Michael Giacchino is an American composer of music for films, television and video games. He composed the scores to the television series Lost, Alias and Fringe, the video game series Medal of Honor and Call of Duty and many films such as The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible III, Ratatouille, Star Trek, Up, Super 8, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Star Trek Into Darkness, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World, Inside Out, Zootopia, Star Trek Beyond, Doctor Strange, Rogue One, Spider-Man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes and Coco.
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In my 20-year career I've composed the music for many video games (Call of Duty, Medal of Honor), films (Star Trek, Super 8, The Incredibles, Up, Ratatouille) and TV series (Alias, Lost, Fringe). Last year, I scored Zootopia, Star Trek Beyond, Dr. Strange and Rogue One -- the first score to be composed for a Star Wars film following John Williams. This year, you heard my music if you saw War for the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man: Homecoming and, most recently, Pixar's Coco.
If you ever wondered how someone scores a film or video game, now's your chance. Go ahead and ask me anything!
EDIT: Thank you all for your questions and comments! I'm not sure what I was expecting, but you guys exceeded whatever it was. I'm sorry I couldn't get to everyone's questions, but you might find a lot of what you're looking for on my website. You can also keep up with me on Twitter. Thanks again for making this such a fun experience! Now I know why /u/mistersavage likes AMAs so much.
Hello Mr. Giacchino! I’m a huge fan of your work. Was it intimidating being the only composer other than John Williams to work on a Star Wars film? Did you work closely with him on the score for Rogue One? What was the process like?
Appreciate you taking the time to answer these!
There wasn't much time to be intimidated - I had only 4 1/2 weeks to write the score - but I've loved star wars since I was a kid so ultimately it was just a lot of fun even though the schedule was crazy!
I am currently scoring a short film (my first film!) and the director told me a specific scene needed music. However, it’s more of a neutral scene and I’m not feeling any sort of emotional response towards it. And I have no idea what to write! Has this ever happened to you and if so, any helpful tips?
Yes! That usually means it either doesn't NEED music or the director is feeling insecure about what he has and is trying to "save" it with your score!
Michael, how is it possible to write ALL the movie scores AND still be such the nicest guy possible!?
I wonder the EXACT SAME THING ABOUT YOU in terms of how the heck do you make so many amazing things and STILL be such a nice open person??? You know what - next time we are out together lets start a bar fight and see how the other half lives? Deal?
I'm making a low budget erotic sci-fi romance movie that's like 50 Shades of Grey meets Star Wars and Zootopia. Would you be interested in scoring it for me? My budget is $13.
And have you ever cried while scoring anything? Specifically Coco or Up?
I've cried during UP, COCO, INSIDE OUT, APES - you name it. You get very emotionally involved in making the music match the emotions of the characters - so you sometimes have to feel what they are feeling - it's a lot like acting.
Good luck with your film! Sounds genre breaking.
Hello Mr. Giacchino, my introduction to your amazing music was on LOST. I loved how each character had their own theme, Ben’s and Sayid’s were my favourite, and in a sense the music became a character in its own right. My question is; Which character theme did you personally like the most?
I really loved Oceanic Six which was a theme for all the characters.
oh oh! please answer! ive been a follower of your work since jurassic park the lost world on playstation! when you scored jurassic world did you sneak some of that score into the raptor chase scene?
also medal of honor and underground rocked!
You are a true follower! I definitely had a bit of the Raptor scene from the Lost World video game for those who would remember. Like you.
For my money you are as close to an heir to John Williams as any composer today. There is a "brightness" to your scores that I really only ever hear in Williams' work. What is the extent of your relationship with John Williams, and have you had conversations with Disney about further work on the Star Wars series?
Thanks! John and I are friends - he's been an amazing person to get to know over the years. As for the future - nothing planned as of yet. Pretty busy on non-star wars projects!
Vanilla or Chocolate?
p.s. See you at band practice
Chocolate Chip! Family Band Practice is ONE HOUR!!! BE HERE!!
