I had the chance to talk to Jake Monaco who is the composer for the all new Disney+ series Forky Asks a Question. This was my first time talking with a composer, so it was fascinating to learn about the process behind the music on our favorite series and films.
Thanks so much Jake for sitting down and talking with us at Rotoscopers.com. Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got started as a composer.
Thank you, Rachel. My name is Jake Monaco and I’m a film composer based out of LA. I started playing guitar at a young age and then I picked it back up when I was in high school. I started playing in some bands doing the singer/songwriter thing. We toured around a bit during college and for a year or two afterwards which eventually led to me applying, and being accepted into, the USC Film Scoring program.
Just before graduating the eight-month insensitive program, I was lucky enough to be offered a position working with another composer, which led to an 8-year mentorship.
How did you go from an idea of playing music strictly to wanting to play music for film?
I always found it a little bit difficult to just conjure up an idea for a song or a classical piece of music. It was hard to find a reason to write something. So, I started to pay a little more attention to the music in film and how it supported the story and the characters, and the connection just clicked. There was a reason to write music.
When you work on a project how much is dictated by the director vs you experimenting and coming up with the score?
I think the most fulfilling scores are the result of a collaborative process where the director, producers, even studio execs, weigh in with their thoughts and we hone in the direction. Then I step away for a bit and bring back some demos based on what they were able to share with me.
I think the more open the creative team is to experimentation the better. It’s fun to be able to come up with new and creative ideas and be able to pitch them. Sometimes they are very well received and sometimes they completely fall by the wayside, either way is great because we are a step closer to what will best service the project. I love the feedback. More than that I love seeing people getting excited about something that they maybe didn’t think of before.
Do you see the end product first? At what point do they bring you on to write the music?
For each product it varies a little bit. I have been on a handful of projects where I have been brought in during pre-production; where they haven’t even shot the film yet. I think there’s something fun about that because they haven’t had the time to piece everything together yet and put in temp music from other films or productions to try and get a feel for the scene. If brought in early enough the temp doesn’t yet play a role in influencing the creative team in one regard or another.
Based on the script we might have a dialogue where they want a more traditional sounding score or one that might be more contemporary. Just based on those very rough discussions, it’s fun to be able to come up with brand new ideas and not feel like I have to be slavish to anything the team has grown attached to.
In other circumstances, I am brought in after picture lock and I’m told there’s 4 weeks until they have to finish the film. Temp music has been spotted (or placed) throughout the entire project we are are able to have intelligent discussions about what it is they like about the music.
Is it the fact that it’s commenting on certain things that are happening? Is it a specific sound that’s in there that they are gravitating too? Is it something in the pace that seems to be working? So, if I can crack that kind of information it will help me get on board and proceed in the correct direction so I can tie everything together cohesively throughout the entire project.
For something like Forky Asks a Question do you use the Randy Newman score in Toy Story 4 as a guide or is it very different?
Crazy enough it is very much removed from the sonic world that Randy established throughout all 4 Toy Story films. Bob Peterson, the director of Forky Asks a Question, had an idea that he wanted to bring in a very light jazz-centric track that would give a little bit of pace.
It felt classic; the idea that there is a portion of it that feels familiar. I think Randy’s score for all the Toy Story scores do a very good job of instilling that sense of nostalgia. Bob was able to keep that just in a very different way.
What was interesting is that usually in animation there is a lot of commenting on what is happening in the scene: maybe leading up to a joke or commenting on a joke coming out of it. Bob’s approach was not to comment on what was happening because Forky, as a character, was able to carry a scene very successfully by himself.
Being able to not do so much commenting with the music and really support what was happening in the scene by providing the right tone for what’s happening was more important. This was one aspect which was a little difficult for me to wrap my head around at first. Once we got into the first couple of episodes it definitely clicked, and I was on the same page with Bob. His direction was very intentional and a great approach to the series.
It’s got to be a thrilling and incredible experience to hear your music along with a Pixar project?
It is incredibly surreal. Every time there is an opportunity to work with Pixar I still can’t believe it. It’s an incredible group of people. Everybody up there just loves what they are doing and they are all doing it for the right reasons. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to be a part of that.
That’s great. What do you think that Forky Asks a Question is going to provide that’s special?
We don’t get to know the character of Forky that much in the movie because there are a lot of other things going on. He definitely was an integral part of the film but I started working on these shorts prior to Toy Story 4’s release so my first exposure to Forky was in these shorts. To me going to see Toy Story 4 I felt like I knew much more about Forky than what was being shown in the film. I felt like I had a leg up on the audience. It’s going to be exciting for anyone to watch these shorts that are solely focused on Forky. I think it’s going to be fun for all.
Well, we are really excited for it. We loved Forky in Toy Story 4. I don’t know anyone that didn’t like Forky.
Tony Hale has done an incredible job. He captures the very unique personality of Forky.
It’s been really interesting to talk with you. I appreciate you taking time to answer all of our questions. I know people will be very curious to find out what goes on behind the scenes with the music in a project like Forky Asks a Question. Thanks again.
Thank YOU, Rachel!