BG4: “Someone to Watch Over Me,” Pt 1
February 27th, 2009
Tonight’s episode of Battlestar Galactica is the most musically innovative score I’ve yet produced. My role as composer evolved far beyond merely providing underscore for the scenes. This time, I was intimately involved in every step of the episode’s development: from the earliest draft of the script by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, through the production, directed by Michael Nankin and throughout the editing, scoring and final sound mix.
My experiences on Someone to Watch Over Me were so profound that my typical blog format would not suffice. Rather than focusing solely on the episode’s score, I’ve written a mini-memoir, chronicling my journey on this episode.
I have divided this up into three chapters. Chapter One focuses on Pre-Production, in particular my interaction with David Weddle and Bradley Thompson as they wrote the script. I also discuss my surreal experience auditioning for a speaking role on Battlestar! In Chapter Two, I discuss the production of the episode, the preparation of the piano, and my behind-the-scenes experiences. Chapter Three, centering on post-production, is more akin to my typical blog entries: a detailed, scene-by-scene analysis of the completed episode and score.
I admit I wrote these entries for myself, because this episode truly changed my life and my perspective on what music can accomplish in film and television. These three chapters are a lot to read, so I’ve divided them up into sub-chapters to facilitate easy skimming. If you can get through it all, you deserve a hearty “So Say We All!”
As usual, MEGA-SPOILERS for the episode lay ahead.
CHAPTER 1: PRE-PRODUCTION
With the introduction of my arrangement of All Along the Watchtower in the Season Three finale, my music had seeped into Battlestar Galactica’s fictional universe in strange and unforeseen ways. Characters within the universe began to hear the very soundtrack that had been only heard by the audience before. The traditional boundary between score and narrative was momentarily shaken.
After that episode, I continued to test how far I could push the music into the characters’ world without disrupting the illusion for the audience. However, nothing prepared me for my work on Someone to Watch Over Me. In this episode, that boundary between score and music within the fictional world was shattered permanently. Tonight, my music flooded into the crowded halls of the Galactica. The score was not only heard by the characters, but it impacted them profoundly, perhaps even intertwining with their very destinies. I cannot recall a television series, play or film that integrated score and narrative in this audacious fashion. I hold Someone to Watch Over Me among the most important works my entire career thus far.
*** The Writing Process: The Transformation of Slick ***
My involvement with Someone to Watch Over Me began almost a year ago. I had just finished scoring the first season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the feature Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back and was making preparations for the epic Music of Battlestar Galactica concerts that would dominate my spring. Producers / writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle called and asked for some input with their next and final Galactica script. This was so early in the process, that they hadn’t begun drafting, and were just beginning to assemble their ideas. It was the first time in my career that any screenwriters had come to me during their writing. I had no idea at that moment how deeply I would become involved with their episode.
(Myself, Bradley Thompson and David Weddle in costume on the set)
David Weddle recalled “after we finished writing and producing Episodes 12 & 13, Mark Verheiden asked us which of the final episodes (except the finale, which Ron Moore would be writing) we wanted to write. We asked to do the episode that Michael Nankin was signed to direct because we had developed a very intense and fulfilling collaboration with him over the course of the last two seasons. It felt as if Michael, Bradley and I had become a jazz trio that intuitively understood each other. Mark [Verheiden] assigned us Episode 19, which was vaguely slated to be a Kara episode of some kind – though no one really knew what it would consist of.”
Bradley Thompson added “We had some idea it would be a Starbuck vehicle, and we had some notion that we’d get to do Boomer/Tyrol, but we definitely knew that given the choice, we’d sing our swan song with Michael [Nankin].”
Director Michael Nankin said that when he was brought on board “I knew I had something that was potentially very powerful and emotional. Of course, my overriding reaction was one of gratitude — that I was still working on BSG, and that I had been handed, once again, a script by Weddle and Thompson.”
(Director Michael Nankin and I on set)
David Weddle explained that “After writing ‘Act of Contrition,’ ‘Scar,’ and ‘Maelstrom,’ Brad and I took a strong proprietary interest in the character of Kara Thrace and the epic sweep of her personal story within the larger canvas of Battlestar.
