Halo Interview: Composer Sean Callery Discusses His Score

ComingSoon’s Jeff Ames recently spoke with acclaimed composer Sean Callery about his amazing new score for the TV series adaption of Halo.

The live-action Halo series stars Pablo Schreiber (American Gods) as Master Chief, the iconic Spartan super soldier and humanity’s last hope against the alien Covenant; Natascha McElhone (Californication) as Dr. Halsey, the brilliant, conflicted, and inscrutable creator of the Spartan super-soldiers; and Jen Taylor (Halo game series) as Cortana, the most advanced AI in human history, and potentially the key to the survival of the human race.

Callery has received 17 Emmy nominations and four wins and contributed music to such TV shows as 24, Homeland, Minority Report, Jessica Jones, and the film The Marksman, starring Liam Neeson.

Jeff Ames: What drew you to the Halo TV series?

Sean Callery: I had never before worked on a project that had such an expansive and deep storyline. There are so many beautiful characters and diverse worlds in the Halo Universe. I was attracted to the challenge of composing for a story that was so grand in scale and yet also intimate in its fundamental celebration of humanity.

What was your approach to the score? Was this a project where you took into account the vast history of the product, or wanted to dive in with a fresh approach?

The answer is really a bit of both. The producers were very keen on developing new themes and sounds for this particular story, which is a separate canon from the game storyline. At the same time, we all felt there had to be a genuine connection to the enormous and amazing body of work that preceded this series. I have such respect for the music from the game, and from the very beginning, everyone wanted to make sure that there was a proper balance between any quoting of thematic material from the game and the newer themes I composed specifically for this particular canon.

How much of Martin O’Donnell’s original Halo theme did you implement?

The very opening of the Main Title contains the first line from his iconic original theme (performed by solo cello and female vocalist Lisbeth Scott), and then segues into my Master Chief theme. In the spirit of wanting to connect the game world and the series world I literally connected both themes in the Main Title. It was never far from my mind thinking about the fans of this great franchise. I do like how the Main Title came out, and I hope fans and non-fans alike will connect with it.

You will also hear quoting of the game’s themes sporadically throughout the nine-episode season. I was actually quoting a bit too much at first, and we realized that a sparser approach was more powerful and effective.

Were there elements you implemented into the score that you hadn’t used on previous projects?

I collaborated with French Cellist Vincent Segal on some wonderful sound design textures using his electric cello to create some brilliant sonorities. And I also collaborated with fellow composer Colin Stetson on one of the more amazing moments in the series. You will hear that particular piece at the end of episode 6.

What was the most challenging aspect of the score?

We worked really hard to find the right musical tone for the series. I was aware that these are characters that have been around for 20+ years – existing now in a separate environment and storyline.

We had creatives from 343, Amblin, Take 5 Toronto, plus our director and showrunner weighing in with their own views and valid observations. Threading that musical needle just right was something we were all very committed to.

Were there cues/themes you set up with the intention of exploring them in further seasons?

Yes. I hope all the characters return and that the themes will evolve more along the way.

Is there a track you’re especially proud of?

There are a few that I have for different reasons. There is a big moment in the middle of Episode 4 when John is uncovering parts of his past which became unexpectedly uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. And as I mentioned above, the collaboration with Colin Stetson created a beautiful moment in the series that went well beyond my expectations.

Considering your amazing portfolio, where does Halo rank for you in terms of the projects you’ve worked on?

Halo is right up there with the other great shows I’ve been blessed to work on like “24”, Homeland, and Jessica Jones to name a few. It has been a rich and joyful experience, and I’ve met many new friends along the way.

What’s on the horizon for you?

A pilot set in the old west is fast approaching, and a Fox legal drama told in an anthological format involving different stories and characters each week. It’s an amazing project.

Any additional thoughts?

Hopefully, a soundtrack release will be announced in the next few weeks. Stay tuned!


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