Quint chats with composer extraordinaire Michael Giacchino!
Published at: Oct. 2, 2010, 6:24 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. My chat with the great composer, Michael Giacchino, runs a little off the rails. At a certain point we just start geeking out over movie scores and trade favorites.
I have no idea if that’s at all interesting to read, but I kept all that in the below chat, so I hope it’s not too bad.
We talk a lot about the process of film scoring and touch upon Super 8, John Carter of Mars and Mission: Impossible 4!
Hope you guys dig the chat! Apologies to Score Keeper for nudging in on his territory!
Michael Giacchino: It was funny, before I left I was… I’m always on Ain’t It Cool News. I’m always reading your reviews and I saw your “I’m heading off to…” how many screenings you were going to see?
Michael Giacchino: No, this week.
Quint: I have well over thirty.
Michael Giacchino: You were saying “I’m going off to see 35 screenings.” I was like “What? How can you do that?”
Quint: That’s when I posted the Fantastic Fest posters.
Michael Giacchino: Exactly, right.
Quint: Your new poster is awesome.
Michael Giacchino: Yes, I know! When I saw that, I actually grabbed it off the website and threw it in my email and sent it to Matt [Reeves] and said “I want this poster!” It’s fantastic. It was so great. It was so good. The Morse code where the two red (dots) for the fangs. So good.
Quint: I’m a massive fan and I’m so excited to actually sit down and talk to you, because every other time it would have been Score Keeper getting this interview. I never get to talk to composers!
Michael Giacchino: Are you texting him saying “Haha”?
Quint: No, I’m not that mean.
Michael Giacchino: Is he here, too?
Quint: Yeah, he’s around.
Michael Giacchino: So, have you seen (the movie)?
Quint: Yes, and I’m a tough sell man, because this…
Michael Giacchino: Look, I never saw the original one and I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve been waiting for this, once it opens and then I’ll go and see it, because I didn’t see it first of all because I just didn’t want to hear or see anything about it. I’ve heard nothing but great things, so I’m excited to see it. You know both, obviously.
Quint: Yeah. I prefer the original, because the original is something that I had no idea what it was when I saw it, so automatically any remake is going to be hobbled by the fact that I’m aware of the story. Listen, when this was first announced the instinct was just like “Oh my God a remake? They are going to TWILIGHT this!” Whenever they announced Kodi (Smit-McPhee) and Chloe (Moretz) in the movie, that’s when I knew that at least the heart was in the right place. Then the movie is not only good, but the performances are out of this world good.
Michael Giacchino: Right, they are. Aren’t they all amazing?
Quint: I can’t imagine that without a strong director or a strong producer that the studio would have made this movie this way.
Michael Giacchino: I know. It’s crazy, but they did and then I think Matt did an amazing job. I love Matt.
Quint: Drew McWeeney was telling me a story yesterday about you guys playing with Darth Vader voice changers or something during the scoring session?
Michael Giacchino: (Laughs) During the scoring session… Yeah. Drew’s here too I guess, right?
Michael Giacchino: We were there for all day long, so there was a lot of goofing around with Darth Vader helmets and all kinds of… whatever we could find in my office that was just in between takes, we would just goof around. It was a lot of fun. We had a fun couple of days. So, what’s up? I’m going to interview you.
Michael Giacchino: How long have you been doing this?
Quint: (Laughs) Almost 15 years now. I was 15 years old when the site started. I’m 29 now.
Michael Giacchino: Really? Are you kidding me?
Quint: I was writing while I was a freshman in High School.
Michael Giacchino: That’s amazing. Were you on the site from the beginning?
Michael Giacchino: Wow!
Quint: I think my first review was maybe early 1997 or late 1996.
Michael Giacchino: What was it?
Quint: It was a really shitty Dennis Hopper film festival indie movie called BLACKOUT. We had screen names at that point. Harry told me to write in, because he knew I went to see this movie and he didn’t go see it. I wrote in and I said “Well my favorite movie is JAWS, so Quint, Hooper, Brody, whichever of the three” and he picked Quint because he liked being able to introduce me as “The Crusty Seaman.” So the name stuck because Harry had to make a cum joke.
Michael Giacchino: (Laughs) And now you are famous.
Quint: No, you are famous. Oscar Award Winner!
Michael Giacchino: I know, it’s crazy.
Quint: I bring you up all of the time. I love film music and I get pissed off every time an X-MEN movie or a SPIDER-MAN movie comes out, even if they are good movies, I hate how their scores are just background noise.
Michael Giacchino: I know.
Quint: So, I bring up THE INCREDIBLES as a recent example of the only great modern superhero score. I’m like “There’s a guy who did the first memorable superhero theme probably since Danny Elfman’s BATMAN.”