‘We felt this had to be a memorable episode, one that could stand beside the others. And we soon hit upon the idea of dealing with Kara’s father, the absent parent who we knew about only through a brief snatch of his piano music played in her apartment in ‘Valley of Darkness.’ By exploring her relationship with her father, we could complete the story of Kara, in a way. We also were drawn to the idea that the scene in ‘Valley of Darkness’ where Kara and Helo visit her apartment would contain two major clues to the epic story of Battlestar: Kara’s painting on the wall, and her father’s music, which she plays and is obviously deeply affected by. If we could pull this off, a tangential scene that initially seemed to be only a poetic mood piece, would later be revealed as one of the most pivotal moments in the entire series.
‘So we sat down in the writers room with the rest of the staff and began to explore this. The first pedestrian approach that I flogged was to tell the story in a series of flashbacks where Kara would remember playing piano with her father as a child and remember the day he abandoned her. We soon hit on the idea that the song he taught her could be ‘All Along the Watchtower.’ The problem was how we could make this episode feel inventive and fresh and not like ‘Maelstrom II.’
‘Two inspirations enabled us to create an exciting new story that was not derivative. First, Mark Verheiden suggested that Kara’s father appear in Joe’s bar on Galactica as a kind of ghost, or projection of her subconscious. And we would hide this until the very end of the story when she finally remembers the song he taught her to play.”
“The idea of using music the way we did came organically from having Slick show up,” Bradley Thompson said. “Slick is a musician, and therefore, music is a big part of his vocabulary and the way he relates to the world. So we had to find a way to integrate that into the drama rather than have it exist as separate musical numbers.”
“The second inspiration came from Ron Moore, who had the idea of Hera actually drawing the notes of ‘Watchtower,’” Weddle continued. “Ron said this could enable Starbuck to remember the song at the very moment that Hera is being kidnapped. Once we had those to breakthroughs, the story fell into place very rapidly.”
“I remember from my days as a club musician that whenever the guys were around their instruments, they were always noodling with them, playing with them,” Bradley Thompson told me. “A part of their brains was always on sound, either working a riff, idly trying some fingering… or just tuning up. It would have felt false had Slick kept his hands off the keys while he was relating to Kara. And if he were going to be playing something, then it should have some bearing on the story, or help carry the audience into the emotional life of the scene. The second we landed on music, we knew we had to get you on board immediately.”
David and Bradley called me before the first draft had even been started. “We decided to get you involved from the moment we began writing the story because we felt that in order to pull this off in a way that wouldn’t be hokey, we needed to have input from a real composer,” David Weddle told me. “Because of these issues, we also got Michael Nankin involved at an early stage because the scenes would have to be filmed in a way that felt truthful. This was the wonderful thing about Battlestar that made it such a powerful show. It was intensely collaborative. And this episode succeeded, I think, because we had you and Michael involved from day one.”
“The next question became: what kind of character was Kara’s father?” David continued. “At first we gravitated toward a serious classical player whose real love was jazz. We modeled his character in early drafts on Hoagy Carmichael, who appeared as a supporting character in The Best Years of Our Lives and To Have and Have Not. In both movies, Hoagy plays a kind of piano playing confident, like a bartender, who listens to people’s troubles and gives advice.”
In our first conversation about this musical character, Bradley and David told me he was to be a virtuosic, but not overly show-boating, improvisatory performer. I was not the only person to recognize “Slick” (as he was now called) was dangerously close to the “Jazz Man Who Offers Sage Advice” cliché we all wanted to avoid.
“Ron Moore did not like the voice of the piano player in the early drafts,” David Weddle confessed. “He felt the character came off like a stock bartender/wiseman from a hundred other movies.”
Weddle asked me questions about improvisation that I, frankly, was useless to answer. I told them both that my strength did not lie in jazz and that I would connect him with some musicians who could offer what he was looking for. I hung up the phone, flattered that they’d thought of me at all, but wishing I could’ve been of more help.
