A Conversation with Film Composer Michael Giacchino

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By Marc Ciafardini
Founder/Editor of Go, See, Talk!

Although he’s garnered numerous accolades and distinctions for his work on films such as UP, SUPER 8 and the TV show Lost, Oscar and Grammy-winning film composer Michael Giacchino didn’t always plan to write music. At a young age he loved his father’s record collection, which included Benny Goodman, Louis Prima, The Beach Boys even Scottish Marches and Henry Mancini. But once he saw STAR WARS in the theaters the filmmaking bug really hit him. “That! Whatever that is, that’s what I want to do.”


This weekend, acclaimed film composer Michael Giacchino performs music from UP!, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III, STAR TREK and more with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra while scenes from the films are projected above the stage.

Click here to purchase tickets and for more performance information.
Performance times: May 18 at 8 p.m.; May 19 at 8 p.m.; May 20 at 2:30 p.m.


Read more of Marc Ciafardini’s conversation with Michael Giacchino on Go. See. Talk! Later in the week, look for a video interview with the composer and a recap of his performances.

Using his father’s old Keystone 8mm camera Michael started making stop-motion films. “I took piano lessons but filmmaking was the passion for me, and I just kept making movies—and a big part of making those movies was selecting music to put in them. In the early days, 8mm films were silent so I used a tape recorder and would try to time out exactly what was going on with my films. I would, very crudely, edit together music soundtracks based on all the records I’d listened to.”

Michael’s love of movies took him to film school, which later led to Juilliard where he became more serious about music. Learning more about orchestration and musical theory, Michael started getting into different instruments and learning everything he could about the orchestra. Afterward, he began producing video games and found himself writing and producing music for Dreamworks’ Medal of Honor series.

His work soon got the attention of J.J. Abrams, who at that time was developing the TV series Alias, and they immediately hit it off.

Michael GiacchinoMichael Giacchino

“We both grew up making 8mm movies—Super 8, 16mm movies—and one of the reasons we get along very well is because we had that shared experience growing up. Filmmaking is one of the great arts because it involves all the other arts, you know. It’s not just one thing; it involves so many different crafts that need to work together and that’s very inspiring and interesting to me.”

Working on projects ranging from video games to television, animated to live-action films, and even writing music for theme parks, Giacchino has easily transitioned from one medium to another. Yet there’s one central and singular element that drives his work.

“It’s always about storytelling—specifically emotions and character. For me, it’s simply about emotions and writing what I’m feeling. When a film or TV show affects me in that certain way, then that’s when I feel that I love my job the most, because I can give you back what I’m feeling. If I have to manufacture something, because I’m feeling nothing, that’s a very difficult thing to do. I tend to shy away from any project where I get the sense that I’m not gonna feel anything working on this. There needs to be some passion behind it.”

Sometimes it’s easier for the audience to relate to a human element. However, Michael has composed themes for characters both human and non, and he treats the subject matter all the same.

“To me there’s nothing any more real about a character like Spock or a rat that can cook. They’re all characters, they’re all parts of the story we’re telling and I try to treat the animated ones just as I would treat the human ones. Just because it’s a rat, I don’t want to demean what he’s thinking or feeling. I want to treat him as I would treat Kirk or the kids from SUPER 8.

“I try to look at them all as real people as opposed to just a thing. And if you’re looking at them that way, and you’re looking for what drives them/what they’re thinking and feeling, that’s how you get the audience on board with what you need to do story-wise.”

Michael has composed numerous beloved and familiar themes, yet he’s not really known to conduct his own music. Taking the stand at the Dallas Symphony for his three-night engagement will, even for an Oscar-winner, be a new experience for him.

“I’ve been conducting more and more over the years and am starting to get more comfortable conducting full-length things and doing that. So I think I’m close to the point to the point where I’ll go ‘OK I’ll do the whole thing.’

“It’s all about getting the confidence to do it. It’s one thing when you’re with all your players that you know in the studio setting; in an orchestra it’s different. A lot of times I choose not to conduct the film scores because I want to be with the director in the booth. I want to talk with him as we hear the music. But it’s fun and I’m looking forward to it and I do enjoy doing it, so this concert with the Symphony is something I have been looking forward to.”

Marc Ciafardini is the founder and editor of Go. See. Talk! a Dallas-based website focused on cinema.




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