Michael Giacchino: But you also have to have a director and a producer who want to support that, because I think a lot of these films are being made in mind with as far as the cash register as opposed to the story. It’s not about making the best thing they can, it’s about making something that will just sell like hell and that’s the difference.
Pixar is totally different. Pixar is not about that at all and I think as a result they actually end up making more money than most people because they really are just making something that they themselves want to love.
Quint: By this time their brand is a stamp of quality.
Michael Giacchino: Yeah, exactly.
Quint: People know going into a Pixar movie they are going to see a good movie. They are not going to see a cash grab.
Michael Giacchino: Yeah, and even your least favorite Pixar movie is great to watch, you know? At least you have that. I feel like it’s hard to find that. JJ (Abrams) is like that. JJ cares that much about what he does. Brad Bird… And Matt is very similar, it’s just about the thing that he’s making and I love that. Those are the only kind of people I want to work with.
Quint: You are very thematic in your music, right? You like to create character themes, so when you are approached with something like LET ME IN, what’s the first thing that you try to set up? Do you try to set up a character theme? Do you try to find the overall feeling of the movie?
Michael Giacchino: On a film like this I will usually try and go to the most emotional scenes or something that’s somewhat emotional and can speak to kind of what the characters are feeling. Generally when I’m writing music, I’m just basically passing onto you how I felt when I watched it. I try never to be in a situation where I’m trying to tell you what to feel unless I actually feel that as well.
The guys that I work with on a consistent basis, I do that because I know that their heart is in whatever they are making and I know that when I watch it, I’m going to feel something and if I can feel something, then I can put that down on paper and then give it to you as music and you will feel that as well. So that’s kind of where it all starts.
Now thematically, that come out of because when I was kid and I would listen to soundtracks like crazy. I was a soundtrack fanatic. I loved them. I used to love envisioning in my head the replaying of the story. When I was a kid, that was the only way to do it; there were no videos and no DVDs. That stuff was nonexistent, so the only way to relive a movie was either go back to the theater, but once it’s gone it’s gone, or buy the soundtrack and imagine in your head.
So I would attach all of those themes to the different characters in my head that I was listening to and if I was listening to classical music I would make up stories. “And this theme belongs to that person.” “This theme is that.”
Quint: So you must have loved FANTASIA.
Michael Giacchino: Yes, absolutely. It was great. I feel like that’s where it all stems from for me thematically, attaching themes to characters. I love doing that because of what I listened to growing up where they don’t really do that now. Like you said there’s just a lot of background music. It’s a lot of energy in order to get from here to there.
Michael Giacchino: Yeah, it’s terrible and there’s also I think too much music a lot of times too, to the point where you are just numb to it after a while. Like there’s no stop and star.
Quint: There are a few people who are doing it right. I like Marco Beltrami’s 3:10 TO YUMA score…
Michael Giacchino: Oh Marco’s great. You know who is one of the greatest underused composers is Bruce Broughton who did SILVERADO and TOMBSTONE. The films that he’s done… The guy writes thematically and big and like a big Hollywood film score and it’s awesome and I love it. I think he’s fantastic.
Kraken: Bruce Broughton did MONSTER SQUAD.
Quint: Oh yeah?
Michael Giacchino: Oh yeah. Bruce is awesome. Bruce is amazing. The guy is like one of the guys around that can write like hell, that can just write in the real way like he knows his shit.
Quint: You say MONSTER SQUAD, I can hum the tune.
Michael Giacchino: There you go.
Quint: I just saw John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl.
Michael Giacchino: Yeah, I was there too.
Quint: Oh yeah?
Michael Giacchino: Yeah, that was great wasn’t it?
Quint: When he did the JAWS music against the scene I was in hog heaven. And when he did the 1941 theme. His 1941 score is so awesome.
Michael Giacchino: That’s an amazing score. I love that score and I also love his SUPERMAN score and I loved that he ended it with SUPERMAN. That was so good.
Quint: Do you want to know a secret to the SUPERMAN score? If you hit play on William’s SUPERMAN theme right when the plane starts to taxi down the runway to take off when the wheels leave the ground is right when the music escalates, almost to the note.
Michael Giacchino: You know what? I used to do that exact same thing. It was on a Walkman at that time with the cassette tape. I used to do that with the RAIDERS theme. Every time I would take off on a plane. It wasn’t much that that tire went…
Quint: Really, the RAIDERS theme fits?
Michael Giacchino: Yeah and it was just fun to kind of take off, but you can’t do that anymore.
Quint: So in your mind you are seeing a red dot and a line on a map?
Michael Giacchino: Yeah, exactly. (laughs)
Quint: So what do you think about scoring the different genres? With INCREDIBLES you have the superhero theme, you have the adventure themes and then with Roar, at the end of Cloverfield… I didn’t get to bring up to Matt, but I’m just like “Hey that one cue during the credits made me hate your choice of not scoring any of the movie,” because I wanted to hear your big monster score.