Several days passed before David Weddle called me again. He and Bradley had refined the pianist character. They wanted to make him more complex emotionally and musically. They were now looking at Slick more as a classical composer who happened to love jazz. This was also the point when they told me the character would be revealed as Kara’s father.
“[Ron Moore] wanted Slick to be struggling to compose a song over the course of the episode to give those scenes dramatic tension and to give Slick a life and drive of his own, independent from dispensing advice to Kara,” Weddle told me. “By then, you and I had done a couple of hours of interviews on the phone, which I had recorded and transcribed. So it was very natural for me to draw on that material. In fact, it saved my ass!”
(Nankin on set with Eddie in the CIC)
In late March, I made a CD for David and Bradley of solo piano pieces that I felt captured the blend of jazz and concert hall that I envisioned for the music. The first pieces on the disc were “Prelude” No. 1, 2 and 3 by George Gershwin. The other pieces I included for them were Ravel’s stunning “Jeux d’eau” and “Sonatine II.”
“I remember you talking about Gershwin in our conversations,” Weddle recalled. “So when it came time to come up with a title for the episode, I looked up Gershwin songs and found ‘Someone to Watch Over Me.’ I ran it by Brad and he said, ‘Jesus, that’s perfect! Not only for the Kara story, but for the Tyrol/Boomer story as well.’ Brad was primarily responsible for writing the Tyrol/Boomer story, so that became a seal of approval.”
These musical selections were meant to simply inspire David and Bradley as they wrote, but they ended up skewing the entire musical tone of the episode in unexpected ways. The Gershwin pieces, in particular, were very inspirational. Director Michael Nankin felt they had “a wonderful feel for Joe’s bar – a little schizophrenic – beautiful and unpredictable. It’s a great place to start.”
I emailed David, Bradley and Michael some thoughts on the pieces I selected. In that email, I described the Gershwin Preludes as appearing “very casual and improvised, when in fact, they are completely notated compositions.” Prelude No. 3, in particular, “is the most genuinely ragtime, but also a virtuosic knock-out (incredibly difficult to play).” In it, Gershwin even“references the Ravel ‘Jeux d’eau.’ Little arpeggiated phrases appear that echo the rippling water of Ravel’s piece. These lines punctuate the stride piano texture and give the entire piece new life. The casual listener could miss them entirely, but someone who knows Ravel’s music recognizes them instantly as the homage that they are.”
The Ravel and Gershwin compositions were all composed in the early twentieth century, in a lush harmonic language very different from the roots of my Galactica score. However, my cues such as “The Shape of Things to Come,” “Allegro,” “Violence and Variations,” Baltar’s Cult Theme and “Diaspora Oratorio” have all inched their way towards the augmented and diminished harmonies of this time period. In my email to David and Bradley, I assured them that “this kind of French twentieth century sound will adapt very easily to our ‘Battlestar Galactica’ score. Wisps of this piano texture could thread throughout the flashbacks (and even the score) freely.” While our collective ideas would continue to adapt and shift in the coming months, stumbling upon this concept provided the foundation for my entire score.
“Everything is always evolving, from the idea through the final cut,” Bradley Thompson explained. “As we were talking, you were providing samples of music and we gravitated toward what we thought was more emotionally affecting, as well as what would frustrate the character more. Those conversations we had with you were absolutely essential, both in terms of developing Slick’s character as well as finding the sound that would define him and his relationship to Kara.”
In late March, the writers and I temporarily went our separate ways. David and Bradley completed their first full draft of the script and sent it to Michael Nankin. “What I was most elated about were the musical elements,” Nankin later told me. “I LOVE breaking the barrier between source and score. I think the marriage of music and moving image is one of the most powerful and successful blends of media in the history of art. My two loves of the cinema are musicals and silent pictures, both the apex of the unison of music and movies, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to get this script.”
While they wrote, I threw myself headlong into producing the concerts at The Roxy in Los Angeles. Those performances severely drained my creative well, and immediately after, in mid-April, I had to pick myself up and score Revelations. ‘Writer’s Block’ does not accurately describe the deep, dark depression I slipped into as I faced the pressure of having to score the fleet’s discovery of Earth in that episode. (I chronicled my despair in the Revelations blog entry.)
