Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An Interview With Composer Micahel Giacchino About Cars 2


What is the key to creating a great movie score?
A great score stands on its own as a piece of music that you can listen to and enjoy, but it also allows you to remember the story of the film. If you listen to a film’s score in order, it makes sense. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, just like the film.

How did the films from your childhood influence what you do today?
When I was a kid, I remember going to see films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Back then, there were no DVDs or videos, so the only way you could relive those movies was by listening to the soundtrack. Once they were no longer playing in theaters, you couldn’t see them anymore. That’s why a lot of my childhood was spent listening to film scores at night.

How much effort goes into creating the score of a movie like “Cars 2”?
It’s a very long and interesting process. We use temporary tracks and music from other movies in the early stages of production. But at a certain point, [director] John Lasseter and I sit down to watch the entire movie and discuss exactly what we want to hear in the final version of the film.

Can you take us through what happens during that meeting with John Lasseter?
We’ll watch the film in the theater at Pixar, but we’ll have the sound down low so that we can talk freely. We’ll think about things like, “What are we feeling for the character here? What is the emotion? What’s going on in the story?” We’ll talk about all of the scenes in depth and come up with the sound of the movie and the different themes. 

What’s the next step in the movie-making process?
After that meeting, I create what I like to call a “musical storyboard” so that I can show John exactly what I’m thinking. I use a computer to create an idea of what everything is going to sound like. It’s not a real orchestra, but the sound is close enough to get an idea of how the music is going to work in each scene.

What went through your mind when you saw the movie for the first time?
When I first saw the film, I was instantly transported back to the excitement of when I was around eight or 10-years-old. Back then, I used to ride around the neighborhood on my bike. I’d listen to my personal stereo and one of the things I used to enjoy hearing was surf guitar music from artists like Dick Dale. Listening to music like that always made me feel like I was in the middle of something huge, important and big. It always conveyed images of a little surfer guy in the middle of a giant tube of water, which is pretty insane. When I thought of these memories from my past, I realized I could make a similar sound work for “Cars 2.” Finn McMissile is on a huge mission and it’s pretty insane. It seemed to fit perfectly.

So you gave Finn McMissile his own theme song?
Well, the character of Finn McMissile has his very own music because he is such an iconic character in the movie. Here’s this guy from London who is a veteran spy. He’s come out of the swinging ‘60s and that was his era, so I thought it would be fun to use British surf guitar music to highlight his character in his scenes.

Was John Lasseter sold on this idea?
John really loved the idea, but I knew that as much as he liked it, I had to find out how my six-year-old son felt about it. I wanted his input as well. I wanted my son to think, “Oh, wow! That is the coolest car on earth. That’s the car I want when I grow up. I want that car!”

What was your son’s reaction to the music?
I showed him a clip of the movie with the music and he freaked out. He loved it. He said to me, “Daddy, that’s the coolest car I ever saw!” And then he went downstairs and started to pretend he was Finn McMissile. I was thrilled and at that point I knew I’d come up with a sound that worked well.

Iconic music, such as John Barry-style, big trumpet orchestras, has been used in many spy movies from the past. Why didn’t you go in that direction with “Cars 2”?
We made the decision early on to steer away from those sounds. I didn’t want to go there because I didn’t want a repeat of what we did for “The Incredibles.” The British surf music idea seemed like it would be a fun and different approach, so we decided to take that direction instead.

How long did it take you to create the music for the opening sequence of “Cars 2”?
I had a lot of fun with that scene and it didn’t take me very long. In fact, I wrote the music for that scene in a day.

Is it usual for you to write so quickly?
I write fairly quickly because once I get an idea, I get very excited about it. The enthusiasm means I just go in and do it. I don’t procrastinate. I make a decision and I go for it. If it works, it works and if not, I’m happy to spend more time looking for a different direction.

At what stage do you work with an orchestra?
We work with a 90-piece orchestra during the final months of production and those guys are incredible. They sit down and play whatever you put in front of them without any rehearsal, which is unreal to watch. They have been working in the business for years, so it’s amazing to see them bring the score to life. No matter how many notes are on that page, they look at it and go, “Okay, let’s do it.” They get it right immediately.

How long do you spend with the orchestra?
Generally, we spend between six and eight days with the orchestra. You try to shoot for anywhere between 12 to 14 minutes of music a day. That’s actually pretty fast, but we have a fantastic team and they never cease to amaze me.

Does John Lasseter take part in the recordings?
John is there every day during the recording process. He’ll sit right next to me as each cue is played and then we’ll talk and figure out how can we make the score better.

Did you write music for each instrument in the 90-piece orchestra?
Yes, I have to do the entire score from the piccolo to the double bass. I also work with an orchestrator. I’ll hand him something that’s 85% completed and he’ll take it the rest of the way so that I can continue writing whatever else I need to do.

How detailed do you get with the orchestrator?
I am extremely detailed so that he knows exactly what I want. We’ve worked together for a long time and he’s no slouch himself. For me, creating the color of the sound is what creates the emotion of the movie. It’s important for me to have a huge hand in that.

How important is it for the score of each movie to be unique?
I look at it this way: My grandfather was a very good tailor and he made suits that fit people perfectly. Each suit only fit that one person; that’s how detailed he was. I like to look at my job in the same way. I’m making sonic suits for movies and I only want them to fit that particular story. That’s how I see it, and that’s how I work.

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