One of my favorite composers is Michael Giacchino. That’s because in the last decade, Giacchino has written some amazing scores including The Incredibles, Speed Racer, Ratatouille, Up, Star Trek (2009), Super 8, Lost, Alias, Fringe, and so many more. With Giacchino writing the score for Cars 2, the other day I got to talk to him about his latest soundtrack. Of course we also talked about other subjects including what the last few years have been like, his writing process, collaborating with directors, the challenge of scoring Star Trek, if he’s coming back for the sequel, working with the Wachowskis on Speed Racer, if he’s started work on Mission Impossible 4, and I also asked what do we have to do to get Brad Bird to make a sequel to The Incredibles. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview.
As usual, I’m offering two ways to get the interview: you can either click here to listen to the audio, or the full transcript is below. Cars 2 gets released this weekend.
Collider: How have the last few years changed your life? If you look at your IMDb profile you see how you got started in video games as you broke into the industry and now you are one of the busiest composers working in Hollywood. Can you talk about this dramatic change in your career?
Michael Giacchino: There is a point where you are sitting there going, “God, what I would really like more than anything else is to just be able to do like 3 movies a year and hopefully they will be movies that I would like.” This is me back in 1996 or something planning ahead going, “if I could only get to that point.” Now here I am in a year where I am doing like 5 movies and going, “Woah. What was I thinking? This is crazy.” But the great thing about it is that I get to work with people that I love. I get to work with my friends. I really consider everyone up at Pixar is like family to me. Everyone up at J.J.’s [Abrams] Bad Robot are like family to me. We have been through everything together. So it is almost like I found this amazing home and to step outside of the circle you will have to really have something that I would be really, really ready to go for. The experiences I have with J.J., John [Lasseter], and everyone up at Pixar is just great. It is similar to like when you were a kid and you had friends and you’re just like, “I’m going to go in the backyard and play with so and so.” And that was like the greatest thing you could ever do – just hang out in the backyard and make a tent out of trees or something. I used to have this fantasy that I could make robots out of the trashcans. I literally thought if I got all the right pieces I could turn those trashcans into robots. Of course it never happened and it never worked. But the idea of creating something or doing something with people that you love – that is what it is all about. I have really found that with these people. So, yes, things have changed. All of a sudden I am working on giant movies. My favorite part about it is that I actually feel like I am 10 years old again with being able to do the work I do with the people I am working with. They are like my flashback to my neighborhood. They are my neighbors. J.J. Abrams on side and Pixar on the other. “I’m going to go outside and play with my friends at Pixar. I’m going to go play with the Pixar boys for awhile, mom. Is that ok?” That is what it has turned into and I love that.
Giacchino: I write really quickly. Part of it is because I love the projects that I am working on. So I get really excited about it and I get really creatively jazzed. So on Cars, I think I wrote that in 6 or 7 weeks. You know, it was like, “Bam!” and I just hit the ground running. It was probably closer to 6 weeks. Again, that is also from spending a lot of time thinking about it too. You know you are going to do this film and it is always out in the future. You are kind of mulling it over and thinking about it. Then you see it and you are kind of prepared. Then you get an idea and you just go. I’m not the kind of writer that sits there and hems and halls and doesn’t have an idea which way to go. I will almost always sit down and go, “I am going this direction” and then I just go. For better or worse, it is about having a plan or an idea and then going with it. I think what helped me with that was doing all of that TV work. When I worked on Alias, that was my first TV show. I had never done a television show before that. To think that, “Ok. You have 3 or 4 days to write an episode every week.” You have to do it because it is going to be on TV. No matter what it is going to be on TV. So you have to finish it. There is no time to fuck around and there is no time to decide “Should I go this way or that way?” You just pick a way and go. I think that has really helped me. Living 5 years of Alias and 6 years of Lost kind of trained myself to just make decisions because half of the battle is just making a choice whenever you are doing something.
Can you talk about working with directors? How collaborative do you find directors are with music? For example, with an actor, the director understands the acting process and can relate to it more. But with composing…
Giacchino: It is like this voodoo kind of thing.