On the evening of my fourth day wasted in frustration, trying to compose what would become “Diaspora Oratorio,” I got another phone call from David Weddle and Bradley Thompson. I remember, vividly, our conversation. Within ten seconds, David noticed something was wrong and asked me if I was alright. For a moment, I hesitated and said nothing. (Here was one of the series’ supervising producers, and I was actually considering confessing to him my intense artistic struggle in scoring their script. Had I gone mad? This had “career-suicide” written all over it.)
But, I was in a dark place. So, I told him the truth. I was floundering day in and day out to write a piece of music I was beginning to doubt would ever come. That night, I genuinely thought I couldn’t do it.
Suddenly, David’s tone changed. He was elated! “That’s great!” he proclaimed. “That’s why I’m calling you. I wanted to ask you what it’s like when you’re struggling to write a composition and you run out ideas!”
“You couldn’t have picked a better night to call,” I assured him.
David turned on his recorder and I spilled my guts. I vented all my creative frustration in the most vulnerable conversation I’ve ever had with a producer who held my job in his hands. For the next week, David and I spoke at regular intervals, because something interesting had happened to the Slick character after I gave them the Gershwin and Ravel pieces. Slick’s improvisatory jazz elements had been gradually stripped away. Now, he was simply a composer, struggling to compose his greatest work. He had become, on a strictly musical level… me.
“[David] was talking to you when you were fighting your own compositional battles,” Bradley told me later, “the emotional content of which we shamelessly included into the script.”
My interviews with David were incredibly personal. We spoke not only of dealing with writer’s block and creative frustration, but of the intense pressure that I have always felt to create something artistically worthwhile. An athlete or scientist can set a tangible and achievable goal: to run a 4-minute mile, or cure a disease. For the writer or artist, there are no such milestones. Every achievement only puts you further away from the next one you see in front of you. This is the frakked up philosophy that haunted me when I was a teenager, first setting out to write music.
Mine was a dangerous obsession with unattainable perfection that crippled creativity rather than inspired it. I eventually overcame these futile thoughts, however they occasionally resurfaced, as they had when I was writing Revelations. David and Bradley channeled my innermost insecurities I’d never before confessed directly into Slick’s character. In fact, several of his lines of dialog came directly from our interviews.
There’s a scene where Slick confesses his writer’s block and tells Kara that he’s been “at it for four days now. It’s Hell.” Those were my exact words when David called me and I was four days into writing “Diaspora Oratorio.” When I watch these scenes where Slick expresses frustration with his composition, I feel I’m witnessing a silhouette of my own self.
“I know almost nothing about music, but fortunately the hell fires you walk through while trying to compose are analogous to what Brad and I experience while trying to write a script, so we felt we had a firm grasp of the character’s dynamics,” Weddle told me. “Our next draft went too far into the obsessive details of composing and Nankin felt it made the character too self-absorbed.”
“The only thing that wasn’t working in the early drafts of the script was the Kara/Slick relationship,” Nankin explained. “And we worked it over several times, to get it to play like a possible new love interest for Kara—so that it would act as a red herring to distract the audience from the real reason Slick is here. The rest of the script worked like gangbusters.
“On the third draft,” Weddle told me, “we tacked back to a middle course between the [first] two drafts. Slick still obsessed over his music, but he also observed what Kara was going through and reached out to her. That draft hit exactly the right note (sorry for the pun) and from that point on the story worked wonderfully.”
David and I realized how similar the creative process can be, whether one is using notes or words. He confessed “the Slick/Kara story line was very hard to capture and took a number of drafts, unlike, for instance, ‘Sometimes a Great Notion,’ which was relatively easy to write. I went through the same night sweats and self doubts and tormented fears of failure that you go though while composing, which seemed perfectly apt given the character of Slick and the story.”
*** The Writing Process: The Transformation of Watchtower ***
I was also involved with other aspects of David and Bradley’s script. The last week of March saw an email storm between myself, David Weddle, Bradley Thompson, director Michael Nankin and even executive producer Ron Moore discussing what instrument Slick should play. No one had decided he would play piano, in fact, there was discussion that he might play guitar.
