There are few composers who have made a bigger splash in the film world over the past two decades than Michael Giacchino. His partnership with J.J. Abrams early in his career has led to work on some of the biggest films and franchises in the world, and inspired some of the most varied, complex and unforgettable music produced during that time. But for many of the people who thrill at each new announcement of a Giacchino project, that love affair started with Lost.
Upon its premiere in 2004, Lost became not just a runaway success but a bona fide cultural phenomenon, inspiring enormous ratings, love-hate relationships with its endlessly intriguing cast, and dozens upon dozens of questions about its evolving, cryptic mythology. That enduring appeal, and those open-ended question marks, are just part of the reasons why Giacchino has successfully mounted a series of concerts showcasing the music he created for the show, many years since it left the air.
On November 15, Mondo Vinyl is releasing one of those Lost concerts on vinyl for the very first time, from a recording made at a tour stop in Dublin, Ireland. Giacchino recently hopped on the phone with Nerdist to chat about the phenomenon of the show, which is rounding the fifteenth anniversary of its premiere, and to reflect on some of the challenges, and personal and career payoffs, of working on this benchmark series.
Is revisiting a suite of music from a show like this something you’ve had the opportunity to do often in your career?
Michael Giacchino: Whenever I can, we do a Lost concert here or there. We’ve done a few in LA; we’ve done them in Switzerland; we’ve done, obviously, one in Hawaii. And this [event] in Dublin came up and I was doing a concert of all my music, and I said, since we’re there, why don’t we do a Lost-only concert? And then the idea came up to record it. Because it’s basically the concert that we do whenever we do a live Lost concert; it changes little by little every time, but it’s pretty much there.
And it just felt like the right thing to do. Because what I noticed is when we do these concerts, people come from all over the world—from South Africa, from China, from Japan, from everywhere. And yet, as many people that do make it, there’s still a ton of people that don’t have the money to fly out. So we thought, let’s record it and put out an album.
The fifteenth anniversary of the Lost premiere is this year. Was there anything unique about this particular concert that reflected that benchmark or aimed for that target a little bit?
MG: It’s always very reflective regardless of the timing, because I really love doing Lost concerts because of the fans and because of how much… even the people who worked on the show, how much the show means to them as well. Whenever we do a concert, whatever actors are available, they will come out and they’ll do readings. They’re always happy to revisit this thing that they did, and that’s not something you can say about everything you work on.
So in terms of the anniversary, I didn’t think about that as much as I thought about, wow, it’s been that many years since we’ve worked on this? Holy cow. And you just start realizing how quickly time passes. But the thing that I think more about is that it is one of the most important shows that I’ve worked on, personally.
What remains so distinct about the show is how uniquely cinematic J.J.’s pilot was and how it immediately immersed audiences in that world. When you took the show on originally, do you remember it being a different experience than others you’d had? Or did this cultural phenomenon that it became propel some of those feelings of specialness that you carry with you now?
MG: I think when you start anything, you’re not really thinking about how it’s going to impact anyone, and especially how it’s going to impact the world. You’re worried about just getting it done, and making sure that it gets done right, and it’s the best it can be. So when we were starting on this, J.J. and I had already done Alias together, and at the time we were working on Mission: Impossible. Everything he does, he wants it to be big and cinematic. And so that was no surprise in terms of how he shot it and everything.
And in terms of music, he’s a huge music nut as well. So we had to fight and make sure we had a live orchestra for every episode and all of these things, and you’re just in the thick of it, trying to make it as good as you can. And I always want things to feel big and cinematic, and I love live players more than anything. That’s what I grew up with. So I wasn’t ever thinking until towards the end of season one, you start realizing the show’s popularity and the attention that it’s been getting from all over the place.
And that’s when you start looking at it and you start thinking about it. But in the beginning you’re always just like, let’s just make this as good as we can and you’re struggling to just get things out the door. Working on these types of things—TV shows, movies, whatever it is—it’s never easy, and you never have time to ponder too much other than what is the immediate job in front of you.
So much of your prior work was on video games. How did that prepare you especially well for the demands of a TV series?
MG: Working in video games certainly prepared me for television. You don’t have a lot of time or money in video games to get across what you want to get across, so having to do that over the years on many video games really did prepare me for going into a TV show and understanding how I could get the sound that I wanted for the price that they had. Because especially when you’re first starting out, they’re like, “That’s your number—make it work.” And we did.
