Author: Bear McCreary

Go, Go, Godzilla! Reimagining the Blue Öyster Cult Classic

Two years ago, my friend, director Michael Dougherty, invited me to join him as composer for his film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the sequel to the 2014 Legendary / Warner Bros. film, Godzilla. Instantly, an idea struck me: this film could give me an opportunity to produce a new version of my favorite Blue Öyster Cult song, “Godzilla.” Moreover, I could realize it with some of my favorite musicians from the rock and metal community, including Serj Tankian from System of a Down and the rhythm section of the metal band Dethklok. “I’m in,” I told Michael, setting in motion a creative journey that would change my life in more ways than I could guess.  Now, Godzilla: King of the Monsters has opened globally, supported by not only by a sweeping orchestral score, but an end title sequence blasting the version of BÖC’s “Godzilla” that I imagined during that fateful phone call.

To chronicle this creative venture, I chatted with many of the musicians who brought it to life, including lead singer Serj Tankian, guitarist Brendon Small, bassist Bryan Beller, drummer Gene Hoglan, backing vocalist Brendan McKian, co-producer Jason LaRocca, as well as Buck Dharma, the Blue Öyster Cult rock legend who originally composed it.

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The Professor and the Madman

I was raised by a novelist, Laura Kalpakian, who instilled in me a deep appreciation of the written word. As a toddler, I would frequently stumble into her office, my footsteps concealed by the relentless cadence of her fingers clacking on the typewriter, and try to get her attention by knocking over one of the many stacks of dusty, hardbound books that formed a labyrinth on her floor. Among those towers of tomes were many editions of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford was a part of my childhood in even more direct ways. I lived there as a child with my family, when my father was a researcher affiliated with Wolfson College. While we were there, my mom picked up the official Bodleian library board game, which would become a staple of our Sunday evenings for years to come.

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As a I grew up, I quickly realized that musical notes, not words, were my personal favorite form of self-expression. Three decades after living in Oxford, I learned that The Professor and the Madman, the film adaptation of Simon Winchester’s gripping book The Surgeon of Crowthorne, was looking for a composer, and my mom was the first person I called. Breathless with excitement, I struggled to finish my sentences. I felt as if this score were already bursting out of my mind. This week marks the culmination of that journey, as now the film has been released theatrically, and my score album is now available.

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Happy Death Day 2U

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2017’s inventive horror-comedy Happy Death Day told the story of a college girl named Tree who keeps reliving the same day in a perpetual time loop, only to be murdered each night by a baby-masked serial killer. This year’s sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, added even more genre influences to the mix, incorporating elements of science fiction, comedy, and heist films, while pumping up the action, comedy and drama. Returning to composing duties here, my challenge was to retain and adapt thematic material from the first film’s score, and to help support the film as it expands into even more disparate genres.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD: My score to the first film was built on a foundation of solid orchestral horror techniques, with snarling brass screams, aggressive low string ostinatos, and creepy high string clusters. However, upon that framework were placed the musical components that made the score unique. I represented the main character, Tree, with poppy, upbeat synths, and I supported action scenes with marching band percussion evocative of the film’s collegiate setting. Perhaps the most iconic sound in the score was the theme for the baby-masked killer, built from manipulated audio samples of my daughter Sonatine! I chronicled that experience in this fun behind-the-scenes video:

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Outlander: Season 4

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Outlander Season Four chronicles a dramatic journey: from the bustling streets of colonial era Wilmington, across vast stretches of Appalachian wilderness, to Cherokee and Mohawk lands. This journey leaps from the modernity of the 1960’s to the simmering pre-Revolutionary tension of eighteenth-century America. These settings present a challenge for a composer, because each era, culture, and geographical location offers potential musical influences for the score. My goal was to assimilate all these ideas into a score that helps the audience follow the various narrative threads and still supports the drama. Oh, and I wanted to use banjos now too!

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My work began as I set out to rearrange a new version of “The Skye Boat Song” for the season’s Main Title. Changing a series’ Main Title is relatively rare in television, and yet this marks the sixth, arguably seventh, iteration of the beloved folk song I have produced for Outlander. (The previous were Season 1’s original, Season 2’s “French” and “Jacobite” versions, and Season 3’s “After Culloden” and “Caribbean” versions. I also produced an “Extended” version for the Season 1 Volume 2 soundtrack album, though it was never used in the series itself.)

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Welcome Home

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“Welcome Home,” the new erotic thriller starring Aaron Paul, Emily Ratajkowski, and Riccardo Scamarcio, gave me the opportunity to compose a sinister, lyrical, and melodic score. In the film, Bryan (Paul) and Cassie (Ratajkowski) vacation at a rental home in the Italian countryside, and gradually suspect their neighbor, Federico (Scamarcio), might be a threat. Their strained relationship buckles under pressure as their paranoia ratchets up. My score crescendos, powered by a war between a viola da gamba and an upright bass!

LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD: While the film is anchored by intense performances from the three leads, it was actually the cinematography and location that first fueled my musical imagination. My initial creative conversation with director George Ratliff took place over Skype while he was still on location in Italy, finishing principal photography. Even at that early stage, it was clear the titular “Home” was one of the most important characters in the film. The way Ratliff and DP Shelly Johnson glided the camera through the old building’s candlelit stone halls gave the entire house a strange sense of being alive, as if it were watching the drama unfold. (Spoiler: it is!)

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