Bradley Thompson came down “heavily in favor of piano because I have this lovely image in mind where the two of them are playing the same instrument together – a duet, him on the bottom hand, her with the melody – which doesn’t work well on guitar.”
David Weddle added that in Valley of Darkness, Kara “puts on a tape of her father playing a piano and it obviously has a huge emotional impact on her, though she never comments on it in dialogue other than to say it is her father playing. So it would be great to have him on a piano in this episode and to subtly echo the piece that she listened to in her apartment.”
I really liked the idea of a piano, because it felt exotic in our universe. How many pianos could have possibly survived the apocalypse and made it into the fleet? When the bombs are dropping and you’re running for an evacuation spaceship, you probably don’t think to bring your seven-foot Steinway. I made my case to the guys that “its probably the only piano left in the fleet!”
I had written a lot of lounge piano music for Season One’s Colonial Day, implying Cloud Nine had a piano onboard. But that ship was destroyed in Season Two. Maybe that took with it the only remaining piano in the universe? “Perhaps somewhere in the fleet, a crewmember found an old dusty upright and wheeled it down to Joe’s Bar, hoping there would be someone who could play it,” I said in my email to the guys. “An instrument with some personality could really lend the scenes depth. A guitar will probably feel less special, since I imagine there’s quite a few of them left in the fleet.” And I added “has anyone thought about accordion as a possibility? :)”
Ron Moore sealed the deal. “I agree: piano.”
(Nankin sets up the crane shot for the “Watchtower” reveal)
By this point in the process, I was aware of the revelations that Slick was Kara’s father and that he taught her “Watchtower” when she was young, that Kara would remember the song and play it at the piano with her father. David and Bradley also asked me how it could be possible that Hera could create a drawing that would later be revealed to be “Watchtower” in notation.
These were all excellent, yet inherently problematic ideas. Kara’s instrumental performance of “All Along the Watchtower,” and Hera’s notation of it, required an identifiable thematic idea. Unfortunately, they had picked a song that was not suited for this. Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” is a lyrical masterwork, but musically it is so simple that it is literally unidentifiable when separated from the words. The entire composition is comprised of simple repetitions of C#min and Amaj. One could argue that Dylan’s guitar playing is, perhaps, an identifiable riff, but that’s really stretching it. He’s strumming chords in easy rhythms that can be found in millions of other songs. Besides, in Someone to Watch Over Me, no one would play guitar anyway. My challenge: the song, intended to be ultimately recognizable for the audience, was to be performed without lyrics on a piano and notated by a 3-year-old girl! How were we going to pull this off??
I suggested to the writers, Michael Nankin and Ron Moore that the only way to do this would be to not technically play “Watchtower” at all, but to feature instead the musical thematic ideas I composed while creating the Galactica version of “Watchtower,” as heard in the Season Three finale. Wrap your heads around that for a minute. “All Along the Watchtower” is nowhere to be found in this episode. The music that is actually being played and heard by the characters is entirely my music. It is the Final Four theme:
This riff was composed for Crossroads, Pt. II and since that episode has evolved into one of the most important thematic melodies in my entire score. Because it harkens back to “Watchtower,” both melodically and instrumentally, with the occasional presence of sitar, guitars and harmonium, it was an ideal musical theme to represent the secret cylons’ internal conflicts in the first half of Season Four.
But here, the theme takes on a whole new meaning. In fact, it’s no longer even appropriate to refer to it as the Final Four theme at all. In this episode, its scope and function have broadened to encapsulate not only the Final Four, but Starbuck, her father and Hera. This theme has leaked out from the confines of the soundtrack and become a major character in and of itself.
I must confess, I never fully convinced any of them that using this theme instead of “Watchtower” would actually work. Bradley and Ron both expressed fears that the audience might not recognize the song at all. There were discussions of incorporating the Dylan lyrics, or using some other aspect of the song. But, I assured them I could do it. If the piano arrangement were not obvious enough, I told them I could enhance it with the presence of sitar, guitars, bass, drums, ethnic soloists and percussion that would undeniably connect it with Season Three’s “Heeding the Call” and “All Along the Watchtower.” That, ultimately, was my approach for the big reveal at the episode’s climax.
