‘Encanto’ Composer Germaine Franco on Becoming the First Oscar-Nominated Latina for Original Score

Awards Circuit Podcast: Also on this episode, the Roundtable recaps the SAG Awards and what it means for the Oscar race.

Germaine Franco arrives at Disney Pixar's "Coco" Los Angeles Premiere held at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA on Wednesday, November 8, 2017. (Photo By Sthanlee B. Mirador/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
Sipa USA via AP

As Disney’s “Encanto” continues to break music chart records, a much more personal moment stands out to composer Germaine Franco. It’s a viral moment, captured on social media, of a little boy who lights up at realizing that he looks just like the young character Antonio. “It’s so beautiful because he sees himself on screen,” she tells Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast.

“Encanto” features eight original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, while Franco’s score cuts in and out of the songs, evoking a sense of magical realism. On the latest episode of the award-winning Variety Awards Circuit Podcast, Franco talks about working with Miranda, the film’s success and landing an Oscar nomination. Listen below:

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Disney/Everett Collection

When Germaine Franco began the scoring process on “Encanto,” she says the whole film wasn’t completely animated and the songs were still being worked on. “I met with [filmmakers] Byron Howard and Jared Bush and we talked about the scope of how would the score work in conjunction with the songs because the songs are very melodic,” she says.

Folk instruments were integral to Franco’s score. She used the tiple, a three-stringed guitar; the tambora bass drum; the gaita, a cactus-made flute; the arpa llerna, a harp; and the marimba de chonta, a percussion instrument specific to the region, all of which fed into the authenticity of the film. “That was a fun part of the process, experimenting with the sounds that the filmmakers responded to,” Franco explains.

While Franco didn’t get to go on the production recee because of the pandemic, Franco did know she wanted the Colombian harp. “I had it shipped,” she says. “I was serious. I was like ‘I gotta get Colombia to me.'”

Once she had it, she was able to record with it. “I was plucking all the strings and making a synthesizer patch- it’s called a sampler that when you play the keyboards, it sounds like you’re plucking the heart. So the harp became a very important sound.”

With Stephanie Beatriz’s Mirabel as the one family member who doesn’t yet have her magical power, Franco says she identified with the character and crafted the film’s main theme around her. “She’s such an inspiration because she doesn’t ever give up and she’s always positive. Sometimes other people would be negative, but she just keeps turning around and figuring out how to keep going… I wanted to give her a theme that was very rhythmical because she’s always on the go.”

And where was Franco on nomination morning when she became only the sixth woman in Academy Award history to be nominated for best original score, and the first Latina? “I put my phone in my closet. I said, ‘If the phone rings, I will wake up, and if it doesn’t, then okay, it wasn’t for me this year.'” She continues, “I got a call from my brother and then immediately Tom McDougal, and that was about 5:15. So, then I was awake, but I wasn’t watching it. I did watch it later, but I could barely because my phone was ringing off the hook. People were calling me it was so fun. I have to say it was one of the funnest things in my life.”

Variety Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.