Scoring Jojo Rabbit: Interview with Oscar Winning Composer, Michael Giacchino
Michael Giacchino (pronounced “Juh-key-no”) has composed original scores for the some of the biggest feature films in recent history, including, The Incredibles, War for the Planet of the Apes, Ratatouille, Star Trek, Jurassic World, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Coco. Giacchino’s 2009 score for the Pixar hit Up earned him an Oscar®, a Golden Globe®, the BAFTA, the Broadcast Film Critics’ Choice Award and two GRAMMY® Awards.
When writer/director, Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) reached out to Giacchino to score his film Jojo Rabbit, Giacchino was eager to do it. "I didn't know what the film was about but I am a huge fan of his work and how diverse and different it is," said Giacchino. When asked what direction he received Giacchino recounted Waititi saying, "Remember how you made us feel in Up? That's how I want to feel'.
Set during WWII, the film is about Jojo, a lonely German boy, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) with a vivid imagination. Jojo's need to fit in with the local Hitler youth is tested when he discovers that his single mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II rages on.
The first thing Giacchino did after reading the script (something he rarely does but agreed when Waititi wanted to discuss in advance) was to write an 11-minute suite that showed the course of Jojo's character. "What attracted me was that whole idea of going from an incredibly narrow world view to a very wide world view. That is important because it's something we need now more than ever."
The score was recorded at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London. Giacchino, who is works frequently with large 110 piece orchestras assembled instead a small, 35 piece orchestra. "It's a small story about a small boy," explained Giacchino. "I wanted to stay true to the story. In every one of his projects, Giacchino's priority is staying true to the story. "That's my number one rule," explains Giacchino. "Don't forget what it's about. I never wanna write music that I just wanna hear. The music I write has to belong to that story."
Giacchino used single instruments, harps and guitar to underscore the emotion of the story. He wrote songs with with lyricist Elyssa Samsel and even used his connection with Paul McCartney to get the rights to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" for a scene about hysteria for Hitler. The score is primarily drawn from Jojo’s emotions. The main melody is played throughout the movie in several different ways. While it begins as a march it later becomes an adagio during the battle as Jojo’s own nationalism begins to transform into something else. "I wanted to create something that began as one thing at the start of the film and ended as something completely different," said Giacchino.
Jojo Rabbit is written and directed by Taika Waititi based upon the book “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens, has been nominated for two Golden Globe® awards and was named Winner one of AFI's top 10 movies of the year.
Listen to Sarah Mason and Sergio Pinheiro's interview with Michael Giacchino below or download on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.