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An email on Feb. 15, 2001, changed Michael Giacchino’s life. It was from writer-director J.J. Abrams, then preparing to shoot the pilot for ABC’s “Alias.” He liked Giacchino’s music for the videogame “Medal of Honor” and wondered if the composer might be interested in talking about working on the Jennifer Garner spy series.
For the about-to-be-frequent collaborators, it was as if they were two peas nestled in the same pod.
“Though we didn’t grow up together, it feels like we did,” says Abrams from the West Virginia set of his next film, “Super 8,” which Giacchino will score. “We have all the same (cultural) references.”
Their work together includes five seasons of “Alias,” six seasons of “Lost” (the pilot won a music Emmy), “Mission: Impossible III,” the “Star Trek” reboot and pilots for various TV series including “Fringe,” “Six Degrees,” “What About Brian” and the current “Undercovers.”
“He’s able to do musically what I can only dream of doing,” says Abrams. “He’s able to elevate the moment, emphasize the right thing, convey the emotions of the character or sequence, better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Abrams so trusts Giacchino’s judgment that he runs early cuts by the composer to get his reaction. And during the multiweek process of writing a feature-film score, Abrams will look to Giacchino for clues about whether specific scenes are working. “When something is hard to score, without a lot of trial and error, it’s because there is something fundamentally wrong with the piece,” says Abrams. “It’s an advantage to have someone as smart as he is, in terms of character and story, working with you from the outset.”
Giacchino quickly joined Abrams’ close-knit circle of friends, which has led to other assignments. Abrams produced “Cloverfield,” directed by Matt Reeves, and while that film had no traditional score (Giacchino wrote an end-title “overture” that was an homage to Japanese-monster-movie music), it did lead to his scoring Reeves’ current horror film “Let Me In.”
One scene in the drama — about a 12-year-old boy who befriends a child vampire — played fine, Reeves says, but then Giacchino added music: “Suddenly, this scene was so tender and heartbreaking,” he says. “I was just stunned that he found a tone that I didn’t even know was there. That’s what he does: He finds what’s lurking under the surface and brings it up.”
And then there’s that other Abrams creation, “Lost.” After a difficult schedule last year, during which “Up,” “Star Trek” and “Land of the Lost” wound up with conflicting post-production schedules, Giacchino decided to take some time off — with a sole exception: doing the last season of “Lost.”
“Of everything I’ve done,” says Giacchino, “I feel like ‘Lost’ is the show that just allowed me to be me. I wasn’t writing in some sort of style that fit a particular story; ‘Lost’ was purely what I felt, musically.”
Says “Lost” executive producer Damon Lindelof: “Michael’s music was the one character on ‘Lost’ we never considered killing off. And like the other characters on the show, it grew, changed and evolved into something that was nothing short of poetic. Our writing aspired to achieve what Michael did all along: attain a sense of unique and dramatic beauty that stays with the audience long after the show has ended.”