"Homeland", "24" and "Elementary" what do they all have in common? These hit series feature the great work of composer Sean Callery, a musical veteran who's been a part of some major memorable shows over the last decade. Being apart of hit series is a special thing and very challenging because you have to keep up with its' success as much as you do any career. Being a part of a hit series is a special thing, and for the most part very challenging. The bigger the show, the music has to be at it's greatest and highest level to keep the wheels from getting off the rails..
Since the 90's, Sean has really grown as a composer starting out with the hit USA series inspired by the hit French film, "La Femme Nikita", that really put him on the map with his outstanding music for the series which would lead to the greatest and memorable action series "24" along with other projects that include "Medium" starring Patricia Arquette, "Bones" starring Emily Deschanel and "Shark" starring James Woods amongst many others.
Sean, is a musical genius who's work has stood out in excellent ways and through this interview following his most recent Emmy nomination, we will learn how he somehow manages to juggle his musical pallette between two hit series, what inspired him on "24" and what the future holds for this excellent composer.
Hi Sean, how are you and thank you very much for granting me the time to conduct this interview with you today. It really is an honor to do so.
SC: Thank you for the kind words. It is my pleasure to speak with you.
Please tell our readers about what made you became passionate in music and composing.
SC: I was around seven or eight years old when I started noticing the 'background' music in the cartoons on television shows. There was something so powerful about how it affected what you were watching and experiencing. When my Mom took me to see “2001:A Space Odyssey” in the third grade that pretty much sealed the deal for me in terms of knowing what I wanted to do.
You’ve received your 13th Emmy nomination in 2013 for another hit-series, “Elementary” on CBS, starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. How did you end up getting the gig on this fun show?
SC: Director Michael Cuesta, who directed the “Homeland” pilot so brilliantly and many other episodes, directed the "Elementary" pilot. He asked if I'd be interested in writing the score for the pilot. It wasn't a given I'd be asked to do it because they hadn't budgeted for any original music in making the pilot, but in the end they decided they wanted original score, and I was luckily tapped to take it on. It's not a guarantee you'll get a gig just because you know a producer or director, but in this case it worked out and I was very grateful for it.
How do you approach this show and main title as compared to your past and current shows you’ve worked on?
SC: I was immediately intrigued that the series was set in modern day New York City. Watson was to be played by a female! Holmes and Watson running around solving crimes in New York City sounded like a very original and very cool idea. I began thinking of how this series would sound musically, integrating the nature of Holmes's brilliant non-stop observational mind with the modern day setting of New York city, no less. It ended up being a combination of classical textures (cellos, and other strings), combined with modern sound design woven in. Once I worked out the theme and the arrangement, I had to work out making it fit into a 30-second Main Title. As the “Main Title” came together there was a bit of back and forth, making it work with those brilliant visuals that define the show so uniquely. Incidentally, if you want to check out the full length 3 minute version of the “Elementary” main title, it's on my website at http://www.seancallery.com.
Will “Elementary” receive a soundtrack release in the future?
SC: Yes. I have been working on it.
You’ve applied your many creative talents to the hit Emmy Award-Winning Showtime series “Homeland,” starring Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, for which you were nominated for an Emmy in 2012, and now is in its third season. Please tell the readers how you got to be a part of this great series.
SC: Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, the executive producers on “Homeland,” worked on "24,” which was a series I also composed the score for between 2001 and 2010. We had a rich and productive prior relationship on that series, and it has been a real joy collaborating with them in a completely different way on "Homeland.”
Tell us about the approach you took in writing the music for the series?
SC: I try to absorb the tone of the story I'm composing for, and I do that by working very closely with the writers, director, and executive producers during this process. I aspire to get a feel for it even before I see what's filmed. In the case of “Homeland,” I had read the script before Ms. Danes and Mr. Lewis were even cast. The pilot script for "Homeland" hit me more as a taut political thriller, and less an action series (though there was plenty of action in the story) As such, I did not envision a very large and broad score. There was a natural presence of suspense and tension already in the story, and lots of communication between people that did not involve a word of dialog. The function of the score tends to punctuate a moment rather than lead or direct a viewer towards a particular emotional reaction.
Is the approach you take different from one episode to another or season by season?
