Lost composer, others discuss sound design

Comic-Con 2010: Michael Giacchino, six more industry bards croon about how they got their start in a Behind the Music panel.


Who Was There: The panel included composers Michael Giacchino (Lost, Star Trek), Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (Heroes), Josh Ottman (X2, Fantastic Four), Jim Dooley (Pushing Daisies), Nathan Barr (True Blood), and Jeremy Zuckerman (Avatar: The Last Airbender).

Lost composer Michael Giacchino is joined by an ensemble of industry composers.
Lost composer Michael Giacchino is joined by an ensemble of industry composers.

What They Talked About: Before the panel started, True Blood author Charlaine Harris came out to share a few words about the show and praise Nathan Barr for his work on the popular television series. Anne Cecere, a director at BMI, was moderating the panel, and before jumping into her list of questions, a video was played to highlight the works of the composers.

The first part of the panel was about how the musicians got their start composing music for film and television. Melvoin and Coleman, who are best known as "Wendy and Lisa" and for working with Prince in the '80s, were approached by Don Simpson, who was producing Dangerous Minds and wanted to use one of their songs for the film. At the time, the producers weren't happy with the score that another composer had written and decided to go with the duo instead.

Dooley talked about the challenge of wanting to become a composer when he was the first male in three generations of his family to not become a New York City fireman. He spent some time working under Hans Zimmer for Gladiator and said that the schedule can be tough to the point where he had to wait until his project was over before he could get surgery for a hernia.

Next, Barr talked about how he had a lot of experience working on feature films, many of which he said the audience would probably not recognize. For the pilot episode of True Blood, he used the music that he had composed for the movie Hostel and felt that it was "too big for the show." Instead, he keeps it simple with a cello and guitar and performs all of the music himself.

Academy Award winner Giacchino was more into filmmaking when he was growing up and eventually went into publicity. This, in turn, led him to work as an assistant producer at Disney Interactive. He joked that as a producer, he could hire himself as a composer in order to get the job that he wanted.

Dreamworks was working on The Lost World with Steven Spielberg, and Giacchino was asked to just come up with some music to go along with the presentation that the developer would pitch to the director. It turned out that Spielberg loved the music and assumed that he would be working on the score.

The composer recalls being called by his producer and was asked to go meet with Steven, in which he replied, "Steven who?" The conversation between Giacchino and Spielberg that followed consisted of the director telling him what he wanted and expected, to which Giacchino agreed to everything. Through the relationships that he subsequently made, he eventually met JJ Abrams, and the rest is history.

Part of the hour was spent discussing sound design and the techniques that each composer used to come up with unique noises. Giacchino banged on broken pieces of a plane for Lost, whereas Melvoin and Coleman used prescription bottles as shakers for the series Nurse Jackie. Zuckerman explained that because he didn't have much of a budget, many of the sounds were created by just using his mouth.

Quote: "I have a human bone trumpet." --Nathan Barr, who likes looking for strange instruments to keep things fresh.

The Takeaway: During the question and answer session, Giacchino's advice to up-and-coming composers was to not only love creating, but also to "spend time making things with people that you can work with." Melvoin also added that a composer has to be a fan of storytelling. One should continue seeing movies and reading books all the while thinking about the sounds. The gig is not just about the skills to compose.

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