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EXCLUSIVE: Composer Bear McCreary talks Human Target, Blood & Chrome

INTERVIEWS - TV

...and, er, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid?

Bear McCreary

"If you only watched Human Target broadcasting on FOX, who knows what you heard? Because the compression can be really weird"

As if composer Bear McCreary's cult credentials weren't impeccable enough, with acclaimed and commercially successful releases and performances of his music for Battlestar Galactica, he's also provided the soundtrack to the likes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, looming AMC creep-fest The Walking Dead and Fox's Human Target, the soundtrack of which is currently on release...

What can you tell us about Human Target itself and how you became involved with it?

Human Target was a project I got involved with when the series creator, Jonathan Steinberg called me in for a meeting and told me about the show. This was before the pilot was even shot, so right away this guy was thinking very seriously - most of the time a composer isn’t brought in until the pilot has been shot and picked up, and the series is in production.

So we started talking and bonding immediately over our favourite film scores and favourite composers, and we had grown up listening to the same music composers; Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman, John Williams… these were guys we felt the same way about, and he said that these were the kinds of sounds he wanted his show to have. At the time I thought that’s a nice idea, but it’ll never happen, and I really didn’t think he’d pull it off and convince the studio to do it. But he did. Then he hired me, and we had a wonderful experience. It was one of the most joyous music experiences of my life, working on that show.

You’ve just mentioned the role Jon Steinberg played when developing the music for the show. How important is it for you as a composer to have that level of understanding and collaboration with a producer when scoring a show?

To have somebody like Jon Steinberg, who really understands orchestral music and appreciates it, that’s pretty extraordinary. And Human Target, if you listen to the soundtrack, you can hear all these great character themes woven in and out, so it’s hard for me to imagine, if Jon didn’t understand and appreciate orchestral music, if I would have been able to do that...?

My gut instinct is probably no, I don’t think I could do that without him fighting for it and telling the studio we needed to budget as high for an orchestra. And also to just to have him understand what was going on, and have him asking me for character themes, for characters we hadn't even seen yet…he knows that if we score a scene with people in mind in advance, it will have more meaning when they come around later. It was really fun collaborating with him, and I spoke to Jon just like I would speak to any of my musicians – it was extraordinary, it was really fun.

According to Variety, you had something like 60 musicians working with you when recording the soundtrack, with the season one finale having an incredible 94 musicians. What’s it like to have so much talent at your command and what difference can it make to a soundtrack?

It was a true honour to be able work with these orchestral musicians in Los Angeles on a project like this. I’ve worked with them on a lot of other projects like Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, but usually on a more intimate scale. To do something this big, that is this shamelessly operatic and lyrical was a real honour… a life-changing experience. It’s hard to put into words what that experience was like, but it was incredible.

The soundtrack is available now available as a three-disc set. What can fans expect from the album that they wouldn’t necessarily have gotten from the show?

Well, more than anything else, they’re going to be able to hear all the music. In an action show one of the realities, and it’s a necessary reality, is that you’ve got to have your car revving, and wheels screeching, and gunshots, and they have to be pretty loud. And as I was watching on the air, there was a lot of stuff going on and you just don’t hear what I’m doing.

I think fans of orchestral music, even if they’re not watching the show, are still going to be surprised how big some of these themes are, because they just sound huge, and especially if you haven’t watched the show on DVD, where it sounds better. And if you only watched the show broadcasting on FOX, who knows what you heard? Because the compression can be really weird. I think they’re going to be able to hear everything that’s going on and probably gain a new appreciation for just how many themes are woven throughout the score.

"I would imagine the vibe of Human Target is probably going to change because it’s under new leadership and there’s a new composer, but I wish them the best"

McCreary conducting

You recently mentioned how, when recording the Human Target soundtrack, you tipped your hat to other composers such as John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Alan Silvestri, and your former mentor, Elmer Bernstein. Now that you’re an established composer in your own right, to what extent do those composers still influence you?

