Music for Screens Summit 2022
Michael Giacchino is Variety’s Composer of the Year. His recent resume includes four of the top-10 highest-grossing movies of 2022 as well as the biggest box office film of 2021, and he…
Michael Giacchino is Variety’s Composer of the Year. His recent resume includes four of the top-10 highest-grossing movies of 2022 as well as the biggest box office film of 2021, and he has now branched out into directing as well.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” grossed nearly $805 million; add up the numbers from this year’s “Jurassic World: Dominion,” “The Batman,” “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Lightyear” and Giacchino-scored movies have made more than $2 billion domestically just during the past 12 months.
The winner of an Oscar (“Up”), Emmy (“Lost”) and three Grammys (including “Ratatouille”) can now add “director” to his resume, having made the widely praised and hugely popular “Werewolf by Night,” a one-hour special for Marvel that debuted in October on Disney+. (He scored it too.)
In a wide-ranging conversation sponsored by ASCAP for Variety’s Music for Screens, the composer chatted with his longtime friend, producer-director J.J. Abrams, about key moments in his life and career.
Giacchino reminisced about his childhood and love of such TV shows as “The Twilight Zone,” “Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Muppet Show,” and films including “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Planet of the Apes,” which inspired him to make 8mm and Super 8 films with friends in his Edgewater Park, N.J., backyard.
He credited his childhood piano teacher for opening his eyes to the sound of chord progressions, and Steven Spielberg many years later for giving him a chance to score the “Lost World” videogame with an orchestra (after years of creating game music on rudimentary electronic gear in his home studio).
He reminisced about the call from a colleague at DreamWorks Interactive: “Michael, can you come down? Steven would like to talk to you.”
Said Giacchino: “I remember running to the escalator. I looked down and Steven is at the bottom of the escalator waiting for me. I remember getting closer to him, and my brain is going, ‘This is like a shot out of E.T., the camera’s just pushing in on his face.’ And he just said, ‘I really like the music you wrote. You’re going to do the music for the game, right?’ And I was like, ‘Yes!’ He was so supportive.”
Music for DreamWorks’ “Medal of Honor” games followed, inspiring Abrams to call Giacchino for music for the Jennifer Garner spy series “Alias” in 2001.
Says Abrams, who has also done four films with Giacchino, including “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible III”: “Your superpower seems to be to know what the emotion and intention of any given moment is, and how to bring it out in a way that’s so appropriate and so subtle … to take a scene and make it go deeper emotionally.”
Giacchino says: “For me, it was always just storytelling. So even when I’m working on World War II videogames or dinosaurs or whatever, I always try to put myself in the characters’ shoes. How would I feel in that moment, that situation? Try to treat it as if it’s a real moment in time.”
His two passions — music and filmmaking — merged in “Werewolf by Night,” finding the experience of eliciting a performance from an orchestra and getting performances from actors surprisingly similar.
“I was able to bring the music that was going to be in the movie with me,” Giacchino said. “I had written the theme and I was able to play it for them on set, and it immediately put them in a mood. I knew certain moods that I wanted for scenes, and if I could play them something, they just got it immediately.”