Even if you don’t know who Michael Giacchino is by name (and you should because his work is awesome!), his music scores are featured in some of the most popular and acclaimed film projects in recent history, including Up, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This summer, he’s certainly making a splash, having scored Tomorrowland, Jurassic World and Pixar’s latest, Inside Out.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, Academy Award-winning composer Michael Giacchino talked about the crazy scheduling of doing three summer blockbusters back-to-back, never wanting to take a job just to work, how much he loves doing creative things with people he’s also friends with, the challenge of paying homage to John Williams’ famous Jurassic Park score while still making the music for Jurassic World something new, collaborating with director Colin Trevorrow, the unique experience of doing a more untraditional score for Inside Out, whether he might return for Star Trek 3, and just how cool it is to score music for theme park rides.
Collider: I had a double feature of Jurassic World and Inside Out last week, and enjoyed both films tremendously. It was so cool to see what could be done with the dinosaurs now, and to get to see something so uniquely original from Pixar.
MICHAEL GIACCHINO: [Inside Out] is a pretty special movie. I had so much fun on that. I love it so much. Dinosaurs are fantastic, but it’s always nice to see something original like Inside Out come out. When we had the wrap party up at Pixar, there were 3,000 people in the theater and, during that moment when Riley, the little girl, breaks down and starts crying, you could hear that everyone was crying. I’ve never experienced anything like that, in my life, in a huge theater like that, you could hear that everyone was either sniffling, crying or sobbing. It was incredible. I thought, “Oh, my god!” It was so strange, but wonderful, as well.
How cool is it to be able to say that you’re responsible for the scores of three big summer blockbusters, with Jurassic World, Inside Out and Tomorrowland, and that they’re such vastly different films, in story and tone?
GIACCHINO: For me, the best part about it is that these are my friends that I’m working with. They’re far more than just jobs for me. These are adventures that I get to go on with really good friends. And to be able to do creative things with people you love to be with is great. I know a lot of people in this town that do what I do and they work with people that they aren’t necessarily friends with, and it can be a really tough job. I love the group of people I get to work with.
How crazy was the schedule for doing those three scores?
GIACCHINO: It was crazy, but it was organized. They all know each other and everyone is friendly with one another, so I basically had to get everyone together and say, “Okay, how do we do this, so I don’t die?” It was probably the hardest run that I’ve had, in a long time. There was a time that I did Up, Star Trek and Land of the Lost, and I was working on Lost, at the same time, and that was really hard. But for some reason, this felt so much harder, and I don’t know why. They were literally one after the other. It was Inside Out, then it was Tomorrowland, and then it was Jurassic World, and there were slight overlaps between each one. It was just a non-stop thing. I was exhausted. By the time I was done, I got sick and I got an ear infection. It was just terrible. My body just gave out. But, I just was so happy to do them.
Obviously, John Williams’ Jurassic Park score is just as memorable for people as the dinosaurs in that movie. It’s hard to think about Jurassic Park without humming the theme music.
So, how challenging was it to pay homage to one of the most famous composers and one of the most well-known film scores while still making the music new and your own?
GIACCHINO: The great thing about John’s music is that you could stick it anywhere and it sounds amazing ‘cause he’s just the greatest there is. For us, as fans of the film, neither Colin [Trevorrow] nor I wanted to make a Jurassic Park movie without hearing that theme. It was about saying, “Okay, where can we put it? Where does it make the most sense?” Colin had this idea that the beginning of the film is delivering on a promise that was made 20-some years ago, when we said we were going to make an actual functioning Jurassic Park. So, what we thought was, when we show that, that’s where we should deliver John’s theme. It was a really targeted approach, as to where to do it and where would make the most sense and where would we most appreciate it, as fans ourselves. And then, there were a couple more places, here and there, in the rest of the film, where we thought we could use a little bit, but it was a very targeted thing. We really thought it out. When you heard it, we wanted it to mean something. I’m lucky, I work with guys who allow and really love music and they love melody and they love those sorts of scores. But, so many movies these days are made where you could have just thrown anything into the movie and it wouldn’t matter. So, it’s really wonderful to work with people that respect that old school way of doing it. I feel very lucky.
Did you need any convincing to sign on for Jurassic World, from yourself or anyone else?
GIACCHINO: How it happened was that I knew Derek Connolly, who wrote the film with Colin. Derek and I had known each other for a couple of years, at that point. He called me up one day and said, “Colin wants to know if he can call you, in spite of everything I’ve told him about you.” And I had never met Colin, but I knew who he was ‘cause I loved Safety Not Guaranteed. I thought, “This is probably going to be about Jurassic World.” At that point, I was thinking, “I don’t know if I should do it.” I wasn’t sure. But when I talked to Colin and he explained what he wanted to do, I was immediately like, “Yes!” There wasn’t any hesitation. And then, when I hung up the phone, I thought, “What did I just do? What did I just say yes to?” Automatically, I remembered, “Holy shit, that’s probably one of John’s most iconic scores. What did I just do to throw myself into that mess?” But in the end, it was just a blast. It was a lot of fun. For me, it was actually a very personal and emotional trip because my first scoring job was for Steven Spielberg on the Lost World video game. It was like coming home, or closing a loop. I just felt really honored to be able to be a part of that world and to do it that way.
How was the process between you and Colin Trevorrow? Was it very collaborative, or do you go do your thing, and then get his feedback and adjust accordingly?
