Bear McCreary: Television's Best Composer Talks the Music of the Small Screen

January 2nd, 2013 3:31pm EST

Bear McCreary Bear McCreary may be the best composer working in television. It's hard to argue with his resume, which reads like a genre fan's dream: Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, Eureka, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and the first season of Human Target, just to name a few.

It's not just that he's worked on great shows, either - McCreary's work is amazing standing on its own. It's music that can be enjoyed with or without the images. There aren't many TV composers who have been able to draw crowds for live concerts of their score pieces, but that's what McCreary did during the run of Battlestar. He added a great new chapter to an iconic score with Terminator and then created a Human Target theme so unique that it earned him an Emmy nomination. When it comes to small-screen composing, there's really nothing that he can't do.
Celebrating the recent release of A Very Eureka Christmas, Bear took time out of his busy schedule to explain what it's like to compose for holiday episodes and how he creates such memorable music.
Putting together music for a holiday installment, as he's done for several Eureka episodes, takes something just a little different. "It's a very different aesthetic," he explained, "and ironically it brings all this baggage from great Christmas movies and holiday specials. It rweally kind of raises the stakes. It can be a little intimidating, but especially with the Eureka specials, the episodes themselves were so charming and fun, it was great."
His favorite track on the new CD? That would be "Anime Christmas Battle", which is exactly what it sounds like. "It's full of all these inside jokes from anime and anime scoring," he said. "The episode [Season 4's "Do You See What I See"] was almost fully animated, but they did it in these different styles. [With] the anime section I really got to go crazy. Especially for people that liked Human Target or The Cape, it's like that on steroids."
For composers like Bear, a TV score is a lot more than just something you hear in the background while watching your favorite show. It's just as complex, beautiful and grand as mainstream music - and it takes a fair amount of work to put together beyond just picking out instruments or deciding on a theme. "I really need to look at the characters and the character arcs and the big picture of the story. It's a tricky process because in a way that's almost removed from the show or the movie itself," explained Bear, "and then after that I look at the actual thing I'm scoring
"It's trying to get inside the characters' perspective and very often channeling my own experiences. I'm very much the method actor of composers. Sometimes that's really fun and other times it can be a really terrible, agonizing experience, especially working on a show like The Walking Dead. I have to get inside the agony of those characters."
With all of the work he's done - which includes not only television but film and video games as well - it's difficult for Bear to pick a favorite credit. "It is a lot like choosing between children," he said. "Like children, you go through complex relationships with a show when you're working on it for so many years."
He can, however, suggest where you ought to start if you've somehow made it this far without listening to his music. "The work that I did on Battlestar is, it's just so unusual, what I got to do on that show. It doesn't mean it's my favorite music that I've written but there are some things I got to do on that show that were really extraordinary," he added. "If someone wanted to listen to my music, the BSG records, especially season two and season four, those records are interesting, diverse and odd and unusual and they've got some great scenes. I would definitely start there.
"If there's people that like the scores that I grew up liking, really exciting orchestral scores, then check out my score for Human Target," he added. "Even though I didn't get to do as much as I wanted on that show, what I got to do, it's pretty awesome. Working with Jon Steinberg on season one of that show, we did something pretty extraordinary."
Thankfully for us, Bear isn't planning on slowing down any time soon, either. "I think you're going to hear a lot of new music from me in 2013," he said. "There's the second half of the season of Walking Dead. I've got a couple of films coming out next year. I've scored an independent movie called The Europa Report. It's a really well done, great little sci-fi movie. It's really hardcore science fiction, which is great. I'm doing a movie called Knights of Badassdom, which has been in the works for a number of years. A trailer for that's been out for about a year and it's got a great cast.
"Then I've got two other shows - a show coming out in April called Defiance, and it's the first time in history where there's an online game where you can play and if you watch the show, the game and the show actually mirror [each other]. Then I'm doing a show called Da Vinci's Demons on Starz. They are letting me write a big, orchestral, lyrical score. It kind of reminds me of Human Target a little bit. Anyone that thought Human Target was cool is going to love it. It's a show that i am just really excited about."
Perhaps one of the best things about Bear McCreary and his work is that there's not necessarily one thing that defines 'a Bear McCreary composition.' He's so skilled and his projects so varied that he's not defined by a genre or a theme - but he's always great. And that might just be the point.
"I've done my best to make it impossible for anyone to describe my style," he said. "My goal is that I don't have a describable style but you can always identify a piece of music that I Wwote. I think that there's something similar about my approach - my approach is always to maximize emotional impact - but musically and stylistically I think BSG is very different than Walking Dead or Human Target or Eureka.
"My style is the way I approach things, the way I think about things, the way I get into them, but the end result is always different. I don't think about the big picture of what my style is," he added. "It's kind of up for other people to look to the big picture."
And when we get to look at big pictures like the sprawling universe of Battlestar or the wonderment of Eureka, thanks to Bear, we have some really fantastic music to listen to.
You can keep up with Bear at his official website ( and on Twitter (@bearmccreary). Be on the lookout for Da Vinci's Demons on Starz this spring.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my official website and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.

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