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Composer Sean Callery: A Year In Review

By: Marjorie Galas

Standing in the shadow of composer John Williams is intimidating. The multi-Oscar winning maestro created a haunting score for Steven Spielberg’s 2002 acclaimed film “Minority Report.” When Sean Callery, a multi-Emmy winning composer, agreed to score the pilot for the Fox series based on the same movie, he quickly acknowledged the lasting imprint Williams had on the material. “I don’t feel I could match the artistry and elegance of Williams’ score,” said Callery.

With the pilot picked up and a series green lit, Callery will bring his own musical mastery to “Minority Report.” Set in the same world as the movie, the series will follow a completely different set of characters. Always attracted to scripts with a strong story at their core, Callery excitedly accepted the challenge of “bringing new energy and color while honoring the original” to the heart of the score. Focusing on the complex relationships between the characters, Callery pulled specific orchestral sounds he layered in the pilot that will continue to be adjusted as work progresses on the series.

“There’s an active, fluid environment and a great tech set, but at the core of the show is a relationship arc, so I started there,” said Callery. “This score’s role is to help enhance the story you are seeing. It brings a richness of texture found in the film into the pilot. It’s adventurous and heartfelt.”

Adventurous and heartfelt perfectly describes Callery’s professional journey over the last year. After a six-year hiatus, he returned to Jack Bauer’s universe in “24: Live Another Day.” When he first learned of the twelve episode special, he initially wondered how he would reconnect with the material.

“I never had this happen before, coming back to a story after a six-year gap. Part of you says ‘How will I connect?’ But it is like visiting an old friend; from the moment we started, I felt comfortable.”

“24: Live Another Day” brought several challenges to the composer. First, the score had to evolve and become fresh without becoming new and unrecognizable. Secondly, the nuanced pacing Callery was familiar with in the series was greatly accelerated; each episode contained at least two major action sequences. Callery turned his attention to the emotional evolution of Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland), a character whose personal losses exceeded the battle scars and torture he’d experienced since we’d last seen him. Like Sutherland, whose first thirty minute performance expressed Bauer’s deep emotional state without dialogue, Callery used a fusion of electronic instruments and orchestral sounds to illustrate longing, pain and heartbreak will maintaining a steady flow of adrenaline.

For the tenth season of “Bones”, a series he’s been involved with since its inception alongside fellow composers James Forsyth and Julia Newmann, Callery received funding to hire a live string ensemble to record the 200th episode’s score. The stand-alone special featured Dr. Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and Agent Booth (David Boreanaz) as completely new characters in a 1950’s jewel heist caper. The composition team felt the score should match the episode’s unique departure and be reminiscent of the music heard in thrillers of the period, primarily those composed by Bernard Herman. The only way of capturing the dramatic sound was to employ a full orchestra, a practice not used in television programs today. “It was quite a labor of love,” said Callery.

In addition to returning to “Elementary” and “Homeland”, series for which his past scores have received Emmy nominations, Callery provided the score for “Backstrom,” a series that required minimal, “back seat” music. Callery was delighted by the story of a grubby, brutally honest slob who was brilliant. Callery was especially intrigued by the way actor Rainn Wilson found a unique humanity and soft heart in the eccentric character, and enjoyed creating music that “stayed out of the way” of the acting and story.

“Backstrom was a man who walked to his own beat. I chose a guitar to create a music that honored his movements. The tuning was not kosher, which helped pull out his sloppy rough edges,” said Callery. “It was important to keep the music from being too intrusive. It hurt when the series was canceled. My heart broke.”

In between working on the upcoming “Minority Report” and a yet-to-be announced Netflix series, Callery traveled to New York University to lead the NYU/ASCAP Foundation Film Scoring Workshop. The special workshop presented in honor of Buddy Baker, a composer behind many Walt Disney film score, allows a new generation of composers to receive practical training in film scoring. Callery first became involved with the workshop in 2012 and eagerly looks forward to the event every year.

“It’s more of a master class where the participants look at one of six scripts, compose scenes and receive critiques,” said Callery. I’s a really treat. It’s really inspiring to hear new composers and the new ideas they bring to the framework. It’s so exciting to be a part of.”