Over the summer I visited the hallowed
grounds of Pixar (of course I took an obligatory photo of the big
Luxo Jr at the entrance... it's almost mandatory when you go there)
and got to see a little bit of the behind the scenes of Coco.
One of the big focuses was on the music
of the movie. Composer Michael Giacchino was on hand to talk about
his score and so were Germaine Franco and Camilo Lara. Germaine was
in charge of arranging the music and writing the actual songs and
Camilo's job was to keep the movie authentically Mexican by making
sure the source music wasn't just random Mariachi stuff that is in
every Hollywood production set in Mexico.
The reason why there was such a focus
on the music is pretty self-evident when you see the movie. It's
about a boy whose dream is to be a musician, but his family will not
allow it. Music is the soul of this child and frankly it's the soul
of their small town, who worship a deceased movie star/singer named
Ernesto de la Cruz.
The filmmakers needed to populate this
town with music, give young Miguel the inspiration that sparks his
passion, and for that to work it had to be authentic, which is where
Camilo comes in. He's an expert on the broad tapestry of traditional
Mexican music so he makes sure the music you hear playing in the town
or in the town square (the source music) isn't fake Hollywood stuff.
The second type of music are the
original songs in the film, inspired by the various types of Mexican
music, but do it as storytellers that support that story they're
telling. That's what Germaine Franco was in charge of. She arranged
both the original songs as well as some traditional Mexican tunes so
that they melded together into one cohesive soundscape, taking
particular inspiration from the Oaxaca region of Mexico.
And then there's score, which was
Giacchino's job. You know Giacchino's work from a million things. The
Incredibles, JJ Abrams' Star Trek, Rogue One, Up, War for the Planet
of the Apes, etc. The job of the composer is to bring emotion and
themes to the music, something John Williams so masterfully did in
his Star Wars score, for instance. Themes and motifs became one and
the same with the visuals. When you hear his Force Theme you know
some force stuff is going on or when the Imperial March kicks up you
know Vader is near.
I was able to talk to all three people
during my visit. Below you'll find my interview with Michael
Giacchino, Germain Franco and Camilo Lara. Enjoy!
Eric Vespe: First of all, I wanted to
start by telling you that your War for the Planet of the Apes score
is one of my favorite scores of the year so far.
Michael Giacchino: Aw, thanks. Matt
Reeves is a great director. I love working with him.
Eric Vespe: Since I have all three of
you here in front of me I think we should talk a little about your
collaboration. What is the creative process like since you're all
bringing different kinds of music together that ultimately has to be
one cohesive, rich sound.
Michael Giacchino: Basically if you
look at three aspects of what has to be done in the film you have
songs, you have source music and you have score. Germaine and Camilo
have been there since the beginning, since before I came on board. If
you guys want to talk about how you started I can pick up when I came
Germaine Franco: Camilo started a month
or so before me...
Camilo Lara: It's been very
interesting. It's a complex situation. I guess Michael needs to put
some salt on the emotions, make it so you can show those feelings,
and Germaine has been working on these amazing songs, which are
instant classics. I'm so excited to see them blossom. I've been
helping with the process of making sure the elements are Mexican.
Michael Giacchino: He's our Mexican
Camilo Lara: I would say Yoda. (laughs)
Eric Vespe: So you're here to keep
Michael honest and make sure everything is authentic.
Camilo Lara: In a way, but I am not a
purist of Mexican music. I mean, I do Mexican music because I'm
Mexican, but I guess it just needed to feel right. It needed to feel
correct and you can tell that.
Eric Vespe: Yeah, you can tell when you
see a movie set in Mexico and they pull out the canned public domain
Mariachi music or whatever.
Michael Giacchino: That's exactly what
we wanted to avoid. We wanted to make sure it felt truthful and it
came from the heart of this country.
