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Not Just Playing Games!
A conversation with composer Michael Giacchino

"Most films today don't call for this kind of music.  So, in many respects, doing a score
 for a video game like Medal of Honor is almost a throwback, and more enjoyable."

Ľ Michael Giacchino

 
       
 

 

General Info:

Attended film school at the School for Visual Arts in New York

Studied under Broadway musical director Alki Steriopolis  

Currently resides in southern California with his wife and toddler son.

 
 
Television Credits:

Medal of Honor: Underground

Medal of Honor

The Lost World PSX

Small Soldiers PSX

Squad Commander

 
 
Feature Film Credits:

Semper Fi

Composer for Redemption of the Ghost (1999)

Los Gringos (1999)

No Salida (1999 PASS Award Winner)

Episodes of Teen Angel (ABC)

 

 

More Interviews

Sascha Dikiciyan & Cris Velasco (2007)
James Dooley (2007)
Jesper Kyd (2007)
Garry Schyman (2007)
David Robidoux (2007)
Scott Glasgow (2007)

Tyler Bates (2007)
Jamie Christopherson (2007)
Mychael Danna (2007)

Howard Shore (2006)
Trevor Rabin  (2006)
Christopher Lennertz (2006)
Harry Gregson-Williams
John Debney
Greg Edmonson
Christopher Lennertz (2003)
Erik Lundborg
Ron Jones
Edward Shearmur
Christopher Lennertz (2002)
Thad Spencer
Don Davis (2001)
Hans Zimmer
Conrad Pope
Michael Giacchino
Don Davis (1999)
Jeff Rona (1999)

 

Other Special Features Ľ

 

 

 

The Interview - 2000

 

 

CC:  Let's start off with your latest release, Medal of Honor.  How long did you work on this project?

MG:  We recorded it last October (1998).  On a regular film you normally get about six weeks at the end of production to work on the score.  It actually took about four or five months; although, it wasn't twenty-four hours a day for those months.  On these things, it is more like composing for an animated film.  You work on it as things get done.  You are around throughout the entire production in one form or another.   I actually like that because you get to know the team of people working on it and you really become a part of the whole production.  On a film, you are basically the last guy working on it and you don't get to really know anyone other than the producer and director.  It is very nice to be much more a part of a project.

CC:  That was actually my next question.  In this case, just how involved were the producers of the game?

MG:  After they decide the basic concept of the game and where they want to take the player, then we sit down and we look at those areas and environments and break them down into different pieces of music.  For instance, "Taking Out the Rail Gun", well that takes place in a section of the game in which that is your mission - to take out the rail-gun. They wanted that to be big and monstrous because, if you've ever seen a rail gun, they are massive; a lumbering menace.  Now in another area, for example "Colditz Castle" or something more toned down, it maybe more about sneaking around.  It is really about taking our direction for the music based upon what is going on in a particular level.

CC: "Taking Our the Rail Gun" seems to be one of the most popular tracks with film music fans, myself included.  Do you have a favorite piece from this score?

MG:  I'm not sure if I have a favorite.  I like the ice scherzo - "Rjuken Sabotage", but overall, I was glad when I was finished with the entire thing, because it was exhausting work! It's not like a film where you come up with a theme or two and then are able to work those themes in and out of your music for the next forty minutes.  On Medal of Honor everything had to have its own specific music or theme, so if you pull out the CD and listen to a track you'd know exactly what part of the game this was from.  It was difficult, but I am happy about how it turned out.

CC:  Have the reactions you've been getting been mostly positive regarding Medal of Honor.

MG:  Yes.  It seems that there is a large fan base for big orchestral music and sometimes it feels as though that sort of music has gone away.  The whole practice seems to be disappearing.  Now, soundtracks are more geared toward how many songs they can stick on them as opposed to featuring the score from the film.  I mean, now we have gone to entire albums that are filled with music that is "inspired by the film!" What is that?

CC:  With this in mind, what do you think the future of film music is?  What about the affect the internet has had the popularity of film music in the last five years?

MG: I think the Internet has created a venue for all of those people who have been segregated from the mainstream to come together and fan the flames or even get certain scores released.  I donít know what else could have helped it as much as something as the Internet.  There are just so many great sites out there, so many outlets for you to go to learn about film music and the people composing it.  In the past, the only interview you would find anywhere would be a John Williams interview, but now you can find out about so many different composers.  The perfect example is that people are interviewing me and I'm just a nobody (laughs!).

