The Seven Wonders of WonderCon 2011: Behind the Music of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, PUSHING DAISIES, TRUE BLOOD, BONES & More!

At the “Behind the Music: Composing for Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy” panel, presented by CW3PR, fans heard from some of the most gift musical talents on television today about how they entered the realm of musical composition.

Moderated by Bryan Fuller (Pictured above, left), creator of such gems as DEAD LIKE ME and PUSHING DAISIES, the panel consisted of Nathan Barr (TRUE BLOOD), Jim Dooley (PUSHING DAISIES, Pictured above, right), Scott Starrett (THE EVENT, DROP DEAD DIVA), Marco Beltrami (“V,” 3:10 to Yuma), Michael Suby (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, KYLE XY), and Sean Callery (24, BONES).
Each credited their current success to sheer luck. But, as anyone who attended this extraordinary panel can attest, luck only plays a small part. Just listening to the melodious sounds they create for some of the hottest shows on television made it abundantly clear that these men are nothing short of genius. They are the Mozarts of our generation. They create the sounds and music that invoke the emotional resonance that we all feel watching the shows we love. For what would “True Blood” be without the curiously intoxicating mix of Cajun tunes back-dropped by something almost otherworldly? Or would 24 have felt as intense without the piercingly riveting sounds reminding us of the ever-present clock ticking down?

Music is perhaps the most subtle form of manipulation on television. It is what draws us in, holds us and sometimes kicks us in the gut. Even the briefest of sounds can launch viewers out of their seats or bring down a rain of painful tears. Listening to each of the talented panelists, it is a reminder that television without the gift of extraordinary sound, is but a series of moving images across the screen. A few interesting tidbits from the panel included:

Bryan Fuller noted that one of the reasons he loves sci-fi music is because it allows going places outside our normal reality.  It allows for the use of instruments that would normally not be used. 

Nathan Barr agreed and said that for TRUE BLOOD he wanted to steer clear of the typical Southern sound and tried to incorporate instead more around-the-world sounds.  He even uses a “human bone” trumpet from Tibet which creates a weird resonance which is used on the show.

Jim Dooley shared that for PUSHING DAISIES each episode paid homage to an earlier film or television work and it was fun to use the DAISIES lens on those sounds and music.

Mike Suby said that for THE VAMPIRE DIARIES one of the techniques he likes to employ is using normal instruments, but then ringing or stretching each sound until it is dead or unrecognizable.  When sounds that one normally hears are stretched to nearly breaking, they are no longer recognizable and thus more interesting.

Sean Callery added that for 24, there were so many deaths on the show that they liked to use subliminal subtexts through music — to get underneath what was going on and invoke an emotional response.  He also noted that each character had their own musical theme, which helped weave the multitude of characters into the story over the course of an entire season.

When asked who were their musical inspirations, each replied:
– For Scott, it was John Adams.
– For Marco, it was Bernard Hermann.
– For Nathan, it was Bach.
– For Sean, it was John Williams work in Star Wars.
– For Mike, it was Alice in Chains.

One of the lighter moments of the panel was when asked about the challenges of composing, and as some of the panelists shared their frustrations in matching up their musical vision to the director’s visual ideas, Scott inserted that it is usually not a problem for him and humorously added, “We’re talking about aliens here — you have to acknowledge the craziness going on!”

Marco also revealed that his current work on Scre4m (aka Scream 4) is especially fun as he enjoys working with Wes Craven and it is cool to score the metamorphosis of Neve Campbell’s character.

As the panel discussed some of the mechanics of scoring for television, they emphasized that to make it in the industry, one has to be working out of Los Angeles or New York and that it is an all-consuming thing — it takes an inordinate amount of time to score for television and the time constraints can mean that one ends up working 16-17 hours a day for 6 days straight to meet the requirements of scoring 42 minutes of television a week; and as much as they would all love to work with live orchestras, there just is not enough money in the budget to make that happen on a regular basis.  Despite the time and money constraints, as Mike noted, composing gets under your skin.  It becomes such an integral part of you that you cannot shut it off.  Your whole life is living and breathing your work.

When asked how to handle that kind of pressure and stress, Jim replied, “Did you see The Devil’s Advocate?  It becomes: do you fold or do you focus?”  It is all about the love for the show and the experience.  It is what pushes you and it becomes your life.

Scoring for a film or television show is an amazing experience and one which none of the panelists would trade for anything.  It is their life-blood and legacy — and we are all the more richer for it.

Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).

Photo Credit: Jennifer Schadel