GIACCHINO: Basically, I wrote an 18-minute suite. I went and watched the movie with him, and then I walked away and said, “Let me think about it for a couple of days.” And then, I wrote an 18-minute suite, which basically encompassed how I felt about the movie when I watched it. It’s something I like to do on each film. I like to sit down and write how I felt, watching the film. Once I did that, he came over and I played that for him. We just sat there for 18 minutes, listening to the whole thing. It’s torturous because you’re sitting there hoping and wondering, “Is he going to like this?” And he was very happy with it. Over that 18 minutes, I tried to hit upon all the main story beats or characters or situations or ideas, so that he could feel like we were covering all the bases with these themes. At that point, I said, “Okay, just give me the movie,” and I just started writing. We didn’t have a traditional spotting session, like you would normally do, where you sit with the director and analyze every single scene and say, “Oh, we should do this. The music starts here and stops here.” We didn’t do any of that, and mainly because I had just been going so quickly from the last two movies and was already in that mode. I was like, “All right, just give me the movie. I’m ready to go.” So, I just sat down and did it. And then, he would come over and watch it. We were able to watch the whole movie with the music that I wrote, and we could talk about it. If there was anything he wanted to add, I could change it right there, on the spot, with him in the room. By the time we went through that whole process, I was just ready to go record it.
With the work that you’ve done on Star Trek, has Justin Lin talked to you about returning to score Star Trek 3?
GIACCHINO: I haven’t really talked to them yet about it because they’re in such a crazy schedule crunch, and I personally wanted to just get through all of this before looking at anything next. I need a break. But I imagine that I will be talking to them soon about all of this, and we’ll figure out what’s going to happen next. From what I understand, from everyone at Bad Robot, everyone loves Justin. He’s a super sweet guy. So, we’ll see what happens there. Honestly, I was just like, “I can’t even think beyond next week, let alone next year.” I just wanted to clear all of this stuff out, and then think about what’s next.
So, you don’t know what you’re doing next, as far as the next score?
GIACCHINO: Nope. It’s been an incredibly busy year, with also Jupiter Ascending on top of that. You get to a point where you just have to stop. I was never one of those people that would just take jobs that were thrown at me. I can only work on things where A) I know and like the people, or B) find some very inspirational aspect to it that would make me want to work on it. I don’t really do this ‘cause it’s a job. I do it ‘cause I really like to do it. I want to make sure that the things I do choose are things that I am invested in and that I care about.
How different was the experience of scoring Inside Out, with it being a less traditional score, creating music for characters that are living emotions?
GIACCHINO: It was very strange. In the beginning, we talked about, “We’ll have an anger theme, we’ll have a sadness theme, we’ll have a joy theme,” and we sort of ended up doing that. But in the end, I found that you can’t just assign an idea to an emotion because emotions are not one note. There are shades of emotions. You have shades of emotions. So while there may be a melody or theme for something, it changes drastically, depending on which shade you’re playing in. If you’re discussing joy or sadness or anger or fear or disgust, they all have their own thing. It became more of a global approach, where it became about Riley. Ultimately, it became about Riley’s joy and Riley’s sadness, and there wasn’t necessarily an anchor theme. All of that stuff fell away because once I really thought about the movie, I realized that it was all about that balance of sadness and joy, and how important it is to have a balance, and not to off-set it or do too much of one. One needs the other. So, our initial thought process drastically changed, by the time I actually sat down to do it.
How did you come up with the awesome bit of piano music, at the beginning?
GIACCHINO: I went and watched the movie, and I had been thinking about it for weeks. I didn’t sit down and write anything, I was just thinking about it. I was sitting at the piano, one day. I was waiting for my girlfriend. We were going out to dinner and she was getting dressed, and I was ready. I’m always ready before her, so I was just sitting around. I was thinking about the film, so I sat down at the piano and just started playing. I hit this chord and thought, “Oh, I like that chord.” I started messing around with that chord, and I hit on that melody that you were talking about. I couldn’t get that out of my head. Once I played it, I couldn’t stop playing it. To me, it felt like it was an idea that kept coming back to you. It felt like something that would be in your mind, the way your mind works. There was this weird ethereal feeling to it, and it just felt emotionally right to me. I tried other things. I said, “Let me see if something else works better.” But, I kept going back to that. It just forced itself on me.
How different is the experience of composing music for theme park rides, and is that just totally surreal?
GIACCHINO: It’s a blast! Space Mountain was my favorite. At first, I thought we were going to go down to Disneyland and check out the ride, and then talk about what to do. They were like, “Well, we can’t really do that because we had to take down the entire ride, in order to redo it. The only one that’s operational, that is just like this one, is in Tokyo, so we have to go to Tokyo. And since we’re going to Tokyo, we’re gonna stop in Paris first, ‘cause we want you to do that Space Mountain, as well.” So, we went on this crazy trip around the world, and we rode those rides, over and over and over. We brought all kinds of music with us and listened to all kinds of things, as we were riding it, to figure out what rhythm felt right and what tempo felt right. It was a really fun thing. The greatest thing about it is when you think, “Wow, this music is going to be there for years!” I always thought about walking through Disneyland, you hear that music and you always feel like you’re coming home to something ‘cause it’s so familiar and you’ve been there so many times. To be a part of that is pretty crazy. It’s really great.
Jurassic World opens in theaters on June 12th.