You have scored a couple Disney Parks attractions over the years. If you were given your pick from the higher-ups to re-score anything, what attraction would you like to work on?
Also, thank you for taking the time to talk to my fiancee at D23 while you were signing for her. We're excited to dance to Married Life in April!
I've already worked on my fav - Space Mountain.
Say hi to your fiancee and have a great wedding!!
Is it true you scored Rogue One in only four weeks? Why so short a time? And how did you DO that?
I came on to the project late after reshoots and Alexandre Desplat had scheduling conflicts, so there was only 4 and half weeks at the point in the production schedule. I just focused on getting it done, and pretty much did nothing else!
Hi, Mr. Giacchino!
I have to say that the Incredibles soundtrack is probably my favorite selection from you (though it's hard to really pick a favorite), but as a huge James Bond fan, I can't help but hear the various Bond-esque inspiration within the soundtrack. How did you decide to take that route, and if MGM/EON ever approached you for a Bond soundtrack, would you do it?
Director Brad Bird really wanted an old school Jazz orchestra vibe so it all started with that. I feel like the Incredibles IS my James Bond score so I'm good!
I love the (bowed metal?) sound from Rogue One. How was that sound made?
It was a LONG NECK BANJO!
From his website: “Juh-key-no”
that is the correct way, JUH-KEY-NO
Hey Mr. Giacchino!
I love your work, especially on films like the Incredibles, Star Trek, and Planet of the Apes, but the one score I love most from you is one that I don’t think gets nearly enough appreciation – that being your score for Jupiter Ascending.
I’m curious what the process of writing that was like, since from what I understand you wrote a good chunk of it before shooting had even started at the request of the Wachowskis. Was it more challenging? Less? Just different? What were you given to go on when it came to developing a tone and themes? How much of your original score made it into the film, and is there a chance of the unused stuff getting a release?
This was a really interesting project for me because the Wachowskis asked me to write the music before they started shooting. They didn't give me a script they gave me place descriptions, character descriptions and I basically wrote six suites based on their notes. It was very freeing because I wasn't locked to picture. Then after they shot the film we had to go back and add things here and there.
Hey Michael, Big fan! Thank you for doing this.
What goes into composing your iconic motifs? The Incredibles, Up, Star
Trek... I can't even name them all.
Well all I can say is I try to find a musical equivalent to the story and characters of the film. Its hard to explain but it's all about what feels right when Im sitting at the piano.
Hello Mr. Giacchino, I've been a huge fan since you scored Medal of Honor: Frontline! That score is truly a soothing and mesmerizing theme that elevates the game. "Arhnem" is a masterpiece.
I'd love to know what was your inspiration to Medal of Honor's score?
I had a great Uncle, Peter Fortunato, who fought in WWII, and he told us so many stories. I knew that his stories represented that entire generation of people who went and fought that war. He was my inspiration.
Please tell us you are scoring Incredibles 2, that's half the reason I'm eager to see it.
Yup I'm doing it.
Did John Williams ever say anything to you about your Rogue One score?
He was very complimentary.
Have you talked to Rian Johnson yet about his trilogy?
I'm assuming that John Williams will retire after Episode IX and you will be the new SW music guy.
I haven't spoken to him about it but can't wait to see what he's done!
Love your work! I just found out about this AMA seconds after you tweeted it.
Who is your favorite composer? What is your favorite movie score/soundtrack?
That's a question I can never give one name to. I love Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, John Williams Alex North, huge fan of Jerry Goldsmith, and then I love all kinds of music, Big Band, classical, marching band, can't name just one. I love the score to King Kong, the original by Max Steiner, it's the grandfather of all film scores.
Hi Mr. Giacchino, I'm a huge fan of yours. I remember watching Star Trek for the first time and being completely overwhelmed with emotions when Labor of Love played. Absolutely the most beautiful music I've heard. Was there anything that influenced you while you composed it?
Thank you. I was influenced by the story, the fact that this guy was going to die on a mission and at the same time his child was being born who he would never meet. And he was aware of that, it was really sad, so I wrote what I felt.
