Sean Callery Q&A: ’24’ and ‘Homeland’ composer
You wouldn’t expect an intense drama like “Homeland” to feature such a jazzy score over its opening credits but according to composer Sean Callery, who won an Emmy for his efforts, the idea came from what was on the page. “In the script, there’s some reference to her listening to jazz,” he says, referring to Claire Danes' character, Carrie Matheson, a CIA operative. This kind of material was a good fit for Callery, who also worked on “24.” In our audio chat, he reveals that he regarded this the series as an opportunity to try something different. “The score really read more like a political thriller than an action series,” he says. “There was such an intimacy and aloneness to the character, that I thought it would be an interesting choice to try and experiment with a jazz language.”
“We had quite a bit of time to sort of experiment on the flavor,” he continues, “because jazz is a rather broad word, and we found sort of a tone that we thought was cool.” Callery knew his opening theme would play over a collage of news footage, sound effects, and dialogue, saying “we pursued the idea that instead of playing the sort of dark and aggressiveness of the imagery that basically depicts all of the horrible things that have happened in our world over the last 30 to 40 years, that we would maintain almost a contemplative, mournful kind of sound with the trumpet, and that’s how it continued to grow. It’s almost like a crying out kind of approach, and it’s very effective. There’s a lot of sound effects and a lot of dialogue and so forth, so it was a very complicated mix, but everyone still talks about it.”
Callery credits trumpet player Chris Tedesco, a frequent collaborator who worked with him on the mini-series “The Kennedys,” as being extremely helpful. “Chris did some ornamentations that I wasn’t expecting, and it’s a wonderful part of the process when you hear these little magical things that come out.” And co-creator and executive producer Alex Gansa inspired a key musical moment. "When you watch the main title, one of the most disturbing images in the montage is the shot of the twin towers in New York burning. Alex said, ‘It’s such a disturbing, powerful image.’ The trumpet sort of peaked a little bit earlier, and then it kind of arched down. I rewrote and rearranged the melody so that the highest note in the scene would sort of peak at that image, and then from there would arch downward to a more neutral range. It was a collective effort, to be sure, to make it deliver.”
He is inspired by the loneliness of Matheson when composing the score. “I always thought of her character as somebody who yearns to kind of connect with the world, and sometimes has real trouble making that connection. We all feel that way from time to time, that kind of longing, and it’s a little painful sometimes, but it’s not hopeless.”
Callery won three Series Music Composition Emmys for his for his work on “24,” and has been nominated an additional 10 times across three categories: six for Music Composition for “24,” three for Main Title Theme Music (for “The Kennedys,” “Homeland,” and “Elementary”), and once for Sound Editing for a Series (for “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”).