They influence me greatly because this is the music I grew up on, this is music that’s in my soul, and they will influence me until the day I die. It’s the music you feel like when you’re in love, and I don’t think that ever leaves you. Even if somebody’s not a musician, when they hear a melody or TV show theme song they grew up on, it immediately brings back raw emotion. Those are the kinds of movies I grew up on and that will always resonate with me.

Of course, not every show or every movie can use that. The sounds I’m exploring or the musical language I’m using on Human Target, that wouldn’t work on Battlestar Galactica and it wouldn’t work on The Walking Dead, so I grabbed this opportunity when I realised how much Jon Steinberg wanted this kind of sound. It’s not very often people ask you to do this, so I definitely took the opportunity and ran with it.

There’s been a lot of talk about the fact you weren’t invited back for season two of Human Target. What can you tell us about that and the reasoning behind the decision?

I can’t really say any more than I’ve already said, because I don’t really know anything. All I know is that I wasn’t invited back and that there was change in a creative leadership on the show. That’s all I know officially. The only other thing I can do is speculate the same things anyone else would speculate. I would imagine the vibe of the show is probably going to change because it’s under new leadership and there’s a new composer, but I wish them the best. I think they’ve got a great cast, and a great concept, and there’s obviously some things the studio or the network wanted to change, but I’m still hopeful it will be a good show.

You’ve written soundtracks for TV, film and video games. Is there a different approach to each and do you have a preference for either genre?

The differences are subtle. TV and films are very similar, video games are a little different, but ultimately, the differences I don’t really notice. Mainly I look at every single context I’m doing, in whatever genre, with a clairvoyance of character and tone – what is the general tone of this project? What are the characters in this project? And what do you want the audience to experience? That’s probably the most important question, what do you want the audience to feel? Whether that audience is watching on a television screen, or with a controller in their hand, at the end of the day it makes very little difference to me. So in that regard it’s not really that different, but it’s fun for me to be able to jump back and forth between these worlds.

It’s been announced this week that SyFy has given the go-ahead for a new Battlestar Galactica series, Blood & Chrome. SyFy’s Mark Stern said no deal had been struck, but he ‘couldn’t imagine’ the project without a Bear McCreary score. What can you tell us about the show and have you been approached about it?

I know as much as you guys! I’m not withholding any information - I just heard the show’s been picked up. No one’s reached out for me yet, so I can’t say I’m doing the show with any authority. However, I certainly hope that when the time comes to hire a composer, that they’ll come around and ask me, because it would be a lot of fun to go back to that Battlestar universe, especially considering the other announcement this week that Caprica is no more.

With regard to Caprica, do you regret the show has come to an end so soon?

The cancelled CapricaI’ll regret that we don’t get to go forward with these characters and learn more about them, but at the same time I have no regrets about the work we did. I think the work we did was exceptional, so a little bit of regret that we don’t get to do more of it. I think everybody involved made the absolute best show they could, but for whatever reason, whatever factors there were, that caused people not to tune in the same way they did for Battlestar, it wasn’t for lack of trying. I think everybody on the show did a great job, and I’m very proud of the soundtrack album of the pilot I had out.

I’m hoping we get to put out another album of the music I did for the series. It’s certainly a world that has a lot of life left in it. Whether or not they ask me to do Blood & Chrome, I really hope the series exists and continues to move the Battlestar Galactica story forward.

Regarding Battlestar itself, one of the most memorable pieces of music from the series was your take on All Along the Watchtower. How did that come about, and how do you tackle covering one of the most iconic songs ever written?

Those are good questions. Those are the questions I had for Ron Moore when I heard we were doing this. Personally, I thought it was a disastrous idea - I had no idea what they wanted. All I knew was that at some point at the end of season three, they needed me to do a version of All Along the Watchtower.

After having heard rumblings about this from editorial, I finally caught Ron Moore in the hallway one day. I said, ‘Ron, what’s the deal with Watchtower? What do you want it to sound like?’ And we talked about it for a minute, and basically what he said was, ‘I don’t know, just make it sound like Battlestar’. And then he walked away, giving me almost no creative guidance at all.