Michael Giacchino: The reason that even happened was because when JJ was telling me about the film, I was like “Oh my God, I am so psyched. I am dying to do a giant monster movie,” because as a kid loved Ultra Man. I loved him and I was obsessed with it. He was like “There’s no music in the film.” I’m like “What are you talking about? How do you make a monster movie without music?” He’s like “Well, it’s a point of view, how we are shooting this thing.” I was like “Oh come on.” Then he’s like “I know, it sucks” and I was like “You’ve got to have end credits, right?” and he was like “Yeah, there will be end credits.” I was like “Don’t you dare put a song on the end of that end credits. I’m going to write something” and he goes “Alright, that’s great.” I said “I will write the score that would have been in the film had the film had a score,” so that’s what I ended up doing with the 12 minute thing.
Quint: What are they doing with the new GODZILLA movie?
Michael Giacchino: Yeah, but I’m very picky about who I work with. There are some films I could look at being made that I get excited about and I say “I’ll just watch that one.” Then there are ones getting made that I get excited about and I go “I want to work on that one.” I love how JJ makes movies. I love how Brad makes movies. I love how The Wachowski Brothers… The guys that I work with, I love their style and their approach and their heart that they put into it, so that’s what I look for. A lot of these films are being made just to be made and you can totally tell. I’m not saying that’s one of them, I don’t know, but I don’t know the people involved so I’m always hesitant.
That’s why I try to do different kinds of films, jumping from genre to genre. I don’t want to be the person that just writes the same kind of music for every film I work on. I always explain it as my grandfather was a tailor, he would make suits that would fit a person perfectly and I want to do the same thing with music for films. I want to create music that fits the film and the story perfectly.
Quint: And look at… We keep going back to John Williams, but John Williams’ SUGARLAND EXPRESS.
Michael Giacchino: Awesome, yes.
Quint: With all of the mouth harp stuff.
Michael Giacchino: It’s so good.
Quint: It’s so radically different than JAWS, so radically different than…
Michael Giacchino: ACCIDENTAL TOURISTS.
Quint: …RAIDERS or EMPIRE OF THE SUN.
Michael Giacchino: STANLEY AND IRIS. EMPIRE OF THE SUN is so good. I love it, but I always look at him as kind of a model for what I want to do career-wise.
Quint: Are a frustrated jazz musician, too? (laughs)
Michael Giacchino: I love jazz! That was one of the great joys about working on THE INCREDIBLES was being able to do all of that kind of stuff. I love it. If you listen to even the smaller stuff I do, I love 60’s jazz kitsch. (Disney’s) Prep & Landing… a lot of that stuff just allows me to kind of mess around with those types of scores and have fun, so I do love jazz, but I love that he just goes here, there, and all different places with his music. He fits a score to a film and it’s not done in a way that just feels cheesy or manufactured.
Quint: Also he’s one of the few composers who you hear these master filmmakers say that he completed the vision, took the movie beyond where even they could take it.
Michael Giacchino: And they allow him input and that’s what’s great. I think there’s a collaborative thing in the creation of the film itself between the composer, the writer, the director… There’s this great circle that you are all working together in as opposed to being told “Alright, here’s the film. We temped it with this. We want it to sound like that, so just do that.”
That is something I will never and don’t ever want to do. I like making movies. I grew up making movies. That’s all I did as a kid. I grew up making super 8 films and I went to film school… I like that process of making something, so I don’t want to just kind of like be told “Copy this.” It’s terrible. I want them all to sound like their own thing.
Quint: You are on JOHN CARTER right?
Michael Giacchino: Yes.
Quint: That to me, if they pull it off, that could be your STAR WARS. It’s an epic fantasy/adventure, it gives so much license to play big and dramatic…
Michael Giacchino: Totally. It definitely does. You know it’s the project I’m trying not to think about too much because it is so huge and has never been done. The story has never been told before and…
Quint: And they have been trying to tell it since the 1930’s…
Michael Giacchino: Yeah and I usually also like to wait until I see the cut. I always get so frustrated if I have to read the script. It’s different though, JJ will have me read and I’ll tell him what I think. It’s different like that, but a lot of times you envision the film in your head in a very specific way and then when you finally see it, it’s totally different than what you were thinking, you know? So I’d rather just wait for the cut and see that. That way I’m not composing prior to and creating all of this stuff that when I see the film I go “Wait, none of that would work. None of that’s going to go.” So I try to not think about it until I actually get to work on it.
Quint: When do you think you are going to see it? The movie is still 2012, right?
Michael Giacchino: 2012, yeah.
Quint: So you’ve got a little time.
Michael Giacchino: There’s plenty of time and they have a lot of post production to do on the film, so they’re done with principal photography and now they are going into I don’t know what you would call it “Digital Post Photography?” Whatever they want to call it or however they are doing it with their animators.
