The right project always seems to come around at the right time. In the spring of 2020, I was in the midst of a variety of scoring projects when the Coronavirus pandemic hit. My life and my work ground to an immediate screeching halt. Suddenly, I was stuck at home, unable to collaborate directly with filmmakers or musicians. While I had a few of my own personal projects to keep my creative flame burning, I found myself, for the first time in nearly twenty years, with relatively little professional scoring work while I waited for production to resume on series, films and games. All of sudden, along came This Game’s Called Murder.
At the start of the pandemic, writer / director Adam Sherman was in post-production on his film that can be best described as a thriller / horror / satirical comedy, starring genre favorite Natasha Henstridge and the legendary Ron Perlman. When I watched the film, I flashed back to my high school days discovering cult films such as Dead Alive, Evil Dead, Forbidden Zone, and Cry-Baby. Like those, this film was clearly the work of an auteur, and created a cinematic world completely unique to itself. The film offered me a canvas upon which I could paint a score unlike anything I’d ever written before. I enthusiastically took on the project and set out to write the weirdest music of my career. (This is really saying something – for 2011’s Zom-B-Movie, I wrote a twenty-minute funk song about poop! Ha!) Adam was extremely open-minded collaborative and supportive, allowing me to explore unusual musical colors..
The months I spent writing this score, during the chaotic summer of 2020, were surreal. At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, the world was in a silent turmoil. The highways of Los Angeles exuded an icy calm as the skies cleared from the lack of traffic. Stress and anxiety were high, as racial tensions flared up in riots so near my home that I could hear them at night. And with all my other scoring work temporarily dried up, I discovered unknown pathways in my imagination. Locked into isolation, I went into my studio and tumbled headfirst into the world of This Game’s Called Murder.
My musical influences on this score are wildly eclectic – incorporating synth and rhythm section colors from 1980’s new wave, harp and woodwind writing from French impressionism, double kick drums and drop tuned guitars from heavy metal, Renaissance liturgical music, gravelly blues vocals, Nordic folk instruments, theater organ from circus ditties, and the swinging grooves of 1960’s beat music. In particular, I thought back fondly on my memories growing up listening to the Fellini film scores of Nino Rota, the early scores of Danny Elfman and his work with the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, as well as Queen, The Beach Boys, Jellyfish, Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh, Django Reinhardt, Maurice Ravel, and Eric Satie. Reading back that list, it strikes me that this score should be a complete mess. And perhaps it is! But, I somehow made it work and created a bizarre, yet oddly personal little score in the process.
At that time, before vaccines, being in the studio with another person was a risk. Even at my own studio, when computers broke down, I asked my tech team to walk me through fixing the computers over the phone so they wouldn’t have to come over. I felt like an astronaut on Apollo 13! Clearly, all the musicians on This Game’s Called Murder would have to record themselves at their own home studios, even with instruments as large and cumbersome as drum kit or harp. Thankfully, everyone was up for the challenge and excited to record at a time when very few sessions were taking place at all. My team at Sparks & Shadows were incredibly helpful in setting up a workflow that would allow us to bounce files back and forth and collaborate in this strange new world.
Once it became clear I would be technically able to work with other musicians, I was free to reach out to those I thought could bring something unique to the project. With Oingo Boingo being one of my musical touchstones, I knew I would have to ask original Oingo Boingo band members and my dear friends bassist John Avila and guitarist Steve Bartek to play on the score. They have played on many of my scores and concerts over the years, and they each brought their distinct musical voices to my score.
Other featured performers include vocalist Eivør Pálsdóttir (God of War) who sang the primary theme for the film’s band of female bandits, along with chugging nyckelharpa layers provided by the incredible soloist Erik Rydvall.
For Ron Perlman’s intimidating Mr. Wallendorff character, I crafted layers of guttural bluesy vocals with my friend Doug Lacy. I sang dozens of other layers myself as well, stacking up to fifty tracks of my own voice to create the Satanic choirs and Beach Boys style passages peppered throughout the score. I played accordion here and there as well.
Other instrumentalists included Omer Ben-Zvi on guitars. Omer has been on my team at Sparks & Shadows for years, and is an incredible composer himself, so I was fortunate he could step in and play for me on this one. The score features gorgeous cello solos from Pete Jacobson, as well as self-recorded orchestral soloists from around the world, including live harp, flutes, oboe, and bassoon.
Completing the core of the rhythm section were Gil Sharone on drums and Rani Sharone on bass. I had known of the Sharone brothers through their work with Stolen Babies and other artists, and always wanted the chance to collaborate with them. They were incredibly nimble, and jumped effortlessly from 1980’s new wave to thrash metal to jazz on a downbeat!
This Game’s Called Murder also provided me the opportunity to collaborate with Ego Plum, a composer and friend I’ve known for over a decade. Though I’ve always admired his eclectic musical voice, we’ve never actually collaborated on a project together until now! Like me, Ego is a full-time composer for media, so I thought I’d approach him differently than other musicians. Rather than writing out specific parts for specific instruments, I gave him only the same kind of general emotional direction filmmakers and directors often provide me. For a given musical passage, I might say something like “add crazy shit here” or “make me feel like I’m about to puke.”
