Published by
WQXR Features

Michael Giacchino Responds to Listeners' Questions

Email a Friend

Michael Giacchino recently joined David Garland on Movies on the Radio to talk about his work in the film music business, including his latest project, "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol." A number of listeners had questions for him that we didn't have time for, but Mr. Giacchino has agreed to answer these afterwards. Below follows the queries and his responses.

Peter Daley from Daegu, South Korea: Will there be any more "Lost" music beyond Season 3 published in sheet music form?

Right now there are no plans, but I would love to do a compilation that encompasses the best of the 6 seasons - some day, maybe!

CurlyCelloGirl: Is there a particular instrument you enjoy scoring for?

I don't have a preference toward any particular instrument, but in each film project I find myself falling in love with a sound. For example, in "Lost," I loved working with the piano and cello together. In "Super 8," I used Hammond and pipe organs underneath much of the score - a very cool texture to explore. 

pascalahad from Andrésy, France: Have you read "A Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs, on which "John Carter" is based? Does inspiration come from visuals only or also from the written word?

I actually decided not to read the book(s) before I watched the cut of the film, because I didn't want my expectations about the story or the characters to influence me in a way that the movie itself didn't represent. I'd like to go back and read them at some point, but because my job was to tell the story of the film as clearly as possible, I felt that it was best to let just the film influence my writing. But inspiration can come from all sorts of things - anything that tells a story can inspire more storytelling.

Chris from Houston, Texas: How did you make the initial connections that led to you getting to work full time as a film composer? I hope to be able to turn this into a career, and would love to know the process you went through, yourself. 

I always made it my goal to do something I loved, and growing up, knew that I loved all aspects of filmmaking. While at film school, I had the opportunity to get an internship in marketing for a major studio--without pay! This lead to various marketing jobs that I held while studying composition, which by the way, was one of my passions about the filmmaking process.  From marketing, I moved to the newly formed interactive division as an assistant producer of video games and it was there that I got to write some music for a version of The Lost World: Jurassic Park game. Steven Spielberg liked it, so I got to officially work on it, and then Medal of Honor. JJ Abrams liked my Medal of Honor music, so he contacted me to work on Alias, and then LOST. Brad Bird heard my music on Alias and approached me about doing The Incredibles. But the key was that I began working in the field that I was passionate about. 

Adam: ...Your music from LOST was my topic of study for an anthropology project I did last year in school. I'd be honored if you would check it out.

Cool, I'll try to check it out when I can! 

Justice from Seattle: You seem like the natural successor to John Williams. What film composer(s) do you admire the best?

That's very kind of you - of course, I love John Williams and hope both he and his music lives forever. I think I would be happy if I could sound like Michael Giacchino and people liked that sound, which is obviously influenced by so many great composers. 

Adam from Not in Portland: Your "Lost" performances with the added choir were amazing. Any chance we'll ever get a recorded version of those?

Probably not - although sometimes we do perform it with the choir, as you may have heard about. Probably just not feasible at this point, unfortunately!

Waldemar Vinovskis from Macungie, Pennsylvania: We love Michael's film music, and we're big fans of mallet percussion. We really enjoy what he does with his percussion features in his films, particularly in the Incredibles and Ratatouille. Does he have a particular background or experience with percussion instruments?

I was never a percussionist, but I always jump at the chance to bang on something!!

Larry from Gilbert, Arizona: My 18 yr old son is passionate about orchestra music. As a Dad I am curious to learn about professions that revolve around his interests. Can you give us a glimpse of the business side of your world? 

The world of film composing is fairly different from the world of concert music composing - we have different restrictions, goals, and industry issues to deal with. As far as the business of film music, there are a variety of positions available: personal managers and agents, music supervisors, sound engineers, music editors, and contractors for example. Additionally, each studio has their own music department that oversees all aspects of film scoring on the production side. These jobs are filled with people who love music. I can't express how much I believe that it is important that you find work in areas that you are passionate about. I wish him luck.

Benson Farris from Arizona: Since you have done all three, what are some of the differences in the scores of movies, TV shows, and video games?

There's very little difference to me between these different media - they all focus on story, characters, the same sorts of stuff. However, in TV, you don’t have as much time, you have to turn it around in a matter of days. But with all forms, I focus on the story and go from there.

