Exclusive: Composer Michael Giacchino Talks CARS 2, SUPER 8, JOHN CARTER, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, More

     May 1, 2011

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Continuing our coverage from our visit to Pixar in anticipation of the release of Cars 2, we have our exclusive interview with Michael Giacchino.  One of the most in-demand composers at the moment (and rightly so), Giacchino has been a bit of a mainstay at Pixar having scored The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and most recently Up, for which he won the Academy Award.  His versatile work is undeniably brilliant, from the sweeping tones of Lost to the bombastic panache of Star Trek.

In our interview, Giacchino talked about his approach to the score for Cars 2, what influences he used in creating the music, what the process of a composer at Pixar is like, and also gave an update on his scores for some highly anticipated upcoming films (Super 8, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and John Carter of Mars).  Hit the jump to check it out.

michael-giacchino-imageIn case you missed it, last week we posted our interview with Cars 2 producer Denise Ream which you can check out here. Each Sunday leading up to the release of Cars 2 on June 24th, we will be posting a new interview from our coverage at Pixar. So be sure to check back here every week.

In case you don’t get the chance to read the full interview, here are a few highlights:

  • His inspiration for Cars 2 was British Surf music. He thought it would be a perfect fit for the spy theme of the film.
  • As a composer, Pixar brings him in on the film when it’s at a stage where it can be visually seen. But he did have very early conversations after he worked on Ratatouille, though he didn’t become intricately involved with the project until a year and a half ago.
  • He actually starts writing music for a Pixar film once it’s finished going through the drastic changes and revisions. When they decide “This is our movie,” he starts writing.
  • Dick Dale was a big influence in writing the score for this film.
  • He didn’t decide if he was going to acknowledge Randy Newman’s score for the first Cars until after seeing Cars 2, at which point he realized that this is a completely different movie so he decided to do his own thing.
  • Says there are shades of that 70’s/80’s Spielbergian Amblin vibe in his score for Super 8, and he’s written about 90% of the score. He likens working on Super 8 with J.J. Abrams to making a movie with his next door neighbor as a kid.
  • Hasn’t started work on John Carter of Mars yet because they’re deep in post-production/animation on that film. He will score Super 8 first, then Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the John Carter of Mars. Says they’re all extremely different projects calling for completely different scores.

cars-2-movie-image-3Collider: You talked earlier today about how you were going for a British Surf music feel for the film, was that always in your head?

Michael Giacchino: When I first saw the film I just thought, “Okay this would be so much fun to do this with.” I loved that music as a kid and whenever I listened to it I always felt like I was in the middle of something important or big or something adventurous, and when I saw this movie I said, “Oh my God, that could be a perfect fit!” I’ve always wanted to do that sort of score, that sort of thing with that at the centerpiece, and when I saw this I thought, “This is it, this is gonna be the thing!” and I was like “I hope John (Lasseter) agrees.” And thankfully he did.

Judging by the footage, it looks like it’s very much half spy-movie half racing-movie. Are you using a different tone when the genre kind of changes?

Giacchino: Yes. Yeah, well it depends on what’s happening within the story. In some of the racing stuff, if it’s more just kind of showcasing racing, then yeah there’s really no spy element involved at all, there’s none of that kind of guitar stuff. If it is in fact a combination of the two, a race and something else is going on story-wise, then yeah it kind of creeps in. So it all depends on what’s happening with the story, how much or how little you use of that element.

cars-2-movie-imageHow early are you brought in? Are you involved in the inception phase or do they wait until it’s more visual?

Giacchino: They wait until they get it to a point where you can actually see it on reels. And I guess I came in maybe a year and a half ago, although I did talk to them very very early on about this, not long after Ratatouille actually I had a conversation about it. But I really didn’t get involved until about a year ago or so. And I’ve watched the film go through different phases, you know it changes, it evolves. It’s one of those things where the first version you make of the film isn’t the one that you end up seeing, I mean you go through several versions of it to try and get to the best possible version of the story. So I’ve seen like four iterations of it as it goes. It’s a great process because you’re constantly building it, you’re putting it up, you look at it and you critique it, you pull it back down, you re-build it, you put it back up, “Okay that’s better but we now gotta change this.” It’s a really great process as opposed to just shooting what you have, and then putting it out there. It’s a great way to kind of make it as best as it can be.

