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Not My Job: We Quiz Composer Michael Giacchino On Decomposition


Last year, the movie "Rogue One" came out. It was the first Star Wars movie to have a female hero, the first without a Jedi knight and the first with music composed by someone other than John Williams.

BILL KURTIS: The man who took over the orchestra was Michael Giacchino. And he joined us in December of 2016. As it turns out, he never even wanted to be a composer.


MICHAEL GIACCHINO: I grew up and from 9 years old, after I saw "Star Wars," I was making movies. My entire life was making movies. I even went to film school at School of Visual Arts in New York City. And then after that, I got a day job at Universal publicity department, then moved over to Disney publicity department. So I had this day job, and at night I would study music. And while I was in publicity working, I realized that the producers hired the composers. So I thought, if I could get this job as a producer in the video game department, maybe I could hire myself to write music.



GIACCHINO: And it literally worked. It worked. That's exactly what I did because...

SAGAL: (Laughter).

GIACCHINO: And they would dump all of these demo CDs from other composers on my desk and say, well, go through these and see if there's anyone we should listen to. And I would literally just push them into the trash can.

SAGAL: Really?


GIACCHINO: The thing is, they always at some point get in trouble and go, oh, my God. We need music for something. And then I'd be like, I'll do it. And I did it for them. And then, little by little, they just gave me more and more. And then before I knew it, I was doing - I was over at DreamWorks writing music for Steven Spielberg, who was producing a game called "Medal Of Honor."

SAGAL: Well, that's apparently - I was amazed to discover this because I thought people would be excited. Oh, that's the guy who did - he won an Oscar for "Up," and he did "Star Trek" and the "Star Trek" sequels. But there are some people like, you mean the guy who did the music for "Medal Of Honor"?

GIACCHINO: I get that all the time people. People go, oh, my God, I've been listening to you since the "Lost World" video game and "Medal Of Honor" and all the...


GIACCHINO: You know, I mean it goes way back, and that's - I get that much more than "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" and all the other things.

SAGAL: Is it true that J.J. Abrams, who I guess gave you your first big break when you did the music for his TV show "Lost" - he was a - he played your video games, and was like, this music is good?

GIACCHINO: Yeah. It was one of these moments in my life when I was sitting there going, no one's going to hire me for TV. And literally nobody would because they kept saying, oh, you're a video game guy. You don't know how to do TV. And I was really depressed, and I'm sitting there, and I get this email. And it said, hi, my name is J.J. Abrams, and I wrote "Armageddon" and I did "Regarding Henry," and I'm doing a new TV show called "Alias," and would you want to work on it with me? And I was like, what? And he said, you know, I love your video game music. Call me if you want to - if you're interested. And I thought, oh, this is one of my friends screwing with me.


GIACCHINO: I don't even know who the hell J.J. Abrams - nobody knows who that is. And - but within a couple days, I was over at his office. We met, we got along great, and we've done everything together since then. It's...

SAGAL: It's crazy. You got to do - oh, my gosh.

ADAM FELBER: You're carrying him.

SAGAL: Yeah.


SAGAL: With the latest "Star Wars" movie "Rogue One," you were the first person other than this guy John Williams...

GIACCHINO: Right, right.

SAGAL: ...To score a "Star Wars" film. How intimidating was that?

GIACCHINO: Well, I think if I had come on the project in a normal way, it would have been a lot more intimidating than it ended up being because I came in very late. I had four and a half weeks to write the score to this thing.

SAGAL: Holy moly.

DICKINSON: Oh, my...


GIACCHINO: It was - there was a change in the whole thing, and they called me and said, look, we would like for you to do this. Can you do it? And I was like, wait, OK. When are you recording? And they were like, in four and a half weeks. I was like...

SAGAL: Geez.

GIACCHINO: ...Oh, my. So - but you know, the nerd part of my brain, the part that grew up with "Star Wars," that sat out in the backyard playing with the action figures, was like, just give me that movie. I know what to do with it. Give it to me. Give it to me. You know?


GIACCHINO: And thank God. On their end, they were just like, just please let there be music in our movie.


GIACCHINO: And so we both kind of - it kind of worked from both ends. But it wasn't until the first day of scoring that I was terrified because what I did was I brought out the original theme, the "Star Wars" theme that John Williams wrote, and we decided to use that as our warm-up cue. So we were testing microphones, and when the - and the orchestra starts playing that scene. We all know it so well. And it's so amazing. And I sat there going, oh, my God. What the hell did I do? Why did I even say yes to this?

SAGAL: Hey, let's all remind ourselves of the work of genius that I now have to match. OK.


SAGAL: I'm going to ask you about one more thing before we go to the game, Michael.


