René Kissien (Lex) and Peter Glotz (Pedda)03.04.2009 3:24 (9033)
After having worked as an assistant to Richard Gibbs during the post-production of the miniseries, Bear McCreary has been "Battlestar Galactica's" composer throughout all four seasons, including both telemovies. Next to many other projects, he is now contracted to score the hihgly anticipated "Battlestar" prequel "Caprica", too.
McCreary has always tried to find new ways to present his music, and to interact with those who appreciate listening to, and analyze, it the most – the fans. Almost two years ago, he started a blog dedicated to his work. Moreover, he and his colleagues have performed "Battlestar" music at several rock concerts.
Now he has taken the experience of "Battlestar's" soundtrack to another level: In early March 2009, a ballet night called "Three Faces" premiered at the local theater in Hagen, Germany. The three-part ballet's third part, aptly titled "Prelude to War", features nine sets from McCreary's "Battlestar" score. The respective choreography of the dances, however, is not modeled on the show or its story.
To assist the orchestra and the taiko drummers in preparing for the live performances of his re-arranged music, McCreary himself had been in Germany for two weeks, accompanied by his fiancée, singer Raya Yarbrough ("Lords of Kobol"). You can find out more about this project by reading his original announcement and his review of the premiere at Bear's Battlestar Blog.
A few days before the premiere, McCreary granted Caprica City an interview. Sitting in the theater for hours, we talked about "Prelude to War", his involvement with the production of "Someone to Watch Over Me", the evolution of the "Battlestar" score in general, and many other aspects of McCreary's life and work (German translation). The majority of pictures are from McCreary's blog.
The interview is divided into the following parts:
Caprica City: Hello Mr. McCreary. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. Let's start with the ballet "Three Faces", the reason for your visit here in Germany. Who had the idea of using your score for a ballet in Hagen, a city in Germany?
Bear McCreary: I was approached by the ballet, and I was immediately open for the idea. I must admit, I hadn't thought about doing a ballet. It was always my intention to write a concert suite when the series was finished. But this opportunity presented itself and it gave me a chance to start on that in advance. Obviously it couldn't be the definitive concert suite because I hadn't written all the music, I just finished writing a few weeks ago. I was very thrilled that we were able to work in a lot of season four. At least fifty percent of the ballet is new music from season four. So it does represent a lot of where we're taking the show now. And I loved the opportunity to do it.
"Prelude to War" choreographer Ricardo Fernando
Caprica City: Did you ever envision that your "Battlestar" cues (or any of your cues, for that matter) would ever be used in a ballet?
Bear McCreary: I must admit that no, I didn't. But it's not because I don't think they're fitting. It's that when I'm writing all of this pieces and I'm solely focusing on matching the picture and getting done on time, getting to the orchestra, getting to the recording session – my focus is solely on the picture. And when I'm done and putting together a soundtrack album, and I listen to this pieces again and think to myself "Hey, this is a cool piece of music", only then do I have the perspective to think about other venues for it.
We've performed live in some sort of a rock band setting in Los Angeles. This ballet is obviously taking it to a new place as well. But when I'm writing it... No, I must admit I'm definitely not envisioning these other incredible opportunities which are still unique. It's so unusual for a television score to be performed in this venue.
Caprica City: What guided you in selecting the cues for your part of this ballet, "Prelude to War"? Why are there so many pieces from season four?
Bear McCreary: To be honest with you, the main reason is that season four is my best music. When I originally pitched this ballet and I looked at my pieces and put together a 30 minute suite, it didn't have anything from season four because it wasn't written it at the time. A few months later I'd done the first half of season four until "Sometimes a Great Notion". And so much of that music was in my opinion superior to the music I had written in season one, two and three. It was heartbreaking not to include it.
And in fact I looked back at a lot of the pieces I had selected for the older version of the ballet, that I would call the "Season one, two and three"-version of the ballet. The music just wasn't as good. This is a representation of where I am now. The music of season two and three was a representation of where I was then.
Obviously, there are some great pieces from the earlier seasons. "Prelude to war" is a favourite from season two. "Passacaglia" is from season one. There's a piece in this called "Roslin and Adama" or "Wander my Friend"? I lost track because I combined them both. I think it's "Roslin and Adama". It's from season two, but it also is combined with a piece called "Admiral and Commander", which is from season three, into one suite. But for the most part, the ballet is new pieces from season four.
"Prelude to War"
Caprica City: How did you choose the titles for these cues?
Bear McCreary: The titles basically came from the cue names from which they were drawn. For example, there's a piece in here called "Among the Ruins" which is from an episode I won't spoil for your readers that haven't seen it yet. The beginning of the last ten is an episode called "Sometimes a Great Notion" and there's a sequence where people are walking among this ruined city. And I picked the title "Among the Ruins" because it is not only from that scene, but the music itself is so lonely and so dark that I thought that even if you didn't watch the show that the title sort of evoke that kind of loneliness.
