My New Series Premiere: Trauma

This Monday, September 28th on NBC at 9/8c, check out the premiere of my newest series!

I know what you’re thinking: “Wait a minute… this looks like a medical show.  But, if Bear is doing the score then this TV series must somehow involve cyborgs who look like sexy people that want to destroy and / or save humanity.” Alas, no.  Trauma represents my long-overdue step out of the sci fi genre.  But, don’t worry… with the rocket-pack-themed Dark Void videogame and BSG prequel series Caprica out in January, I’m in no danger of losing my sci fi cred just yet.  :)

When I saw the first episode, I was hooked and knew it was a series I had to be involved in.  Executive produced by Peter Berg, Trauma is an action series disguised as medical drama that focuses on EMTs in San Francisco.  The show is shot and cut like a combat movie, where each sequence is infused with chaos and energy.  Because the action takes place out in the field, it has a much more open and dangerous feeling than most medical dramas.

The cast is incredible across the board, and each of them portrays a medic with personal problems more out of control than their hectic jobs.  I was particularly struck by Anastasia Griffith’s Nancy and the character Rabbit, played by Cliff Curtis.

I first noticed Curtis when he played a likable drug dealer in Bringing Out The Dead (a movie ironically about EMTs).  But I became a big fan when I saw Training Day, a film he almost stole despite being in just a single, yet memorable, sequence.

The Trauma pilot, and many subsequent episodes, were directed by Jeffrey Reiner, with whom I also collaborated on the Caprica pilot that came out on DVD last spring.  Despite sharing the same director, Trauma and Caprica could not be more different, musically.  This series features many pop, rock and punk songs that give it a contemporary feel.  I wanted the score to blend in to the real-world setting, and not stand out from the songs, so the instrumentation is based in a rock and roll language.

Percussion is frequently the defining sound of any of my projects.  Battlestar had taiko drums, Caprica has harp, Terminator had metallic percussion.  On Trauma, you will hear a rock and roll rhythm section, though it is used in some highly unorthodox ways.  (I am generally turned off by soundtracks claiming to be “rock scores” and strove to avoid falling in the same traps, fearful of ending up with music that is neither decent rock nor effective score).

My first task was to pull together a kick ass rhythm section that would be the Trauma band.  Naturally, I borrowed heavily from the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra roster.

On drums, is the drummer I first worked with on BSG’s All Along the Watchtower and T:TSCC‘s Samson and Delilah: Nate Wood.

On bass, listen for Mike Valerio, who shared the stage with the BSG Orchestra at the Roxy, California Plaza and House of Blues, and is among the most incredible bassists I’ve ever heard.

The most important melodic instruments in the score are the electric guitars, which are played primarily by BSG veterans Steve Bartek (also of Oingo Boingo fame) and Brendan McCreary (of BrEndAn’s Band fame).

The bulk of the score is filled with intense action music, held down by the rhythm section and an arsenal of custom samples designed for me by my long-time collaborator Jonathan Snipes (of Captain Ahab fame).

To help me create a unique sound for this show, I turned to another BSG veteran working on Trauma, Daniel Colman, who recently won a long-overdue Emmy for his incredible sound design on Battlestar Galactica.

Daniel provided us with a ton of helicopter rotor sounds, which Jonathan Snipes then worked his magic on.  Combining the signature whooshing propellor sounds with oscillating analog synths (both of which had to be quantized in order to function as music), Snipes created for me a custom library of percussion sounds rooted in the reality of the series.  There are helicopters in the sound design and helicopters within the score itself.

I am the first to admit an approach like this risks becoming the cheesiest thing in the world.  However, Jonathan provided me the ability to process the helicopter sounds in many different ways, all with the touch of various faders.  The helicopters in my system can sound 100% natural or like a distorted, out of phase, filtered, blurry mess… or like anything in between.

Yet, these “chopper” samples only provided the backbone for my cues, upon which I added the live drum kit, bass, guitars, percussion and BSG alums Paul Cartwright on electric violin and Chris Bleth on woodwinds.

I must confess the end result is pretty rockin’.  I hope that BSG or T:TSCC fans can recognize my style, even though the Trauma score sounds like nothing I’ve ever done before.

