SDCC 2019: Michael Giacchino on the Musical Anatomy of a Superhero

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San Diego Comic Con offers a lot of cool opportunities for fans. Not only do they offer people a chance to explore new releases and fun activations, they provide the opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of making their favorite movies and television shows. One panel in particular, Musical Anatomy of a Superhero, gave people an inside look at how superhero films get the inspiring scores that fans have come to love. 

The Marvel Report sat down with composer Michael Giacchino (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Doctor Strange) to talk about his process, his favorite Marvel characters, and his desire for an audio version of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”

I’ve seen how composers work with superhero movies – there’s the human part and the superhero part. How does that work for you? How do you chose the sounds?

For me, it’s about first figuring out who is this character? For Peter, he’s a bit of a frustrated and sad character. I want to get at the heart of that – that’s what the audience connects to and what I connect to. It’s about me watching the movie and connecting to the movie. It made me feel a certain way and I track all the emotions while I experience it. It’s a very literal translation, “I feel scared, so I think these people are going to be feeling scared.” It’s a translation of my feelings – and it can get exhausting at the end of the day. It’s like being an actor, and you take on the characters and their emotions. I’m very choosy about ones I work on.

When you were working on Spider-Man, did you take other composer’s works and build a progression out of it?

I didn’t use any of the previous movies as a reference for anything. This is a brand new version of Spider-Man, and I want to write something specifically for this work. Each composer works to create their own unique vision for their movies – outside of that it’s all stuff written for these specific characters and scenes. If it works, I will use parts of Alan Silvestri’s Avengers themes.

You make sad music when you’re sad. What makes music sad?

[Laughs] Wow, that’s a great question. There’s something about music that goes straight to the core of your emotions. You’ve all heard pieces of music that bring you to certain places. It’s a real Voodoo trick when it works, and I don’t quite understand it, I only know I feel certain things when I play things a certain way.

You mentioned being a fan of Alan Silvestri’s music. Do you guys work together as composers to create a sort of MCU of music?

No, and I wish we had time to do that, but there’s never any time to do that. There’s no grand plan for how these movies are going to come out or how they’re going to be made. I talk to Kevin Feige a lot about that, actually – that as we move forward, we create the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that we [should] create the audio version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so that things can stay coherent. So that if characters show up in other films, there’s an audio cue – an extra little Easter Egg for fans of the films.

So let’s talk Doctor Strange for a minute, What kind of process did you go through to create the Doctor Strange music?

With Doctor Strange, I always loved that comic as a kid. I always thought it was really weird and cool and psychedelic and weird. I wanted a very baroque feel, something that felt kind of timeless. That’s why I wanted to use the harpsichord; it instantly puts you in a certain frame of mind. It all started with a very simple theme on the harpsichord. They were like, “Oh! I never thought of that before, and that feels like Doctor Strange.” That’s what I’m always shooting for when I’m playing for people. I want them to say, “Oh that feels like – my character.” [In the film they’re working on.]

You mentioned the comic book history of these characters. How much do you look back at the comic book legacy?

I grew up reading a lot of these comic books, so it’s built into me. The fun part is that I’ll text Kevin Feige, and I’ll say, “Hey, I’m working on this particular scene. Is there something that you’re thinking about in regards to it?” and he will respond with a panel. For Homecoming, for instance, we were talking about the scene where the concrete falls on Peter.

Movie’s over, Peter’s lost, and he sent me an image of that panel from the original comic book, and he said, “It needs to feel like this panel, it needs to feel like this.” And I’d say, “Oh, I get it.”

You’re a fan of these comics. Do you have a character you’d like to compose for?

Well, I love Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, so those two I feel very blessed to have gotten to work on. It gets harder for me to do stuff like the Avengers, because you have so many characters. Me, personally, I like zeroing on one character’s journey. I really like it when I can focus on one character like Doctor Strange and Spider-Man. When you’re working with a group, you can get confused. It’s hard to follow their emotional journey.

You’ve composed for television as well. How does it differ when composing for both?

You don’t get as much time for stuff you’d like to complete. We’d record every episode with an orchestra, but it’d take about three days for the turnaround. We’d have three days to record, mix, and then a new script would be on my desk. It was difficult work!

When composing on movies, how do you find the musical signature? Where does it come together in the composing process?

I try to watch the movie in one shot. I try not to read a script and envision a particular movie in my head, and then I’ll see the movie and it’ll be completely different from what I envisioned. So I’ll watch the movie and go home and put my hands on the piano keys and see what happens. At some point, I’ll find something that feels right to me, and I’ll create a suite that I can play back for them.

Can we find you in your music scores?

You can always find me, I like to make sure each score is individual. If you really analyzed it all you’d find a lot of me.

Michael Giacchino is responsible for scoring some of the best superhero stories in the MCU. He’s a legend who’s shaped parts of the musical landscape – and how many people see superheroes in the world. Are you intrigued by what it takes to compose music for superheroes? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Spider-Man: Far From Home is currently in theaters.

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