"Among the Ruins"
The word "ruin" is for something that used to be great and is now just shambles and rocks. With every cue I try to draw some sort of connection to the show but also a way to bring people in that maybe don't know the show. I would love for people that aren't "Battlestar"-Fans to be able to enjoy this ballet.
Caprica City: After doing a ballet, can you imagine your music being used in any other venues?
Bear McCreary: I think anything is possible. I had this experience of doing the ballet, in combination with doing the concerts that I did in Los Angeles where we had a tremendous amount of people turn up to see live music from a television show performed in concert. You can imagine that's a hard thing to convince someone that's going to happen. Even myself I had no idea how many people would show up.
But it's very clear, the fan base has spoken that this is something people are interested in. Also, I'm very proud that, clearly, the music stands on its own. Clearly, the music can be enjoyed without watching the show at the same time. So yes, I think that everything is possible and I certainly have many ambitious plans for things to do with this music. This is not the end of "Battlestar Galactica" for me.
II. Spending half your twenties with scoring "Battlestar Galactica"
Caprica City: Moving on to a couple general questions now. Let's talk about something you mentioned recently in your blog: Your music team gave you an incredible painting for your 30th birthday. It was a portrait of you riding a steed, playing accordion...
Bear McCreary: ...and holding my baton in the air like a sword. Yes, actually my music team was brainstorming on what was the most outlandish thing they could get me for my birthday. And this was something that they all came together and decided that this would be a funny thing to present to me. Which it absolutely was.
The background of the painting is actually a parody/recreation of the painting that hung in Adama's quarters, the painting of the First Cylon War. It's extremely geeky on many levels and it's definitely going up on the studio wall. When I saw it I told them that I was already getting inspired to write a heavy metal song, that would accompany this image of me going on a musical warfare. So, maybe one of these days I write that.
Caprica City: You mentioned that you spent the latter half of your twenties scoring Battlestar. How would you characterize this journey? What did you learn?
Bear McCreary: It changed my life, profoundly. I mean, even trying to talk about it... I feel like I can't even begin to explain how much it has done for my life. Fans feel the same way when they try to explain to me what the show means to them. So you can imagine what it must be like for me.
"Battlestar" was my entrance into the professional round. I was out of school less than a year when I got the show. So, I really learned everything that I know about scoring professionally from the show. Which has done an interesting thing to me because now I'm so overprepared for other series and other projects. The things that I and my music team do on "Battlestar"... compared to other TV shows, the amount of work we put in is ludicrous. So when I go to other projects as I move forward and I tell people what I'm doing [on BSG], they think I'm kidding. That we deliver that many tracks and this is the quality of the music that we put out.
I started noticing that we were on to something when radio stations and soundtrack websites would rank my soundtrack album as album of the year. And the number two slot would be "Superman Returns" or "Pirates of the Caribbean". These are multimillion dollar scores while my score is a low cable budget. It's incredible what my music team and I are able to squeeze out of it. And the fact that people out there listen to it as real music. I don't think people listen to it and go "yeah, that's good for TV". People just enjoy it as music and it's coincidental that it is on TV.
Soundtrack CDs for "Battlestar Galactica"
So that's where I started, my starting point, and I approach everything else from that standard. "Well, that's what we do on low budget cable". My first large budget project was a video game that I just finished scoring in January. I think other television composers would have been "Oh my gosh! We're doing a full orchestra!" and for me it was nothing because we do this every week. The game designers saw what I did on the show and that's exactly what they wanted. So in many ways, I grew up fast.
To answer your question on a personal level... I've been introduced to people that I'll be close with for the rest of my live and I created a bond with people for the rest of my life. I mean, I'm here talking to two people in Germany. If I hadn't written this music we'd never met. I just predict this will happen forever and it's a huge part of my life. I think now I'm only just beginning to comprehend how different my life is now that I have "Battlestar".
Caprica City: The Hollywood Reporter called your blog a fascinating look at the process of making music for film and television and one of the best blogs in the business. We couldn't agree more. What made you starting a blog?
Bear McCreary: I don't really know, why. Well, I don't know why I did it in the beginning, but I can tell you why I do it now. The reason is that I found that there are people in the world that enjoy the nuances of what I do. They've always been there. I've always put things into my scores just because that's what's interesting for me. I'm always putting details and thematic relationships and little hidden Easter eggs into music just because that's what entertains me, it's fun for me.
When I realized there are people out there that actually want to be let in on this process, it did two things. First of all, it gave me a venue to start explaining some of the things that I've done. And people can listen for it and appreciate it. On a second level, I realized in response – once I was able to get the blog working for people to post comments – then it became interactive. It became a situation where I was able to get feedback and questions from the fans. And I realized how insightful and articulate this fanbase is.