Check out the video clips on the Official Site and you can already hear my score in action.  In the first clip, the tempo of the music lines up perfectly with Daniel’s helicopter sound effects track throughout most of the scene.  And there’s a bitchin’ Steve Bartek guitar solo too.  Cool!

Apart from sharing directors, sound designers and musicians, Trauma is connected to BSG in another unusual way.  Star Anastasia Griffith is actually the sister of BSG‘s “Apollo,” Jamie Bamber!  The first time I watched the pilot, I kept looking at her face and feeling like I knew her somehow.  When I heard she was related to Jamie, suddenly everything clicked and I wondered how I didn’t see their resemblance immediately.  Even though she and I have never worked together before, I still enjoy seeing a distantly familiar face on screen as I’m working.  :)

Since most of you reading this blog are BSG fans, I asked Anastasia if she’d do a quick interview for us, and tell us how she and her brother ended up in this crazy business.  She was gracious enough to spend a minute with me for this interview:

Bear McCreary: How did you and your brother both decide to take up acting?
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Anastasia Griffith: I guess it was something that my mum was really passionate about when we were growing up, as she was a trained actress herself, and Jamie and I just took to it.  A love of it grew from that first seed I guess, but it wasn’t until I was working behind the scenes as an AD for the BBC that I realised that the production side just wasn’t going to swing it for me.  Jamie was already working and that was intimidating for me actually, as Jamie always found things came easily to him, I didn’t think I would be so lucky.  It turns out I was…
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Bear: Are you a fan of BSG?
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AG: Absolutely.  I think the writing on that show is fantastic.  So much so that I often am a step behind!  But I think they did a fabulous 6 years of work and I was very proud of what Jamie achieved.  I always felt it a shame that the awards ceremonies and the general public had preconceptions about Sci Fi as I think this show really proved that those cliches need not be there and that the quality overrides the reputation.  I think its beginning to change but all too late for BSG sadly.  I was delighted to see Michael Rymer nominated for Best Director of a Drama Series for BSG at the Emmys this year however and gave a huge cheer when his nomination was announced.
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Bear: What is it like shooting in the streets of San Francisco?
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AG: Awesome.  We just use the crowds as genuine gawkers and passersby… they are our background.  The city offers such a particular energy and drama in its visuals that it lends so much to the show.  Generally we have felt very supported by the locals, even when we closed down the i80 for 5 days, and are constantly awestruck by the beauty of the backdrops we get to shoot in front of.
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Bear: What is like working with Jeff Reiner and the other producers?
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AG: They are great.  Jeff has really taught me a lot about not ‘Acting’ and having fun.  Just being in the character and playing around with cameras to give a real documentary type feel.  I find myself constantly trying to please Jeff, cos’ he’s kind of all of ours guru out here!  Dario Scardapane has become a good friend and I am so grateful for his constant support and patience.  This is his dreambaby and we are just getting to act it out for him, so its great that he is so involved. I have a girl crush on Sarah Aubrey, the sweetest and most chillaxed lady on the planet with a hugely maternal streak that is so adorable (maybe because she was very pregnant when we saw a lot of her on the pilot)…  and Pete Burg?!  Well he speaks for himself!
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Bear: When you found out that the composer of BSG would be scoring Trauma, did you worry that the entire soundtrack would be non-stop taiko drums?  (It won’t be, I promise!)
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AG: No, not at all.  I knew Jamie thought the world of you, as a composer and a man, so I was delighted.  I am excited to see what you have created.
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Bear: Do you ever use music to help find your character?
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AG: Yes.  I do.  Especially on this job as the people around me are very music based.  Dario gave us all a CD he had made with tracks all ‘Trauma’ based the first time we all got together and that encouraged us all to do the same.  I made my own Nancy mix to help me quantify her a little when we did the pilot, and I still think its relevant.  I don’t think it should go unnoticed that it has the Peaches track ‘Fuck the Pain Away’ on there!  Apt I thought.  She is a bit of rock chick tho, she digs the Chili Peppers, the Stones, all the greats.  I also used an Arcade Fire track to get me where I needed to be for the big break down moment in the pilot.  I was preparing myself, walking through a neglected mental institution listening to “Intervention”.  Awesome.
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A big thanks to Anastasia for taking the time out of production to chat!  Also, thanks to Andrew Craig for the session photos.  I hope you guys tune in and check this series out.  It’s going to be a blast.
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So Say…
-Bear