'Child's Play' Composer Bear McCreary Discusses Influence, Musical Voice, And Bringing Chucky Back To Life [Interview]

Bear McCreary has grown to be one of the most prolific composers in the business. His work on The Walking Dead, Playstation 4's God of War, and Outlander all cemented his talents for the silver screen, television, and vast world of gaming. This year alone, he scored Happy Death Day 2U, The Professor and the Madman, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, most recently, the remake of Child's Play. McCreary possesses the innate ability to fluctuate between genres and create potent melodies that allow audiences to fully immerse themselves into worlds of intergalactic warfare, monsters, and period dramas.I spoke with him this week about Child's Play and his tactile, whimsical approach to scoring one of the most uniquely creative horror scores ever composed.Hi Bear, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. I'm pretty excited about CHILD'S PLAY coming out this week. How are you doing?I'm great! Yeah, it's a fun one!I'm curious about your influences and what scores you enjoyed since you were a child. As a lifelong fan of film scores, can you elaborate on which ones were most impactful for you?When I was between the ages of 5 and 8 years old, I fell in love with the music of composers like Danny Elfman, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Alan Silvestri, and John Williams. As I got a little bit older and got into middle school, especially high school, I really broadened and discovered Basil Poledouris, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, and Shirley Walker. I was growing up at a time when you just couldn't go to the movies without hearing immortal film music. And I inherited from all these composers, I think, a love of musical personality. I feel like the score is a chance for an artist to exercise their voice and augment a film. Thinking about the bombastic yet slightly comedic tone that was brought to Back to the Future by Alan Silvestri or Jerry Goldsmith's absolutely bonkers score for Gremlins. Danny Elfman's brain was imprinted across Beetlejuice and PeeWee's Big Adventure, and Elmer Bernstein bringing the classic Gothic horror to Ghostbusters. These are all scores that have a tremendous impact on their film, and had an impact on me, and pop culture as a whole. So, it's that sort of love of the musical voice that I think inspired me to start writing my own music and ultimately that I still try to channel into my work to this very day.You tend to gravitate towards the sci-fi, horror, and fantasy genres. For example, you composed The Walking Dead, The Cloverfield Paradox, and even Colossal. Are there particular elements within these genres from a composer standpoint that attract you the most?I approach everything from the same perspective which is character and story, which then influence the musical style. I think the reason I'm drawn to them is the musical voice. These genres require a bold musical statement and additional suspension of disbelief from the audience way more than a courtroom drama. There's already an uphill battle when we sit down and watch a screen, our brains know it's not real. Filmmakers are using a variety of techniques to get past your logic brain into your emotional brain and make you believe that Atticus Finch is real, and he's making his case in To Kill a Mockingbird. That's one level of believability that's kind of difficult for the human brain. The next level to believe that a man can fly, to believe that aliens are real, to believe any number of these other things really requires that music be a part of a much bolder presentation. So, I love that.Do you have your own personal experience with the original Child's Play that made you want to join the project or did you have hesitations?You know, it's funny. My experience made me not want to do the project. I'm, of course, familiar with Chucky, and I've seen a number of his older films back when I was probably too young to see them. He's a character that I've always loved and appreciated. And the notion of rebooting him and telling the supernatural voodoo origin story again was not something that I thought I would want to do. It's honestly not something I even wanted to see. Then I saw this new version of Child's Play, and it's just simply not that. It is a really cool contemporary spin on the story that I think plays on our modern day infatuation with technology and giving away our privacy in the same way that the original Child's Play brilliantly played up our infatuation with Reagan era consumerism and the Satanic Panic. These are two elements that don't transfer to 2019. When I realized that there wasn't an effort being made to transfer those particular tonal elements, I was really intrigued. So, it allowed me in my head to compartmentalize my love for the old Chucky films. They are still what they are, and I love them. But I loved a new version of the story and being able to untether myself from the musical and thematic material and just play around with some new ideas. With that said, on the soundtrack album, I did do my own cover Joe Renzetti's classic Child's Play theme from the end credits of the first film. And I just did that not because that recording is in the new film, but because I wanted fans to know that I'm a fan too. I love that old theme! So, that was really fun.