That had an effect on me in season four, because then the details in the score, the little hidden things started getting complex. Because then I thought "Now let's see if somebody catches this". That's why towards the end these blog entries are forty pages long. There's so much to talk about, so much hidden there. Also, I want to share my personal experiences, and I know there are people out there who want to read it. So it has been a very reciprocal relationship. The readers get a lot out of it, but I also get a lot out of it by writing it.
There's a part of me that is now preserved. If I write my memoirs, when I'm 80, I wouldn't remember the last episode the same way I remember it when I wrote those entries recently. For me, they're like a journal, but they're also a way for me to interact with the fans – and also to test the fans. What can I say, I like hiding stuff and see what they catch.
A good example is in the last episode [4.17 "Someone to Watch Over Me"]. I hid a little part of one of Stu Phillips' themes from the original show, very brief. I didn't think anybody would recognise it, because it was just a thrown-in little tune. And actually, as you can see in the blog, a lot of thought went into these eight or ten notes. I worked the whole afternoon on it. I got Stu on the phone, he faxed me scores and I send it back for his approval. It was a huge process. I wanted to make sure that I got it right, because if we get it right, this percentage of the fanbase is going to be really excited about it and for me that's fun. It brings people in more. So the blog became something I never thought I would do. Now it's an integral part of my experience as a composer. I'm certain I'll keep it up after "Battlestar".
Caprica City: You are using a lot of instruments that most people never heard of. How do you know all those exotic instruments? And how does that work, anyway? When you think about using things like biwa, shamisen and tsuzumi... are there some kind of Yellow Pages with people who know how to play these instruments?
Bear McCreary: It has been a long progression. It is almost like a secondary degree in world instruments. The way I learn is by working with people who know the instruments. What I usually do is, I bring the person in after a lot of phone conversations.
Let me give you an example. Chris Bleth plays the duduk and the bansuri. He plays a million instruments but the duduk and the bansuri are the two most important melodic instruments on "Battlestar". When I met him, it was for the first session of "Battlestar". He and I had spoken on the phone. I told him what I wanted to use and I found out vaguely what the ranges are. And I wrote a bunch of music for him, and that began a long relationship. He plays on everything that I do.
Chris Bleth playing the duduk
And Chris, if you listen to this, I have to point this out that Chris is such a phenomenal player. I actually haven't written something he hasn't found a way to make it work yet. I know that I wrote pieces that if I put them in front of a traditional duduk player they would laugh and say that that's impossible. You know, I do work with some incredible talented musicians.
As "Battlestar" went on and I was working with Chris regularly, and I was working with M. B. Gordy on the percussion and we brought in taiko drums and a lot of unusual percussion instruments, I grew restless, creatively, and I wanted to bring in more instruments. So then we brought in bagpipes. And then in season three I brought in the erhu and yianilli tanbur. People call the erhu the Chinese violin, although it sounds quite different. Those were the new instruments in season three. In season four, you mentioned the shamisen, the biwa and the tsuzumi.
I've been listening to a lot of Japanese music because I was looking for taiko drum patterns. A good listener can actually tell what season I had done my research. The taiko writing between season two and season three... I admit I did my research in the beginning but season three is when I decided "Okay, let's do this right". If you listen to "Prelude to War" from season two there are taikos present but they're essentially in a very western rhythm. It's cool, but a rock band could play that rhythm and it would still work. And then in "Storming New Caprica" in season three and "Fight Night" [from "Unfinished Business"] in particular, to me that sounded much more authentically Japanese. The reason is because I really wanted to become more authentic.
In the process of doing that research I discovered the shamisen and the biwa, Japanese string instruments that I just love the sound of. I wanted to find a way to integrate them in "Battlestar" and I fortunately found a couple of guys that could play those instruments. The challenge on "Battlestar" was to take all those weird instruments and put them together in a way that makes sense.
It's common to hear a bagpipe in a score. The guy who played for me, he also played in "Braveheart" and he played the penny whistle in "Titanic". He's not used to play with a guy with a duduk and a taiko drum ensemble and a rock band, while I'm playing harmonium. That has become the "Battlestar" sound. These instruments that shouldn't go together are all playing at the same time.
It's been an incredible experience for me and I don't want to say that I'm an expert on all these instruments because the players are the ones who make it happen. But I have become very familiar with them and I'm very comfortable writing with them at this point. In many ways, I integrated them back into the orchestra in ways that I think worked really well. Eventually I used them on other projects as well.
Caprica City: Do you think these instruments have become part of your personal style?
