"Godzilla: King of the Monsters" Composer Bear McCreary Talks Technology and Film Scoring at SDCC

Bear McCreary has been amassing a decent fan-following over the years from his work as a composer for major films and television series in Hollywood. With his recent job of scoring the blockbuster "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" being a popular topic of discussion in his audience, McCreary is bombarded with questions about creating it in his press session at San Diego Comic Con. From one reporter after another on his press line, he repeatedly speaks about the Buddhist choir used when creating the uniquely powerful vocals heard on certain tracks. By the time it's my turn I opt to take a different approach.

Though many film fans have a general understanding of the importance of a great score in filmmaking, not as many are aware of the role that technology has played in the evolution of composing and recording music. The most old-fashioned idea of a score is to have a giant orchestra full of live musicians all coming together to record a composer's work. However, the process of composing music has shifted significantly due to the development of music-composing software and advances made in the other equipment used in the recording process. McCreary acknowledges the impact of these technological changes in the film/TV-scoring industry and how significant they are to the timing for his success.

"The technology has been changing rapidly over the course of my entire career. The sort of extinction level event happened shortly before my career, where the technology changed so rapidly that many composers that couldn't keep up were just forced into retirement and an entire new generation sprung up. It really was like, the dinosaurs went extinct. A few of them survived and I was like one of the little mammals like, 'Oh my gosh!' Digital technology really moved to the forefront in the late nineties and I started writing music even as a child on a computer. I really did have an advantage. If you think about it, it's an advantage compared to people older than me but compared to people younger than me it's a given. If I met a composer younger than me and I was like, 'I write by pencil and paper and candlelight,' they'd be like, 'Dude, who are you?' It's interesting because it did put me generationally at a really interesting place and I credit my success because I was born exactly when I was. I grew up worshipping the guys that wrote by pencil and paper, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams. I really wasn't into rock bands. I wasn't into electronic music at all when I was a kid. I had a steady diet of orchestral music, but I played in rock bands."

When McCreary moves to sit down with the remaining reporters still present for his press session, I follow-up by asking about the 'nuts and bolts' of his work. Considering how massive an undertaking making a film or even an episode of television is, a number of edits and revisions can take place that change the length of a scene and I have yet to hear a composer explain about arranging the alignment of their music with the key moments of a scene.

"I'm gonna try not to get too 'nuts and bolts' but what you are describing is the fundamental technical challenge of scoring any film, even a small indie, it's the same problem. The best form of the film to score is the last, when it's done. Usually you have like a day, so it's not even a question that you can wait. The mix is basically over. The more time you have, the more you can experiment, but the version of the film isn't even sometimes closely related to the one that's final. Somewhere in-between, the oatmeal is just the right temperature for Goldilocks that the film is close enough that I should start and I will make what are called 'conforms.' You conform a scene that you've done to the new version of picture. You end up creating this sort of routine where, I usually work sixteen, seventeen, eighteen hours a day. I divide my day in half. We eventually get to the point where I'm writing some new scenes and then we get new picture and I have to conform the cues that I've done. In some cases this is where you have a team that can help you with this. It's like, 'Guys, I need you to conform this, make those edits while I'm doing the new picture.' It can be maddening. At the end of the day, you've pieced this stuff together. You have to be very fast, you have to work swiftly."

In having the opportunity to interview a successful Hollywood film composer like McCreary, I'm curious to learn about how the sounds used in film scoring differ from what people hear on the radio. My previous experience with interviewing composers is entirely comprised of successful people who write for more contemporary artists signed to major record labels. The process can differ greatly since those songs are much shorter in length than what one might find in a composition for an extended sequence in a film, and composing songs aiming for radio play can often be a process that relies heavily on the use of samples.

"Overall, I do have a more organic approach. I definitely use samples. They're a useful tool. But the short answer is, if you hear something that sounds like a real instrument in my music, it is a real instrument. In an electronic style of scores, if there [is an] electronic style of elements, I use every tool that's at my disposal. But I sort of loathe the notion of using shortcuts to trick people into thinking that they're hearing something that they're not cause it never works for me. I will always know that those are fake strings or something like that. I think audiences, just like they are with cheap CGI, they don't know why but they're like, 'Eh, that looks like a movie from twelve years ago,' and they just lose a little realism if they think that. I feel the same way about music, for sure."

For even more from Bear McCreary, watch the full interview from SDCC here:


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