Exactly. Can you talk about working with Lasseter for example? Did he come to you with some notes for Cars 2? Was he like, “You know, this is great. But I would love to hear this.” Can you talk about how it is like collaborating with directors?
Giacchino: With John it was…you always sit down first and watch the film with the director. You guys watch it together and you stop and start the film any number of times. You do it how many ever times you need to. What you are looking for is an emotional story. We don’t even talk about drums, guitars, trumpets, or whatever. Non of that enters into the conversation ever because these good are really good as storytellers. So we talk in terms of story. You know, “How is that character feeling right now? Oh, god. Now it is getting really intense for him. Alright. So he is getting tense and tense and he finds this out. Suddenly it is sad because he just found out that somebody said something terrible about him. That didn’t make him angry. It made him sad.” So this is how we are talking about the characters. What you are doing is creating an emotional road map, which then allows me to go back and write music that corresponds with that emotional road map. So that is a very important part of the process – sitting there with John and figuring out that particular road map. I will then write it, bring it back to him, show him, and then we will talk about it. It’s a funny thing. A lot of the time I wont know if I had done it exactly right or not until I am watching it with someone else. When you present something that you have worked on to somebody else, for some reason that is the moment when you can see everything that you have done wrong. They may or may not agree, but it is more of a personal thing for me. It is that I am looking at it because you are self conscious and suddenly there is someone in the room that is seeing it for the first time. You will get a chance to see it for the first time through their eyes. That is a big moment for me. I will go and figure out that “Ok. I need to change this and this.” It is just to make my own notes. But then John will say something like, “Can we go over here to this moment? When this happens let’s make sure that that feels like it is sad. Let’s make sure.” So it is always about the emotions.
Comparing the work you did on this to your work on Star Trek. This exists in its own universe, but for Star Trek there is a lot of pressure. When you are doing something like that, everyone knows the music, but you reinterpreted it in your own way. How much more challenging was that for you?
Giacchino: Doing that score was a huge nightmare for me. I was so excited up to the point where I actually had to sit there and do it. Then I was like, “Oh, my god. What do I do?” Not only did I have everyone else’s expectations, but I had my own expectations because I grew up watching Star Trek. I love the old series more than anything. I watched the movies of course. I went and saw all of those. So there was this huge thing where I felt, “Oh, this is totally wrong. I should not be doing this. Why am I doing this? This was a bad idea.” I couldn’t get a handle on what to write. It was one of the few times that I was not able to figure out what to do. I would write theme after theme. I must have written 30 different themes and I was not happy with any of them. I kept showing them to J.J. and he felt the same way I did. It wasn’t until we all sat down and it was Damon Lindelof. I was talking to Damon about it and he was like, “You know, I think the problem is that you are thinking about it too much as Star Trek. It is not Star Trek. Let’s forget about Star Trek. It is the story about two guys who meet and become friends.” Once he said that I was like, “That is it! It is that simple!” The next thing I wrote is what we ended up in the film because that felt true to me. I was writing music to my own expectations of what I thought a space movie should be. Totally for the time in my life I was forgetting because my rule has always been “Story, story, story.” It is all about story. Then I got to a project where I sort of had this fanish attachment to and it screwed up perception completely. It took Damon just saying, “No. It is about this.” I think everyone to an extent had that issue with working on that film – certainly with writing and directing it. You always had what Star Trek is in the back of your head. But it is not that. We are making it something else. We are doing our own version of it. Again, it is the story of two guys that meet and become friends. Now it happens to be Kirk and Spock. But you can’t take away the fact that it is just two guys that are becoming friends.
There is a lot of talk that J.J. may or may not be coming back to direct the sequel. There is obviously a relationship between you and Bad Robot. I’m assuming that you want to come back for Star Trek 2.
Giacchino: Oh, yeah. I would love to. It depends on how all of the pieces fall. I would be happy to do another one. It was one of those things that when it ended I was like, “Ugh! Never again!” But now that time has passed…
Maybe the great reviews have something to do with it?
