The Daily Trojan (December 2, 2003)
USC Thornton School Alumns Continues Scoring Films
December 2, 2003
vol. 150, no. 65
USC Thornton School of Music alumnus continues scoring films
Bear McCreary began his composing studies in classical composition and eventually found passion in film scoring
BY KATHLEEN BISHOP
Edward Scissorhands is responsible for Bear McCreary’s film-composing career.
A few other factors might have contributed to the Class of 2002 USC alum’s choice of profession, but he remembers sitting in the darkened theater as an awe-struck nine-year-old and said that was the moment he changed his mind about wanting to write film music.
“That was the point I thought, no, I have to write film music,” he said.
So began McCreary’s career, a constantly evolving search for creative freedom and expression, and a never-ending test of patience and desire.
McCreary composed the soundtrack to “Battlestar Gallactica,” a miniseries that premieres on the Sci-Fi Channel Monday, Dec. 8 at 9 p.m., and solidified his desire to continue in film composition.
James Hopkins, a professor at USC’s Thornton School of Music who worked closely with McCreary, describes his former student as “very self-motivated, which is one of the most important aspects for someone who is going into the arts rather independently.”
McCreary’s self-motivation led to determination to make opportunities for himself when none were available. For example, as a high school student he wanted to score a film, but there was nothing out there for him to do.
“So I wrote a screenplay of my own,” he said, “it was like 75 pages and I wrote about an hour’s worth of music to it, just to see if I could do it.” This determination led him to USC for film scoring, but during his time here, he used it to explore a different type of music.
When McCreary studied at the Thornton School of Music, the film-scoring program did not include any film scoring classes until the fourth year. In the meantime, McCreary discovered a love for classical composition.
Describing the transition, McCreary said, “I never knew until I got to USC what was out there. I’ll admit, it was a very challenging time; I was resistant at first. But I started to realize there were no creative constraints in concert music. In film music, you’re dealing with a director and a producer and a writer.”
As it turns out, McCreary’s temporary change of heart put him in the USC history books. He is the only undergraduate ever to have two pieces, “The Collapse of St. Francis” and “Sparks and Shadows,” performed by the USC Symphony.
McCreary attributes this to the fact that he was under Hopkins’ instruction at the time.
Hopkins, on the other hand, gives the credit to McCreary’s sophisticated style and the audience appeal of his music.
“There is something for everyone on the first listening,” Hopkins said. With the success of his classical work, McCreary’s future might have seemed clear, but he soon found himself drawn back to his original passion: film music.
He decided to spend a fifth year at USC to minor in the recording arts. During that time, he began working on more student films and found that the collaborations that he once felt limited his expression now seemed to inspire it.
“When The Kids Are Away,” the work of which he says he is most proud, was born as he was making his movement back to film music.
McCreary met filmmaker Jon Chu at USC and they began collaborating on a short musical about suburban housewives who break into song and dance when their husbands and children are away from the house.
“I’m very proud of ‘When the Kids Are Away,’” McCreary said. “It is a traditional musical in every sense, but it represented for me everything you could ever do in a student film.”
The film was shot in cutting-edge digital format, won awards at independent film festivals, caught the attention of directors like Steven Spielberg and got McCreary signed to an agency.
It also led to McCreary’s current project, “Battlestar Gallactica,” a miniseries that premieres on the Sci-Fi Channel Monday, Dec. 8 at 9 p.m., and solidified his desire to continue in film composition.
Though “Battlestar” is his first foray into television, McCreary said, “The reassuring thing is that it’s no different than working on a student film. The deadline is still unchangeable; you will be working with people who may or may not know about music; you still don’t have a huge budget … the scale is bigger, but the parameters are the same.”
In the future, McCreary is “hoping to find a home” for the original musical he is developing and to continue collaborating with musicians and filmmakers he respects and admires.
Classical composition might return in the future as well. In fact, he said, “still to this day I am trying to balance (the two).”
As for now, McCreary is “paying (the) rent and writing music, which is where I put the bar.”
He also watched “Edward Scissorhands” less than a year ago.
So despite, and perhaps because of, his ventures off the original path, he seems to have come back around to what he dreamed of and strove for as a child, and what brought him to USC in the first place.
Still, “There’s always avenues for other forms of creative expression,” he said. “I’ve realized the best project is the one you’re working on next.”
So his next work might be a Spielberg film or an original McCreary musical; it might be more similar to the Elmer Bernstein scores he loves or the classical works that move him; it might be his musical masterpiece or the transitional work that leads him to it.
No matter what he does next, Bear McCreary is, as Hopkins said, “intellectually curious and has this great drive to find out about things.” That, along with his patience and willingness to do whatever it takes, makes him the film composer he strives to be and the person he already is.
Copyright 2003 by the Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.
This article was published in Vol. 150, No. 65 (Tuesday, December 2, 2003), beginning on page 7 and ending on page 10.