SAGAL: And I could talk to you all day. You won an Oscar for "Up"...


SAGAL: ...And you composed the music.


SAGAL: For the first - I don't know how long the sequence is. It's the opening, otherwise silent sequence of "Up"...


SAGAL: ...That covers the characters' lives.

FELBER: Devastating.

SAGAL: And Pete Docter, the director of the film, was his commission to you - he says, all right, Michael. You have four and a half minutes. I want you to destroy everyone.


SAGAL: If people are not all sobbing and lying on the floor, you have not done your job, Michael. Now go.

GIACCHINO: I remember when we were all on the stage, and we'd recorded it for the first time...

SAGAL: Yeah.

GIACCHINO: ...When it was after the first take, I look over, and we're all crying.




GIACCHINO: And then - and usually, you have to record it, like, four or five times, you know?

SAGAL: Right.

GIACCHINO: Because again - after each take we're just, like, a mess. And we're just like, OK, we need to move on to a different cue because this is just...

SAGAL: Yeah.

GIACCHINO: This is too much.

SAGAL: Anybody was like, I'm going to win an Oscar for this.


SAGAL: Well, Michael Giacchino, it is such a pleasure to talk to you and hear your voice rather than your music for once. But we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...

KURTIS: It's just like composing, but it goes the other way.



SAGAL: So you've won an Oscar for composing, but how good are you at decomposing?



SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about the skill you have to be dead to be good at. Answer two correctly, and you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. Bill, who is composer Michael Giacchino playing for?

KURTIS: Dan Lee of Provo, Utah.

SAGAL: All right, Michael.

GIACCHINO: I'm ready.

SAGAL: Here is your first question. Corpses can be very useful. They can be, as they are used to do what? A, test out yoga pants at Lululemon...






SAGAL: B, give directions on Mount Everest?


SAGAL: Or C, drive in car pool only lanes?

GIACCHINO: Wait a minute. So are you telling me one of these is real?



GIACCHINO: Well, I mean, I imagine there's some nut in the universe that has put a corpse in their car, but I would imagine people have also seen going up Mount Everest. All right. Mount Everest.

SAGAL: Yes, you're right, Michael...


SAGAL: ...Mount Everest. You see...


SAGAL: ...The corpses of dead climbers on Mount Everest don't decompose because of there's - it's dry, cold, there's no insects up there. So they're useful as landmarks.


SAGAL: All right, you got one right. Here's another one. Being dead can get you privileges, such as which of these - A, you get to ride in the special corpse compartment on Singapore Airlines; B, thanks to a lawsuit, you can now ride the New York subway for free; or C, you get to wear the special Armani Cadavere line made for people who want the finest in open-casket funeral style?

GIACCHINO: OK. I'm going to - it's one of the first two. I'm going to say the airline.

SAGAL: You're right. It's the airline.




SAGAL: Singapore Airlines - this is amazing - Singapore Airlines flies the longest route in the world from Singapore to LA. It's 17 hours. And so they decided that they should have a compartment ready in case someone dies because they can't land.

GIACCHINO: Oh, my God.

SAGAL: So if you die on that Singapore Airlines flight, they will put you in the closet. Normally on an airplane, if you die, they will just lay you out on some empty seats.


SAGAL: Yeah. So there you...

DICKINSON: Finally, that extra leg room.


SAGAL: All right. Let's go for this last one, see if you can get a perfect. In 2010, authorities in Japan discovered a mummified man in an apartment in Tokyo. How did they find him? A, the place became suddenly really popular with neighborhood cats; B, they went there to congratulate him for being Tokyo's oldest man, but discovered he had died in 1972?


SAGAL: Or C, people from LinkedIn came to try to finally convince him to sign up?

GIACCHINO: I would be - I would say LinkedIn if number two wasn't in there. I think it's that they actually went to his thing to congratulate him.

SAGAL: You're right, Michael.


SAGAL: That's exactly what happened.


SAGAL: According to the records, he would have been the oldest living man, but he had, in fact, died a long time ago. So on the one hand, he wasn't available to receive his prize, but on the other hand, he didn't deserve it.


SAGAL: Bill, how did Michael Giacchino do on our quiz?

KURTIS: You know, this is a bit rare. You got them all right, Michael. That's very good.


SAGAL: Michael Giacchino composed the score for "Star Wars'" "Rogue One" and a million other movies - all the ones you love, he did it. Michael Giacchino, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


GIACCHINO: Thanks a lot. Thanks everybody.


SAGAL: When we come back, some never-before-heard questions from our panel, including why you should never turn your back on Bambi. That's coming up in a minute on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.