The other advantage to selecting the Final Four theme as the musical stand-in for “Watchtower” was that it could actually be notated. This is an incredibly important point, because Hera had to write something that Kara would eventually recognize as music. The musical notation of Bob Dylan’s or Jimi Hendrix’s (or even my) version of “Watchtower” would either be incredibly complex guitar tablature, or an overly simplified “chords and slashes” lead sheet. The Final Four theme melody, however, is elegantly short and easily notated.
In late March, I emailed David, Bradley, Michael and Ron a possible scenario for dealing with Hera’s notation. This email ultimately served as inspiration not only for the script, but also for the artists on set who produced Hera’s drawings.
“Hey guys… If I understand correctly, Hera’s only drawing dots in the beginning. Here’s a quick mock-up of some possible stages. Done on the computer of course, so everything looks too good, but you get the idea.
At the beginning, a bunch of dots. Looks like a frakkin’ caterpillar…
Then evolve with some beams, and a couple sharps…
Now, if Kara draws in 5 staff lines (the numeral 3 on the triplets is optional), you’ve got your ‘Watchtower’ theme…”
In response, Michael Nankin pointed out that the reveal should have “only two steps: dots and then music. Once you add beams and sharps, you’ve revealed the gag and it’s over.” So, the middle step was removed and the rest, as they say, is history. As you can see, my first stage sketch was sent to the art department in Vancouver and became precisely what Hera drew in the episode.
“You had a profound influence on the script,” David Weddle told me recently. “This episode could never have been anything but hackneyed without your input, but we knew that and I feel very proud of the fact that we brought you in as a full collaborator from the very beginning.”
With the major musical decisions at least temporarily made, and the inner workings of Slick’s creative frustrations fully realized, David and Bradley finished their first full draft of the script while Michael Nankin began pre-production.
*** Pre-Production: Casting ***
The first issue to arise in pre-production was casting. Everyone understood that the role of Slick required a very special actor, one who was comfortable speaking lines and comfortable at the piano. “We thought it was critically important that the actor we hired could actually play a piano,” David Weddle explained. “I had seen too many movies about music composers that felt phony because the actors couldn’t play a note and directors cheated by never showing their hands actually touching the keys.”
“I didn’t want to shoot this episode in the fake Hollywood way of making a separate cut to the pianist’s hands,” Nankin told me. “I wanted to create a real scene with a real piano player. I knew this was critical to the reality of the episode. I also knew that having to actually play during the scenes would create a reality to the performance — focus the actor — in a way that nothing else could.”
I offered Nankin my help as “stunt hand performer” if it became necessary, but he actually took the idea one degree further. Nankin asked me if I would audition for the role of Slick!
David Weddle explained “Nankin, Brad and I were very concerned about getting an actor who could actually play the piano and work with you on the set. Nankin suddenly had an idea: ‘Why don’t we have Bear audition for the part?’ Brad and I thought we had nothing to lose and you were game for it so we brought you in.”
“Once we all agreed to cast only actors who could play [piano], we narrowed our choices considerably,” Nankin recalled. “We cast in LA, NY and Vancouver — a very unusual and expensive thing to do for a TV episode. It seemed logical to ask Bear to come in. I had no idea if he could act or not and he was composing the music, so it made a lot of sense to have him on the set, playing it. Besides, he’s a handsome guy and would look good on a bench with Katee Sackhoff.”
At the time he asked, I really had no idea how incredibly important the role had become in Bradley and David’s most recent draft. And anyone who has seen my Music of Battlestar Galactica documentary on the Season 4.0 DVDs knows that I’m barely convincing even when I’m playing myself. However, the allure of being cast in a speaking role on my favorite TV series was too sweet a siren song to resist.
