Home Theater Forum recently sat down with Academy Award winning composer Michael Giacchino (Up!), composer of Super 8 which was recently released on Blu-ray. Mr. Giacchino discusses his approach to scoring, finding the themes for Super 8, his upcoming score for the fourth installment of the Mission: Impossible film series, and his love of traditional scoring methods.
Click on the Blu-ray cover above to be taken to the HTF review.
HTF: I want to thank you for speaking with Home Theater Forum today. I have so much I want to ask you about
Michael Giacchino: Go for it.
HTF: So, Super 8 just recently released on Blu-Ray. It's a fantastic release. It's a really great film, and having grown up in the late '70s and the early '80s I could relate to both the kids, and well, clearly I haven't chased any monsters of late, but certainly their sense of adventure. But I wanted to ask you when you were approached to score the film and you saw the rough cut for the first time, how did you go about thinking about the sound that you wanted Super 8 and then how did you go about developing some of the themes that you had for it for the kids and for the mood of the film?
Michael Giacchino: Well I was involved fairly early on. I had the read the script long before they even were shooting because of my relationship with J.J., but from Day 1 the thing that I reacted to the most in that story was the relationship with the kid and the father, and then the relationship with Joe and Alice, the young girl, and those were, whenever I thought of that movie, even to this day when I think of that movie that's all I think about. I don't even think about the monsters. I don't think about, you know, any alien stuff or spaceships. For me, every time I think of the movie, there is this sadness with that boy's life. This boy's in a situation where he loses his mother, and he's forced to kinda find a new connection with his father which seemed to have been somewhat broken at the start of the film, and then also finding this new relationship with Alice. And, and for me that was always the most interesting part of the film, and that to me also remains the heart of the film. Everything else was just kind of extra. You know, so there was that element and then the element of the kids making movies was a huge inspiration to me because that's all I did growing up. You know I made Super 8 movies. I made Regular 8 movies since I was 9 years old and I have tons of them. So watching those scenes for me was like kind of watching home movies of my own life because I did that and it was so it was exciting to dip back into the past and pull out some of those memories and those feelings from that time which was such a great time for me growing up.
HTF: Absolutely. And so the way that you scored the finale of the film with the lovely music running counterpoint to what is essentially a crescendo of action on screen, that was a really brilliant way to score that particular moment in the film and it really resonates emotionally. Is that often your inclination to find the emotion of something rather than just, you know, directly speak to, musically the action that's on screen?–
Michael Giacchino: It is absolutely. Absolutely. It's always, for me it's about, you know, I like to watch something, and whatever it, it is what I'm feeling while I'm watching it, that's what I like to put into music. So the climax of that film is that boy kind of finding a new place for himself; being able to let go of what he had been holding onto so long, which was his mother, and to find a new path to go forward on. So that's all I was thinking about, and that to me is a very emotional thing and it's not an action-driven idea, and it's not a suspense-driven idea. It's a really emotional, emotionally driven idea.
Michael Giacchino: So I, from the first time I saw it I didn't even have any thoughts. I don't even think of the action. I just think of what was that kid feeling at that time? It must have been pretty incredible to be in a better place emotionally for him, you know, at the end of that film.
Michael Giacchino: And even on LOST and the other things that I've worked on, I may tend to always – even Star Trek when that baby’s is born. I mean that was just clearly in the middle of a giant battle, but for me it was just so sad what was happening you know?
Michael Giacchino: And I always tend to just go that way. It's just my nature I guess.
HTF: So, J.J. in his commentary for the film, which I listened to last week, he made light of the influences of E.T. and other Spielberg movies, of which this film is in many ways a love letter. Did you find yourself listening to John Williams' scores to get back into some of the early '80s scores like the score for E.T. or did you avoid that purposefully, or did you quote John Williams in any deliberate way to pay homage to him?
Michael Giacchino: No, I think that anything that is in there that may harken back to those days is just a natural part of me because I grew up listening to all of those soundtracks. You know, not just John Williams, but Jerry Goldsmith and, I love Lawrence of Arabia and Maurice Jarre, and Max Stein, all those – I grew up listening to all those things. So for me it's already a huge part of who I am, because those were the influences I grew up with. So I didn't purposely or, you know, selectively go back and listen to particular scores for anything. It's just if there's anything there it's only because I was inspired as a kid by those things, art inspires art and it's really kind of fun for me. I always love looking at art and trying to figure out “well what inspired that, and what, where did that come from”, and it may have been – if you look at painters, their paintings may have been inspired by a previous painter who they looked up to –
HTF: Oh yes…
Michael Giacchino: – you know, you always kind of start somewhere and then go off and see where you can take it. So I think that that's kind of for me the best way to explain it is I didn't purposely do anything, but if it's in there it's because that's how I grew up and that's what I love.
HTF: Yeah, and that's how I see it and if I hear any references from one composer to another, I think that they've listened to them and may have been steeped in their music in their life because that's what they love, so naturally it's gonna flow through them. I didn't hear any –
Michael Giacchino: Yes.
HTF: – I didn't hear any specific quotes to of John Williams' work, but I wondered if there was something at play there.
Michael Giacchino: Yeah. Nope, just the idea of just growing up with it the things you experience in your life are what make you; of what make you a person and those are the things you carry with you forever. And certainly, as a kid growing up at that time watching E.T., watching Poltergeist, watching Back to the Future or any of those things, those were all things that, even now are just a huge part of who I am, and a huge part of why it is what I'm doing what I'm doing.
HTF: Yeah. So when you're first approaching a film to score or indeed a television show or video games when you were back doing that incredibly well, do you start by playing themes out on a piano? Do you hear it your head? Do you write it down before you play anything? I mean how do you first kick that off?