Bear McCreary: Personal style? No. But these musicians, absolutely. These are the same guys that play on the video game scores that I've done. They played on "Caprica" and on "Terminator". They're all so versatile that they can play so many different styles. So in many ways, they're like my band. With these guys I know what I'm getting. So when I say personal style, it is not to imply that my other projects sound "world musically" like "Battlestar". When you hear "Caprica" in a few months, you'll realize it sounds nothing like "Battlestar", even with the same three or four main guys. But they're definitely my musical family, and I will always continue to use them.
III. BSG 4.17 "Someone to Watch Over Me"
Caprica City: Let's talk about "Someone to Watch Over Me". This is a very special episode, not only for "Battlestar Galactica", but obviously for you, too. It was characterised by a very unusual degree of involvement for the composer. And judging from your blog, it was a lot of work. Do you think something like that can or will be done again anytime soon?
Slick and Kara in "Someone to Watch Over Me"
Bear McCreary: It certainly can be done again. I don't know if I'm going to be involved in something like this again, maybe. It'll be nice, but this was a combination of many different people that got to know each other very well. It started with David [Weddle] and Bradley [Thompson], the writers. They and I had become quite close as we worked together. Work together as in: I would write music for the episode, and they would come and listen to it, and they listen to it while they're writing in some cases. But technically, when I say work together, the writing and the scoring are usually months, if not a year apart in the process. We were friends on mainly a casual, professional level.
With their final script ["Someone to Watch Over Me"], however, they had this idea to incorporate music, and because they knew me they decided to try something different. I don't think that would have happened if they didn't know me. I think then they would have approached the episode differently and, honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't include the music at all. It'll take an unusual amount of familiarity with your writing staff for something like that to happen again.
When they did speak to me, as I mentioned in my blog, we weren't just talking about the technicality of the performance. We also talked about the intimate details of what it's like to write music. And not the glamorous side of it, there is no glamorous side. And I was quite frank with them. I wouldn't have been if I didn't really know them. I was telling them details of my creative life that up until my blog went online were quite secret. That added an authenticity to it. On top of that, even director Michael Nankin and I had worked together a couple of times with Bradley and David, so the four of us really collaborated very early on. By the time cameras were rolling we were all very involved in this. It was an extraordinary experience.
And the music in the story… It is not just a story about two people that meet, and one of them happens to play the piano. The music itself is woven into the story. That won't happen again. I mean, I can't think of a movie or a television show where musical ideas that were in the score, for the audience only, seep into the world of the characters. I mean, by the end of this episode we have characters in the show hearing a familiar music that we as the audience have been hearing in our universe.
That is extraordinary and there's something coming very soon that takes us to an even crazier level: I can say safely that my music is involved in the finale of the show in ways that blew me away. I can't wait for you guys to see it. We're not yet finished with the music becoming part of this universe. That part of it is incredibly unusual and I doubt I'll do anything exactly like that again. But I certainly hope to work with David, Bradley, Michael [Nankin], Ron Moore and everyone again.
Bradley Thompson and David Weddle
I can't stress enough, it is because it was the last season, the fourth season. That wouldn't have happened in season one. There's a reason it happened now. But we need to put it into perspective. Even at the ending of season three, Ron wrote into his script that they hear this song and it draws them down the hallway and they're hearing it in the ship. And then is this crazy reveal. But back then, I didn't find out about this until it was shot. I never got a phone call about that. I'm not saying that I'm sad, it just didn't occur to anybody.
And it was really when the editor was putting the cut together and said "Hey, I need this 'All Along the Watchtower" thing" – and I was "WHAT?!? What are you talking about? That's ridiculous!". So it was really in season four when people on the show realized "Hey, we can call Bear? Okay!". And that's when I started to get phone calls, e.g. for "Gaeta's Lament" in episode nine. That time it was from the set. It wasn't at the script level, but on the set. Now it's before the first draft that the people go "Oh, let's call Bear". That's funny, and it's an unusual thing for a composer to be involved.
Raya Yarbrough: It was amazing during his process working on that [the music for "Someone to Watch Over Me"]. He was up in Vancouver and pretty much every day we spoke over Skype. And so I heard this piece develop, day by day.
Bear McCreary: Yeah, I had this little keyboard set up next to the laptop.
Raya Yarbrough: He played this amazing music and I saw the movements over Skype. I said "Oh, sounds great!". It sounded wonderful over Skype, so I knew that in real life it would sound good.
Bear McCreary: It was incredible writing "Battlestar" music on the set. Some of that I actually wrote in the Cylon base ship when I had the time. That was so inspiring, oh my god. Just being there.
Raya Yarbrough: It was cool because every day I could hear more of this music develop. I felt like I was in the inside, like in the "In Club".
Bear McCreary: She was! I mean, she didn't know the scripts. But I said "You're going to see somebody playing it". It was very exciting.
Raya Yarbrough: And I screencapped you during this [mocks his appearance on Skype] and said I'll send this to a lot of people. But I didn't.