When they’re reworking, is there ever a time when you have to completely scrap an idea that you thought would be great but didn’t fit anymore?

Giacchino: No, because by the time that I actually start writing music, the film is kind of what it’s gonna be. There might be small changes here and there, they might swap a scene or do something small, but the big changes are already done at that point. So by the time I actually start writing, everyone knows “Yes, this is our movie.” So all of that stuff beforehand, I see it, I give my thoughts on it, but I don’t really start writing music until it get to the point where “Yep, this is our movie.”

cars-2-movie-image-4You mentioned Dick Dale as an influence on your score for this film. What other specific influences did you have when writing this music?

Giacchnio: I always feel like my writing is consistently influenced by everything I watched and listened to growing up, so it’s just this crazy collage of everything, you know. But I feel like this score really is that surf thing, at its core, and around that it’s just fun action, it’s emotional, it’s about friendship, which I always loved. You know with these movies, especially at Pixar, the core of the film is usually something very emotional and something that feels really real that you can relate to, it’s not like done in a false way. You know a lot of films will treat emotion falsely and you can sense that very quickly, but these films have a way of pulling you in and making you care about these characters because they’re treating them like real people, not like a cartoon or something to make fun of, they actually treat them as if they’re real people, and I think that’s great.

Coming into the film, did you want to kind of take-off Randy Newman’s score for the first Cars or acknowledge that, or did you want this to be its own beast?

Giacchnio: I didn’t know. I didn’t have any preconceptions because I figured, “I’m gonna just watch it, and then decide what the answer to that question is,” because that was a question in my head. But ultimately I said well there’s no point in thinking about it, just wait until you see it and then decide what you wanna do. And the first time I saw it I said, “Oh, this is something completely different. This is a completely different idea.”

cars-2-movie-image-2Are you currently attached to score any other Pixar films or do you usually just focus on one thing at a time?

Giacchino: Usually just one thing at a time, because the lead-time is so lengthy. They work on one of these things for 5, 6 years, sometimes longer. But actually right now I’m working with Andrew Stanton on John Carter of Mars, that’s not really Pixar but he is a big part of this place.

What’s it feel like to be the guy that everyone wants to date? Everyone wants you to do their movie.

Giacchino: (laughs) Well you know what, the way I look at it is I get to work with my friends. When I was 10, I had a group of friends that I used to love to make movies with, and we made them growing up, we did it all through high school. And I feel like I found my new group of friends that we all just like to do things together. So I don’t really think of it in those terms, I think of it in terms of these are my friends and we’re just gonna make things, and we’re always gonna do it together and it’s really kinda fun to do that, I really love that. That makes me kinda the most happy, knowing that you’re really just doing stuff with your friends.

cars-2-retro-posterHow far along are you on Super 8? The trailer seems like it has a very Amblin/70’s 80’s Spielberg vibe to it, does the score echo that sentiment?

Giacchino: I’m going for ultimately what works for the film. There are shades of that for sure in the score. I’ve pretty much written probably 90% of the score at this point. And then I’ve gotta go and record Cars 2 on Saturday, finish up all that for a week, and then I’ll go back to Super 8 and then in three weeks I’ll record that. So it’s been a crazy schedule for the last couple months, but yeah I’m excited about that one, that’s gonna be a really fun thing. I’m in a position where I get to go make something with my friends. Me and J.J. it’s like, the kid who lives next door, “Okay let’s go do this, that’d be cool wouldn’t it? Yeah that’d be fun!”

Have you started work on John Carter of Mars yet or are you still in the discussion phase?

Giacchino: Haven’t started anything on that musically. They’re working their butts off just trying to get that together. They shot it and now they’re in post and dealing with animation and all kinds of stuff, so there’s a lot to do before I actually sit down. Probably before I touch that I’ll be with Brad [Bird] on Mission: Impossible first. So it’ll go Super 8, Mission: Impossible, and then John Carter.

Have you started any work on Mission: Impossible yet?

Giacchino: Nope. [I] don’t even wanna think about it until I get through Cars and Super 8 and then I’ll go to that. They’re all like boom, one after another so I try to separate them as much as I can. But the good news is they’re all extremely different projects, so it’s not like I’m gonna write the same thing for this film that I’d write for Super 8, this film is nowhere near like Super 8 and vice versa, so it’s nice that they’re all so different.

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