Germaine Franco: From the beginning we
had the mandate to keep it authentic, but also be able to tell a
story. We took songs, some that you've heard before and some that
were written that I helped arranged and orchestrate... The first
thing I ever did was arrange and orchestrate the big extravaganza of
de la Cruz singing. We thought “What would that be like in that
golden age of Mexico meets Hollywood cinema?” and adding fantastic
Mexican musicians into the tracks.
Also, there's a lot of great Mexican
musicians in LA and players that can play the style very well,
including the guitarist you heard today. Every time we sent a demo or
I did an arrangement, we kept that in mind. It's not just going to be
a marimba score or a mariachi score. Even though that's great music,
let's look at all the kinds of music that you hear and let's focus on
certain styles and, as Camilo likes to say, smells of Mexico.
Michael created a bunch of source music
which we took down to Mexico and we got to collaborate with the
musicians there. In addition to playing the traditional music we also
had them play some of his source music. It's all been a really great
situation. We all respect each other for what we each do, so it's a
lot of camaraderie, a lot of nice experimenting and openness.
Michael Giacchino: One of the things
that I love so much about movies in general is that I can jump into a
project and take on this whole other character. You know my music. I
like it to fit the movie. If that means it needs a completely
different orchestration idea I do it. This is a perfect project to
come into and become what the soul and heart of Mexico is.
I had a narrow window into that world
through my dad's record collection, but then growing up and getting
to work with these guys I learned so much more about it. Camilo sent
me a list intially and I was like “Whoa! This is whole other ball
of wax!” It was really incredible to go down that rabbit hole and
trying to use that to tell the emotional story of the film.
Eric Vespe: Music is emotion in movies.
Your Up score is a perfect example. At the beginning of that film
your music is the dialogue for Carl's life story. Maybe you guys can
talk about shouldering that responsibility in a movie like this. You
have hundreds, if not thousands, of people working here at Pixar to
bring these characters to life, but ultimately if the score is
jarring it can derail all that work they've done. Not to put more
pressure on you guys...
Michael Giacchino: The emotion is the
number one thing in the back of my mind. Always. A film like this is
so tricky because you could easily just put music everywhere. You
could not care about throwing in source or score and let them bleed
into each other, hoping no one would notice, but that's not what we
One of my things talking with Adrian
(Molina) and Lee (Unkrich) was saying that as important as figuring
out where you want music is it's just as important to figure out
where you don't. You want music, when it's there, to mean something,
to have something to say. If it's just talking all the time it's like
that person you get into a conversation with at a party that you just
can not get away from and just won't shut up. So many movies do that
and it's just like constant wallpaper.
It was about how do we balance these
three ideas: song, source and score, and get that to tell the story
in a proper story in the same way you would if it was just score.
Eric Vespe: You also want to give it
personality, too, I bet. A lot of times that comes from happy
accidents. How open were you guys to that?
Germaine Franco: Totally open. That's
the only way to be on a project like this, or any project. You have
to keep experimenting. By experimenting you find what you're looking
for. Sometimes you try four or five different versions and the first
one is the best, but you only know that because you tried the other
ways. That's one of the things that I learned from working with the
Pixar team. Don't be afraid to try things. You don't have to make it
a huge effort and try to make it perfect. Just see. Does that idea
work? Oh, it doesn't. Here's another idea. Not having a preconceived
notion of what the outcome has to be.
In Mexico that was what was so
beautiful. He were were sitting in a room with a lot of musicians,
giving them charts of all these things. I didn't know if they would
be able to play it, but I thought “let's find a way for them to
engage with the music.” There's some source music that I think came
out really beautiful because of that.
Michael Giacchino: Oh, yeah. It's
amazing to listen to. When you write something you have it in your
head what you want it to sound like and you're maybe writing it just
on the piano and then Germaine does these beautiful arrangements of
these tunes and the next thing you know they come back and you're
like “Oh, my God! That really sounds like it just came out of the
country, like it had been there forever! How does that happen?!?”
It's a crazy, wonderful magic trick.
Coco is in theaters now and now you can go see it knowing even more about the thought put behind the music.