A Conversation with Super 8 Composer Michael GiacchinoNovember 21, 2011
Composer Michael Giacchino is in the midst of an incredible career which began in the realm of video games, but led him to the avenues of Television and Film. He has become one of the strongest and most unique voices in modern composing, winning Emmy's and Oscars and many other awards and accolades along the way.
Even amidst all of that success and skill, he remains incredibly down to Earth, is friendly and truly has a passion for what he creates. I had the pleasure to speak with Michael in regards to his work on Super 8 (coming to Blu-ray and DVD on November 22), his process in general and, much to my great pleasure, a little bit about LOST.
Hi, Michael! First and foremost I want to tell you that I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today.
Oh, thanks man! How are you doing?
I'm doing great, actually. This is all a bit surreal for me as I'm a huge LOST fan so it's awesome and an honor to get to speak to you.
[Laughing] That's a good thing! That's a good thing to be.
Most definitely. Everybody should be.
Do you miss the show?
Yeah, but it's nice that it's now this nice little package that I can revisit whenever I want. I actually am in the process of a LOST leg sleeve; tattooing various characters and elements from the show (editor's note: tattoos designed and applied by Kurt Fagerland at Memorial Tattoos in Atlanta, GA).
Really?! Oh my God!
Yeah, so far I have Mr. Eko, John Locke and some of the smoke monster.
[Laughing] You are a serious LOST fan!
Indeed! One of the things I'm most excited about getting to speak with you about is actually to thank you for all of the work you did with that show and also how your music is like a character itself; it's just incredible.
Wow, well thank you!
I've honestly been trying to track down some sheet music from the show so that I could add in some of your score to the overall piece as well.
I believe we did put out a book of sheet music for the show. We'll see if we can help you out with that.
Awesome! In regards to Super 8, it turned out incredible. In terms of the film and the score, it really managed to pull off that vibe of those Sci-Fi films from our youth, but also managed to maintain its own sense of self. How do you approach writing a score for that hits that tone, but without emulating it too much?
For me, it was kind of I just wrote what I felt, you know? I always kind of approach it from a story sense, you know? What's working in the story first and then stylistically setting up what I'm going to do. J.J. (Abrams) and I both knew we wanted to do something with a big orchestral feel, kind of like the stuff we grew up listening to and loving so much. So, that was number one and then it was just like, "well, what's this story about?" and it was interesting because the more we talked we were like, "ok, the story is not really about this alien at all. It's about this kid and his dad and what happens when the mother is taken from their lives." So it became a much more emotional thing than anything else. Then you pepper that in with occasional crazy action things that are going on and it turned into, it ended up being a sort of a pretty big score, but I think at its heart it's a pretty simple score. What it all comes down to is its just about that kid.
Exactly. I just re-watched the film this morning and that scene with Joe (Joel Courtney) and Alice (Ellie Fanning) in his room and the home movie of his mother comes on...
Oh, it's so sad.
It truly is and, much like your scores on LOST, the music is so subtle to where it doesn't overpower the scene, yet it has its own emotion to it and it just comes together incredibly.
Well the great thing about working with J.J. is that he has a very good sense of getting a point across without hammering it over your head. He doesn't have to be banging it down into your head for you to be able to understand it. He has this really good sense of keeping things simple and I love that in his work, and it helps me as well, because I can be simple too. I don't have to push too hard to make something work and a scene like that if you push too hard people won't relate to it.
I completely agree. It seems like, especially in the TV realm, the score can often be jarring and really take the viewer out of the experience rather than making it a richer one, killing whatever mood the scene may have.
You obviously don't have that problem. [laughing]
[Laughing] Well, thank you!
Speaking of J.J. and your continued partnership with Bad Robot, it seems like you guys do everything together. I've read in various interviews where you've likened it to hanging out with your best friend that lives next door. That sounds like an excellent working relationship.
It's really, exactly that kind of a relationship. In the same way that I do a lot of work with J.J., I do a lot of work with Pixar and consider them friends as well. Both of those groups that I consistently go back and forth between are like being ten years old and running outside and going to your neighbor's house and figuring out, "ok, what are we gonna do today? Let's build a robot! No, let's build a treehouse! No, let's do this!" and it's that kind of enthusiasm and there's that kind of spirit in everything that we do because we simply just like doing it.
That's so awesome and the joy you have in your work definitely shines through. One of the featurettes on the Super 8 Blu-ray focuses on you and gives a look into your world of the film making process. In it you refer to music being just another form of storytelling and I completely agree. When you're writing a score is that one of the primary challenges finding that balance between complimenting the scene, but still having the music maintain its own narrative element?