It blows my mind how you go from a piano composed piece to a fully orchestrated score, what is that process? Do you personally orchestrate the music for each instrument? Collaborate with others etc?
PS 50th Birthday Gala was utterly incredible :)
It's all about how I hear it in my head. Think of it as a painting. You start with a pencil sketch outline (the piano sketch) and then you start to fill in the colors (the various instruments). Painting and Orchestrating are very similar in many regards.
Will you write a song about net neutrality? please.
Will you write the lyrics?
Michael, I love the piece Married Life from Up so much that I brought myself to learn the piano to play it. Was there a piece of music that gave you the motivation to play music?
My dad had a huge record collection and I was listening to it since I can remember, so I loved all kinds of music: jazz, big band, classical. I do remember trying to sound out Jaws at a young age!
First let me say thank you for all the fantastic audial memories and emotional musical journeys you have brought to every ear that your compositions touch. I think you're a fantastic composer and cannot wait to hear your future works.
For just a bit of backstory, since I started playing Trombone (6th grade), I've always thought about what it would be like to play in the recording of a film score. Although this is not the direction I have taken in my career path (just obtained my Bachelor's in Instrumental Music Education), I would still love to accomplish this dream someday. This is where my questions are coming from.
How are members of the ensemble selected? (Is it usually just a prejoined ensemble, such as the New York Philharmonic, or does the Studio usually have a list of musicians on call?)\ If most studios only use preexisting ensembles, which ones get chosen the most, or if they hire individual musicians: (next 2 questions)
How would a single musician get onto the call list\into the business of recording film soundtracks?
Do you conduct the ensembles recording your compositions, or does someone else conduct them? If not you, then do you pick the conductor, or does the Studio?
And this is just because I'm curious:
4. What was it like to play a Stormtrooper in The Force Awakens?
It's the old joke, How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Kidding aside, the musicians who are studio musicians have been working for years. They have to come to the session not knowing what they are playing and sit down and start recording, they sight read on the spot. So it's all about coming out to LA, starting work where you can, meeting musicians, joining organizations such as ASMAC, SCL (look them up), just start gigging. Some of the musicians that play on my scores have been recording things for forty or more years. There really isn't a direct path that I can tell you. We don't use the "LA PHIL" but musicians in the orchestra play for other composers, etc.
It's amazing playing a stormtrooper, but it is very heavy and very hot!
have you ever worn womens clothing? me and my buddy have a little bet going on....
Once for Halloween, I dressed as Princess Leia.
Michael, you won't remember me - we use to email one another way back when you were working with Peter at Dreamworks Interactive, I think I sent you a cassette or a CD once? - but I wanted to say thank you for all the music you've created since then, most especially for your work with the Wachowskis. Speed Racer is one of my very favorite movies ever and a large part of that is because of your music.
I guess I only have one question: Way back when your website first went up, you had sheet music from the first two MOH games on there (the title to the first game and Under The City from ). Is there any chance you can get them (or other cues!) reposted? I've always wanted to try my hand at transcribing your MOH stuff to solo piano.
Thank you so much again.
Peter and I are still best friends - see him regularly. Unfortunately I can't post that music again - perhaps it will be available one day officially - we are working on that. Go Speed Racer Go!
Huge fan! Always excited to see your name come up in the credits when I'm starting a film or tv show. May be a dumb question, but as someone curious about the politics of entertainment, who reaches out to you and requests your work on their project? Is it one of the creative-types involved or is it an executive-type, or does it always differ? That being asked, who first approached you to work on Lost?
Usually its the director and the producers who call me. But I tend to work with the same directors over and over and we are friends so mostly it just comes up in casual conversation "Hey - guess what I'm doing next - won't that be fun???"
What type of piano do you have in your home studio?
It is Steinway upright built in 1876.
• Peanut Butter: Creamy or Crunchy?
Michael, over the last decade you have quickly become one of my favorite film composers out there! You've crafted so many fantastic scores with so many fun, memorable themes.
