I’ve had the great fortune of scoring a diverse array of television projects, ranging from bleak dramas to quirky comedies. However, none were as audacious, uniquely heartfelt or blissfully crazy as “Holliston.” This series, created by and starring Adam Green, premieres Tuesday April 3rd on FEARnet, and features my original score.
Inspired by Green’s own life experiences, “Holliston” is about Adam and Joe, who portray aspiring horror filmmakers. Knowing that stars Adam Green and Joe Lynch are, in real life, both established horror directors, does little to distill the awkwardness from the situations their characters find themselves in. In the show, they work at a local cable access channel. Their boss is Lance Rocket, played to the hilt by Dee Snider (of Twisted Sister fame), and Adam’s imaginary friend is played by Oderus Urungus (of GWAR). Laura Ortiz portrays Joe’s clueless girlfriend and Corri English plays the lost love of Adam’s life, who returns to Holliston in the first episode.
Working on “Holliston” felt very much like a family project. I’d worked with stars Adam Green and Joe Lynch on “Chillerama” last year, and have collaborated with Lynch on a number of films, including the forthcoming adventure “Knights of Badassdom.” I’d worked with many of the crew on previous projects, and in the couple music videos I’ve directed. And the “Holliston” end credits theme, “On the Streets of Holliston,” was composed by my brother Brendan McCreary and performed by his band Young Beautiful in a Hurry.
“Holliston” is my first attempt scoring a half-hour sitcom, and came with some unique challenges. I’m used to scoring hour-long dramas, which tend to function like features. Here, the comedic timing had to be matched perfectly with (literally) hundreds of short cues, transitional pieces, stingers and bumpers, in dozens of musical styles.
The presence of heavy metal stars Snider and Urungus gave me creative license to push the score into a brutal, drop-tuned, distorted rock texture.
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/hst02.mp3|titles=Speed Metal Bumper]
“Bear McCreary’s music is the beat behind the heart of HOLLISTON,” Green said. “The fact that we made a sitcom with a heavy metal score (of LIVE session players) that drives each episode along and also compliments and expounds upon key moments is something that I’ve just never seen attempted or accomplished in a traditional sitcom before. Whether it’s merely a transition to the next scene in the story or an actual heartfelt or frightening moment, Bear’s music brought the entire show to a different level of fun, heart, and awesomeness. It’s one of those rare moments where you can almost HEAR the composer smiling and laughing through his music.”
Joe and Adam encouraged me to explore heavy metal, and to not be limited to a single style. Lynch explained “Since music plays a role in the show, both as a way to set the tone, personify what’s in our whacked out imaginations when we dip into our flashback or fantasy non-sequiturs and also because Lance and Corri are musicians, it was INTEGRAL that Bear’s music be almost a character in the soundscape.
We always knew we wanted to take the stereotypical “interstitial” musical moment you always hear in sitcoms, like that familiar bubble-popping ditty used in SEINFELD, and give it a Metal spin. Having worked with Bear on metal-themed music for KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM recently, it seemed like such a natural fit. That these guys would have an almost “metal” like theme worked well to illustrate their passions and likes, and justify all those black metal and horror t-shirts we’re wearing in the show!”
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/hst03.mp3|titles=70s Rock Bumper]
Rather than creating a re-usable library of generic cues, I composed each bumper for the scene it appears in, and I drew influence from the entire history of the genre. However, heavy metal is just one side of my “Holliston” score. The show is filled with cinematic moments, that gave me the opportunity to write a real score, ranging from thrilling horror to genuine emotional themes.
Many of the most hilarious sequences actually required a genuinely spooky horror approach in the score. For these scenes, I just pretended I wasn’t scoring a comedy at all and went for chills.
Frequently I combined an orchestral approach with heavy metal instrumentation. One of my favorite recurring jokes involves the store Market Basket, which is set up in this hilarious clip from the third episode:
In the next episode, Adam makes a triumphant proclamation that he’s going to Market Basket, and layers of stacked electric guitars salute him.
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/hst05.mp3|titles=Market Basket Fanfare]
(I had just produced a Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert a few months before doing this show, so layers of Brian-May-style harmonized guitars were fresh in my memory.)
By far my favorite challenge was scoring the scenes starring Dee Snider’s Lance Rocket character. Dressed in full glam, Lance is not only their boss at the cable station, he’s also the lead singer of a Van Halen cover band. He’s flamboyantly trapped in a 1980’s timewarp, and one of the comedic highlights of the show.
Early in the editing process, editor Ed Marx toyed around with placing some heavy metal hits on his big gestures when would enter or exit a room. It worked well. So, I took it the philosophy to its natural extreme. I wrote huge heavy metal phrases on EVERYTHING he does with his body. It’s like his limbs are conducting a phantom band, that moves and responds to his every motion.
“When I saw that, I just KNEW that this was the key to the character,” Lynch told me. “[Lance] just has these powers of the RAWK so that every move is complimented with a moment of METÜL. I knew Bear was gonna have a blast doing these and in the end, its some of my favorite stuff in the show. Bear + Dee = Pure Sonic Steel. “
Sometimes he would even sing phrases, so I matched the music to the timing of his vocals and the key was singing in. The end result is that it feels like Lance is stuck in a heavy metal musical, singing along to his own songs. But, the shocking reality is… Dee Snider improvised all these scenes with no music whatsoever. I added this music after production was done. He’s not singing along to the band. The band is playing along to him!
“Honestly, any time Lance Rocket moves, Bear SHREDS,” Lynch said. “And I laugh ’til milk comes out of my nose.”