Which was actually incredibly liberating, because I knew he didn’t want it to sound like Bob Dylan, and he didn’t want it to sound like Jimi Hendrix, and so I was able to do whatever I wanted, and I had this idea of doing something pretty hardcore. I was imagining a collaboration between George Harrison and Rage Against the Machine, with some Indian music going on in there. I threw together a demo in a couple of days, and I had my brother come in. He had just gotten off the plane, came right to the studio and he sang it. Then I sent it to Ron and the studio, and I was certain it would be torn apart. I mean what were we doing putting a heavy metal song in Battlestar Galactica? But they loved it. In fact, the demo I produced is almost indistinguishable from the final version. We went back and cleaned up some of the drums and some of the guitars, but what you hear on that soundtrack album - that was my first attempt. Which was exciting, but it was one of the few times where I had no guidance or input – Ron let me take a stab at it and that’s what I did.

You’ve also done a lot of live work, particularly with the Battlestar score. Will fans be seeing more of that, and if so what can they expect?

There’s nothing on the books yet, but I’m very hopeful that we’re going to able to do more shows next year. I’m also hoping to put out a live album and a live DVD from some of the concerts we’ve done in the past. We put out one live recording of the soundtracks to The Plan and Razor. And fans in Europe were treated to a hi-def concert of six songs that are on the season four release in Europe, so there’s stuff getting out there, and the reaction across the board is just wonderfully positive. People love this music, they love these concerts, they want more, and we absolutely want to bring them more of that music.

Is there a particular piece of music or a soundtrack you wished you had scored, or think you could have done differently, given the chance?

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (1969)That’s a tough one. Honestly, the only thing that comes to mind, and this will sound weird, but the only thing that comes to mind is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Nothing against Burt Bacharach, but in that movie I thought it was so exciting – it’s a pretty fun western and the music, that freaks me out a bit. And it’s not that I think I would be able to do it better, but it’s a film that I always think that, if it had a different score and you changed it maybe a little bit, it could be a very different kind of movie.

What does Bear McCreary listen to when he’s got some down time?

To be honest, I don’t really have a lot of down time. Most of the time, when I’m listening to something, I’m usually doing research for whatever my next project is. Like in the car, when I was working on Human Target, I was listening to a lot of Goldsmith, Williams, Elmer Bernstein and stuff like that. That being said, I’ve been listening to a lot of heavy metal lately, things like Iron Maiden and Death Claw, just some pretty hard metal bands, and it’s fun, I enjoy listening to it, but it’s also research for new projects.

Aside from your possible involvement with Blood & Chrome, what else can your fans expect in the year ahead?

There’s a lot of exciting stuff coming up. You’ve got The Walking Dead at Halloween. Then the superhero drama, The Cape, which premiers on NBC, and it’s got Summer Glau, who I haven’t worked with since Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Then I’m working with Summer Glau again on Knights of Badassdom, which is an absolutely delightful take on fantasy, horror, Dungeons & Dragons, heavy metal… it’s hard to explain, but it’s a movie that’s going to be a lot of fun and I think fans are going to be really excited by it.

 


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Comments 

 
#1 RE: EXCLUSIVE: Composer Bear McCreary talks Human Target, Blood & Chrome Sue Greer 2010-12-26 20:40
I'm a big fan of "Human Target" and have recommended it to several people. I really loved the opening music in season 1, but now it's become kind of irritating -- too much base IMHO. Couldn't that intriguing and beautiful music from season 1 be brought back? Thanks for the great work!
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#2 Song I can't find Rhonda 2011-01-06 15:54
Last night in Communication Breakdown, I liked the song Ames was listening to when Winston tried to call. I tried all combinations of the lyrics to find it on YouTube, but without success. Could you provide the title to that song? And/or the artist? Thank you!!
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