Michael Giacchino: I always, always sit down at the piano first, always, no matter what because it's a way of connecting with the music and getting a real feel for if it, if it's gonna work or not. You can dress something up very nicely on a synthesizer, but I feel like until you really just sit down with one instrument, and for me it's the piano, until I get a feeling out of that then I don't really like to move forward. So on Super 8 I remember sitting down and coming up with that idea for the family's theme, which is basically, you know, Joe's theme, and sitting at the piano doing that, and going through it several times. You know, the first time you do it isn't always the one you end up with and I remember I had this one theme and I was not real sure about it, but even if I'm not real sure I'll usually share it with J.J. because he's a great sounding board. And sometimes when you're working on things, the best way to find out what you did wrong is just to play it for someone. And you don't even need their response or their reaction, all you need to do is just be in the room with someone else, and that self-conscious feeling makes you look at your work differently, you know.
HTF: I know what you mean.
Michael Giacchino: And for me that's an important part of the process is just sitting with the director and playing something for them. Even if I'm not a hundred percent confident, just being in the room gives me a new way to look at what I've done. I can be a little bit more subjective about it. So I remember playing this early theme for J.J., which I already didn't feel great about, but when I played it for him I was like, then I knew exactly what I needed to do with and I went back and Round 2 was the one that we ended up using.
HTF: Oh, excellent.
Michael Giacchino: So it’s really kind of a helpful process for me to do that.
HTF: So, you also worked on Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which is coming out in theaters, now it's this month.
Michael Giacchino: Yes.
HTF: Are you continuing any of the themes and elements that you developed for the third adventure that J.J. directed or have you got a whole new set of sounds and themes you've come up with?
Michael Giacchino: It's basically I would say 90 percent new. There is one theme that I did bring back, and I won't tell you want it is 'cause I don't want to ruin it for you but, but yeah, there was one idea that I carried over, but everything else was fairly new, and then that on top of having fun with what is arguably the greatest theme song ever written of the theme, which is Lalo Schifrin 's Mission Impossible theme.
Michael Giacchino: I don't think it gets any better than that, so it was fun to be able to kinda play with that, but then mix in a whole ton of my own stuff with it as well.
HTF: Well, here's hoping that something akin to the ‘Bridge Battle’cue from your score to the 3rd installment, which was a terrific and an absolutely outstanding piece. I was just listening to it before I came here to do the interview and that's perhaps one of my favorites on the album so…
Michael Giacchino: Oh, thank you. You know, it's funny I remember writing that cue 'cause I remember that whole scene was so tense.
Michael Giacchino: It was such a tense scene and he [J.J.] did such a great job shooting that scene that I remember just sitting there, and the music that came out of me was exactly like I said earlier, it was just exactly what I was feeling - this complete, tense sort of ‘holy crap what am I gonna do to get outa this thing’, you know?
Michael Giacchino: So it's funny you mention that one, 'cause it's like when you mention that I flash back right to that day writing it. I remember that.
HTF: Do, do you know if the MI:4 CD still planned for release on December 13th?
Michael Giacchino: Yes I believe so. That's what we're shooting for. Since we finished the score so close to the release of the film, it can be hard to get it out with the film. So we're tryin' to get it out as close to that as possible.
HTF: Great.And do you write the lyrics of the choral elements in your scores like those that appear in scores like Star Trek and Let Me In?
Michael Giacchino: I do generally, and a lot of times what I'll do is I like to – and every time I've ever worked with a choir on everything I've done, I've always in some place put in the names of my kids.
HTF: That’s fun.
Michael Giacchino: So the choir is at some point singing the names of my kids, all the way back to the Medal of Honor Days, so it's kind of a fun thing to see.
HTF: Outstanding. And so there are some great soundtrack collector labels out there like La-La Land Records, Film Score Monthly and Buysoundtrax –
Michael Giacchino: Oh Yeah.
HTF: Do you find yourself picking up scores from them, and if you do, who do you listen to?
Michael Giacchino: Well I just bought the new 1941 soundtrack –
HTF: Which is brilliant.
Michael Giacchino: – Yes, and it’s one of my favorite scores of all time you know.
Michael Giacchino: I absolutely love that score. So when they came out with the extended version of that, 'cause I had the original LP of that, and then of course when there was a CD released of the same thing but it also had everything on it! So yeah, I'm always looking for those things, stuff like that. Absolutely.
HTF: Okay. Great.
Michael Giacchino: Love it.
HTF: Well I want to thank you for not only speaking with me today, but also the music that you put out, the kind of scoring that you have with full orchestras so with you and people like Bear McCreary and his wonderful work on Human Target and The Cape and the like, there is really genuine, well I am hoping it is a genuine resurgence in full orchestra sound for film and television –
Michael Giacchino: I hope so too. I mean for me I always look back to when I was a kid watching TV, you know, just television. Forget movies for a second. But growing up in the '60s, '70s and '80s watching television, they were using live musicians on all those scores. So I feel like I somehow learned about music just by watching TV. You know a lot of what I learned about music was learned just passively by watching and listening, you don't even realize it.
Michael Giacchino: But when you look back you're like wow, they were real orchestras playing every single one of those scores for those TV shows we watched as kids. And nowadays that's not the thing. You know, kids are growing up listening to synth music, which I think is a shame, and they're shortchanging what they could do creatively later in their life by not inspiring them in that way, or not not showing what a human can do with an instrument because I think what a human can do with an instrument is far more interesting and compelling than anyone with a box and wires in it, you know.
HTF: I agree completely.
Michael Giacchino: So.
HTF: Well, well thank you again Michael, and I wish you all the very best in the future.
Michael Giacchino: Well thank you, it was a pleasure talking with you Neil, thanks.