Here are 2 questions I have for you:
What can you tease about the score for Incredibles 2? Other than the main theme, what else might carry over and return musically from the first film? What new material might we look forward to? Having thought you would be fired from the first film, I'd like to hear what excites you about the new film.
More importantly, what has been your favorite pun-filled title that you and you music editors have come up with over the years? I absolutely LOVE them, but was wondering if you have a favorite(s).
Thank you for your incredible music (no pun intended), cant wait to hear what the future has in store for you!
1) Well the style will be similar but look for new themes and set pieces to expand on the last film.
2) I like a LOT of them - but It Takes One To Rogue One is pretty good I think.
How many messages do you get from couples saying they used the score from the opening scene in UP (The Carl and Ellie montage) as their wedding song?
What movie score do think has has the biggest impact on the industry?
What is your personal favorite?
King Kong by Max Steiner is one of my favorites and it was the one that really had the biggest impact on the industry because prior to then it was someone at a piano. It was the first score with a big orchestra and it changed film music forever.
Big fan of your work..I honestly believe your Star Trek theme is one the greatest themes ever made. That said. What was your favorite movie to score or tv show to score?
Thank you so much! No real favorite - enjoyed them all for different reasons - but I do love LOST!
You’re my favorite composer ever! Would you come to my wedding?
Depends when it is - my schedule is pretty tight!
Hello Mr. Giacchino,
I have been pondering this question for some time now and I believe you may be able to help. What is the best way to cook eggs for breakfast to start your musical days off the right way? I have tried sunny side up and scrambled by neither quite do the trick for me. Do you have any recommendations?
COYBOY STYLE! Just crack the eggs into the skillet and cook em! Butter and Salt - that's it!!
Do you tear up at the first 5 minutes of Up like the rest of us do?
When I worked on it I did - haven't seen it recently so I'm not sure!
As someone who loves all of Pixar's original songs (especially Le Festin, which is how I chose my username) and can't wait to see Coco, I just want to know, has Pixar considered making more musicals? Thank you so much for doing this AMA and for being one of the best composers working today.
Go see Coco, it's the closest thing to a musical that Pixar has ever done. At the moment I have no idea if they have a musical in the pipeline.
Loved your Spider-Man homecoming score! Will you back for the sequel and do you ha e anything planned for it yet?
That's a ways off but I'm hoping to continue what I started - more news to come.
Being a composer, when you watch a film are you more tuned into the score? Does it ever distract you from the big picture so to speak?
It is hard not to be thinking "shop" when I am watching a film and I try really hard to just sit back and enjoy, but there are times that I am distracted by the music. Part of the territory I guess.
Your music is so wonderful. It's my dream to play French horn on movie soundtracks. Any advice on how to get started? I can already play anything put in front of me.
It depends on where you are. You have to come out to LA and start getting involved in the music scene out here. You will find many musicians in their own groups, small orchestra ensembles, etc who are studio musicians, and they have to be able to play anything in front of them because they don't get music until the day of the gig.
Michael, I am such a fan and have been following your career as you soar from amazing project to amazing project. I am a composer myself and am wondering if you’d be willing to share what your writing process is like.
Do you work alone on a piece from start to finish in a DAW at your home studio, or do you have an office/workspace that you go to write?
How much of your writing is “playing around” with melodies and experimentation and how much is a focused approach with a clear direction in your mind?
I work alone in my home office. It's just me here writing. My orchestrations are pretty complete before handing them off for final orchestrations.
Once I have a melody in place that I am happy with I go right to writing the scenes. I don't spend a lot of time playing around - I'm pretty focused and usually know where I want to take something.
Hi mate, love from Northern Ireland.
How many scores on average do you do per year?...and is it tough to start from scratch on a new project?
Cheers, keep up the good work
Hello Northern Ireland! It depends on the year - some years it may be 3 some it may be 5. I love the beginning of a new project - it's always fun to get the engine started and see where it will take me.
