That there’s a brand new Marvel Studios movie coming to Disney+ this week is kind of amazing all on its own. That the film introduces several brand new characters as well as a whole new section of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is even better. And that the film’s director just so happens to be one of this generation’s most accomplished and prolific filmmakers is just the cherry on top.
However while Michael Giacchino, director of Werewolf By Night, has worked on everything from Spider-Man and Thor to The Batman, The Incredibles, Star Trek, Star Wars, Mission Impossible, and much much more, he’s never done that from the director’s chair. He’s usually a composer but now he’s doing that on top of making Werewolf By Night his feature directorial debut. It introduces not just the titular Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), and Man-Thing into the MCU, it opens up a whole new world of monsters, monster hunting, and more in the same universe with Spider-Man, Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy and everyone else.
The film debuts on Disney+ October 7 but had its world premiere last month at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, where we spoke to Giacchino via video chat (he was unable to attend in person due to covid). In our discussion, we talked about the film’s place in the MCU, its length (it runs under an hour), how it pays homage to monster movies of the past, and we even snuck in a question about his music for Spider-Man: No Way Home. Check it out.
Germain Lussier, io9: Last night after the Fantastic Fest screening, you mentioned you were the one who kind of pitched this to [Marvel Studios President] Kevin Feige. So I’m curious, what came next in the process? Is it just like full speed ahead or does he have to figure out how or if it fits into the MCU?
Michael Giacchino: I think there’s a point where you just sit down and go, “Okay, now what?” We’re now in the official phase of “Now what?” And I don’t think anyone has the answers or has put too much thought into it just yet, because we’ve been just working, working, working, trying to get this one finished. And honestly, when you’re working on something like this, something that is so different and so new, you don’t even know if it’s going to work. You don’t know what’s going to happen with it, how it’s going to be received, who knows? So now is the point where we can kind of start evaluating all of that and see what we want to do next. But I can say that I absolutely adore these characters so much and I have such an affinity for them. And I would love to see them go on and do something more.
io9: This character is often thought of in tandem with Moon Knight because Moon Knight debuted in his comic. Was he ever a part of it? Or maybe did the fact that he’s already part of the MCU, or was coming at that point, make this a little easier to get done?
Giacchino: I don’t know. I mean, we never even discussed him when we were working on any of this. Moon Knight, he’s in a couple of issues of Werewolf By Night, but he’s not the focus of that at all and he has his own sort of thing that he goes off and does. So we never felt obligated to even consider that. It was more for me, it was about we’re introducing a new character. It’s enough to do that. I didn’t want to muddle it with a bunch of things that were happening elsewhere in the MCU. And at the same time, I’m not messing with any of those things that are happening. They are all still happening. It all exists. It’s all there. We’re just looking at one night in the life of Elsa and Jack. What is that like? What was it like to be them? And then from there, who knows?
io9: And we don’t even know when this night is. It could have been in the 1940s. It could have been in the future. We don’t really know.
Giacchino: That’s the great thing. In my mind, it is happening somewhere within the MCU but we purposely never say when, why, how, all of that, because to me, it was just about these characters. Let’s worry about these people for tonight and see what happens.
io9: So much of this film is obviously an homage to monster movies of the past. Was there ever a discussion to maybe extend that to the action or filmmaking? Maybe have the camera be a little bit more locked off like it was back then?
Giacchino: No. They always allowed me to do what I wanted to do. What’s your version of this, and this is my version of this. And it was sort of a mix of the films of the ‘30s, more modern films. It was a nice mix of all of those things. Even doing it stylistically, we were constantly discovering it as we went, and I was mostly concentrating on making sure that the characters were relatable. That the characters were people that you had empathy for, that you liked and the first way to do that is to hire brilliant actors like Gael and Laura who I think were incredible in this. And they both brought a humanity and an empathy that I so dearly wanted and they killed it. They did an amazing job, the two of them.
io9: Yes, they’re excellent. Another one of the choices you make, obviously, is the black and white. And it works great, especially because you can actually have blood, actual blood, in an MCU movie. So I’m curious, was there a line you couldn’t cross or how do you deal with making a horror movie with blood in the framework of a Disney+ Marvel project?