I like to try and do that. I know that when I was growing up I always loved listening to scores as a way of reliving the film experience because there was no way for me to see that movie again once it was out of theaters when I was a kid. So, for me to be able to relive it, one of the only ways was by listening to the score and then I would also be amazed at how great John Williams (Star Wars, Indiana Jones), Jerry Goldsmith (Twilight Zone, Star Trek) and all of these guys, Max Steiner (Gone With the Wind, Casablanca), all of them were doing great things in Hollywood over the years and they always seemed to be able to tell a story with their music. So, when I started doing this, that was the goal for me to be telling stories with the music that could kind of live and exist outside of the film if someone were just listening to it on their own.
It is quite an incredible experience to be able to listen to something and have it immediately take you back and give you the ability to kind of relive that moment. Tying in to reliving moments from the past, I must say it was a treat to see (as part of that same featurette on the Super 8 disc) your E.T. home movie that you made as a kid and knowing that I wasn't the only one at home doing those. [Laughing]
[Laughing] Oh, I know! I was looking at those and, it's funny, when we were making the film I brought those films in because we were looking to see how certain things looked, you know? When you're working on films as a kid you had to do things like scratch the film if you wanted to make a laser or a gun effect, so we brought them in and we scanned them and we blew them up and we were looking at, "ok, what did that really look like?" so that if we're going to do this to their (the kids in the film) super 8 movie we want it to look like something that they would have done. Even down to, the effect of the train crashing in their movie, in the kid's movie, that's me. I'm literally going [mimicking explosions] and making that sound myself.
So, that was me doing that and of course I wrote music that I felt like, that if they were able to go down to the local library and they got some old soundtracks, some random film score, a record or something. So I wrote a bunch of music that could have come from just any old soundtrack and we just tracked in and really just pull away, you know? We went back, fade ins, cuts, edits and we tried, in our best way, to make it the same as we did with our films we made when we were kids.
I think that's what makes it all the better, just that attention to detail, because obviously the kids wouldn't have access to anything remotely like what a Hollywood movie would have.
No, not at all and that's what I told them. They would never have, they would never be able to do this effect or that effect. Originally there was a train crash sound effect in their film and I'm like, "Where would they have gotten that? What they would have done was grab the microphone and faked it." So, they told me to go do it and next thing you know I'm up in the soundstage doing this crazy sound effect with the train but it was fun and it really felt like how I used to do it when I made films.
That's so awesome. Another aspect of that featurette that was nice to see was you interacting with the orchestra as you're recording the score, but then Steven Spielberg shows up and it seemed like a rather surreal moment.
Oh yeah! It was a very surreal moment. There was a moment where I'm standing with Steven on stage and he's, we recorded it at FOX at the FOX recording station, and he is looking around so I asked him, "What are you thinking about?" and he goes, "Oh, I was just thinking that the last time I was standing here was when I recorded Jaws with Buddy Williams." He said that to me and I just thought, "What kind of crazy world is this where I'm standing here with a guy who says this?" This is all I ever wanted as a kid is to be able to do what he does, to work on things and be passionate about film in the way that he was, and here I am standing with Steven and he's talking about Jaws! It was such a surreal moment that really meant everything to me. It really makes you look back at everything you've done to get to this point and it was just kind of a special moment.
One of those, "This makes it all worthwhile!", moments. Plus, you get say, "This is my job?!" [Laughing]
In regards to upcoming work, I saw that you are working on the pilot for the new FOX show, Alcatraz.
Yeah, I scored the pilot, back in the summer I believe, is when we scored that. I'm very excited about that show. I won't be working on the show itself, I'll be just sort of overseeing it and Andrea Datzman and Chris Tilton will be scoring the show. I'm very excited about that show. It looks like a very cool premise so I'm hoping it could be a lot of fun because I loved the pilot.
Pretty much anywhere you and J.J. go I'm down for. [Laughing]
[Laughing] Well, hopefully we don't disappoint you. [Laughing]
I know you've got Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol coming out in the next few weeks, is there anything else on the horizon for you? It seems like you normally have five or six projects all going on.
Yeah, I just, literally yesterday, finished John Carter. I worked on that with Andrew Stanton (director; Finding Nemo, Wall-E) and then Brad Bird (director; The Incredibles, Ratatouille) on Mission:Impossible and those two films were going on at the same time back and forth, so I was doing a little bit of hopscotch between the two but we had one of our last days, which was yesterday, on John Carter and it was a lot of fun. That's two movies that I had a great time working on with two people who I am actually lucky enough to call friends, and so again it's that whole idea of making fun stuff with your friends, you know?
Indeed. Michael, thanks again so much for taking the time to speak with me, thanks for LOST, thanks for everything you've made and I look forward to see what you make in the future.
Absolutely! I'm so glad you've enjoyed it and I thank you! We'll talk to you soon.
- Matt Hardeman
Special thanks to Michael Giacchino and Matt Hardeman for the candid conversation. Read our Super 8 Blu-ray review.
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