Benson Farris from Arizona: Hey Michael, when you receive a new project to score, what is your process to come up with themes and motifs?

First I watch the movie start to finish, in its current form, and pay attention to how I respond emotionally. If I'm not feeling something, I can't write something, and I try to be as honest with my music as possible. Then I start working out themes, and going back again and again and reworking them until I feel that I have something that really fits the character or story just right. 

Petr Kocanda from Prague, Czech Republic: With John Carter already finished and Star Trek 2 still months away, what's currently up on Michael's schedule he might be able to talk to? Any chance more of his Alias music gets released or Undercovers will get released? The music was definitely the best thing about both shows. And the final question, which also appeared here already, what techniques he used in John Carter to define the Martians in? May we expect anything as creative as his Lost scores? 

I've had a pretty busy year, so I'm planning on taking it a little easier this year. Would love to release scores for Alias and Undercovers, but time will tell if that's something that will become viable. As for techniques for the Martians - I went with a mixture of both primal and also very spiritual. When you see the film you will understand why.

Bernie from the Upper West Side of Manhattan: I'm curious how Mr. Giacchino feels about the prevalence of pop songs in movies, particularly when they seem to overshadow the score itself. You see it over the end-credits a lot but also within the film itself. Also, how many people does he have working for him in his studio and what are their roles in the final musical product? Thank you.

If a pop song works for the story, I have no problem with it! It's all about what makes the film work and connect to people. As with anything else, there are good ways to do that and bad ways. As for my team: I run a fairly small ship here at base camp - I have an assistant who handles scheduling, phones, etc, and on projects I have a score coordinator who sets up the sessions, my conductor/orchestrator, a music copyist (and his team) to get all the parts laid out and printed beautifully, the orchestra contractor, who books the musicians; the engineer/score mixer, and a few music editors, depending on the project. But as for people actually working in my studio, it's basically just me in a room, writing the music.

Richard Mirenzi from Canton, Ohio: I was wondering if when you were growing up, was there ever a film or television show score that you listened to that you would want to re-compose, improve and change the music for completely to make your own? How would you change that score to make it better? Is there a current film or television score you feel that with just a few changes could be better than it is? Is there a film or television score that you consider to be perfect and would never change any of? Finally, how did the practice of naming your individual tracks on your film and television albums, for a lack of better words "creatively," come about? 

No - I don't really have any interest in going back to other peoples' material and redoing it - I have enough on my own plate as it is! The tracks are named by my music editor, Steve Davis. He's got a great sense of humor.

Guy Quenneville from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada: If you had to pick one film composer who has been your primary influence, who would it be?

If YOU had to pick one composer, who it would be?! I couldn't possibly pick just one, there are far too many that have influenced me over the years.

James Gladue from Las Vegas: When I first read "A Princess of Mars" 30 years ago, I always imagined Gustav Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War" [from "The Planets"] in the background of some battle scenes. Any chance you might incorporate some of this in your score [for "John Carter]?

Not particularly - I always try to make each of my scores as unique to that film/story as possible, so while I am, of course, influenced by many composers who have come before me, I don't know that there's any one piece that influenced this score.

Tim: I first became a huge fan in high school, when I ripped your music from the CD-ROM of my Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault game. I've been a huge fan of classical film composers like John Williams since childhood, and even then as a kid I knew that based on Allied Assault's incredible Williams-esque compositions that you were going places. Since then, however, film scoring has changed significantly, and the classical John Williams style has fallen out of favor. Why do you believe Hollywood has trended away [from that style] towards the Hans Zimmer/trailer tracks style?

Would you look forward to doing a classical adventure-movie score in the tradition of your Medal Of Honor soundtracks in the future, or do you feel you got it out of your system? Do any directors ask composers for that style, and do studios shoot this down?

I can't speak for the rest of Hollywood -- all I can say is I try to find projects that interest me and inspire me, and I'm lucky enough to work with directors who love film music (from all periods) in the same way that I do.

Johnny D from Arleta, California: I was wondering will u ever put out a compilation of all of your work? If so, is there any chance we can hear what you did for star tours?

I have no plans of putting out a compilation or retrospective, but perhaps someone will someday! You can check out this video on the scoring of Star Tours here:

Felice from New York: Last year's New Yorker profile of your work on "Lost" mentioned that you were just as in the dark as to where things were going as the audience. That's very different from movies, where you get the whole story at once. Now that the show is done, do you wish you had known [the full story], and if you had, would that have affected some of your musical decisions?

