Composers are the last creative contributors to a movie, and usually the ones who get crunched, schedule-wise, as release dates loom. In this regard Michael Giacchino has just been through the wringer. He has written and recorded, back-to-back, the scores for three summer tentpole movies, all being released within four weeks of each other.
In order to meet the deadlines, he has been working nonstop since late 2014. “The second I finished one, I was on to the next,” an exhausted Giacchino said during a quick break from writing “Jurassic.” “There is literally no margin for error whatsoever. The schedules fell like building blocks, right against each other.”
That wasn’t the plan, of course. “Tomorrowland” was supposed to score in November, but was shifted to March. “Inside Out” was to have been in February, but was moved back to January. And “Jurassic World” was recorded in early April.
“The great news is, all these directors know each other and they’re all friends,” he explains. “So it was not hard to say, ‘Hey, guys, can we structure this in a way where I won’t perish?’ ”
The last time this happened to Giacchino was six years ago when “Star Trek,” “Up” and “Land of the Lost” also opened within a four-week span. Giacchino remembers being at a multiplex where all three were playing and thinking, “ ‘Wow, that represents a lot of stress and work.’ Just looking at those signs was pretty daunting.”
And with an average of 90 minutes of music in each film — or somewhere between four and five hours of music cumulatively — Giacchino has had to write tens of thousands of notes, make sure the directors like what he’s doing, get it all orchestrated and then performed by L.A. orchestras of 85 to 100 players.
Luckily, all three directors are admirers, and two are previous customers. “Tomorrowland” director Brad Bird (for whom Giacchino has done “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”) says he considers the composer “a co-storyteller rather than somebody who’s going to put music to my pictures.
“By this time in the process,” Bird told Variety during the February “Tomorrowland” sessions, “you’re making all these little tiny improvements, these little steps forward. Then you hand it off to Michael and he makes this giant leap.”
In the case of “Inside Out,” an animated film that takes place inside the mind of a 13-year-old girl, director Pete Docter — whose previous film with Giacchino, “Up,” won Oscars for both men — started telling him about it “four or five years ago.”
Because both men have 15-year-old daughters (who also happen to be friends), the story became more personal, especially as they shared stories of parenthood and watching their girls grow up.
“He was on the exact same page, emotionally,” Docter says.
And if it’s a big summer movie, does the score need to be big and loud too? Especially if there are dinosaurs? “If it does, then we’re doing it wrong,” says “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow. “The music is something that stays intimate even in the most intense action sequences.
“This movie is about the relationship we have with dinosaurs, and how it mirrors our relationships with animals we have on the planet today. Michael’s music has themes that are very personal, so once things start to go crazy, it makes it that much scarier.”
Giacchino says he tries to make every score as individual as possible. He sees “Tomorrowland” as “a very optimistic score,” befitting its premise; and “Inside Out,” an even more emotional score than his “Up.”
“After going through the emotional roller coaster of ‘Inside Out’ and the thoughtful and provocative ‘Tomorrowland,’” he says, “Jurassic World” is “more of a thrill ride.”
For all the pressure associated with these films, Giacchino likes the idea of having three in the summer marketplace. “That’s the time I remember as a kid, being so excited to go to the movies. To be part of that now is really an amazing gift.”