Bear McCreary: Yeah, I was very excited at Skype. That one time, a person on my blog meant "Oh man, we'd love to see a Bear studio cam" and I was like "Dude, you have no idea how boring that would be". It would be just me sitting on my computer. You could watch it in fast forward with the sun go round. My hands would be moving fast but it would still be me sitting there like doing nothing.
Caprica City: Have you spent a lot of time on the "Battlestar" set on other occasions?
Bear McCreary: No, like I said, the composer is never that involved. There's a lot of great stuff on TV, I don't mean to say otherwise, but I think the vast majority people writing television music are working under very different condition. The paycheck they're getting is so small it barely covers the amount of time they spend writing. So the idea that the composer would spend his own personal time talking to the writers, going on set [is rather outlandish]. I mean, a lot of guys write five or six shows. Well, I know a lot of guys working on TV that do great work and I don't want to generalize. But I think it's very rare that's done like on "Battlestar".
And in this case, "Somone to Watch Over Me" was the first episode that I was working on where I had to be on set. I mean, I visited the set a couple of times before that. I grew up near Vancouver, in Bellingham, Washington, so I would swing by and visit. But most people didn't know who I was [back then] and I just hung around in the background. And also, early on a lot of people hadn't even seen the show yet. The cast, the cinematographer, they don't hear what I'm doing on the set.
Let me anecdotally spin it this way: There are actors I met on the set on my first visit in season two that haven't watched the show or haven't seen episodes like "Kobol's Last Gleaming", episodes where the music did something. So I've been introduced to them with "Oh, this is Bear, he does the music". Well, you could have said them "Oh, that's the guy who is giving you a ride home tonight". There was nothing there between us. A few seasons later, after they heard the music, they said "Bear! Oh my god, Bear! I'm so glad you're here. That piece you wrote, 'All Along The Watchtower'!". It was totally different.
It is interesting that there is a separation between the people on set and the people in post-production. In many ways, we're all part of the same machine, but on different parts of the journey. So this episode, "Someone to Watch Over Me" was totally unusual because it connected these two, and it gave everybody on set not only a chance to meet me but also to see me work. I was on set playing the music, helping the performances. People can hear, while they're shooting, the music I put in there in the end. That's pretty unusual.
Michael Hogan and Edward James Olmos
Caprica City: Can you imagine that some day composers move closer to the production in mainstream television?
Bear McCreary: Honestly, I don't think so. The main reason is because I don't think it's necessary for most television. The reason I was on set is that this script was so musical oriented. It would be better for television if composers were given the chance [to be involved earlier] and certainly, creatively it's the way to go. And as I say to every filmmaker I ever meet: "Hire the composer immediately. As soon as you know you're shooting, hire the composer!" But on big studio films, that rarely happens. Most of the time, the composer is hired right when the edit is coming together.
The reason that's bad is because when you're writing, you only have a couple of weeks. So your first idea... That's your idea. You don't have time to think about it. In television, the turnaround is incredibly fast. So for this episode, the fact that I got so much to write for it on set, and I got to write it months in advance, is very special. And while I was working on this episode, I knew it was coming, it was always on the back of my mind that we're going to do this episode.
When I sat down to do it, I was totally prepared. It was a totally different composition experience that one were I watch the episode on Monday and we're recording on Friday. I do hope to do that more in the future. The filmmakers and I became very close. Every time I work with a film maker, the next thing they say is "My next movie, as soon as I get the script I'm calling you". I always feel like that at least I can do some good out there if I can encourage the film makers to do that more often.
One of my favorite stories is this: I used to work with Elmer Bernstein, who is one of the greatest film composers of all time. I worked for him for about seven or eight years. He told me a story where he was working with Martin Scorsese on "The Age of Innocence". Elmer wanted to do a temp score for the film (the temp score is when editors take music from other soundtracks to create a kind of temporary soundtrack). Martin [Scorsese] said "Well, let us just record the temp score, like a practice run. No pressure." And what Martin Scorsese wants, that's what he gets. They went to Ireland to record the temp score with an orchestra.
When I heard that I thought, that's the way to do it. And in many ways, that's what I got to do on "Someone to Watch Over Me". On set, I wrote a practice score. I played around with the themes, worked with the directors, the writers and the producers. And in the end, they went back to the temp score I made, played around with it and gave it back to me and gave me their ideas and said what they felt was missing. We created this thing totally from scratch. There was never any temp music in this episode, no other composer's music ever touched this episode. [My music] wasn't entirely original, of course, because obviously I'm not writing in a void. I'm influenced by Ravel, Gershwin or even Scott Joplin. But all the music that was brought into this episode came from us. It was a very genuine process, and for me, this episode is the model to which all my other experiences should be shaped.
Alessandro Juliani and James Callis
Caprica City: I hope all this effort put into this episode will be recognized by a certain award ceremony.