Matching the tempos to align with his every gesture should have been a tedious task, but the thrill I got watching a cue come together was worth every hour spent.
There are dozens of hilarious musical moments, which are too funny for me to spoil in this entry here. But, keep an ear out for a side-splittingly hilarious musical cameo by Raya Yarbrough’s vocals in episode four. In a stunningly inappropriate moment, I suddenly added a 1980’s-syle sitcom theme song!
[audio:http://www.bearmccreary.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/hst08.mp3|titles=Holliston 80s Style]
“Holliston” is also packed with references to well-known films, some overt and others subtle. These gave me the opportunity to compose cues in the styles of my favorite composers. Astute listeners will pick up on clear musical homages to composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Howard Shore and many, many more. I wonder if you guys will catch them all?
Despite the frequent laughs, the core of “Holliston” is an honestly emotional story about characters we quickly fall in love with. The end of the first episode makes this clear, with a heart-felt scene between Adam and his ex-girlfriend Corri.
From the very start, Adam expressed concern about how we would approach the scene musically. “This was a cue I was terrified of,” Adam told me recently. “I made a bold choice to lay my heart out there for all to see in the midst of a sitcom that I know the initial audience is watching simply with the intention of laughing. While writing and rehearsing this scene, we went back and forth on it. Is it too sappy? Will the audience appreciate it or roll their eyes at it? Ultimately, it’s a pivotal scene for the series as it sets things in motion for what’s to come. It had to happen and it had to happen the way it happens.”
Adam and I discussed the possibility of not commenting on the emotion with the music. I knew what he was nervous about, but I also felt that the material and the actors’ performances were strong enough to support genuine emotion. Besides, if we got this scene right, the emotional arc of the entire series would be off to a strong start. So, I wrote Adam and Corri a beautiful love theme, played by two nylon-string acoustic guitars.
Adam later confessed that when he first watched the scene with my music, “I covered my eyes. It is NOT easy to add musical emotion to a scene like that and compliment the heart without going overboard or hammering it home too hard. But Bear’s music made it so that I didn’t even hear it, I only felt it. That’s when you know you have a good score. ”
The finale of the first episode is one of the most emotional scenes in the first season. However, the creation of one of the last cues of the season was far more poignant for me. For an important scene in the season finale, I found the chance to write a big, orchestral cue that impacted the story in a major way and also paid tribute to my late mentor and dear friend Elmer Bernstein. I referenced a very famous cue he wrote for director John Landis, who makes a guest appearance in that same episode.
“It pertains to our plight as outsiders and screwups that never give up our dream,” said Lynch. For this special scene “it was like the writing, performances, direction and score ALL got into the Brundle teleportation machine and fused together, creating a symbiosis of AWESOME. Dare I say ‘Awesymbiosis’?”
“Without spoiling what happens, Bear hit a home run of epic proportions,” Adam proclaimed. “There is so much going on in this moment: devastation, heartbreak, compassion, and most of all… hope. While paying homage to another cue he still managed to keep the score 100% “HOLLISTON” and really sum up my message behind the show which is as follows: So long as you keep fighting and so long as you don’t let the world’s negativity and the hard times disenchant your spirit and change who you are… it will get better.”
Like Adam, I won’t spoil the episode here. But the scene hits a nerve for any artist who’s ever dared to create something and have it judged by people they admire. The scene is bittersweet and painful, even though you’re laughing when you watch it. Scoring it, while simultaneously tipping my hat to the first Hollywood professional to ever have faith in me was a very emotional experience.
The scoring process of “Holliston” was a mad dash to the finish line. I had to compose, produce and deliver well over a hundred unique compositions, as well as supervise the placement of dozens of other songs. The sheer number of distinct cues was nearly overwhelming. But, I wanted each to be special. The orchestral pieces required genuine terror and emotion, while the metal tracks needed to kick ass.
“We were in such a crazy post schedule to get it done in time for the delivery,” Joe confessed.“Thankfully, Bear had worked under such time constraints before on other TV shows and he was such a wonderful collaborator. When we finally heard the Bear music, it was like HOLLISTON got on stage at Ozzfest and CRANKED it to 11 and everyone’s head snapped to see what all the commotion was about. It was magical.”
Attending the final playback of the first episode, I asked Adam what it was like watching this very autobiographical story with original music. “I listened to it over and over again,” Adam told me. “Watching scenes that I had thought of for 13 years, written tedious drafts of, rehearsed for 5 months, and performed for 6 hard weeks and I saw them all in a whole new way.
“The best thing I can say to describe how I felt was that while watching the show back, I didn’t recognize myself or my friends/cast-mates any more. It was like I was watching someone else’s show… and enjoying it. Normally whenever you watch your own stuff (especially when YOU are actually on-camera) you cringe and worry and fret. I was just having too much fun to even think that I had anything to do with the show or anything at stake in it. I just smiled. A lot.”
“Holliston” will run on FEARnet for 6 episodes this season, and I certainly hope it returns for another season very soon. For more details, or to find out how you can get FEARnet on your cable provider, check out FEARnet’s official site.
PS: If you’re a fan of mine, than you’re probably aware of another TV series I score: AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Recently, it was made clear that no soundtrack album will be released, even though I’ve written enough material for a double disc album already. Within hours, a fan campaign started on Facebook, calling for the release of a “Walking Dead” score album, and it’s really gathering steam. If you’re interested in seeing a score album released, please click “like” for them and let’s see if it can make a difference!