Giacchino: You know, I never thought about it too much while we were making it. I just kept saying, this is what I want to do. And sometimes it was very spontaneous on set. There are a couple of moments and a couple of those fights where some of the more brutal elements were made up right then and there and we did it because, you know, you don’t know until you’re sometimes on set and you’re getting an idea for what’s happening. And no one ever said “No.” I just kept pushing and pushing. And I figured, look, if someone’s going to really want not want this, they’ll say it. But we never got that and I do think being in black and white helped us quite a bit in getting away with a lot more than we would have had it been just all in color.
io9: Yes for sure. Now, my biggest problem with the film is wanting more of it. I think when I first heard about it, it was conceived as this Halloween special. But how did you settle on the length? Why was that decision made? And do you ever think about it being expanded?
Giacchino: I think bringing in characters like this, it was such a new and different thing, [keeping it short] felt like the right thing. Let’s just do it in a very contained thing, push it out into the world and see what happens. There was never a mandate as to the timing of it, how long it had to be. But we always felt like, let’s keep it under an hour. Let’s see what happens there.
I constantly referred to it as “Think of this as an episode of The Twilight Zone.” A self-contained story that you sit down, you watch, you get a beginning, middle, and end, and you don’t have to worry about what came before or what goes after. You can wonder about that if you want. That’s part of the fun of these things. And what I loved as a kid was having those discussions with your friends, like, “Well, what do you think happened after that?” And that’s great. That’s what I want to encourage is that sort of creativity in your head. I feel like if we spoon-feed too much we’re not doing anyone the service of using their own imagination for seeing what’s going to happen next. That’s a big part of what I loved about growing up and watching these things.
io9: And I think you definitely expand our imaginations by introducing not just Werewolf By Night, but Man-Thing, even though he’s never called that. I kept waiting for a moment where you’d call him “A Giant-Size Man-Thing.” Did you ever consider any moments like that?
Giacchino: [Laughs] Yes, we had all those jokes. We thought about all of that stuff and but it never felt quite right, felt a little too cheeky. And calling him by his actual name was important to me because it was a way to humanize him. Because the world we live in today is not always great, you know? And people tend to look at something that is different and want to demonize it and eliminate it. And I have a lot of empathy for anyone who has to deal with a situation like that. So I wanted to make sure, first and foremost, that these things were put out into the world in a way which you’re like, “Oh, they have a problem. They need help.” To really foster an empathetic approach to something that is different, to me, was very important for this story.
io9: Wow that’s great. Now, you worked with Marvel before on Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor—how, if at all, did those experiences working with them as a composer prepare you for working with them as a director?
Giacchino: I think all of the scoring I’ve done over the years has prepared me for this in ways that I never could have thought of. I’ve worked with the greatest directors on the planet and I’m so fortunate and lucky to get to watch them do what they do. And a lot of times I go to set just for fun because I love filmmaking. I’ve been doing it since I was nine years old. I’m just a nerd about it. I love it. Also, I am involved in a lot of story discussions with them along the way. Even if I’m just scoring a film, I’m involved a lot more than you normally would be for someone who does what I do. So it all prepared me. It all helped get me to here.
And [Marvel] is such a collaborative group. It’s such a wonderful group to work with because it really is the epitome of being a kid with a group of friends making something. That’s the true feeling of it. And I remember the first time working with J.J. Abrams. That’s how I felt. Both of us were like, “Can you even believe they’re letting us do this movie?” We were working on Mission Impossible III. We were just dumbfounded that they would even let us do this. And it was such a wonderful feeling, that feeling from our youth that we had and I feel the same here with everyone at Marvel.
io9: I have one more question, and I want to pivot a little bit to Spider-Man: No Way Home. I think it was awesome that we got to not only get those actors together, we got your music with [Danny] Elfman’s music and [James] Horner’s music. How did you find out that was going to happen and what was that experience like trying to like balance all those themes?
Giacchino: Well, I knew pretty early on what was going to happen. And I’m always very careful about fan service because fan service can sometimes ruin a film in itself if it’s not handled in the right way. I wanted to make sure that we were using the themes from those characters, but doing it not indiscriminately. Doing it very targeted and making sure that when it happens, it was the right moment for it to happen. Because if you do that, as an audience, I think you feel way more than if you just pound someone over the head with an old theme over and over and over again, you know? But if you save it, do it right, it’s like storytelling. There’s a time to reveal things and there’s a time to hide things. And musical storytelling is no different. So it was a balancing act of knowing when to push and when to pull back.
But the film was designed in such a way and Jon Watts is such a fun and great director, that he knew what he was doing too. So we were very much in alignment in terms of when to use them and when not to use them for their maximum effect. Because I’m a fan of these things too. I’m a huge fan. So it was about doing what I would have loved if I was sitting in that theater.
Werewolf By Night comes to Disney+ on October 7.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.