Music Musings :
Film & TV
Bear McCreary: Coming Back To Earth
August 11, 2009 , 12:59 pm | By Bryan Reesman
For the last five years Bear McCreary has been in space. Deep space. As the man responsible for scoring one of the most acclaimed television series in many years (yes, the new Battlestar Galactica), and one of the most heralded sci-fi shows ever, his expansive, cinematic work has been heard by millions of fans worldwide. Even more impressive, though, is their adoration and devotion to him. Most composers are heard not seen, but his followers know exactly what he looks like. They avidly read his blog, interface with him and recently fêted him at Comic-Con and the Southern California concerts where he and the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra played the show’s music live to enraptured audiences.
As all BSG fans know, the epic series wrapped up on Earth, and while he is going back to the stars for the new Battlestar spin-off Caprica, McCreary will be more grounded on that planet. His other new television work will keep him planted on Earth, much like his recent Sarah Connor Chronicles gig. Between the new NBC medical procedural Trauma and the Fox action adventure Human Target, plus a possible return for the fourth season of Syfy’s wacky inventor show Eureka, McCreary will be exploring more terrestial adventures, although they will be as equally fantastic as the interstellar ones he has been used to scoring. And given his work in the Rest Stop and Wrong Turn franchises, who knows what other horror film work may come his way as well.
When he had a moment to catch his breath from all of his frenzied activity, McCreary sat down to answer some questions for A.D.D. As with past interviews I have done with him (for Mix Magazine and for Grammy.com), Bear proved to be ever thoughtful and engaging.
The music for Caprica is more subdued and airy than much of your Battlestar Galactica work. What have been the new challenges presented to you with this show, both in maintaining sonic continuity with its parent series and branching out in new directions?
I can’t say it’s been a challenge as much as a release. Caprica is much more restrained, lyrical and classical. I have stripped away much of the tribal, primitive and divine elements from the Galactica score, and used more chamber orchestra and [classical] woodwinds than I ever did on BSG. After all, the events of this series take place in an entirely different environment. Caprica City is a familiar society at its most decadent and opulent peak, hardly a rag-tag fleet of refugees struggling for resources. The audience knows that doomsday looms on the horizon for the citizens of Caprica City, but the characters themselves do not. However, there are subtle hints of the ethnic percussion and soloists that defined Galactica. I hope the result is a score that stands on its own, but resonates even more deeply with Battlestar fans who catch all the references. One scene, in particular, features the sole melodic connection to BSG, and it’s a real tearjerker.
What was it like to be mobbed fans at Comic-Con and to be treated like a rock star?
It was pretty surreal. I couldn’t take ten steps in San Diego that week without being asked to sign photos or have my picture taken. Then to be up there on stage with the screaming audience out there, and being able to make music with them… It was an experience I’ll never forget.
How did it feel to perform your music with the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra live in front of a large audience?
It was interesting, especially because it wasn’t really a symphony orchestra. It was more like a huge rock band. It was hot, sweaty, loud and out of control. The audience lost their voices from screaming so hard. That doesn’t happen at the symphony! And yet, despite all that, when I turned to the concert grand to play my introspective classical-inspired compositions, the audience silenced and soaked in every note. When the piano pieces ended, they burst back into screaming applause. I’ve never seen an audience so into the music. And one of the other highlights of our concerts in San Diego last month was having about half the cast show up on stage. We had our official MCs, Edward James Olmos and Grace Park, but were also joined by executive producer David Eick, director Michael Nankin and actors Michael Hogan, James Callis, Tahmoh Penikett, Richard Hatch, Michael Trucco, Michelle Forbes and Nicki Clyne. They had all turned up to see the concert and support the musicians.
What was it like to play a piano duet with Katee Sackhoff? How accomplished of a musician is she?
She’s the first to admit that she hasn’t taken any piano lessons in a long time. However, she is a very musical person, and quite a good singer, although we didn’t get her singing at all this time. Her musical instincts are spot on, and it was a lot of fun to have her join the band.
Beyond Edward James Olmos, who seems to adore you, do you have other well-known Hollywood fans?
Sure, I have lots of well-known friends.
The BSG family seems pretty close knit. Do you think you will all stay in touch?
Absolutely, we will all stay in touch. We try to get together as often as possible. And the transition to post-BSG life was made a little easier because Galactica cast and crew are involved in nearly every project I’m working on. The Human Target pilot featured Tricia Helfer and Donnelly Rhodes, Trauma is directed by [Caprica producer] Jeff Reiner, and of course Caprica itself is written, produced and directed by many of the same people [from BSG]. So, I still get to work with some of them on a regular basis, which helps.
