HFPA in Conversation: Germaine Franco Composes Film Magic

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros August 28, 2019
Composer Germaine Franco

getty images/jc olivera

When she was a little girl, Germaine Franco played piano and drums.  Decades later she became the first Latina composer to join the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science music branch.“I was a young girl living on the border of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.  And all of my years growing up I was a music kind of nerd.  I started playing in the 5th grade in the band.  And then at that point, as soon as I started playing drums I was obsessed, but before that, we had a piano in our home so I would sit at the piano on my own.  Once I showed my family that I was interested I started taking private piano lessons, private drum lessons and I played in the El Paso Youth Orchestra,” Franco tells HFPA journalist Yenny Nun at a recording studio in Culver City.

Nobody in her family was a musician. “But music was all around us at that time growing up.”

When she started her studies at Rice University Shepherd School of Music in Houston she discovered that she wanted to write music. “I was taking the traditional conservatory classes of harmony orchestration and I realized that I can put those down and people were playing them.  I had a Latin jazz group, and I played all of the traditional Mexican favorites and then I also played just jazz.  And I had people that were interpreting my ideas and that was the first thing that gave the spark.  Then I came to L.A. after graduating school and I got hired by the Los Angeles Theater Center.  I was a music director for some of the Latino theater labs and I started to enjoy putting music with the story.”

At the time Universal Studios had a program called the Hispanic Film Project. “That was my first experience scoring a film.  I did a 30-minute short.  They gave us the Fox scoring stage.  So there I was with all my instruments, I’d written the whole thing on one little tiny keyboard and I had it on a computer, back then it was the green Mac and I found this incredible world opened to me.”

She names John Powell as her true mentor- she worked with him for 11 years on 35 feature films.  After that, she has scored movies like Tag, Coco and, with John Debney, Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Listen to the podcast and hear how her mother supported her music career; how she got a job with John Powell; what is the secret of her success; how film composing is different from regular composing; why math is involved in composing; what she learned at the Sundance Institute; how technology has changed her work; and what kind of research she is doing to find native music and ancient sounds.