CC:  Well, I think those days are over for you!  Do you think Medal of Honor would have been released without the Internet being what it is today?

MG:  Probably not..  When we did finished the music for The Lost World, we sent it over to a record company and they said they would release it.  They did it, but the problem was that they released it six months after the game was released and they released it to the regular retail stores.  Now, I have no illusions here, this isn't the type of music people are just going to go looking for, so to place it in the stores may have not been the best way to go about selling it.  When we came to them with Medal of Honor, they stated that The Lost World video game score didn't do that well, so they weren't that interested in releasing Medal of Honor.  So we decided to market directly to those who play the game instead, so we put an add inside the game which said to pick up the score through Amazon.com.  This seems to be working pretty well.  We also sent it out to all the internet-soundtrack press and hoped for the best!

CC:  Could you talk a little bit about using such a large orchestra for a video game score?

MG:  When you spend the money on the orchestra, the people playing the game really notice the difference.  If you do something better or go the extra mile, they notice the difference and appreciate it.  It makes the product better just by having this organic element.

CC:  Well, it makes the game that much more "real".  Now, was Steven Spielberg involved with this game much?

MG:  He was very involved!  He is a huge game nut!  His son loves games and so he plays with him all the time.  He set up a very specific vision and goal for the team.  He really wanted it to be as realistic as possible, and at every turn do right by the subject matter.  He wanted us to bring a little more depth to the game than the type of shooters we've seen in the past.  We even got the endorsement of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which meant so much to us, because these are the guys that really did it. 

CC:  It seems from start to finish that this game and this game score have been done first class.  Even the liner notes included in the Medal of Honor soundtrack are first class.

MG:  I remember listening to Star Wars when I was ten years old and reading the liner notes.  They explained what the instruments were and what was going on and it completely opened my eyes.  So when we did this soundtrack, I wanted to do it right.  I know that if people go out of their way to buy this, then they are going to read the liner notes and its only fair if you're going to do them, to do them right.

CC:  How does composing for video games compare to composing for TV or feature films?

MG:  Well, some people ask me, "Donít you hate working on video games" And I say, "How often do you get to really let loose and write a score like Medal of Honor?"  Most films today don't call for this kind of music.  So, in many respects, doing a score for a video game like "Medal of Honor" is almost a throwback, and more enjoyable.  You feel like a big part of the team.  You, as the composer, are not just tacked onto the end of a project.

CC:  Now, there is a sequel coming out for the game?

MG:  Yes.  I'm going to start that next month.

CC:  The game is already under development?

MG:  Yes.

CC:  Now, is this a sort of add-on missions pack to Medal of Honor?

MG:  Yes, I believe so.  Actually, they are asking me to be very tight lipped about the project right now.  It is going to be quite a different point of view, but it will still be the same genre of game.  Those that enjoyed Medal of Honor will enjoy this one as well.

CC:  What about the music for the sequel?

MG:  We are planning to record with an orchestra.  It will have a slightly different feel, however, for reasons which will be disclosed on a need to know basis!

CC:  Will you be releasing the score?

MG:  Yes.  Well, I hope so!  Right now, the plans are to release it.

CC:  I have to ask you about the last two tracks on Medal of Honor.

MG:  The one with the German is actually from the game.  It's from a section of the game in which you destroy on of the V2 rocket sites.  The second track was, of course the National Anthem.  This track was conducted by my mother.  I have had a lot of fun reading what people have had to say about this track at various review sites.  Some said it was horrible or that it was my wife conducting.  Actually, it was my mother.  My Mom and Dad came out from their home in New Jersey to Seattle to sit in on the "Medal of Honor" session.  It's been one of my mother's life long dreams to conduct an orchestra.  She doesn't play an instrument or anything.  She has just always wanted to conduct an orchestra.  So, I arranged for her to conduct the orchestra after we concluded our recording session.  We chose the National Anthem.  We sort of surprised her and the orchestra members were great about it.  It was great for me to see her sort of have a dream come true.

CC:  You also just finished a movie:  Redemption of the Ghost.

MG:  Yes.  This is an independent film. 

CC:  Full orchestral score?

