Outlander Preview: “The Way Out” [VIDEO and PHOTOS + Exclusive Q&A with Composer Bear McCreary]
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Just because her first plan of escape didn’t pan out doesn’t mean Claire’s not going to try again. We already know she’s persistent, determined and stubborn, so I think she’ll find another way to get away from the clan Mackenzie. If she didn’t know it before, Claire sees it demonstrated again just how formidable an enemy Colum would be if she ever crossed him. So she decides to bide her time as the castle’s healer while she plots her departure. I wonder, though, if herÂ growing friendships with Jamie and Geilles will help or hinder her plans to go.
Before you check out the clips and photos from this week’s newÂ episode, take a moment to read my exclusive Q&A with composer Bear McCreary. You’ve probably heard his name before because he’s the composer on a lot of great shows including Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Walking Dead and, of course, Battlestar Galatica. I spoke to BearÂ about how he got involved in the series, why it was so important for him to use Scottish instrumentation, how he came up with some of the character themes and so much more.
Bear McCreary:Â “It is actually, yes. Ron and I had worked together for many years on Battlestar and he mentioned he had a new show coming up, but he wasnâ€™t specific on what it was. When I read in the trades that he was developing Outlander for Starz, I got really excited because I had grown up with Scottish folk music of the Jacobite uprising. It actually was something I was a bit of an expert on, or certainly an obsessive fan over. So I called Ron and he didnâ€™t even know that about me. We started talking about the show and I think it became clear that for me to score this show would be a dream come true, but Iâ€™d also be able to bring a lot of historical authenticity to the score.”
TV GOODNESS: Talk to me a little bit about your process. Does it start when you read the script or does it come even before that?
Bear:Â “Well, Iâ€™m always a little careful about how I first learn about a project. Certainly, talking with a producer or showrunner in the early stages is very helpful. However, I donâ€™t always read the script because my job is not to score a script. My job is to score a picture thatâ€™s been cut together and many, many things can change the tone of a script as it moves through production and casting and directing and editing. A lot of times I find when I read the script sometimes I start picturing all these things in my mind and itâ€™s not necessarily what Iâ€™ll end up with. So I find the best thing to do is to wait until thereâ€™s really something in hand, thereâ€™s a cut thatâ€™s been assembled, even if itâ€™s very rough and then I can start looking at the images. I find that musical ideas will come very quickly to me at that point.”
TV GOODNESS: I know for this project it was really important for you to use Scottish instrumentation and obviously you know about the time period. Can you talk about that? Why was that so important to you?
Bear: “There were several reasons why Scottish instrumentation in the score to Outlander was important to me, the first of which is entirely selfish. I just wanted to use bagpipes in my music since I was a kid. In fact, I shoehorned them into Battlestar Galatica just because it took place in a culturally non-specific time and place, so there were no rules. In other shows Iâ€™ve done and some films and games, Iâ€™ve used bagpipes and sometimes producers donâ€™t respond favorably. Iâ€™ve learned over the years that not everyone likes Scottish music as much as I do.
So when I heard that there was a TV show that takes place in Scotland, I just leapt at the opportunity to do it because itâ€™s something that I love. Now thatâ€™s obviously the selfish reason. The secondary reason is that the most important aspect of this show is that people believe the characters and believe the place and itâ€™s so important for us to feel like we are in Scotland in 1743. So the score sounding authentic is one of the most powerful tools that filmmakers have at their disposal to tell a story like this. We all agreed from the get-go that using theseÂ historically accurate instrumentsÂ and also the actual folk tunes themselves that were prevalent at the time would help the audience feel like theyâ€™d been whisked away to this time period.”
TV GOODNESS: Speaking of that, how do you come up with the overall sound for the show and then from there how do you break it down? Can you talk about the themes you develop for Claire, Jamie and Frank?