I’m actually really excited about this coming year, which means SUPER 8 and JOHN CARTER OF MARS and then MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 4, which I think Brad is going to do a great job with.
Quint: He’s an inspired choice to bring to that series.
Michael Giacchino: And like that in particular was my wish for years. I would always tell JJ “You have to work with Brad” and I would always tell Brad “You have to work with JJ!” It was one of those things that over the years kept getting closer and closer and then finally boom and I’m like “This is awesome.” It’s like getting two of my best friends together form different neighborhoods.
Quint: And now they are getting married.
Michael Giacchino: Yes.
Quint: You get to have their first kid named after you.
Michael Giacchino: Oh God, I don’t want to see that kid! (laughs)
Quint: I guess MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 4 will now be called MICHAEL GIACCHINO.
Michael Giacchino: (laughs) Yeah. That’s going to be fun, though. I think it’s going to be fun. We will see.
Quint: And SUPER 8, I love the trailer and I love the idea of JJ going “Fuck it, I’m going to make an Amblin movie.” Like a real Amblin style movie. Again we have the John Williams connection, but there’s also Jerry Goldsmith who did the great GREMLINS score… Who was GOONIES?
Michael Giacchino: Dave Grusin. Awesome score.
Quint: Yeah, I love that score.
Michael Giacchino: Dave Grusin is fantastic.
Quint: And Alan Silvestri did BACK TO THE FUTURE, so it’s like those are all of the Amblin family and again not to put too much pressure on you, but there is a legacy of these.
Michael Giacchino: (Laughs) I know!
Quint: Not to put any pressure on you, but if it’s going to be a real Amblin movie, you are going to have to deliver a hell of a score.
Michael Giacchino: It’s going to all depend on the kind of film he makes. Ultimately I can sit here and think about “What would be the perfect Amblin score for this film?” It’s really irrelevant until I see what he does and what he puts together and then I can say “Okay, this needs this.” Hopefully whatever I do is going to fit what the film is, but I am so psyched to see that film. I am excited about that one.
Quint: How long does it normally take you for a bigger movie? Obviously JOHN CARTER is probably going to be a lot more involved than LET ME IN was in terms of you’re probably going to have a bigger orchestra and you are probably going to write more music.
Michael Giacchino: It will be a big orchestra. It will be a lot of music I’m sure, but on live action films typically eight weeks you’ll have to write it, if you’re lucky.
Michael Giacchino: And also if you are lucky they are not changing the film while you are writing, which always happens. Animation is totally different, you could get a year to do it slowly bit by bit as they finish the film and the one thing you can bet in animation, they don’t change the picture. It’s locked and so you can be sure that what you are writing to is going to stick as opposed to live action where they could literally be editing on the scoring stage and changing things.
So it’s always a bit of you just never know what you are going to get. You never know heading into it, but you know if I have eight weeks, that would be great. I had six weeks with SPEED RACER and that was the most music I have had to write for a film ever. It was insanity.
Quint: So is that six weeks from you sitting down to write the first note?
Michael Giacchino: Yeah, to being on the scoring stage.
Quint: Jesus Christ!
Michael Giacchino: Yeah, there’s a lot to do and that’s why I try to be as organized as I can, because I don’t like working late. I hate working past ten o’clock if I have to. I hate working past six thirty if I have to. You know, I’d rather just be 8:30 to 6:30, shut it down, come back to it the next day. If I have to, I’ll come back at night after dinner with my kids. I’ll have dinner, put them to bed and for maybe an hour or two I will sit and go through whatever I did that day, but I try to have a normal life as well, which is difficult.
Quint: Now coming form somebody who couldn’t read a page of music to save his life, what’s the process? Do you sit down and you go “Okay this is what the horns are going to be. This is what the percussion is going to be.” Do you hear different layers of it first or hear the whole thing?
Michael Giacchino: No, I like to kind of build it as we go. The first thing I do is just sit down at the piano and come up with whatever the major themes are going to be because if you get it to work well on a piano you know that it’s going to work well within the orchestra. So it always starts there. “Here’s the theme” and get it done that way.
So once that’s done, then I just go right to scoring the film and the way I like to have it setup… If I have a normal amount of time on a film, I have the sequence setup just as like a score paper, so you have the piccolo, the flute, all the way down to double bass, and I will pretty much orchestrate as I write, because color to me is very important in how it affects the audience, the color of the orchestra and all of that stuff is going to tell you how to feel. I’m very particular about that. So I’ll orchestrate it as I right and I’ll hear the horns, but a lot of times when I’m watching something I will hear what I want in my head and then I’ll just go put it down.
I really don’t understand how it all works. It’s just one of those things that just happens and there’s no real explanation! (Laughs)