Yeah, I listened to the whole score and it is a lot of fun. There's a great deal of balance between tracks that resemble a lullaby which then progressively get more maniacal. I also love the fact that you used what you referred to as a "toy orchestra". How did the process look when composing the score? Did you score to footage or send in samples first?Well, by the time they brought me on board the film, it was shot in sort of its middle editorial life. I was at a slight advantage because I could look at the film and respond to it.  I pitched them the idea of the toy orchestra almost as a condition of me working on the film. I mean, which is to say that I was so excited about doing the toy orchestra when I got the idea, I realized that if they didn't think that idea was cool then they aren't the filmmakers I wanted to be working with. Thankfully, they leapt at the idea. I had the filmmaking team over to my studio, and I showed them a bunch of instruments in person. I showed them a collection of toy pianos and hurdy-gurdys. The director, Lars Klevberg, picked up the Kalimba which actually I hadn't set out for Child's Play. It's a little African instrument that I have sitting around in my studio. He picked it up and started clicking it with his thumb, and it made this beautiful child-like bell tones. I thought "oh, that's the theme for Andy!" Lars just figured it out for me. So, in that regard, it was a very tactile, hands-on experience when there usually isn't. If you think of it this way, if I was going to do an orchestral score, I wouldn't hire a full orchestra to sit in the studio and invite the filmmakers over to just meet everybody to go over what the trombone sounds like or the cello sounds like. No. You have to use your imagination and your experience to know what the orchestral score will bring. In this case, I really needed to show them what it could be. And they responded positively.How did you go about choosing the toys and did you have favorites that elicited certain emotional responses?It was a funny experience because I went through my daughter's studio and found anything that made a sound. She had a toy piano and a couple of Fisher-Price xylophones. I found action figures that made clicking sounds, little beaded necklaces, and these chromatic bells that had all these beautiful rainbow colors. I took everything and loaded it up in my studio. She didn't notice it was all gone at first, but she's four and it's not exactly the best age to want to share her toys. She saw all her toys, and she insisted I pack it all up and take it all back to her toy room. It ended up being a six week process where she would go to preschool in the morning, and I would go in to pick up the toys. It took me two or three trips to bring all her toys into my studio and work during the day. Right before she got home, I would put them all back in the playroom. Then when she went to bed, I took them back out. Twice a day, I was unloading all this stuff but it was worth it!Did she help influence you at all or did you incorporate playing with her into any tracks?Yeah, she did a little bit actually. She would come in and explore some of the instruments. I had an autoharp where I had broken off all of the component pieces essentially just this harp with exposed strings. She started hitting it with a mallet that I had laying around, and it actually gave me the idea to do that in the score. She would play some of the toy pianos and she really enjoyed it. I did have an idea of what I wanted her to play the violin, but ultimately didn't have a place in the score for her specifically. Although, it was really fun having the chance to share a part of my creative experience with her.I bet. How was it working with Mark Hamill as the voice for Chucky?It was amazing. I mean, it was something that wasn't known when I came on the film because Mark Hamill hadn't been hired yet. But Chucky sang this little song throughout the film and it became clear once Mark was on board that he was excited to dive in with me and experiment with vocal technique and character. Even though he's not a trained singer, he was very enthusiastic about getting involved as a singer. We ended up with a variety of performances of what was called the "Buddi Song". It was going to be this little tune that was sung eight or ten times throughout the film. But, because Mark did such a great job recording it, we ended up recording fully formed versions of the song that are not only on the soundtrack album, but in fact the upbeat, pleasant Buddi Song–which sounds like something out of a Pixar movie– ended up being the main title credit song at the end of the film. That wasn't the intention, I did it just for fun because Mark and I were having a great time. The producers heard it and it ended up being in what I think is the most desirable place a song can be in a movie. So, that was pretty exciting.The score reminded me a lot of Jerry Goldsmith's "Carol Anne's Theme" from Poltergeist or Krzysztof Komeda's "Lullaby" from Rosemary's Baby, especially the parts where you're singing.Oh, you're just being nice! Those really are some of my favorite horror scores ever!(Laughs) No, no, no. It's a really delicate balance and art form to capture innocence and loving emotion within a horror score. Not a lot of people realize that with genre scores and tend to assume they primarily have these atmospheric soundscapes or dread-inducing type noises throughout. The tracks "Karen and Andy" as well as "A New Friend" have beautiful melodies to compliment the more sinister tracks. Can you talk about composing those?Thank you! Well, "A New Friend" was the first cue that I wrote for the film. That was essentially my sketch, my prototype. It was the most challenging sequence in the film. In "A New Friend", as the title suggests, Andy and Chucky are friends. There's a lot of very subtle and some less subtle foreshadowing to the darkness that lies ahead in the story. But ostensibly, this is the emotional core of the movie. If you don't believe that Andy and Chucky have a genuine bond that then becomes distorted later, the movie will not work for you. Because it's not the story from 1988 where there is a sinister kind of spy story. This is more like Fatal Attraction almost. The relationship has to be cemented in the beginning. I wanted to know if I could do that at all, do it with the toy instruments, and do it with a theme that sounds along the lines of this Speilberg/Poltergeist pleasant, emotional, suburban, childlike innocence. And yet, I can tweak that scene later and make it supremely messed up, sinister, and murderous. Also, could I take that same theme and make it a corporate tune that would be programmed onto a doll meant to be genuinely bonded and soothing to a child. It's a lot, but "A New Friend" is where I sketched all of that. That's why the first thing you hear on that track is the Kalimba and the second thing you hear are the toy pianos playing Chucky's little tune. So, all the DNA for the Buddi Song, for Andy's relationship, and even some of the weirder harmonic dissonance that comes up later, You can hear it all on that track. That was a really rewarding experience.It definitely all translates. There are even parts that reminded me of Danny Elfman's "The Cookie Factory" from Edward Scissorhands. There's a very mechanical, repetitive, and industrial sound quality that seems to play well with the AI storyline as opposed to the original voodoo narrative.Totally! In the trailers, we see where Chucky is manufactured. In fact, in the track "Birth of Chucky", it hints at that stuff pretty overtly. You know, the manufacturing of this thing that is Itself a product that is so powerful, it has the capacity to kill you. This is what drew me to the movie. At first it seems outlandish, but I bought a Tesla in the last year. If I wanted to, I could get in the Tesla, push a button, and start driving. I could go 80 miles per hour trusting this A.I. will not murder me. And you realize in 2019, the notion that we, for convenience of fun, give up our privacy and safety is actually a very relevant idea. When you see this doll being made, it only seemed outlandish for a minute. And so, I guess I wanted this sort of toy factory component, and I love that you picked up on Edward Scissorhands because I was drawing from that scene which is itself also drawing from "Powerhouse" by Raymond Scott from Looney Tunes. That mechanized motor as a baseline that's chugging along which is relentless, a little bit sinister but also a little playful was definitely intentional.