by Dan Goldwasser
Sean Callery is the composer for the top-rated television show "24". With the show about to start its fifth season, SoundtrackNet talked with Callery about his work on the show, and his background as a composer.
How would you describe scoring for a "real-time" show, compared to a typical dramatic series?
I suppose the one parameter which I react to on "24" is its constant linearity. I've worked on other dramas where a particular story line will be continued and concluded in a second episode (think "...to be continued..."). This was the case with a cliffhanger episode at the end of last season's "Medium" (NBC), which I also compose the music for. With these "two-parters", the musical ideas used in the first part tend to grow naturally into the second part as well, since it's a continuation of the story.
"24" is really a "24-parter". As a result, there may be melodic elements that I used back in the first episode which continue to reveal themselves in much later episodes, which is a delightfully unique situation. The score gets a little richer, perhaps, because of the unique exposition of the stories and characters on "24".
There is almost constant music in the show - how much music do you normally write per episode, and what is the "approval" process for your cues?
I currently compose approximately 38 minutes of music per 44-minute episode, so yes, this is a very heavily scored show. Fortunately, my relationship with executive producers Joel Surnow and John Cassar goes back almost ten years and we have a very good synergy together. When each season begins, I will "spot" the first few episodes with the directors. Later on during the season when multiple shows are being shot simultaneously, I will spot the show with my music editor, Jeff Charbonneau. I will score the shows and then when the producers hear the score they will ask for adjustments (hopefully not many!) as needed.
What is your average turnaround time for an episode?
About 4-5 days. An episode arrives on a Wednesday afternoon and it has to be completed by sometime early Sunday. The music takes a full day to mix and sometimes the delivery date is advanced a day depending on air date schedules.
How were you able to juggle working on "24" and "Medium" at the same time? Did you get sleep?
Several things made that possible. Thankfully, the schedule was staggered. I completed nearly seven "Medium" episodes before we started mixing "24". Secondly, Executive Producers Joel Surnow ("24") and Glen Gordon Caron ("Medium") are both very talented veterans of their craft and very skilled at communicating their needs with me, which is a major plus. Also helpful was getting the "24" episodes more in advance during that time of year, rather than the 4 1/2 day turn around schedule for composing once the episodes start airing.
The last perk for me is that "Medium" and "24" are so different musically, and I really enjoy moving between both genres.
Do you have any musical goals for the 5th season of "24" that will be different than past seasons?
The mood of Season 5 is developing into something new and different, and I'm delighted about that. This is because the first episode does something that we've never done before, and I think I'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say that fans expecting jolts and adrenaline rushes will not be disappointed. My goal is to evolve musically with the new story lines, and I'm happy to see that this is happening.
My non-musical goal is to keep myself from gaining 17-pounds during the season! Very unhealthy indeed. It's easy to get into complete bodily stagnation, but as I get older I have to fight back otherwise I'd become a blob at the keyboard.
You met Joel Surnow when you worked with him on "La Femme Nikita". Now that you've been working with him for almost a decade, is your job easier?
The relationship gets richer with every episode. I believe that you develop invaluable collaborative instinctswhen working with someone over a long period of time. Joel and I have developed that kind of working connection, and it's a real bonus for me creatively. We have worked on nearly 190 hours of network television together, and with each new episode we're always striving to keep the work innovative and fresh. "24" is a great vehicle for that kind of exploration. It was a great feeling to complete our 100th episode of “24”.
Another bonus for me is that Joel will always let me try anything once - even if he thinks it's a little too bizarre at first, he'll trust me to go with an impulse because he always values anyone who's willing to really hang out there with an idea. The picture editors on "24" and I are good friends and we all have this freedom. The result is that we all go that extra mile to get something really great.
And when something doesn't work, Joel will not labor with words about why it's not working or anything like that. He'll simply tell you it's not working and move on. There's no tension filled moment, or anything like that. It's a great way to work.
What is the most useful piece of gear/software that you use, and why?
Does sleeping count? I mean, it's kind of like re-booting, isn't it? Seriously, all the gear in the world means nothing if you haven't got a fresh mind and heart to go exploring with. I don't know how to answer that question. All the equipment I use work together and my most useful piece of gear depends on the current project.
You're from Rhode Island, and got your training at the New England Conservatory of Music. How did you get into the television/film industry?
My desire was always to be writing for film and television ever since I was very young. I got a job at New England Digital (makers of the Synclavier Music system) quite by chance and moved to Los Angeles the day after Christmas in 1987. My years at NED were more educational than any college course could have ever offered. During my years there as a product specialist I was dropped into a variety of different music studios and situations, and I learned much helping and assisting various clients which included Alan Silvestri, Mark Snow, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.
How did you get to be involved with "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"?
One of the things I learned while working for NED was sound effects design and editing. I was working in 1992 as music director for Olivia Newton-John when she had to cancel her tour for personal health reasons. I needed a gig, and luckily the Star Trek crew (some of whom I trained while at NED) needed a night time editor. I got the job, and on my first night I was assigned the task of designing some sound elements for the shape shifting character, "Odo" from the series.
Ironically (and forgive me, I've said this in another interview), I became a better composer as a result of being a sound effects editor. I learned how the sound effects will take more priority over the music and vice-versa, depending on the scene. On the mixing stage, I watched how the mixers wove the music in and out of the effects and dialog, which is not an easy task on a show like Star Trek.
What composers have influenced you greatly?
Even before I knew who John Williams was, as a child I remember loving the music to "Lost in Space", so he has to be on my list. Ennio Morricone, Angelo Badalamenti, Igor Stravinsky, David Shire, Philip Glass, Jerry Goldsmith, Brian Eno. As I think about it, I could go on for quite awhile, so I'll stop there, but please note this is an incomplete list.
What else are you working on now?
I completed the "24" video game, which included a live orchestra performing nearly 30 minutes of original music. That came out great. And of course, my work on "Medium" and "24" continue full steam. I also just completed a main title for an upcoming NBC series.
Do you have any dream projects?
If John Williams were to put down his baton one day and announce his retirement, I would love to compose a score for Steven Spielberg. I remember in college learning about the immense popularity of composer Giuseppe Verdi. His music was so beautifully and intelligently written and yet so accessible to a mass audience. I think Mr. Spielberg has that kind of connection with his audience, and it would be a joy and a challenge to create a score for him.
But alas, I am conflicted about my dream, because I don't want John Williams to ever retire! I hope they continue to make movies together for years to come!
"24" airs at 9pm on FOX Mondays, and "Medium" airs at 10pm on NBC Mondays. Callery's score to the first three seasons of "24" is available from Varese Sarabande Records, and "24: The Game" comes out on February 28 for Playstation 2 Game Systems.