Ego did not disappoint. In the final score, Ego plays dozens of instruments, including guitars, gopi, zithers, ektara, trash cans, hand percussion, mellotron, vintage keyboards, analog synths and mallet percussion. Ego let his imagination run wild and bombarded my cues with ideas. When I pulled his audio files back into my computer I was often laughing out loud with delight.
Unlike a traditional score, where everything is recorded at the end and mixed at once, I sent ‘work in progress’ drafts of cues to most of the musicians, while I was still writing. Players and I would chat on the phone or text about ideas, and then they would record on their own and send their audio back to me. From there, I would import the audio back into my computer, and write more music around their performances.
Inevitably, my first assemblies of all these performances were insane. Since everyone was recording separately, and I had encouraged them all to be daring, the music was riddled with contradictory ideas. On occasion it was cacophonously beautiful, but more often than not it sounded like two simultaneous circuses competing for my attention. I spent endless hours editing the tracks down, trying to apply order to chaos. I strove to make all these disparate tracks work as a single, cohesive whole.
“And so, at last, all the crazy musical performances were whittled down into a tasteful, simple arrangement.” … That’s what I wish I could say. Except, the exact opposite happened! After all those hours editing, I made a technical mistake when I exported the files out to my mixing engineer, Ryan Sanchez. He ended up with unedited audio, just as disastrously messy as it was when it first arrived in my studio! Whoops.
For the first few mixes from Ryan, I didn’t even notice what had happened. I just knew that Ryan was delivering back to me mixes that captured my vision. The score was a blend of a dozen musical genres that still held itself together with its own identity. Not until halfway through the film’s mix did I notice that tracks I thought had been muted had accidentally been sent to him. At first, I was horrified! To Ryan’s immeasurable credit as an engineer and producer… he somehow made it work! So, I did not fix the mistake, and encouraged Ryan to keep doing what he was doing. Through a twist of fate, this happy accident resulted in a score even weirder than the one I had intended.
Writing the score for This Game’s Called Murder was a joyous experience, topped off when I got to write music and lyrics for the film’s end title track theme song. I brought in my brother, Brendan McCreary, to provide his distinct brand of energy and insanity to sing the lead vocal. I was fortunate to collaborate with producer / mixer Forrester Savell on the song’s mix, and he took it to the stratosphere. The song draws musical material from several important themes in the film’s score, and the lyrics are inspired by the film’s satirical look at social media culture.
This Game’s Called Murder
music and lyrics by Bear McCreary
I’m the one inside your head
I’m the one got you seein’ red
I’ve got what you need
Come close, you pretty thing
I’m the one for whom you’ll bleed
You know the name of the game
You know how this is played
Winner takes it all
You want the fans and the fame
You want them shouting your name
When you start to fall
I’m the one who can open doors
I’m the one who can get you more
Step in, close your eyes
Relax, try this for size
Don’t mind that bloodstain on the floor
Empty your mind
Imagine calm seas
And then you’ll find
Peace and tranquility
I’m the one with what you need
Give yourself over to me
I’m the one
I’m the one
I’m the one
I’m the one
The film began a limited theatrical run last month, and has hit VOD, including Amazon Prime Video and AppleTV. The film’s soundtrack album is available digitally now from your favorite streamer or retailer from Sparks & Shadows.
1. This Game’s Called Murder (feat. Brendan McCreary)
2. Mr. Wallendorf Theme
3. The Wallendorf Game
4. Date Night
5. The Great Ramen Heist (feat. Eivør)
6. Jennifer and Cane
7. Cynthia Fight (feat. Eivør)
8. The Woman in the Mirror
9. Carousels and Dreams (feat. Eivør)
10. Jennifer Creeps
11. The Game Called Snafu
12. Ransacking the Grocery Store
13. Gold and Betrayal
14. Heartbroken Jennifer
15. Combat Rules
16. Seduction and Asphyxiation
17. The Congratulations Game Pt I
18. The Congratulations Game Pt II
19. Finding Gold
20. The End of the Game
Huge special thanks on this one go out to my technical and administrative staff at Sparks & Shadows. Producing a film score is a challenge under normal circumstances, but figuring out how to do so during a worldwide lockdown required a new level of commitment and skill. They rose to the occasion, facilitating hundreds of recording session files, delivered in multiple formats, to performers around the globe. Thanks are also due to my awesome reps at Kraft-Engel Management, especially Richard Kraft and Laura Engel, as well as Joe Augustine for his support on the soundtrack album, Alec Siegel for cutting the amazing music video, and Jun Shimizu for shooting so much of the vibrant footage for us. Of course, thanks are due to all the musicians, orchestrators, copyists, and engineers, who went out of their way to figure out how to make this score possible at a time when it seemed nearly impossible.
This Game’s Called Murder was my first “quarantine score,” one that taught me how to make music in this new era. My team and I learned production techniques that we’ve employed on every score since this one. More crucially, I’m excited to have had the chance to write music like this! I’m grateful to Adam Sherman for bringing me a film that would result in the craziest score of my career, a film that would also prevent me from going crazy myself during those turbulent months in the middle of 2020. I’m thrilled that the film, soundtrack, and music video are out in the world now, and hope that listeners can hear how much fun we all had creating it!