The ensuing experience was so hilariously awkward and goofy that it will always have a fond place in my memory. I dealt with the casting department and was sent the script pages I would be reading. That earlier version of the script had even more components of my interviews with David in it, so half the scene I was to audition with consisted of subtle variations on things I actually said. (This ironically didn’t make it any easier, mind you).
I must confess, though, I made a sincere effort. Not because I thought I’d actually be able to do it, but because David, Bradley and Michael asked me to and these are guys I never want to let down. I practiced the lines, sitting at my piano, riffing on various BG themes while I spoke. Admittedly, speaking while playing is intensely difficult, a skill I’ve never mastered.
The day of the audition arrived and started off on a perfect note. I walked in the door of the casting office and the assistant asked me for my headshot and résumé. I’m a composer, I thought to myself. I don’t have a headshot or résumé! And if I did have a résumé, the only two things on it would have been TRUMPET PLAYER #3 in the epic ABC Miniseries And the Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story…
… and my groundbreaking role as the ACCORDION PLAYER in Gossip, a short film I scored in college…
The audition itself was surprisingly awkward. “On the audition day, Bear waited with the other actors to come in and read the scenes (while playing the piano),” Michael Nankin recalled. “It felt weirdly uncomfortable to ask a major voice in the creative team to take the outsider role of an auditioning actor. A huge power shift, but everyone agreed to it, so we pressed on. When Bear came in to audition, I figured there was no point in having an elephant in the room so I talked about how weird it all felt so we could move past it and get to the job at hand
“As Michael said when you walked in ‘there’s no way this isn’t going to be awkward.’” Bradley recalled. “You had a quality that Slick had. Plus the abilities that Slick would have had. But the physical match to Kara wasn’t going to work, and we didn’t want to sacrifice your musical abilities to help us on the score – a full-time gig, I recall – to having you working on the acting side of things.”
David Weddle gave me an overly-generous review. “I thought you did a great job for a non-actor. But we realized we needed a professional actor who could deliver all of the emotional nuances and levels to the character and hold his own on screen with Katee Sackhoff. No small challenge. Then I became very uptight. ‘Oh man, we have to tell Bear we aren’t going to cast him and he learned all those lines and came in to audition, which can be a mortifying experience – what have we in our collective madness done?’ But fortunately, you took it very well and I’m sure you agree you would never have been able to give your full concentration to the music if you also had to act in the show.”
My best review comes from Michael Nankin, whose blunt honesty I’ve come to cherish. “How was Bear’s performance? He’s a wonderful composer.”
For the good of the show, and of humanity in general, I didn’t get the role.
Instead, they had the brilliant sense to cast Roark Crichtlow. Roark had everything the part needed. He could play piano, deliver the dialog and the emotional narrative and had a striking physical resemblance to Katee Sackhoff, essential to sell the big reveals in the story.
“I can’t imagine anyone playing this part better,” Nankin recalled recently. “[Roark] is completely believable as a struggling pianist and composer. He is more than strong enough to stand up to Starbuck, and has a quiet, fatherly strength as well as sex appeal which is the perfect combination for this character. He is really the emotional center of this episode. And he’s pretty good on the piano, too.”
Editor and associate producer Andy Seklir added “As you know, it’s hard enough to find the right actor period, let alone one that can play a piano and has to exhibit virtuoso talent.”
Bradley Thompson later explained the challenge of the music in the episode “was trying to make it happen for real in front of a camera, rather than simply looping the music underneath the performance. So Roark had to be both actor and musician – and learn Bear’s compositions (not a simple job in itself) essentially just before the cameras rolled.”
With the hilarity of the audition behind me, I prepared to go up to the set because, for the first time in my involvement on Battlestar Galactica, it was decided that the composer had to be on set during an episode’s production. For this episode, the interactions between story arcs, musical themes, piano performances and dialog went far beyond anything that any of us had ever worked on before. I simply had to be there to make sure the music worked, so that Nankin didn’t have to worry about it when he was directing.
In the middle of May, I hopped on a plane bound for Vancouver, B.C. and set out on what would become the most incredible experience of my career thus far. In the row across from me, I saw a guy I swore looked just like Kara’s dad… “Excuse me, are you Roark?”
CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 2…