Few TV or film composers can command the attention of the entire cast of the shows they work on. But when composer Bear McCreary and the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra turned up on Comic-Con weekend to play two shows at the San Diego House of Blues, they had a few, shall we say, “special guests.” Specifically, both shows were M.C.ed by Edward James Olmos (Adm. Bill Adama), and he was joined by Grace Park (Boomer/No. 8/Athena), James Callis (Baltar), Michelle Forbes (Adm. Cain—stand back), Nicki Clyne (Cally), Michael Trucco (Sam Anders), and Michael Hogan (Col. Saul Tigh). I was at the Friday night show, but apparently at the Thursday show Hogan brought down the house by growling into the microphone, “Can anyone else hear that frakkin’ music?”
I met with McCreary in the basement of the House of Blues a few hours before the band went on show. He’s not a big man, maybe 5′ 8″ or less. He wears a goatee, keeps his hair long, and he has that pale-skinned pudginess that geeks earn by long hours in front of a keyboard, though McCreary uses a totally different keyboard. But he had none of the geeks’ renowned social awkwardness. Maybe that’s what happens when a composer starts scoring Battlestar at 24, and then held the gig for the whole run. Along the way he became the composer for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Eureka, among others. These days, McCreary is working on Caprica, the Battlestar prequel; he’s even written the Caprican national anthem.
McCreary went into a lot of behind-the-scenes detail on the show’s music: Those opening vocals were inspired by Olmos, who wanted the show to include parts of the Gayatri Mantra, a Hindu hymn. The grunt and the drums that follow those vocals were inspired by Battlestar director Michael Rymer, who felt there should be Japanese taiko drums. McCreary took the drums idea to new levels throughout the series, culminating in the mutiny episodes of season four. “What would normally be giant brass and synth and stuff, sounds like an old samurai movie,” McCreary said.
McCreary typically gets his material when it’s nearly complete. He’ll get a version of the episode that’s been edited, but it may have no music at all, or it may have temporary music cues put in. As one of the artists involved with post-production, McCreary’s job is to score what he sees, not to demand changes to fit his score, not ever.
Except just once.
“On one occasion, one occasion for the finale,” McCreary said. “There was a sequence at the end where Kara is typing in these numbers, she’s hitting her fingers as we’re hearing these musical notes, and Andy the editor was crafting that sequence and I knew what he wanted to do, but it just wasn’t quite lining up with my beats, so I called him up, and I said, ‘Hey man, look, can we recut this? Cause I got this piece of music that’s awesome.’ And this is like the biggest no-no in scoring, you score what the picture is. No one would ever recut for the composer, and on the last episode they did it, they brought me back in, and I wrote the piece of music I wanted to hear, and I said look if you cut it so the fingers are landing here and here and here, and he sat there and he lined them up and he changed the edit to match my music and it worked perfectly. I was nervous even to ask him, but that’s the kind of collaboration we have on Battlestar.”