You may not know it just yet but you love Michael Giacchino. Maybe you’ll never admit that the music that flowed through the most compelling scenes of “LOST” or Pixar’s “Up” made your eyes a little misty but we know better.
Through the efforts of Craig Detweiler director of the Center for Entertainment Media and Culture and graphic design professor Dana Zurzolo the Grammy Emmy Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning composer dropped by Pepperdine on Thursday March 10 to share his story.
In fact it’s all about the story — not the musical notation — when Giacchino talks to students.
“They should already know music what to do and how to write it Giacchino explained. The thing they need to learn more than anything is storytelling. You have to look at it as a part of the film as important as the script. It needs to guide the viewer through the entire film.”
And a storyteller he certainly is. Giacchino has been making stop-motion and live-action films ever since he could get his hands on the family video camera though he also loved music and the storytelling possible when combining the two. He never aspired to be a film and television composer specifically but said he gravitated toward whatever he thought would be fun like scoring video games after film school.
After hearing a piece that Giacchino was asked to write overnight in 1997 Steven Spielberg requested that Giacchino score the DreamWorks Interactive video game “The Lost World: Jurassic Park making it the first game to have a live orchestral score and also granting Giacchino’s wish of working with Spielberg.
Although scoring video games was never a part of the plan, Giacchino repeatedly highlighted the importance of doing the best you possibly can in any job, because, well, you never know when an up-and-coming director named J.J. Abrams is taking note of your compositions while playing the Medal of Honor” series with his friends.
Abrams impressed with the music Giacchino wrote for the video games contacted him and asked if he’d be interested in scoring “Alias.”
“I said OK we met and we became friends. That’s it. We’ve been doing everything together Giacchino said. He has a really great group of people I love working with. Working with him is like going back in time to when you were 10 and you were really just making things because you wanted to make them and it would be cool. That’s what it’s like working with J.J. and working with Pixar. It’s a really collaborative fun environment and these people are among my best friends.”
And his collaborations with Abrams have been going strong since the “Alias” days. Many people recognize Giacchino for using plane fuselage parts as percussion and for the familiar brass fall-off before commercial breaks in Abrams’ “LOST a score that is dear to Giacchino.
I love ‘LOST.’ I loved working on that and I miss it said Giacchino, who composed a total of 52 hours of music for ABC’s smash hit. He’s now watching the show with his 13-year-old son, and hearing his own score is strange to him, to say the least.
It’s oddly emotional. It’s a very weird thing Giacchino explained. You don’t remember everything you did because at the time you’re working so fast and it’s just doing what you have to do. But I do love watching it with my son and seeing somebody’s reaction to it for the first time.”
He earned an Emmy for “LOST” in 2005 and he’d only just hit his stride.
During the six years of scoring “LOST Giacchino continued writing music for video games and made his first foray into film when asked to score Pixar’s The Incredibles” in 2004. He reunited with Abrams for the latter’s first feature film “Mission Impossible III and with Pixar in 2007 for Ratatouille which earned him a Grammy and his first Oscar nomination.
If Giacchino was not established as a leading composer in Hollywood already, the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Oscar and two Grammys he was awarded for his work in Pixar’s Up” cemented his place among the best.
With “Up Giacchino faced the unique challenge of expressing what love is through musical storytelling.
Storytelling works best when you’re relating something to somebody that they understand that they feel in their life Giacchino said. Sure this movie has dogs that fly airplanes and talk to you but at its core it’s about two people and how they relate to each other.”
During a clip without sound Giacchino told students to note details like where the sun is in the sky the color palette is and where the shadows are in order to identify the nuances of the scene.
“Music to me is a lot like painting Giacchino said before replaying the same scene with music. The instruments in the orchestra are all your different colors like a box of crayons. What am I going to do with those colors in relation to the story in the film?”
But not every score goes as swimmingly as that of “Up.” “Star Trek with its history and already-established fan base, proved a daunting task.
I liked ‘Star Trek’ as a kid … so the film was a little more difficult Giacchino recalled. Usually I sit down with a film and say ‘OK what’s the story?’ but with this film for some reason I kept thinking ‘Oh my God I’m working on “Star Trek I have to write a Star Trek” theme oh my God this is insane!'”
After more than 20 versions of a theme a frustrated Giacchino looked to good friend and “LOST” co-creator writer and executive producer Damon Lindelof.
“It’s not about space Lindelof told him. It’s about two guys who meet and become best of friends.”
“Well that’s deceptively simple Giacchino responded. I had broken my own rule. I always sit down and go ‘OK what is this really about?’ but I had let the idea that it was something bigger than me — that it was ‘Star Trek’ that it was something I needed to do a good job on or millions of people would hate me — I let all that get in the way of understanding what it’s really about: two guys who meet and become best of friends.”
The next theme he wrote Abrams loved and it became the theme heard in the film.
A sharp departure from the richness of “Star Trek” or the wistful charm of “Up Giacchino reunited with Cloverfield” director Matt Reeves for his surprisingly thought-provoking vampire film “Let Me In released in October 2010. Recently, he also scored the opening episodes of Abram’s sci-fi drama Fringe now in its third season.
The rest of the year holds Cars 2 Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol” and Abrams’ latest films “Super 8” and a “Star Trek” sequel.
Giacchino closed by summing up his philosophy with six words of advice.
“Whatever you do tell a story.”