Composer Michael Giacchino Talks 'Trek', Manipulation, Work & More
by Alex Billington
December 18, 2012
Last week we got to chat briefly with composer Michael Giacchino, who just finished a 9-minute piece of music for the opening IMAX exclusive prologue from J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness. Giacchino was at a press event at Bad Robot, and was there to talk about his work scoring that piece only, since he literally hasn't seen any more of the sequel and hasn't thought about the score for the rest of it yet. He said something during our Q&A about "film is manipulation" that really struck me when I first heard it, and I wanted to highlight some of his quotes from our discussion, as they're all quite interesting overall. Read on!
There's something about Michael Giacchino that I really admire. Similar to other genius creatives like J.J. Abrams or Guillermo del Toro or James Cameron, he's someone I could listen to talk about any/everything for hours on end. He's always got something interesting to say, even when it's just talking about scoring 9-minutes of music for a prologue. But onto his quote about manipulation. The word "contrived" is often used in film reviews and I wonder if in those situations, more often than not, sometimes that is the point. As Giacchino goes on to say, film is manipulation, isn't that the whole point? Here's his argument on the idea:
"…So that you as an audience are right there, following the story, every step of the way. Everything that J.J. wants you to feel and follow, I'm there to help kinda yank you through. And yes, you can call that manipulation, it is! All of it… Any film is manipulation, really. None of this is real. So anyone who says, 'you were manipulating me!' Well, no shit, of course we were manipulating you, that's why you go to the movies - to be manipulated."
Do you agree with him? Or do you think there should be films that don't manipulate the audience? He is a composer, and music (especially the kind he creates) does enhance the emotion and tone of films, so it's not surprising to hear him say this. For the most part, I would agree. But thankfully, he creates incredible music in the end and it doesn't really matter, because I will happily listen to his "manipulations" all the time anyway. As for Star Trek Into Darkness, Giacchino recorded the entire 9 minutes of music for this prologue in about 4 hours with an orchestra. But in the end, it's always up to J.J. and what the film needs or doens't:
"It's always a collaboration to make that work together. And I do go to the dubs and I sit, and I talk to the sound guys, and I talk to the mixers. And everyone is on board to do whatever is best for the film. If a scene works better without music - I will literally be the first guy to raise his hand and say 'take the music out. I don't want it.' On many occasions I've offered up and scarified whole cues that I've spent days writing because it works better without, you know, you don't need it. For me, the film is the end game, not what I'm doing on the film. The film itself is the end game. So we tried to accommodate that idea… I think we have a really good team that works together and does understand that."
As I mentioned in my own coverage of the press event at Bad Robot, Giacchino also talks about the opening 9-minute prologue and what exactly we're seeing. Why it starts out with such an odd opening with Benedict:
"The opening of the film is quite different from what you would expect from the opening, I think, of a Star Trek film. It starts off in the hospital and you're kind of like—wait, am I in the right theater? What is this? Where the heck am I? And that's intentional. We really wanted to give the audience a distance from the characters. Not speak too plainly about what it is that they're doing, what's going on, the music isn't commenting too much about what's happening. But the idea was to get across that — what you see in front of you, is what you see in front of you, but there's something much bigger going on behind the scenes. And what is that? I don't know yet. We don't know. But it's growing, and it's evolving, in a way in which Star Trek music really traditionally doesn't really do. It's a slightly different way to approach it."
Those who have seen the IMAX prologue in theaters in front of The Hobbit know just how exciting it is to hear more of Giacchino's Star Trek work again. His score for the first movie in 2009 is one of my all-time favorites, I still listen to it all the time. There are so many nods to the classic Trek themes, and Giacchino acknowledges that, saying: "The idea is that… this is our version of Star Trek. And for me, the one thing that I would love to incorporate in some way, some how, is the Alexander Courage theme, because to me THAT is Star Trek, you know. Where you use it, and how you use it, is really up to the story. And you have to think long and hard about how to do it, because if you do it in the wrong spot, it feels wrong, it feels cheesy."
Giacchino also chats about another intriguing topic - his workflow and how he puts story and the film itself above all else. He was answering my own question about whether or not he writes his score with dialogue and sound effects included, or without. He references movies that have awful scores that just don't work:
"You've all seen movies where the music isn't working with the story. And it's either because… the story isn't working itself. Or the composer kinda just wants to write whatever they want to write, not paying attention to the thing. And you leave feeling unsatisfied, and you may not notice it, but it's part of the bigger puzzle. So it's always important, I think, to keep track of what's going on in that story. So when I'm working, I'll get all my beats down that I want to hit, and I'll start writing, but I'll always double check it against/play it back with dialogue and effects, just so I have an idea of what the finished picture will be. Cause it's definitely not going to be just my music, in most cases. You get lucky sometimes…"
In addition to all of our quotes, I wanted to also highlight this video from the SoundWorks Collection. It features Michael Giacchino chatting about his start in the music/film business and a few of his projects.
Thank you again to the SoundWorks Collection for hosting the interview. When I spoke with Giacchino at an "Alcatraz" event back in January, he told me he was taking the entire year off after a lot of work. It's good to see him back and finally getting ready to go with more projects, Star Trek Into Darkness being one of them. For more on the film or the event, read my full recap of the Bad Robot press day or check out SlashFilm's 15 Things We Learned About The Sequel While Visiting Bad Robot. We'll update you on more from Giacchino.
Star Trek Into Darkness is the sequel to the J.J. Abrams-directed reboot of Gene Roddenberry's original science fiction series. The screenplay this time was co-written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman & Damon Lindelof. Most of the crew is back, including Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin & John Cho. Paramount is bringing Into Darkness to theaters May 17th next summer.