Bear McCreary: I'm not holding my breath, but yes, it would be nice. With respect to all those awards, I often put myself into the head space that I'm in good company. When you're on a show like this, and people like Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell and Michael Rymer aren't getting nominations... I think I'm in good company. I think there's a bias out there against a show that takes place on a space ship. I think if it didn't take place on a space ship, it would be very different.
But also, at the same time, I really don't think about it. I mean, this episode is its own reward in many ways. It's not really on my mind. Besides, it's almost like there's not even a category for what I did for this episode. It's so unusual.
Raya Yarbrough: Few great things were recognized in their own time, unfortunately.
Bear McCreary: Well, the fans recognize it, and actually a lot of critics, too. I think our show being on a space ship, to a certain amount of mainstream viewers and also some very small amount of press, that's hard to get by. People think "You want me to take that seriously? It takes place on a space ship!"
I had a friend, actually several people, who told me over the years "Oh my god, have you seen the show 'West Wing'?". I said "yeah, that's a great show. And if you like that, there's a lot of political intrigues on 'Battlestar'...". And he interrupted me and said "Yeah, but 'Battlestar' takes place on a space ship, right?". I just thought to myself something is just not connecting here. And then one by one over the years my friends came back and went "Why didn't you tell me 'Battlestar' was so good? Oh my god!" It's funny.
"Battlestar" is a show that is going to be relevant for a long time. In many ways, people compare it to "Star Trek". And I think, hope and believe that like "Star Trek", it will be talked about and relevant for forty years. I mean that's an incredible milestone. But I think it will be for different reasons. It won't survive for the same reason as "Star Trek". It got reinvented so many times, that the original show itself was able to got continually sort of reborn and rediscovered. But I think that our show, I mean regardless of "Caprica" and maybe other spin-offs, will be talked about as something that is relevant in thirty or forty years.
I know that's ambitious and maybe a little egotistical of me to guess. But I think that's the case and I really believe that. I think it's something people are going to discover. The fanbase is only going to grow as the show ends. And it ends on a real high note, so that everyone is going to walk away from it telling people for years that they got to see it.
Caprica City: I only can Imagine how great it must be to be part of a show like this. One last question about "Someone to Watch Over me": You talked about how you were considered as an actor, as the piano player. Did you ever thought about that yourself?
Bear McCreary: I did, of course, because when they first came to me, all they said was they needed some piano music, and Kara is going to meet a charismatic piano player in the bar. And I thought, hey, I can do that! I can play piano and be moderately charismatic. I had no idea at the time and, of course, I was kind of joking.
It was Michael Nankin who actually thought "Hey, why don't we have Bear audition?". It was an idea in the early stages bevore the character really [was fleshed out]... It obviously required an incredibly dramatic performance, far beyond of what I'm capable of. As I mentioned in my blog, anyone who've seen my little documentary where all I had to do is play myself, knows that I'm not even convincingly doing that role, let alone anything else. But it was a lot of fun. As the role expanded it was quite clear that they needed a real actor to do it. But I still wanted to audition anyway.
Also, as I was on set I got to make a little on screen cameo. It ended up in the previous episode and that was fun. The highlight of my acting career for all ages, I'm sure.
Cameo in "Deadlock"
Caprica City: Is there any particular experience that you remember about your last day on set?
Bear McCreary: Well, my last day on set was the day that we shot the scene with the little girl – Kara's dream with the little girl playing piano. That was the last thing we shot. I didn't go back after that. Keep in mind, at the time they shot the finale, I had to go back [to L.A.] and start scoring "Sometimes a Great Notion". That's one of the reasons why I almost never go to the set.
I did go back for the wrap party, after the end of the production of the last episode. Even that was an odd experience, very emotional. But, as many of the cast members have agreed when we talked about it, the wrap party was not very emotionally satisfying because it wasn't the end of anything. A bunch of them were still coming back to shoot "The Plan", the straight-to-DVD movie that's coming out sometime after I score it. I have no idea when that is. And they were also shooting the webisodes.
Also, post-production was just getting started for the back end of season four. When I went to the wrap party, I had ten or eleven hours [of scoring] to do and everybody was saying to each other "Goodbye, see you next week". So it really wasn't the end. That's the weird thing about the television process. There's never a solid end. It sort of fizzles away.
And this show has been particularly difficult. There was the wrap party when the production ended. There was the weekend when I wrote my last cue, which was the weekend of the 14th and 15th February, a big weekend for me. But even then it wasn't over. I was still going to the recording, and I recorded my last cue with the orchestra and put my baton down. And then there are still the mixes. When mixes are done, which will happen in a few days "We mixed our last cue!". Then we deliver the last episode, now it's time for the party! And then it's going to air, it's going to come out on DVD. When does it end? You know, it never ends. That's the exciting thing about it.