Hey, Mr. Giacchino, how does it feel to doing score for Darth Vader in action scenes?
Big fan here (duh!) and I have a few quick questions that I hope you can help me with for a project I'm working on about the pilot of LOST.
1.) When JJ, Damon, Mary Jo and their crew were working on the pilot to create a version to present it to the network they used temp music from other movies by composers like Morricone, Carpenter or Zimmer. Those songs created such a different feeling for the pilot - it's really fascinating in comparison to your score.
I still got a copy of that version and I could make out that they used the opening theme from Blade Runner, the song "Silence" from The Thin Red Line and "Queen to Bishop" from Aliens. Do you know who chose those songs? Was it maybe you? Or haven't you been involved with that part of the process?
2.) Do you by any chance remember when you began writing the score for the pilot?
3.) Do you still know when you were done working on the pilot? The scoring for part 1 of the pilot was done/started August 24 2004 and part 2 was done/started, as far as I know, September 7 2004. I'm just curious, because this feels pretty late (just 2 weeks before the show went on air) when there were over 3 months in between.
4.) Has there been something/someone special that inspired your music for the pilot?
5.) Would you be willing to share some sheet music from the pilot? That would be very very cool!
2) I don't even remember the temp - in fact I'm not sure I really ever listened to it. I don't remember the exact date - but it was a few weeks before we scored the pilot which was pretty close to when it aired.
3)It WAS very close to the air date. Again - not sure the exact date. Would have to check my Cal!
4) The story and characters we what inspired the music - I just loved it.
5) Not really allowed to share the sheet music because that's owned by Disney and I unfortunately don't control that - sorry!
Hey Mr Giacchino, big fan of your work The Incredibles soundtrack is one of my all time favourites.
Just want to ask who's idea was it to do the orchestral tv Spiderman theme for the beginning of Homecoming?
Both Kevin Feige at Marvel and I thought it would be a fun thing to do! And it was!
What is your favourite piece you've ever created?
Don't really have a favorite but LOST will always have a special spot for me.
What's your favorite instrument? Why?
I love to play the ukulele.
Hello Mr. Giacchino,
My name is Jonathan. Sorry for the long story but I wanted to take a moment to tell you thank you!
In early 2010 I went to a church camp retreat and one night they played UP(never seen it before) for the movie night. I was not a very popular kid, being the really awkward fat kid I used to be. I sat away from the group and began to watch the film. Well we all known that opening scene of the film by now because I surely do. I remember watching that scene for the first time there and I remember seeing how the music was affecting everyone. I saw the church leaders, all the kids, and all the camp leaders go from expressing happy, to laughter, to sadness, to just in tears. To me it was one of the most beautiful memories I will always remember in my life! I felt it and seeing how the music itself was in a way screwing with the audience emotions, I thought that was the most amazing thing I have ever experience and I knew that is what I want to do. Everything I am was back that boy made that decision that night and I am happy with how far I’ve come. I’m proud of my work even though I am a 22 year old college student still learning and desperate to learn as much as I can. It all happened because I saw the movie and listened to the score. Will I make it? Who knows but all I know that my passion for composing and my love for film scores is because of that one moment, that one scene with your piece “Married Life”, that was one of those life changing moments that I just could not pass the opportunity to share with you how much your work has inspired and meant to me. Of course to also say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.
My question: I love the MCU, been a fan since May 2nd 2008 Iron man, like huge nerd! So when I heard you were composing for Doctor Strange I lost my mind! Then when it was announced you were working on Spider-man: Homecoming, I honestly felt like this movie was made for me. Cause you got to see it in my point of view, my childhood superhero in the whole wide world who is the sole reason I love comics and everything related, he is finally in the MCU, and it is going to be composed by my idol. It is without a doubt my favorite film from the writing, costume, sets, cinematography, makeup, and of course the music! So I wanted to ask you, if Doctor Strange and Spider-man were to team up and you again were at helms to write the music. How would you approach that? A mix of both their themes or just start from scratch? Also if you have time, in an interview you said you asked Kevin Feige if you could write for Spider-man, besides him and Doctor Strange, which other marvel character would you like to write for? Just a real nerdy music question!