What are you going to miss most about scoring Battlestar?
Ironically, the thing I will miss the most is also the thing I’m most glad to have escaped: the familiarity and comfort. The BSG themes had become second nature to me. I’d been living with them for five years, and the musical universe had become a safe place for me. I could look at a scene, and instantly know which character themes I’d want to use and how they were going to be set. I will miss that level of comfort, however, I’m also thankful that I’m moving on to other projects that will push me into new creative directions.
Will you be doing any more work on Eureka?
We just got the pick up for Season 4, and I have not yet been asked to return, which is totally normal. Usually the composer’s contract is the last to be renewed. I’m certainly hopeful that I’ll get to come back and keep scoring. It’s an incredibly fun series.
Were you disappointed when The Sarah Connor Chronicles was canceled?
It was an intensely satisfying show to work on, and I’m very disappointed that I can no longer look forward to watching the adventures of John, Sarah, Cameron (or Allison?) and Derek (or other Derek?). The series’ cliffhanger really mixed things up, and [producer/writer] Josh Friedman had already told me some of the planned events for Season 3. It would have been awesome. As for my music, its hard to say where it would have gone, but my guess is that it would have become even darker and more sinister in Season 3. I would have loved to move forward with the series, but I’m very proud of the work we all did in our season and a half. The soundtrack CD we put out is also really solid, and I think rivals the BSG discs, but with a completely different tonality.
You are working on the forthcoming NBC series Trauma, which is like ER in the field. What has it been like to shift from a major cable show to a major network show where audience numbers and expectations run higher?
Terminator was really my first big network show, so I’m used to the deadlines, expectations and pressure. Honestly, they’re no different than on Syfy Channel shows, just on a larger scale. However, studio interference can be a major creativity-killer. Thankfully, the executives and producers involved in Trauma have an enormous amount of faith in me and are giving me incredible creative freedom to create the sound of this show. So far, I’m really enjoying it and not experiencing any additional stresses.
What are you learning working on Trauma? How does it compare with your other new network series Human Target?
The two series are apples and oranges. Trauma is written for a sweaty and dirty rhythm section and has a very rock and roll sensibility. Human Target, on the other hand, is an orchestral series, and bursts out of the gate with the kind of polished and bombastic orchestral score that people generally don’t associate with my name.
How did scoring the video game Dark Void differ from your film and television work?
At first, it was very different. I had trouble wrapping my brain around the idea of adaptive music. However, once I got past that initial creative block, I found the experience incredibly liberating. I let my imagination run absolutely wild, and I think it shows in the score. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had writing music since I was in high school. With any luck, the soundtrack album will be that much fun to listen to.
You have worked with recording engineer, mixer and musician Steve Kaplan since day one. How is your relationship evolving lately?
Working with Steve has been one of the great joys of being in the business. He’s a remarkable artist and technician who helps shape my music and gives it a unique sound. Our working relationship is constantly evolving as I take on more and more projects and we both have to find a way to get everything done.
Your blog has attracted many avid readers. Are you surprised by its popularity?
Honestly yes, I am quite surprised. I thought that the audience for a musically detailed TV scoring blog would be quite small. The more technical I get about the nuts and bolts of my job, the more people seem to flock to the blog. And its had a positive impact on how I write music, because I start thinking about what all the fans will think when they hear it. I hope to continue blogging even though BSG is over.
When he’s not composing or performing, what does Bear McCreary like to do with his time?
In all seriousness, I can say very safely that there has not been a time since 2003 that I have not been composing or performing. It’s been a busy few years. However, when I can steal a few minutes here and there, I like to catch movies or play video games.
What is one of the video games you’ve recently played? Any genre preferences?
It took me about a year to finally get around to playing Grand Theft Auto IV, and it’s pretty amazing. I’ve completed the story line and I still can’t put it down, so now I’m going back and finishing all the little sub-missions. Very addictive.
What are some goals that you’d like to achieve in the future?
I’d like to take a week off. I’d also love to take the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra on tour to multiple cities. We just set up our website and are generating fan support for just such a venture.
What do you think your fans would be surprised to learn about you?
I must confess that my blog is pretty brutally honest. There’s nothing too interesting about me that fans don’t already know, or can’t find out by looking at my blog. But I’ll think of something for you… How’s this? My fans don’t know that when I was a kid the only music I liked to play on the piano was ragtime. I devoured works by Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin. I’m not sure how I ended up from there to orchestra and taiko drums.
And finally, I have to ask: Why did your parents choose the name Bear?
They were hippies.