SC: My basic approach remains the same. When you're spotting the episode and watching it for the first time, I play very close attention to how I am reacting, emotionally or otherwise, to what I am experiencing. Sometimes ideas or emotions arise that might not make rational sense in the moment, but I discard none of it. I just try to remain aware of what I am experiencing in that first time and then work from there, taking into account of course the thoughts and wishes of the director and producers. Ultimately, I am aspiring to compose a music score that will enhance the telling of the story I'm watching.
Did you get to work with an orchestra?
SC: I have recorded solo instruments and small live sectionals. Duduk, solo vocalists, percussion, trumpet, and strings.
Do you reuse or rework themes that you know have worked in a previous episode or from the previous seasons into the next one? Or do you prefer to keep a new, fresh approach to give the viewers something different?
SC: There are some story lines that lend themselves to restating a theme, and I like doing so when it serves the episode and in the telling of te story. Carrie, for example, has gone through some intense periods of being alone and unsettled over the last couple of seasons.There is a theme I wrote for that aspect of her character and that theme has been heard on more than one occasion. But even then, the theme is part of an original piece of score. As the stories evolve, I aspire to do the same with the music as well.
Will we see a soundtrack of the music for the series in the future?
SC: Yes, there will be. Sooner than later I hope. I'm completing it now. It will feature music from the prior two seasons and some from this newest season.
If you were to put together a soundtrack of your music for the series, what would you personally love to put on it and why?
SC: There are a lot of great moments in the series. I loved the episode that told of Brody's back-story with the little boy he taught and grew to love while in captivity. There is a very emotionally heartbreaking moment at the end of that episode that was profoundly beautiful to experience. I would say also the “Finale” episode of Season 2, when Brody and Carrie experience a brief moment of pure love and happiness with each other in her office; and a moment at the beginning of “Season 2”, when Brody and his daughter are in their backyard at night solemnly and with great care and respect burying his copy of the Quran that had dropped to the floor earlier in the episode.
Do you find it a little tough going back and fourth writing for “Elementary” and “Homeland?”
SC: Not at all. In fact, the contrast between the two is actually a really wonderful benefit, from a creativity point of view. To use an exercise metaphor, you are flexing different muscles, if you will.
You also composed the music for another memorable and just intense series as “Homeland,” “24” Starring Kiefer Sutherland. Please tell the viewers about how you came on board the show and your personal feelings about series.
SC: I was hired by Executive Producer Joel Surnow, who I worked with on my first series, USA Network's “La Femme Nikita.” I was a bit untested in the eyes of 20th Century Fox - and they were right in that assertion. I had not done a lot of series writing at that point. But Joel fought for me and I became the composer of the series. It was one of the most wonderful gigs I've ever had. No one knew at the time how big the show would become (we didn't even get a full season pickup for season 1 until around episode 7 or 8!). And the group of people that I got to know during those ten years became great friends long after the show ended.
Did you have a specific approach to each episode since each episode takes place in a day?
SC: Each season had a different tone and look to it. Jack Bauer of Season One is far different from the Jack Bauer of Season Eight. He became a more burdened hero over time, and I tried to musically honor this evolution as they occurred naturally over the years.
Was it hard for you to deal with the “MacGuffin” (the countdown clock) if you will and events that revolved around Kiefer Sutherland’s character or did that help you musically?
SC: In the beginning, it was real riddle how we were going to treat those multiple boxes and ticking clocks and such. I mean, we've seen it many times now, but when they were first putting it together it was really quite new and I wasn't exactly sure how it should be treated. But once we figured out the approach we didn't have too much trouble.
All told how much music did you end up writing for the entire series?
SC: Oh, man, I don't know! Towards the end the show, I had nearly 41 minutes of score per episode. It's a few hours worth of music, that's for sure.
Was it hard for you to come up with fresh material as the series went along?
SC: I enjoyed the challenge of it. I think everyone, from the writers, to the actors and directors on down - everyone - brought something new to each and every episode.That was part of the fun of it.
Varese Sarabande Records released four, excellent well packed albums for each season and the special 2 hour movie, “24: Redemption.” How did you assemble each one and was it hard for you to drop music that you felt would’ve worked on the albums?
SC: It is hard when making an album. You really want to include everything and honor the requests you get from fans. It's just not possible. You hope what you end up choosing is satisfying to the fans. Otherwise you've done something wrong.
Of all the soundtrack albums from the series, which one is your favorite?
SC: That's impossible to answer.
Varese Sarabande released the soundtrack to the first season of the series. How did you choose the music for it?