It was odd, when production ended, knowing it was really coming to an end, it was dawning on me. But at the same time I was still daunted by the amount of work I had. It certainly did not feel like coming to the end of this thing, looking at the last ten episodes I had to do, including this huge piano episode that was coming up. I was in stress-land, for sure.
Caprica City: You mentioned the kind of stress you're having while writing the scores in your blog, and it became part of the piano player's character.
Bear McCreary: Yeah, you know, all of my personal insecurities about music ended up on screen. Everything that this piano player was saying about music came from me. Even the conversation with Kara about being lost where he said "sometimes being lost is where you have to be", came from this long discussion I had with David Weddle. I don't think I pointed this out particularly in my blog.
I was talking to him about how I always get when I'm artistically frustrated, I always tried to remember that. Usually, when I spend four or five days in limbo and I just couldn't come over with ideas, I had faith that it would pay off in the end. And that on the fifth day, I write something that will be better than if I had written it in just one day. Like the four days of misery that came before were worth it. It influences the final composition.
When we started talking, he said we wanted to have a way for him to offer some advice to Kara. We wanted it to be kind of musical, in his musical experiences, some words of wisdom about her predicament, which is obviously quite unusual. And that came from those conversations, and as I said before these are things I hadn't talked publicly about before. I certainly talked with my bosses about this.
And I even said to David that I'm nervous telling him that I'm insecure about writing his score. He of course was very understanding and said this is what he's going through all the time. But it was a stretch for me. In my mind I had to get over this, that I had to admit this to one of the producers of the show, that you're having trouble writing the cues. That's not something that I've ever done before. And I have to admit, I knew that this is what he wanted, what would help him to write this episode.
Caprica City: Someone should have documented how this special episode came together.
Bear McCreary: We were kicking ourselves afterwards about not getting more footage about that. But to be honest, it was such a challenging experience. There were so many, some of the best conversations with David Weddle just popped up in the middle of the night. He would phone me then, there was never like a formal time to kind of sit down and document all that stuff. I really regret not getting more documentation on it. But that's also why I did the blog. I wrote it for myself as much as for anyone else.
IV. Other projects, and final questions
Caprica City: Okay, we pressed you enough about that particular episode. Let's talk about your other projects. In "Battlestar", "Eureka" and "Terminator", you had to continue the work of other composers. Richard Gibbs on "Battlestar", Mutato Muzika and Mark Mothersbaugh on "Eureka", and Brad Fiedel, who created the music for the original "Terminator" score. How do you manage to make your own style heard while staying faithful to the original?
Bear McCreary: That's an interesting question because in some situations I'm paying homage to what came before and in some situations I'm completely starting fresh. On "Battlestar", I was continuing the sound that Richard Gibbs and I created. Richard wrote all the themes, and I was involved in the percussion writing in the mini series, as his assistant. But we were completely avoiding Stu Phillips' sound from the original "Galactica" quite intentionally.
Shirley Manson ("Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles")
On "Eureka" I completely ignored everything from the first season. The reason I was brought in at second season was to create something original and to put my stamp on that show. With "Terminator" it's the situation where I wanted to preserve Brad Fiedel's scores. I wanted it to sound like those films, the first two films. And that was what the producers wanted, to show that it continues on "Terminator 2". And I grew up adoring those soundtracks.
I knew that I wanted to use those scores as a starting point. But I also really added my own personal touch to that soundtrack. These scores sounds quite different that the original movies. It has been an interesting challenge to deal with previous music. Sometimes it means to ignore it, sometimes it means to acknowledge it.
"Caprica" is interesting because it's the first show that I'm completely creating music from the ground up. But even there, I'm not, because I need to acknowledge or not acknowledge "Battlestar". I mean, if I use taiko drums people go "Oh, he's doing 'Battlestar'", and if I don't use taiko drums people go "Oh, he's doing something different than 'Battlestar'". It's kind of the elephant in the room, it's like "Battlestar" exists. And with me scoring "Caprica", I have to acknowledge it. Now the fact is, you're not going to hear a lot of "Battlestar" music, so in many ways "Caprica" is the show that I'm creating from the ground up. But you'll hear some nods [to BSG] for sure.
Caprica City: Is there any show currently on air that you'd love to do the score for?
Bear McCreary: Currently on the air? You know, to be honest, I get so few chances to watch television that I don't really know. I guess, if I have to guess one show, the show I would enjoy the most, although I must admit I don't know if I'm qualified but it got to be fun, would be "Flight of the Conchords". That is a show about this New Zealand duo. They do this weird musical comedy. It's a really hilarious show with great music jokes. Like I said, they're better at it than I would be, but it would be fun.
Caprica City: You seem to love the accordion, a classic European instrument. Why did you learn such an uncommon instrument?
