‘Star Trek’ composer Michael Giacchino boldly goes to San Diego with a live orchestra for ‘Beyond’s’ Comic-Con premiere

Michael Giacchino
Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino, who won his Oscar for the score of “Up,” at the Walt Disney Studios lot. Giacchino has three films out which he scored: “Tomorrowland,” “Jurassic World” and “Inside Out.”
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Michael Giacchino was boldly going where few composers had gone before at the dawn of the recent explosion of film screenings with live score accompaniment. Since 2012, his scores for “Star Trek,” “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Ratatouille” have been performed live-to-picture around the world.

“When you have the players playing right in front of you, and you’re looking up at the screen, then down at the orchestra — it’s a whole different experience for people,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun.”

It was only a matter of time before the 48-year-old composer, who won an Oscar for 2010’s “Up,” would go a step further and accompany a film’s premiere this way — and only fitting that it be the next chapter in the rebooted “Star Trek” series. “Star Trek Beyond” will kick off Comic-Con with its world premiere at the Embarcadero Marina Park  in San Diego on Wednesday night, and the San Diego Symphony will be performing its score hot off the press.

This will be the first time since the silent film era that a major motion picture has premiered with a live orchestra performing its score.

“It was just one of those things we’ve been wanting to do on every film that I’ve been working on,” says Giacchino. “And for some reason [Paramount] said yes this time.”

This is the composer’s first journey into the final frontier without J.J. Abrams in the captain’s chair (though Abrams did serve as a producer). Justin Lin of the “Fast & Furious” franchise took the crew out this time for a different kind of adventure.

From left, Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine and John Cho appear in a scene from
From left, Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine and John Cho appear in a scene from "Star Trek Beyond." ( Kimberley French/Paramount Pictures via AP)

“Now that the characters are well established, as far as in our new universe, it was an opportunity for someone to take that and go into a different direction,” explains Giacchino. “This film, of all the films, feels the most like an old episode of the show — but if they had $150 million to make that episode.”

These live concerts always involve a hefty amount of preparation, between making sure all parts match what’s heard in the film and the conductor remaining squarely in sync with the picture while wielding an enormous collective of human beings.

“No safety net,” says Giacchino. “You just gotta go for it.”

To accompany a brand new film, though, compounds the difficulty. The picture wasn’t locked until last week, and the orchestra — which received the score Monday — only has (at most) three rehearsals. Fortunately, conductor Richard Kaufman is a veteran of these events, having given the same treatment to films ranging from “Psycho” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with the Pacific Symphony and various other orchestras.

“It’s so important to have a conductor that is in tune with the orchestra, and also loves movies as much as we do,” says Giacchino, who claims to never stress about things going off the rails. “The truth is, all of this is on the shoulders of the conductor. We have an amazing team, but that is the only guy holding the ball. So he’s the one who’s probably stressing.”

The “Beyond” premiere arrives at an exceptionally busy time for Giacchino. He’s in the middle of writing his score for the upcoming Marvel film “Doctor Strange,” which he’ll record in London next month, and he just flew from two performances of the 2009 “Star Trek” at the Hollywood Bowl with the L.A. Phil to a concert screening of “Ratatouille” in San Francisco. In September, he’ll conduct a showcase of his music from the ABC series “Lost” at the John Anson Ford Theater.

What keeps him fueled, ultimately, is his nerdy passion for it all. Giacchino has become the musical voice of several revived pop culture products of yore (“Star Trek,” “Planet of the Apes”), and Comic-Con seemed the ideal place for him to attempt this previously unattempted feat.

“You’re sort of preaching to the choir there,” he says. “What better place to have this premiere than with the fans who are coming to celebrate it there anyway? We only get to do what we do because of our fanbase. For me, it’s like a gift to them — a ‘thank you guys for supporting what we do, and for loving these things as much as we do.’”

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