Bear: “Sure. I always like to choose my ensemble as a first step whenever I start any new project. I want to reach out to the musicians that Iâ€™m gonna be working with, most of them are peopleÂ I know personally,and I figure out what orchestras Iâ€™m gonna be using. I need to know all these things in advance before I start writing so I know who Iâ€™m writing for and I can tailor my writing to their skills and to their strengths. The next thing I do is I write themes. Themes are like the structural DNA of the score. In the case of Outlander,Â I knew that I would need a theme to represent the two sides of the love triangle, Jamieâ€™s relationship with Claire and Frankâ€™s relationship with Claire. So when you have these two themes that are very different musically you can start to build the relationship with the audience so they subconsciously understand when weâ€™re thinking about Frank weâ€™re hearing this and weâ€™re thinking about Jamie weâ€™re hearing something else.”
TV GOODNESS: Do you have a favorite cue or musical moment from the series so far and, if so, can you talk about that?
Bear:Â “Oh. Youâ€™re gonna Sophieâ€™s Choice me. Ok, Iâ€™ll give you a few that stand out. I think for sure the Druid dance in the first episode is a rare opportunity as a composer for me to be able to do a lot of dramatic heavy lifting in a scene that doesnâ€™t have dialogue. I really commend Ron for leaving that space for me. I mean, he left room for the music to do a lot.
There are so many other really memorable cues coming up. Thereâ€™s a scene that surprised me in episode  where we get to meet a character named Mrs. Fitz. She has this great scene where sheâ€™s dressing Claire and itâ€™s really the first time that someone has paid attention to Claireâ€™s outfit and her jewelry. Thereâ€™s this fun little back and forth as Mrs. Fitz is trying to piece together where this clothing came from. This scene, as simple as it is, I just wrote a theme for Mrs. Fitz that ended up being one of the more delightful cues Iâ€™ve written for the show. It stands out to me. I think itâ€™s something fans are really gonna find themselves going back to. I certainly hope so anyway.”
TV GOODNESS: When youâ€™re working on this or any project how do you work through challenges or setbacks as they come up?
Bear: “Well, as a composer youâ€™re always balancing your creative desires with the schedule that you have and certainly that is the challenge and thrill and often the reward of working in television. You have to be very swift. You donâ€™t have times to rewrite things over and over again. You really need to hone your first instinct. And so obviously, the challenges that can really come up are, sometimes your first instinct isnâ€™t right or the producer has a different vision and you end up needing to rewrite things very quickly. When you have to do things that quickly sometimes you donâ€™t get to develop your ideas as well as you would like.
I must say, though, on Outlander my relationship with Ron stretching back as far as it does, had a tremendous advantage for both of us. We have found that the shorthand we have in communicating our ideas really pays off and those opportunities to create music that doesnâ€™t need to be rewritten over and over again, I have a lot of those on Outlander. Ron has a lot of faith in my ideas and he and I spend a lot of time talking about the characters, but he really gives me a lot of creative freedom and trusts me and thatâ€™s a really wonderful experience for me. So thatâ€™s great.”
TV GOODNESS: I think he put his faith in the right person because the music is great.
Bear:Â “Well, thank you so much.”
TV GOODNESS: Can you talk about the music over the opening credits? Did you compose that? How did that come together?
Bear:Â “I actually arranged the main title. I did not compose it because it is an arrangement of a traditional folk song called “The Skye Boat Song.” This is one of my favorite Scottish folk tunes ever. One of the things that I first sent Ron Moore when we started talking about Outlander was a recording I had done of “The Sky Boat Song.” It’s just one of my favorite songs. Iâ€™ve recorded it numerous times over the years. I change the harmonic progression a little bit and come up with my own feel for it and he responded favorably right away. In fact, he even said early on that this would probably be the main title. So that was real exciting, knowing that Iâ€™d struck on something so early that Ron was resonating with. I brought inÂ Raya Yarbrough, a singer I had worked with a number of times on Battlestar and many other projects, and she just transformed it. It really became something else through her voice and it was really an extraordinary experience and one that I think captures the spirit of the show. I mean, the fan reaction seems to have been overwhelmingly positive so far. So Iâ€™m very, very excited about that.”
Edited for space and content.
“The Way Out” synopsis, from Starz:
Claire decides to use her medical skills to aid her escape from Castle Leoch – with Jamie’s help, she tends to an ill child. During an evening’s entertainment, a story gives Claire hope for her freedom.
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9/8c on Starz.
All images courtesy of Starz.
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