Bear McCreary: Well, I always wanted to get one when I was a kid, I think as a joke almost. And then, when I was nineteen, my mom got me one for my birthday. One actually was in my family, basically an old family heirloom that I didn't know her cousin had it. He never played it, he hadn't played it for 45 years. So he gave it to me. I picked it up and immediately adored it. I actually practiced it, whereas I never really practiced piano. And I got really good at this incredibly expressive and lyrical instrument. I got better than I ever got on the piano. It was fun, and since then I try to incorporate it whatever I'm working on.
Caprica City: I have one quick final question, which is split into three parts: Do you have a favorite movie score? A favorite composer? And what is your favorite CD?
Bear McCreary: And you think this is a quick question?
Caprica City: It was a quick question. I didn't say I want a quick answer.
Bear McCreary (laughs): Yes, very good. Movie score... If I have to pick one, it would be "To Kill a Mocking Bird" by Leonard Bernstein. The reason is, I feel like he tapped into something in the universe, greater than other works that have been written in that time. That is one of those few scores that you could drop into a movie trailer today and no one would guess it was written in 1960. He had done a lot of great work. "The Ten Commandments" is phenomenal, "The Magnificent Seven" is phenomenal. If I had no idea who wrote them I could probably guess within four or five years when they were written.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is weirdly timeless, lliterally. People throw that word around, it's timeless. It does not sound like it was written in 1960, it could be written today or in 1900. It's an incredible piece of work.
My favorite composer? Elmer [Bernstein] is on the list. I adore Jerry Goldsmith, Bernhard Hermann, Nino Rota. Early in my life, my favorite composers were Danny Elfman and Alan Silvestri. And of course I listened to a lot of John Williams when I was a kid. But the one who influenced me the most would be Elmer, Jerry Goldsmith and Bernhard Hermann.
And an audio CD, oh jeez... It depends, this is a tough question. Because I get so little time to listen to music for purely enjoyment. I'm usually listening to what I'm researching. For example that time when I was listening to a lot of taiko drum music to get it in my ears, that's all I listened to in three months. So that depends on where I'm going.
Well, I'm listening to a lot of Oingo Boingo and a lot of Pink Floyd. A lot of Queen. Yeah, that's probably about as much as I could narrow it down.
After almost an hour of fascinating insights, we ran out of questions and began to chat a little about "Caprica". Suddenly, Bear McCreary decided to sit down at the piano that luckily happened to be in the room where we recorded the interview – and he gave us a preview of the "Caprica" main theme. We were allowed to film this, and you can watch the video here:
Here is what Bear McCreary had to say about his work on "Caprica":
Bear McCreary: "Battlestar", you have to remember, musically started out very simple. There were no character themes, in fact I was told not to have character themes. "Caprica" is very different because at this point, the producers know me well and they are more open to ideas. The score to "Caprica" in general is simpler, much more western. It's much more classical. I think I wanted to do something different and ultimately I was faced with this question, what is different than "Battlestar Galactica"?
Well, in "Battlestar Galactica" there is a lot of ethnic music, it's music from every continent, with instruments from throughout human history. It covered a lot of bases. What could I possibly use on "Caprica" that I haven't used on "Battlestar"? That's when it occurred to me, the way to make "Caprica" different is to make it more normal, really. "Caprica" should not sound so weird, more like what we are used to hear in film and TV.
And there's also a benefit to that. "Caprica" takes place before the apocalypse, not afterwards. In many ways, this event in the "Battlestar" miniseries, it kind of hits the reset switch. We've gone from this society to this rag tag fleet. The tribal drums and this ethnic instruments felt very appropriate. "Caprica" is very different, our society is refined and polished and the infrastructure exists. It's totally different. The music is more baroque, almost. It's not actually baroque in style, but it feels more constructed and more western, more symphonic. It felt appropriate.
And then, of course, this also gives me a place to go because should the series live on for multiple seasons, we know how it ends, where the series goes. The neat thing is, it gives me the opportunity to slowly evolve the score so that it becomes more like "Battlestar" the closer we get to the nuclear holocaust it ends with, or presumably ends with.
So I think people will hear that it sounds very different. There are also some musical nods to "Battlestar". I think people will recognize that it's me writing it. But as you can hear from that little snippet, it is a sad tone. It's also very lyrical like the piece that I just played to you. In "Caprica" I'm much more direct than in "Battlestar". The emotions are, at least in the beginning, more direct, a little more obvious, simpler.
Tonally the show is quite similar to "Battlestar". The characters are very dark, very conflicted and so it's the music that's a little different. More traditionally actually. I think people assume that I'm "Mr. Taiko Drum" will be surprised. I mean, I don't find it surprising because when you watch "Battlestar Galactica" carefully, you'll hear that there's a lot of very different orchestral inspired pieces in there. But I think a lot of people that assume that I just do taiko drum battle music are going to be surprised. We'll see.
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