‘Encanto’ Composer Germaine Franco Talks History with Disney Score – Deadline
On Encantocomposer Germaine Franco was tasked with creating a score that didn’t sound like “traditional Disney” – one that would capture “the rhythms” of Colombia and the qualities of magical realism.
Franco says that when she was first approached for the project by directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard, with songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, she responded not only to the “incredible opportunity” to work with this set of first-rate collaborators, but also to the story of a young Latina trying to find her place in her family and, by extension, in the world. “I identified with Mirabel, the protagonist, and then also with the big family… and then also with all the crazy characters,” shares the composer in the latest edition of Deadline’s video series, Production Value. “I loved the aspect of magical realism because I read a lot of literature in Spanish, so the idea of being able to find that essence of magical realism for a score was such a big challenge for me. I really enjoyed it a lot that.
With Encanto, Franco became the first woman to score a Disney animated feature, as well as the first Latina to land an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score, and only the sixth woman to be nominated in that category. The film centers on Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), a Colombian teenager who deals with the frustration of being the only member of her family without magical powers.
To bring Colombia into the film, Franco will adopt the use of region-specific instruments requested by the directors, such as the “twangy” guitar-like instrument known as the tiple, and musical styles ranging from Jaropo to Bullerengue. At the same time, she says, she and the Encanto the team was not looking to make a documentary. “A lot of the folk dances and styles were great, but they don’t increase with the stage and the tension,” she explains. “So you really have to work to incorporate them into the storytelling aspect.”
While some scenes were to feel very Colombian, others took on a more “pan-Latin” feel, incorporating styles of music including tango. Franco’s collaboration with Miranda involved studying his songs for the film and making sure the “rhythm and language” of his score matched, as well as perfecting the transitions between songs and score, orchestrating and to arrange his songs for the orchestra, then to produce sessions with musicians at the Fox lot.
Franco spent several months in the beginning “digging” and perfecting Encanto, exploring questions such as “What does family sound like?” What unifies them? and play with the idea of magical realism. The main challenges on the logistical side of the film, which she called the “biggest undertaking” to date, included how to record and present clues to collaborators amid the Covid pandemic. “The recording… was a big challenge because… all the musicians had to have masks and we had a Covid officer in the room. We had to record differently than we normally would, so everything took longer,” explains the composer. “We recorded for four and a half weeks, and it was amazing, all at Fox and Warner Bros., and then we did some in Colombia too. [over Zoom].”
Since Encanto, Franco learned to do more with less – limiting herself, in terms of the number of themes she would write, given the number of songs in the film. “I had two main themes that were constantly evolving and changing within the score, and I think that really helped me to continue to focus on the story and develop that theme until the point where… it fully blossoms in its fully orchestrated version,” she says. “If you always go back to the root, which is the theme, I think that really helps the whole score to have an arc from beginning to end, and I hope to continue to do that.”
In retrospect, says Franco, working on Encanto was “truly a great experience” given the support and trust she felt from not only Bush, Howard and Miranda, but also producers Yvett Merino and Clark Spencer, Disney music executives Matt Walker and Tom MacDougall and the entire studio team.
Then there’s the experience of seeing the film in the world, which was extraordinary in itself. While earning three Oscar nominations and countless others from various award bodies, the film also managed to top the US Billboard charts, with “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and “Surface Pressure” among his most popular songs. “Being nominated for the Oscars is a huge honor and it’s very humbling because seeing your peers vote for you is a very special moment in your life,” Franco said. “Also to be able to share this with my mother who drove me to all these [music] lessons and share this proud moment for women and people of color.
Franco fell in love with music growing up in El Paso, Texas. She began playing drums and piano at age 10, participating in several school musical ensembles as well as the El Paso Youth Orchestra before heading to the Shepherd School of Music from Rice University on scholarship. There she played in the marching band and formed a Latin jazz band – and it was there that she began to experiment with writing her own music. Later, she would serve as a percussionist for Broadway musicals and play for ensembles such as the Houston Pops Orchestra and the Texas Chamber Orchestra, switching completely to film when her artist brother, Michael Petry, introduced her to composer John Powell. , and she began to work under him.
Initially, Franco was simply “watching” Powell’s work. But soon she would be playing percussion on his sheet music, “programming and helping him make sounds” and producing sessions for him, also providing additional music for his projects and helping with orchestration. “I was really immersed in it and made it my goal to learn as much as possible,” Franco says. “I would get up at four and do my own work, then I would go up to his studio, and I worked on 35 feature films with him, which was a good training ground, I think.”
Franco’s first project with Powell was Italian workwith other memorable collaborations including that of George Miller happy feet and DreamWorks’ How to train your dragon movies. Those which constitute the greatest preparation for his work on Encanto included 20th Century Fox Rio movies and Disney/Pixar coconutwho helped her understand “how to integrate” the score in and out of songs, and how to direct artists from several countries towards a creative goal.
Powell’s key takeaways included the importance of attention to tone and the variation in instrument palette for each film, as well as perspective on how best to collaborate with a director. “The other thing is he’s such a great storyteller, I learned so much about really following every sequence and scene and figuring out, what’s the intent?” said Franco. “What are you trying to do?”
Franco continues to consult Powell on his work to this day, after discussing Encanto extensively with his mentor, and also brought to the project the unique perspective and skill set cultivated over his career, as someone who started out as a performer. “I think having the percussion gave me a really good solid rhythmic foundation, and also learning to work with tempos and moving and shifting time,” she says. “Then, too, I tend to play to my own scores. A lot of things I play, like the marimba. I play the drums. I sang the melodies while I wrote them Encantothen I asked the whole choir to do them.
Franco had worked with many musicians in his Encanto orchestra on past projects, and hoped to foster an “on-stage vibe” that felt collaborative, rather than “clicky” all the time. “I want it to be more human. So we’re just going to try new things on the spot, and I’ll go out there during the session and play. I feel like those things helped me get a its really nice and cohesive because a lot of the players on this amazing score that they’ve played on, they’ve put their heart and soul into it,” she says, “and I feel like it’s because we’ve played so much other times before that when we go in there they already know what I am, and they know what to try and they know they can come up with ideas, and that’s a good report.
In the future, Franco would like to try his hand at music for a sci-fi project and a period drama. “I would also love to continue working with filmmakers who are so excited about the music and want to collaborate and explore the depths of how the score can help tell the story,” she says. “I’m all for that.”
Franco has also been recognized for her work on Encanto with an award from the Society of Composers & Lyricists, as well as nominations for the Annie Awards, Golden Globes and elsewhere. Check out highlights from our conversation with the composer above.