I wouldn't have changed a thing about how that process unfolded. I loved going through it with the rest of you!

Stephen: Your chord structures and scales are awsome. Any recommended literature or listening for someone looking to think outside their super-traditional [music] theory box?

Well, I went and learned traditional theory, because it's important to have those building blocks - but I like all kinds of music. I've been listening to The Beatles quite a bit lately, and I grew up listening to Benny Goodman, Louis Prima and John Philip Sousa, among many, many others. I think it's important to let all kind of different things influence you and inspire you, especially if they challenge your 'traditional' ways of thinking.

Antonio La Camera from Rome: ["John Carter"] reveals itself as a science-fiction epic movie, with elements that refer to a kind of primordial nature of the representation of Mars and its inhabitants. I'd like to know what choices, in composition and orchestration, were carried out to reveal all this musically and if we find ourselves faced with a work thematically rich as we have become accustomed in the past with his music.

The movie is very thematic, because I find that themes are the best way to connect an audience to a character or storyline - in this case, the story of John Carter lends itself to a wide variety of themes. You can listen to the samples in the interview to get an idea of how Barsoom (Mars) 'sounds'. Yes, some of it is very primal, but some of it is very symphonic. It all depends on what each scene needs - go see it to find out exactly how it all fits together!

Kevin from Ringwood, New Jersey: You have also done a lot of work for the Pixar Shorts Department. I was wondering how that came about and if that workflow (on the short "One Man Band," for example) is different for you than other genres. Any possibility of releasing the score to "Partly Cloudy"?

It's pretty much the same process as scoring a movie - except on a shorter schedule! Maybe when I get more shorts under my belt, it would be a cool thing to release several of them together - no promises!

Simon from Toronto: What was the process when working on [Disney Park's] Space Mountain and Star Tours? How did you get involved and how was the music implemented into the rides? (How many different Space Mountain rides did you work on?)

When Disney hired me to write the music for new and improved Space Mountain ride, the one in Los Angeles was completely apart already. So they flew me to Tokoyo where I was able to ride as many times as I wanted. Days later, I was in Paris riding their version of Space Mountain, which is completely different. It was a blast! Since I had worked with Disney Imagineering on that, they were aware of my love of Star Wars - so they gave me a ring. See the link above (in the answer to Johnny D's question) for a short video about the scoring of Star Tours.

Alexander Watson from Brisbane, Australia: Massive fan of your work and looking forward to your score for "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol." [I] was wondering why when scoring movies you go for the emotional (Lost's finale ; Super 8's extremely awesome ending) rather than the cerebral ?

That's what I was feeling when I watched the scene - a battle is never just a battle, there's something deeper going on with the characters, and that's what really speaks to me.

Justin Bielawa from Connecticut: You've mentioned in notes for "Speed Racer" that you grew up on the original series and that was one of the things that attracted you to the series. Was it hard jumping that nostalgic hurdle? And what was your working relationship with the Wachowskis who are the most enigmatic directors in the industry today?

The Wachowskis were some of my favorite people I ever got to work with. They're both incredibly creative, collaborative, and wonderful people! I didn't feel like I was jumping any hurdles - I loved the show as a kid, and I loved the movie they made. Felt like a natural fit. 

Chris from West Virginia: What is your writing process? Do you play into a computer program or do you hand write your music. And, do you write out all of your parts or do you use a condensed score? Love the Super 8 score.

Due to time constraints and convenience, I use Digital Performer to sketch out all of my cues - but my template is set up exactly like an orchestra score. I'm actually fleshing out the orchestration while I go, so by the time I hand it off to my orchestrator, they have a pretty complete sense of what I want. 

Justine Jeninga from San Diego, California: Hi Michael! You probably don't remember me, but I met you last year at San Diego Comic Con. I was wondering if you'll be coming back in 2012? I'm a huge fan, and it'd be great to see you again! And also, are there any plans for a LOST concert?

Hi Justine - I'm always game for a LOST concert, and I'm really hoping that I can get a few of those together in the future. Right now, it looks like I won't be able to be at Comic-Con this year - sorry to miss you!

Some questions have been edited for clarity.