If you haven’t heard of Michael Giacchino you have definitely heard him – or heard his work, rather, in films like: The Incredibles, Star Trek, Up, Super 8, 50/50, Let Me In, etc. This summer alone, the prolific Oscar-winning composer is responsible for the scores of three separate films: Tomorrowland, Jurassic World and the forthcoming Inside Out.
Screen Rant recently spoke with Giacchino to find out how in the heck he was able to maintain his sanity throughout the grueling process(es), along with a slew of musical tidbits such as: how he and Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow decided where to incorporate John Williams’ iconic theme vs. Giacchino’s new one, why the piano is his favorite instrument for making the most of emotional scenes, and how his experience raising his daughter made his music on Inside Out the most personal of his career, thus far.
I have seen all three of the movies you scored this summer and I don’t know how you got any sleep in the last year.
[Laughs] Yeah it was a tough year because Jupiter Ascending was also a part of that too.
I very much enjoyed Jupiter Ascending.
I did too. That is an insane, fun movie. I think the Wachowskis are two of my favorite people on the planet, they’re the best. So yeah, between that and Inside Out and that ran right into Tomorrowland and that ran right into Jurassic World, it was insane. By the time it was all over I pretty much didn’t know where I was or who I was anymore.
Are you always focused on one score at one time or are you sometimes doing themes for one in the midst of another?
No, the good news is that everyone is friends in the group of people I work with. We all know each other and everyone is very respectful of each other so we worked at the very beginning to say, “How are we going to do this so I can survive this next year?” We laid out our calendars very carefully and it doesn’t always work because in the beginning I was supposed to do Tomorrowland first and then Inside Out and then Tomorrowland kept pushing, pushing, pushing back. And then I realized, “Oh shit, it’s right on top of Inside Out.” What I did then, I called [Inside Out director Pete Docter] and said, “Pete, let’s do your movie now.” In animation, picture was pretty much locked and all they were doing was continuing to finalize the animation and lighting and everything. So we pulled that off, we swapped the schedules; it’s always a chess game. For me, I always like to try and set it up so it’s one at a time.
When you are in the midst of that, what are your hours like on a typical work day or work week?
I am very organized and I worked 9-to-5 and I try not to work weekends. Occasionally I will if I have to, but I try to stay away from that. The idea is, I feel like I need to have normal life too. I need to do normal things, see my friends, in order to have that thinking break. You need the time to put your mind elsewhere so you can come back fresh and figure out what you did yesterday was wrong, you know? [Laughs] I’m not the kind of person who works 24 hours a day, mostly out of laziness I don’t know.
Ah no. No one in normal world can call you lazy.
But you do have to be incredibly organized and thoughtful of the process. There are a lot of guys who do this job and they have tons of assistants. They all kind of write together and for me, it’s basically me here in this room and that’s it. That’s another reason I have to be organized about it. I have three kids too and I want to see them. Life is #1 on the agenda and #2 is work.
I saw Inside Out and Jurassic World on back to back days…
Two very similar movies [laughs]
Ha. And their scores are exactly the same. But I cried a lot during Inside Out and I loved how you use the piano for some of your most emotional music. How do you decide with Inside Out vs. Jurassic, where to come in with just piano or strings and other instruments?
It’s when you’re dealing with emotional situations for me, I tend to believe less is more. The simplest thing you can do is just be simple and it’s always the hardest thing to do as well because the tendency is, for an emotional moment, is to pour on more and more and more but I learned over the years that it’s actually the opposite. It’s much like when you’re talking to a friend who just went through some sort of trauma, you’re not going to yell at them, you’re going to be as quiet and as supportive and just be there with them, and that’s how I like the music to be there in those moments, it’s almost as if a friend is there being with the character. So it may not end up being an incredibly melodic or soaring moment, but it doesn’t need to be either. There’s plenty of room for that elsewhere and for those real emotional things I find less is more.
Have you and your daughter seen Inside Out together yet?
Oh yeah. She was around for the whole thing and she and Pete’s daughter are best of friends. Since we made Up together they’ve been great friends, so going through that process with them was really sort of an incredibly emotional experience because so much of what I was putting out musically was not only based on what the story was and what the film is trying to say, but also based on that relationship that you have with your kids. So it was a very strangely/therapeutic emotional journey on this, much more so than many of the films you work on where you’re concentrating on emotions that are emerging from the screen, this was taking them from all aspects of life, it was really really interesting.
Switching over to Jurassic, I spoke to Colin Trevorrow yesterday about how you incorporated some of John Williams’ original theme into your own, how did that work? Did you meet with John or just come in and work with Colin?
I just came in with Colin. I know John very well and he’s been really wonderful and supportive to me over the years so I feel like I know those scores and what those films tried to say so well and I also know that Colin really wanted to put something new in there. We both love Jurassic Park and the first thing we both wanted to do as fans, we both decided there is no way we’re going to make this movie without that theme somewhere, but it has to be earned and it has to mean something. We don’t just want to slap it in because so the use of the theme was really in the reveal of a promise that was made in the first movie, when they were saying: “We’re going to build a dinosaur park,” and that’s what’s wonderful about this one, it’s delivering on that promise.
So it was very targeted and we figured out where we were going to use it but then Colin also said, “I want our own theme as well,” what he kept saying to me was, “I want the movie to have not just a soul but the movie to have soul and I want there to be moments where we feel like we’re actually in a church, and that’s sort of the reverence we had for the original film and what John and Steven [Spielberg] did over the years, but we wanted to bring something new to it, that was important to us too.
Because people do know that Williams theme and you do hear it easily, where should the audience listen for your new theme? Colin mentioned when a certain character is released from paddock #9 toward the end…
There is a small version of it when the boys are in the gyrosphere when they’re out in the field there, we hit on it there before things start to go south. I’m sure that’s no big spoiler to know that things go south, it would be a boring movie if it didn’t. [Laughs]
Do you have something else lined-up or are you finally going to take a vacation?
I’m taking a vacation. I’m not going to work on anything for a while, just didn’t want to even think about what’s next because this year has been so insane I thought “Let me have some time to think of nothing before I think of something again.” That’s the plan.
Jurassic World is now playing in theaters. Inside Out opens June 19, 2015.