But what television teaches you is to be fast. You have to trust your gut, write music and then move on. You don’t have time to overthink anything. And no one in the chain does, really. Not the production designers, the actors, the directors; nobody does, down through post production. Everyone is just like, okay, best gut choice forward and let’s move on.
And that’s what I always liked that about television and taking that forward into films has been great because it has allowed me to work very quickly in movies and to be able to do a couple of movies at the same time. If I hadn’t had all those years on Alias and Lost, I don’t know that I would’ve been able to take three summer movies at a time. But they really teach you to just to zone in on what’s important to do, and how to get across the best emotional arc that you can.
The music has this wonderful juxtaposition of really beautiful themes and then also these amazing almost mnemonic stings to punctuate climactic moments. How difficult was it to combine those two things so they worked in concert with one another?
MG: It was a very by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of situation. We never had spotting sessions ever. Basically, I would just get an episode and they would be like, “Go with God, just get it done. We’re moving onto the next one.” And that was how that worked. But for me it was like working on a never ending opera in a way, where new characters keep coming in. So new themes would have to be written and new situations required new themes and new styles of music and different things. It was a never ending creative challenge. It wasn’t the kind of show where you could just write a library of music and season one and use that for everything, and I never would want to work on that kind of a show.
I liked the challenge of being able to keep developing both existing ideas and creating new ideas to help represent where the story’s going, where it’s trying to take you, the new characters you’ll be meeting and the new places you’ll be going. It was important for me that the music sort of really be creative for each of those instances as opposed to going, let’s just pull out the action music and we’ll put it here and we’ll just use it over and over and over. That, to me, is not interesting at all, and I don’t think it would’ve helped the viewers’ experience watching the show.
Obviously the show was driven so much by the intrigue of the island, and who was doing what. How important was it for you to know answers throughout the course of the series to most effectively convey the emotional tone or intention of a scene?
MG: I never wanted to know the answers. I never read a script the whole time I was working on the show. Because I wanted the music to be as reactive as someone’s first feeling, like the music you’re hearing is really my emotional reaction to what I’m watching. And I felt like for a viewer on a show like this, that was really important to make sure you put them in that place.
I always felt like if I knew too much, I might give something away subconsciously, and I never wanted my music to be aware of what was going to happen. I always wanted it to be reactive to what was happening, so when I would get an episode, I would just start at the beginning and work my way to the end. It was not the kind of thing that was thought out ahead of time. I thought that would have sort of hurt the experience.
Because the show so effectively managed to reframe the characters, their choices and their lives, was there a character or a storyline that you found consistently challenging in terms of finding the right tonality?
MG: I don’t think so. The show was so well written, the characters were so well-formed and the actors did such an amazing job creating this person that you end up falling in love with somehow, that I was never in a jam to write music for that show. I never found myself with writer’s block. I ate it up because I loved it so much. And it was always a fun surprise to see what was new and what was different, any time.
It was emotionally difficult at times because the show is so emotional, and you get invested in a lot of the storylines and what’s going on. But as a composer, I had to embody all of those emotions as I’m watching it; that’s the only way for me to get a truth in music across to you. I can’t write scary music. I actually have to be scared or be sad or be surprised. You’re very much like an actor when you take on all this stuff, so it can be emotionally exhausting at the end of the day. But in terms of difficulty in writing for something, that didn’t really happen.
Asking a composer or a filmmaker about their favorites is like asking them to choose their favorite children. But are there themes that among the ones that you composed for Lost you love or just most enjoy performing?
MG: When I’m doing the show, usually when I get to the point where we’re doing “Oceanic 6,” there’s something about that cue that always reminds me of all the friends I made on the show, all of the people that I’m still close with, and everything we went through in making the show. There’s this really weird nostalgic thing that sort of takes over for me just emotionally. And another cue that is like that is a cue called “LAX,” which I believe was at the beginning of the last season, where they’re all boarding the plane, it’s all in slow motion, and Jack’s dad’s body’s being delivered to the church.
Those two cues tend to really kind of get me, even when I’m up on the stage conducting and I’m like, oh boy, okay, hold it together. But it’s fun that again, it seems there are a lot of different cues and a lot of different reasons that people are attached to them. And I think a lot of it has to do with the people’s love of the characters, people’s love of the storytelling, and how it all just sort of worked so well together.
Featured Image: Mondo