Adam Peters interview: ‘The Dissident’ composer
“There’s no such thing as a locked picture on a documentary; it’s always a moving thing.” This is how Adam Peters, who composed the original score to the recent doc “The Dissident,” describes the frantic pace that he had to work in order to complete the score as new material was added. In our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above), one of the closest calls was in advance of the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last year. “When we were getting it ready for Sundance, there was stuff going into the movie literally the night before we were doing the final playback.”
“The Dissident” details the targeted assassination of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi ruling family in October of 2018. The doc also looks at another critic of the Saudi royal family currently living in exile, Omar Abdulaziz, as well as looking at how crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has invested in a technological army in order to manipulate social media trends in the country. The film was directed by Bryan Fogel, whose last film “Icarus” won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2018.
Trying to make sure the score didn’t get overindulgent was not a hard thing for Peters. “I have a natural aversion to melodrama,” he explains. This particularly applied to the scenes with the transcripts of the murder happening in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He views it as doing a disservice to the subjects and the story itself. “I think when people hear that kind of music, there’s a time and a place for it that it’s specifically right for, but it’s not right for this. As soon as something crosses a line and it becomes melodramatic, there’s a certain dishonesty to it.”
That attitude also helped shape how Peters composed the music that centered on Khashoggi’s relationship with his fiancée Hatice Cengiz. “I wrote a love theme but I had to make sure it was very gentle and subdued, even though I love those kind of things,” he says. He had to adapt what would have been a love theme to reflect the tragic end of their relationship, especially since Khashoggi was murdered while seeking to obtain documentation to marry Cengiz. “Their romance hadn’t even fully blossomed so I couldn’t give them a fully realized love theme. It had to be these fractured, beautiful chords with a sense of beauty but I couldn’t do it as a love story.”