Many years of production pay dividends for the team behind Disney/Pixar’s award-winning musical masterpiece.Latina composer and songwriter Germaine Franco, who co-wrote 4 original songs for the upcoming Disney Pixar talks about what went into creating the feature film COCO.
What’s it been like getting such positive feedback from audiences after they heard the songs you composed for the animated movie Coco?
Franco– Working on Coco has been an amazing experience. It is wonderful to see how people in Mexico and the US have responded so well to the work. The creative team of, Lee Unkrich, director, Adrian Molina, co-director, and Darla K. Anderson as well as Michael Giacchino, composer, was fantastic. I loved collaborating with all of them.
Was it even more rewarding considering how long you worked on them?
Franco– Working on the project for over four years allowed me to develop as an artist and co-songwriter. I was able to explore and experiment on songs with Adrian Molina, co-songwriter.
Take us behind the scenes of how all your music came together since I understand you led more than 50 Mexican musicians from multiple ensembles.
Franco– I originally started on the project as an arranger, orchestrator, and co-song producer for Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. We worked together on the song “Remember Me” which you hear throughout the film. I was asked to create an over the top large orchestral version of the song which would feel like the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema meets Hollywood. That was really fun to do with the great song they wrote. I enjoyed the process. Later, I was asked to start co-writing with Adrian Molina, co-director and screenwriter. He is an amazing artist. He has this incredible poetic sentiment. We wrote the following songs together Everyone Loves Juanita” , “Un Poco Loco” “The World Es Mi Familia” and “Proud Corazón” Also we worked with Michael Giacchino on “Much Needed Advice”.
Regarding the Mexico trip, we traveled to CDMX for a week of recording with over 50 Mexican musicians which Camilo Lara of Mexican Institute of Sound contracted. The groups include Mono Blanco, Mexico’s premiere jarocho group, Banda Tierra Mojada, an amazing banda group from Oaxaca, Trio Los Principes, a romantic trio, Celos Duarte, a world class folkloric harpist and violinist, as well as several session musicians. While there we recorded additional tracks on “ Remember Me” and “Un Poco Loco”, as well as some original source music written by Michael Giacchino, and some traditional songs and arrangements which I orchestrated and produced. Overall, it was a musicial and cultural exchange, a great experience.
While I know you’re no stranger to working on animated films, have any of your previous projects felt as monumental, especially with you taking the reins?
Franco– I really enjoy working on animated projects. I learned the craft from my mentor John Powell. It’s a powerful genre. It is very much a collaborative effort from the beginning of the process, especially if there are several songs in the production. This project is monumental to me because it celebrates Mexican culture, and it is the the first where I was part of the primary writing and production team. I am very thankful to Disney and Pixar for the opportunity.
I mean, you seem to have the backing of the entire country of Mexico by the way your music embraced their culture. Did going around the country draw your inspiration for these songs or was it a combination of things?
Franco– I spent many years on the border of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, where I grew up. That is where I learned about Mexican music. Also, I traveled and lived in Mexico while in college as I was performing Latin music with my own latin-jazz band. I had the hunger years ago. To me, Mexican music is a treasure. I was happy to celebrate it on this film.
How do you think you’ve evolved in this industry as a composer from your early days to now?
Franco– I am still evolving everyday. That is a wonderful aspect of music, you can study it for your entire life, and not know everything. I still practice, I still write, I still study music. I intend to keep learning.
Is there some magic formula?
Franco– The best advice is to hone your craft, learn the technology, read and write music, learn about all styles, and develop into a musician and or composer who can contribute an artistic voice to the world. We need more musicians, artists, creators more than any time in the world.
When you were first asked to pen some songs for the film, what was your first reaction considering it’s a film for kids, but with the usually haunting topic of the Land of the Dead?
Franco– I think as a Mexican- American, I didn’t find the topic haunting at all. To me, the film is about celebrating the lives of our ancestors and even our countrymen or women. Also, it is about following your dream. These are very relevant topics, as I have lived that myself. Working in the field of music is no easy life. It takes courage and persistence. To be asked to write for any Pixar project is a true honor. I was thrilled to have the opportunity.
What would you tell families indecisive on having their children see the film based on the theme?
Franco– It is a good idea that families discuss the topic of passing on, death, and how to celebrate the lives of our loved ones when they leave the body. Most people are saying their kids love it.
Now, accolades are always nice, but I got to imagine being the first Latina composer to ever be accepted into the Music Branch of The Academy of Motion Pictures is high on the list. What’s that award honor mean to you considering you’re the first and nobody can ever take that away?
Franco– It is a true honor because it’s very tough to get into the Academy. I was very happy and excited as you can guess. Overall, I was mostly reflected on the fact that I have had many great mentors in my life who got me to this point. They are Phil Kraus, Emil Richards, Luis Conte (percussionist), John Powell, Hans Zimmer, Siedah Garrett, Laura Karpman, Peter Golub, Sergio Mendes. Thank you to all!
Are you currently working on your next project(s) or have you gotten some much needed vacation?
Franco– I am working on an independent film at the moment. I did manage to go to Mexico for the premiere of the film. It was great to be there and celebrate the film with Mexican audiences. We all cried together
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