It can be argued effectively that the music specifically created for motion picture, television programs and video games have never enjoyed such popularity. Past and present film composers such as the Ennio Morricone, Hans Zimmer John Williams and Michael Giacchino are enjoying widespread and much deserved public acclaim. Michael Giacchino’s name will inevitably be seen on any list of the great film composers working in the industry at this time. This byteclay.com columnist had the opportunity to discuss the composer’s incredible work that include such a variety of much loved scores that range from the television show, Lost to the incredibly lyrical and underrated, John Carter.
Michael Giacchino is incredibly amicable in person and genuinely displays humility and gratitude when interacting with fans and fellow professionals at public events. This columnist has attended three separate concert events where the composer electrified and brought audiences to their feet roaring with approval with his compositions. These experiences are still fresh in mind and formed the foundation for this interview.
It is always best to begin at the beginning and that is where the interview began. It might come as a surprise that composer Michael Giacchino began to form an interest in film with the visual effects side of motion pictures, specifically with stop motion animation. Giacchino remembers, “I was obsessed with it and I did it from when I was nine years old. It was consistently happening whether it was my parent’s old Ping-Pong table which no one used anymore or in the backyard. I was always making stop motion animation films which led to making live action films.” Michael continues, “they were all on regular eight millimeter and not even on super eight millimeter! In 1983 I graduated to super eight and that was amazing. I got it as a Christmas gift. It was a Bell and Howell super eight and from then on they ended up being sound films with all of my friends in high school. I ended up in film school because of all that!”
How does a teenager obviously obsessed with the visual effects perfected by past masters such as Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen develop an interest in film music? Michael Giacchino responds, “music was sort of one of those things that seeped into me over time as I made movies and I began to understand how important it was to have music, finding the right kind of music for my stop motion films that wasn’t just music that was placed behind the film. I wanted the music to change when the action changed and that was very difficult at that time because you are dealing with eight millimeter film that had no sound. You had to play a tape recorder on the side so figuring out to sync up, timing out every scene, finding the music to fit into those and imagine editing those together on the whole cassette recorder. It was my first go at scoring something. It was all interrelated and everything that I am doing right now was an evolution of what I did as a ten year old!”
Michael Giacchino made a decision as he was attending a college that specialized in visual arts. Giacchino speaks, “I started getting more serious about studying music and I did outside private study as much as I could. I was going to school, I was taking outside music lessons in theory and composition and I was also working in Macy’s selling stereos. It was a very busy time but I was trying to make room for everything. I loved film and I loved music and I needed to pay rent!” Michael further illuminates on his decision. Giacchino recalls, “music was the most satisfying part of making movies for me at that point. When you are trying to make movies at that point in your life it is very difficult to get a crew together or for even anyone to show up! I realized that if I am just doing music for something then I have one responsibility and I can control that because it is just me and it is also a big, big part of telling the story of a film. Storytelling has always been the most fascinating part of filmmaking for me.”
Michael Giacchino received an internship at Universal Pictures during the final six months of his college. It was an internship that transformed into a job in Universal’s publicity and promotions department. Giacchino comments, “it was so great because I learned so much of how films got sold and got put into theaters and how the producers were a part of that process.” Michael continues, “a year and a half later I got hired by Disney in a similar department and got transferred out to Los Angeles. I learned so much from the people that worked there about filmmaking and the business. Things that they never touch upon in school. It was great because you were there during the production, post production and selling of a movie. It was just an incredible graduate education for me at the studio at that time.”
Who has influenced composer Michael Giacchino and his approach to scoring motion pictures, television shows and video games? In the opinion of this columnist, Giacchino could most certainly inherit the baton of the late composer Jerry Goldsmith. Michael Giacchino humbly offers a response. Michael speaks, “the main ones were certainly Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. Growing up in the eighties-those guys certainly ruled that era! What I loved about Jerry was that he could write a beautiful melody on one side and then flip around and do the most crazy atonal strange stuff. I was always obsessed with certain things whether it be animation and Planet of the Apes was one of my first film obsessions as a kid as was 2001 with the Ligeti music.” Michael continues, “at the same time John Williams as well. What I love about John is he always went right to the heart of what was going on in the story. His sense of storytelling was so unique, so great and operatic. I loved that! It got me interested in listening to Max Steinger, Bernard Herrmann and classical music which led me to Jazz.”
It can be argued that Michael Giacchino’s career really began to garner much attention and acclaim when he began a professional and personal relationship with director J.J. Abrams. Giacchino describes their relationship which mirrors other classic director/composer relationships of the past which include Steven Spielberg/John Williams, Alfred Hitchcock/Bernard Herrmann and Joe Dante/Jerry Goldsmith. Michael speaks, “he is such a down to Earth really great guy and we have been friends for so many years. When we are working together it is always a simple situation and there is always an excitement and enthusiasm to what we are doing which is really wonderful! It takes me back to the days of when I was young making movies with my friends when it was all about enthusiasm and challenges in trying to figure how to do something. We would never sit there and think about how do we make the most amount of money! All the conversations were about how do we do this, enjoy it, have fun doing it and create something that makes us laugh, emotional or scared! It was always about pleasing ourselves and wouldn’t be great if we did this.” Giacchino adds, “that’s the relationship and that is why I love working with him. It is never about anything other than that!”
In the year 2012 a film called John Carter was released and did not connect with the general public. In the opinion of this columnist, John Carter was an overlooked masterpiece and one of the finest elements of the film is the incredibly lyrical, moving and ultimately triumphant score composed by Michael Giacchino. The composer talks about his monumental score. Michael speaks, “I loved that movie and loved working with Andrew Stanton on that film. We really wanted to make an old fashioned action adventure film. Why sometimes hit or does not with an audience is something you can never tell so you just need to do what you think is right at the time and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t! I am really proud of that movie and I really enjoyed writing a big orchestral Science Fiction score which was very thematic, big and operatic. A lot of films these days don’t want that so that is why I stick with people I know.”
The motion picture, Tomorrowland also unfortunately shared a similar fate at the box office as John Carter in that it did not resonate with general moviegoers. Michael Giacchino offers his opinion on the subject of Tomorrowland’s poor reception. Giacchino speaks, “I believe that we are in a cynical time period in our entertainment world. Everything is dark and depressing and that is just what is being sold. Tomorrowland asks the question why that is and maybe people weren’t ready or didn’t want to answer it. Right now your answers don’t require you to do anything and that is easier to do than to take action!”
The year 2016 will allow film and film score fans to listen to three new Michael Giacchino scores. Zootopia, The Book of Henry and Star Trek Beyond are the three high profile film releases that will feature the music of Giacchino. Michael comments on Star Trek Beyond. Giacchino speaks, “I met with Justin and loved him. He is such a great guy and I think he has a great vision of what he wants to do and I am excited to be a part of it. It is really nice to have been a part and complete a trilogy of sorts. I do love those movies and I love the new cast and they do wonderful, wonderful work! Those films have a great way of being their own movies without relying too much on the past and yet there is still enough of the past to continue the Star Trek legacy.”
Multiple Emmy, Grammy and Oscar award winning composer Michael Giacchino is a very strong and enthusiastic advocate of music being seen and heard by the public in a live concert venue. Michael Giacchino concludes, “it is so important to get out there and support the musicians and the arts. If we can do it by playing things like Star Trek and Ratatouille then so be it and I am happy to do it!”?
For a complete list of Michael Giacchino’s scoring credits, be sure to click on he link that will lead you to his page on the Internet Movie Data Base.