SC: If you're talking about fleshing out the initial musical style of the series, that was an evolving process. There wasn't as much score in Season 1, so right out of the gate the score has a different kind of flow with it not being so constant. There were many opinions shared with me about what the score to "24" should sound like. In the end the music was an ever-changing combination of sound design and organic orchestration. Designing on the colors that maintained tension and connectivity to the simultaneous story lines was an ongoing process.
“24” will be returning to airwaves next year titled “24: Live Another Day” with Kiefer Sutherland returning. Will you be returning to the series?
What are your feelings on the series returning after Fox had and probably still is toying with the idea of a feature motion picture for the show?
SC: It's exciting. I am reuniting with some of the people that I worked on the original series with. I think we all feel an obligation to maintain and further up the quality and enjoyment of the series, and we're excited to be a part of it again.
If, Fox and the producers of the show do actually go ahead and get a “24” movie off the ground finally, would you want to be apart of it?
You’ve also contributed heavily to other television series such as “Bones,” “Medium,” “Shark,” and “La Femme Nikita,” to name a few. Tell about each project and how you think your contributions have made them memorable.
SC: 'Nikita' was my first series. While it was intentional to not know where exactly Nikita lived, there was definitely an international/global feel to the series, so I did a lot of a Euro-trance beats and other styles mixed in together. It is interesting to come across a Nikita episode on television and hear a little bit of it, because I can hear in my writing how much I was really 'flying blind' at certain times. I think we are all flying blind at some point in our lives, otherwise we wouldn't grow, and speaking only for myself, I find that inexperience can sometimes be very liberating.
With “Bones,” I had not done much in the way of light humor writing, and it was an absolute joy to spread out musically with that flavor on a show that's so well written and executed at all levels to boot.
“Medium” was a phenomenal experience in that (Executive Producer) Glenn Gordon Caron used score so sparsely and so effectively in enhancing the stories. “Medium” was a kind of harbinger to the “Homeland” scoring process.
“Shark” was just plain fun to do. With an actor as talented and intense as James Woods, you just had to make sure the music didn't get in the way of him.
Do you enjoy working in television?
SC: I do. I've been blessed in that I have worked on many incredibly high quality projects, and with some incredibly talented people.
Do you feel that you have more of a free hand when you’re writing for television?
SC: Once the tone of the series has been initially established, I find I can experiment a bit more in later episodes and I enjoy that back and forth. We also have very tight deadlines, so that is a factor in all of it.
Is there a composer or composers that have influenced you personally in the way you write?
SC: I hate these questions because I inevitably leave someone out. John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Bernard Hermann certainly top the list. Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Cole Porter -- this is but a small sampling, and often my answers to these questions are often connected to something I'm enjoying or studying or playing at the time.
If there was one score for a film or television show you would love to have written, what would it be and why?
SC: I think working on “The Twilight Zone” would've been a fun experience. The episodes are so diverse and different, and it was an extremely well made series. You certainly wouldn't get in a compositional rut working on that show!
What is your dream project?
SC: I would love to write a musical. I have started a couple, but they are hard to get on their feet. The musical freedom of that art form is most alluring.
Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects you may have.
SC: I wrote a score for an upcoming film called "Small Time" starring Chris Meloni (of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) and Dean Norris. They play best friends who run a used car lot, and their world changes when the son of one of them (Meloni's) decides to forgo college (against his divorced parents' wishes), and become a salesman like his Dad. It's a sweet tale and I loved working on it.
I really want to thank you once again Sean for granting me this interview and I’m looking forward to your future projects.
SC: Thank you--great questions!
Thanks so much to Sean for being gracious with his time for this interview and a total class act! Thanks again, you're great! Keep it up! As well as very special thanks to Jana Davidoff-Morrison for arranging the excellent interview (well that last few!). Keep up the great work!
Please head over to Sean's website http://www.seancallery.com/ for updates on his future works and future soundtracks.
Sean's soundtracks to the "24" series are available at Varese Sarabande http://www.varesesarabande.com/servlet/Categories
To find out more about "Elementary" with complete episode synopsis and cast info head over to the show's website at: http://www.cbs.com/shows/elementary/. The latest season will air beginning on Thursday, September 26 at 10 P.M. EST.
To find out more about "Homeland" with complete episode synopsis and cast bios head on over to the show's website at: http://www.sho.com/sho/homeland/home. The first two seasons of the show are available on Blu-Ray and DVD by Fox Home Entertainment.
"24" is available on DVD by Fox Home Entertainment.