Thank you and I hope you have a safe day!
Thanks for sharing your story about how you were inspired by Up. If I was writing a STRANGE/SPIDEY film, I would incorporate both of their themes and then create something new that would represent the story they were in. I am lucky that I have already written for two of my favorite Marvel characters...we will see what comes next.
Thank you for the AMA! I loved your scoring of Rouge One and thought you did a tremendous job stepping into the huge shoes of John Williams!
What sort of training do you think one needs in order to scoring films? How reliant are you on common practice composition standards in your writing and how important do you think these are in educating contemporary composers? What advice would you give aspiring film composers?
You need to know the basics - learning all of the traditional methods so that you can then take them in whatever direction you want. It's like being an animator - learn figure drawing first THEN break the rules. Take film classes as well - not just music classes. Learn editing directing lighting so you can communicate in the language of film with the people you will be working with. Learn Film History too!
Currently tearing up just thinking about the “Oceanic Six”
How did you and JJ Abrams start collaborating ?
I’ve been a fan since Alias ( which btw is severely under estimated )
I had been writing music for video games when I received an email from J.J. I actually thought that it was a joke that one of my friends was playing on me, I didn't really know who he was and hadn't watched Felicity. But I called the number on the email and it was him and he said "I heard your music from Medal of Honor, I have a new show coming up called Alias and I'd love to talk to you about scoring it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Hello Mr. Giacchino, big fan also here. Do you prefer, if you have a preference of course, working on a movie or a tv show?
I love both but with the amount of movies I've been doing its hard to commit to a TV show.
How does it feel once you've completed a score and it finally gets recorded? Is there a sense of "Aha, that's it"! Do you ever feel like it was what you expected?
It's always a relief when we are finished recording the score. And sometimes I feel that "aha that's it!" moment, but more often than not I am not totally satisfied, which I think is good because that is what keeps you motivated as an artist.
Where do you look for inspiration when you score for animated movies? Has Joe Hisaishi been an influence on your work? Really proud that someone from South Jersey is doing great things - all the best!
The inspiration almost always comes fro the story itself and the characters. Putting myself in their shoes. Sometimes however it hits closer to home - like on Inside Out - that was all about my daughter. Go New Jersey!
A few years ago, I saw you at the Houston Symphony when Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness were played with the symphony playing your music. It was amazing and I hadn't realized how incredible your score was until I heard it live in symphony.
I guess my question is, how on Earth do you have time to do things like you did at the Houston Symphony and write the iconic music that you're known for?
P.S. Do you plan on ever coming back? That was an amazing night for me and my girlfriend.
I love doing concerts but as you can see from our concert schedule, it isn't that often! It's hard to fit things in like that sometimes. At the moment we aren't scheduled to go back to Houston, but tell the symphony that you want them to bring Star Trek Beyond there. Glad you came!
I just saw Coco and noticed your little cameo. Was it a surprise to you, or did you know about it beforehand?
Well I see the film when I am scoring it. So when I got to that scene to write it, I thought that he looked like me, but didn't want to assume. When Lee Unkrich came by to go over the music we watched the scene together and afterwards he said, " Didn't you noticed something?" So it was a surprise, they were so excited about it. And I am really happy that they did it.
What is your favorite score that you have ever made?
Edit: and i also wanted to ask you what inspired you to go into this field and do what you do?
Thank you so much for doing this it is incredibly cool to hear from you!
Like and dislike them all for various reasons but LOST has a special place for me.
Hello Mr. Giacchino, is there any piece that you wrote for any medal of honor that didn't make it to the game?, and what did inspire you when writing "North Africa" for MOH: Allied Assault? cheers from Chile!
I think it all ended up in the game! As for North Africa I was really going for a vibe that placed you in that geography of the world. Haven't listened to that in a LONG time - I'll have to go back and revisit it!