Giacchino: Yeah. Everyone seemed to really like the movie. That was really great because honestly that is all we want – for people to have great time. We want people to enjoy something and be able to walk out of the theater saying, “That was really fun! I’m so glad I spent 2 hours there.” Because that is what we want for ourselves. We are making something that we would love to see, you know? You hope that other people will feel the same way about it. It is not always the case, but that is what you are aiming for. Now that some time have passed I look at it and go, “Yeah. I feel like I do even better now. I feel like I have a handle on it and I can do better.” So we will see what the future holds. But, yeah, that would be nice.
I definitely want to ask you about another previous project Another score that you have done that I love is Speed Racer. People can knock that movie all they want, but it is one of my favorite films of that year.
I love that movie. It melts my brain.
Giacchino: People didn’t get it. They really didn’t get it. They thought that that was…ugh, god. Every review I read made me so angry. I was like, “You are not getting it! It is not supposed to be real! It’s not! It’s a world that they want to create and take you into. It just someplace else.” It was like going into an art museum. Are you going to get angry because that doesn’t look like a real person that was painted? It is not the same. It is a piece of art.
I really believe that it is 10 years ahead of its time. It had everyone in frame and everyone in focus. It was like a real life cartoon.
Giacchino: It’s great! It’s brilliant! I have to tell you that the Wachowskis were the greatest people to work with. I loved every single of working with them. They are the sweetest and nicest people you will ever meet in your life.
I was going to ask you about working with The Wachowskis. They obviously don’t do a lot of press. Can you compare working with them to say John Lasseter for Cars 2? How are they similar or different?
Giacchino: They were great. I think great filmmakers will always talk in terms of storytelling. These guys were always about the story. That is how I love to talk about a film. “Are we in line with the story?” It’s because you are creating something that needs to starts here and go here. Brad Bird is fond of saying that music is the easiest thing that can derail a film because if it slightly goes a degree off track it will take the viewer in the wrong emotional direction. To work with people who actually care about that is a good thing. The Wachowskis completely cared about that. They were just so much fun too. We would sit there and watch the film together. We would listen back to the playbacks and the synth stuff that I was doing it. We would just have fun and laugh. It was just a really enjoyable thing. They would get so excited about people’s work. They were like, “Look at the animation that this guy did! Check this out! Look at what he did!” They would get very excited about it. It is very similar to John. John is the same way. John goes, “Look at what that guy did there! That is fantastic!” That enthusiasm for the craft is fantastic. Those are the people that I love working with. They certainly have it. They are the best.
Giacchino: [laughs] Wow! That is a tough one! Especially when, you know, the studio is asking the same question: “What do we have to do to be able to make Brad Bird to make The Incredibles!” You know, Brad is all about waiting for the right story to happen and formulate. When Brad comes up with a story that excites him about it you can rest assured that he will sit down and make that movie. For him, he has to able to have a good story that excites him and that it makes it worth doing. He doesn’t want to do it just because the world wants another one. He wants to do it because he wants to tell a great story. That is what motivates him. I love that about him. So for me I go, “I will wait.” Because you know that whenever that day comes he is going to have something special for us. That is really what it is all about.
I have to ask about you working with him again on MI: 4. How is it going on that? Are you scoring?
Giacchino: Not yet. He just had his first cut put together. So I have to see it. I will start working on it really soon. What I have seen so far looks fantastic. It’s like, “Oh, my god! It is like Brad Bird directed a Mission: Impossible movie!” It’s like, “What could you expect?” The imagery, you know? Brad is a wonderful filmmaker especially in the sense of just visuals. He likes big images. He likes it to feel like a movie. He is going to kill me for saying this, but I watched a lot of it. I said, “Oh, my god. It’s as if David Lean directed an action movie with Tom Cruise.” Brad is like, “Stop saying that! Now that is too much pressure for me!” But that is the feeling that I got from just seeing the pieces that I saw. It is ultimately exactly what I wanted it to feel like. When Brad said, “Yes.” to doing this I was like, “Oh, my god. I can’t wait because it is going to feel like…” So I am really excited about that.