tone, and intention of a scene is through a soundtrack. The audience can feel the tone and mood of what is happening in a scene without using words or VFX to convey the emotion.
A lot of movies rely heavily on soundtracks. One of the genres that need the help of a great soundtrack to assist the tone of the film is the action and thriller genre. An example is the new action-thriller movie SAS: Red Notice. Thriller movies rely on action, great directorial delivery, the mood-setting, pacing, and acting. However, there is one key element that some people might miss: the film’s soundtrack.
In fact on YouTube, there are millions of views on videos that are just plain music, no lyrics, just simple epic music. People even comment on how listening to soundtracks gave them amazing images and empowered their creative thinking.
Composing a film score is surely a daunting task. Fortunately, in an exclusive interview with the Emmy-nominated film composer of SAS: Red Notice, Merrison gave his insights on how he has entered the industry, his process in developing the film’s score, and his advice for people aspiring to become a film composer.
Benji Merrison has scored hundreds of projects for films, television, and various live events. Before all his accomplishments, Merrison has always been interested in music at an early age. He was interested in learning how sound was made and various things that influenced his passion for music. He went to university and received a Master’s Degree in Music Technology. From then on, he was able to make use of his passion and turn it into a career.
Merrison shared that he loved classical music and electronic music growing up. He had a wide range of influences. He prefers music without words which led him more to pivot towards the soundtrack genre.
One of Merrison’s greatest assets when composing a film’s score is his ability to improvise and uses his skill as a visual composer. As a visual composer, he gets inspired by the picture that he sees. By simply looking at the picture, he can hear the music that needs to be written.
Every composer has their own ways of composing their music but Merrison has mastered his craft so well that he is able to improvise. He will write some chord structure but improvise all the individual lines such as the clarinet and the flute.
The SAS: Red Notice composer revealed that being a composer is not just about the composition of music. He said,
“I think, you have to remember that the role of the composer has so many hats. You’ve got to be a diplomat, you’ve got to be a producer, you’ve got to be an accountant, you’ve got to be a project manager, you’ve got to be a sort of confidant and a friend to people. I suppose that for me is the real challenge, combining all those skills into one human being.”
This proves that being a composer in the film industry would require being skilled in various areas, not just in music. He added,
“In a way, if it was just the composition side, it would be an easier job. But it’s all those other roles that you have to have as a modern-day composer that make it a real challenge. But it’s not a challenge that I find particularly. I find it fun but it can be hard work juggling all those different roles and wearing all those different hats in one project.”
Merrison stated that working on the SAS: Red Notice’s score was a collaboration with the director. They also needed to have a “device for the idea of psychopathy” as some of the characters are psychopaths. Merrison knew there were thematic elements he needed to address. He chose things like a chord progression or a theme. When composing for this film, he focused on a thematic standpoint.
The British composer believes that if there is any sort of impediment in developing a soundtrack for a project, it is mainly because they haven’t got the right treatment. Additionally, the difficulty may also come from not having an agreement with the director or the producers on where the music is going. He said,
“Honesty is always good in the creative process. If people are open and honest and candid about what they want and the process then there shouldn’t be any feeling that anything is hard to write for. It should look like the score writes itself. For me when I write, that’s what it should feel like.”
When asked about his advice on people who are aspiring to have a career in the industry, Merrison stated that people should just go for it. Moreso, the technical advancements in the music industry have made it easier for anyone to experiment with music and sound.
There are multiple tools that are available right now that have lowered the barrier for entry. As the experienced composer noted, having a laptop or even a phone is enough for someone to start making their music.
“Don’t think quite so hard, just trust your instincts and go for it, then good things start to happen.”
Merrison is working on several projects which include a David Attenborough series and a mystery feature which he wasn’t able to talk about. He also has a couple of features including The Beetles and their time in India, which is a stark contrast to the score he has done for SAS: Red Notice, showcasing the composer’s versatility in his line of work.