MG:  Yes, we are doing strings, horns, flutes and guitar, so it isn't a full-on "MOH" type orchestra. I'm not sure if there will be an official CD release.  I'll tell you this.  The music isn't like Medal of Honor! (laughs)

CC:  How has John Williams influenced your work?

MG:  One of the things that stuck with me, at an early age, from his material was that it always had a theme being worked out.  What attracted me most to music was anything that had a memorable melody- something that you could lock onto while you were listening to it.  In my writing, I find it hard to do things any other way.  I try to do music which is more abstract and about texture, rather than melody, but whenever I complete it, it always ends up having some sort of melody or theme that carries it through.   That comes from listening to people like Glen Miller, Louis Armstrong,  Bennie Goodman, John Phillip Sousa, and John Williams.  Those guys all work with melodies.  It was always about doing something that people can zero in on and say, "Ah hah! I get this!"  That has always been a huge part of me and is why I write that way.  It is always about a theme, a melody, that you mold and shape and do all sorts of things with.  That is what I love and what is so much fun for me.  So I guess John Williams, along with the others I mentioned, was instrumental in influencing me this way.

CC:  How did the film, Star Wars affect you?

MG: Well, even when I was growing up, I was a huge music fan.  I really loved to listen to classical music or jazz music, even as a little kid.  I was a geek.  Now, when Star Wars came out, it really opened my eyes to the possibilities of music and story telling.  I didn't say, at that point, that I wanted to score films, though.  I actually thought I was going to write and direct films.  That is what I went to college for and got my degree in.  After college, however, I started realizing that what I loved about film so much was the music.  See, I made films when I was growing up and what I loved to do was to find soundtracks or classical music pieces that would fit the action that I was filming.  It took me a while to realize that it was the music that I really loved.

CC:  What was your reaction to John Williamsí score to Star Wars:  The Phantom Menace?

MG: As music in it's own right, I think it's pretty damn good.  The film, for me however, was lacking the focus on story strength, characters and pacing of Lucas' previous episodes.  I've read that many people were not that impressed with the score, but I think it's hard to recapture that original feeling we got when we first stepped into theatres to see "Star Wars".  It's almost is if the score "had" to be different.  So much time had passed and this was bound to be a very different movie from the first.  As a result, so was the score.  It is a very hard thing to talk about because it is all so very subjective. 

Another thing to think about is that this was the first episode, and characters and relationships are yet to be clearly defined.  I believe that (John Williams) may have made a conscience decision not to define his musical themes as strongly and operatically as he did in the fourth, fifth, and sixth episodes.  Instead, he may have just wanted to pick his moments like Duel of the Fates or Anakin's theme.

CC:  Have you ever met John Williams?

MG:  You know, I met John Williams once.  It was a long time ago.  It was long before I had a career as a composer.  I was still in college and he was doing a concert in New Jersey.  During the intermission for the concert I walked backstage.  It was an open-air concert, sort of low-key, without a lot of security.  There he was sitting in his tuxedo on this folding chair.  No one was talking to him, so I introduced myself to him and then said that sort of gibberish one says when one doesn't know what to say.  After that I just headed back to my seat.  He was very nice though.

CC:  Has he heard your work?

MG: I know that Steven Spielberg has talked to him about my work.  I don't know if he has actually heard it though.  I'm sure it is possible that he could have, though.

CC:  Do you think you will do a score for a Spielberg film?

MG:  Oh, I doubt it.  Besides, I feel that as long as John Williams is around, I hope no one else scores a Spielberg film! We want to keep him around as long as possible.  But, of course, wouldn't that be fun - to do a Spielberg film! In one sense I feel like I've been working on Steven's 8 mm movies while John Williams does his 70mm films! (laughs)

CC:  There are a lot of guys who would kill to be in that position!

MG:  Yes!  You know, I am extremely happy to be doing what I am doing.  It is so much fun for me.  Really, he is great to work with for the sheer fact that he loves what he does.  It isn't so much about business as it is about enjoying what you do.  I think that helps everyone on the team do better than even they think they can do! He really has been a huge inspiration for us.

CC:  Well, Michael I appreciate your time and wish you the best on your upcoming projects.

MG:  Thank you so much and take care!    

 

 
       

Medal of Honor: Underground by Michael Giacchino available at Amazon.com

 

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