We chat with composer Michael Gatt about DC Super Hero Girls…
DC Super Hero Girls have been around since 2015, originally premiering with a toy line and webseries, but when Emmy winning writer/producer Lauren Faust announced she was relaunching the series for Cartoon Network fans and critics immediately began anticipating the return. One of the reasons being Faust’s extensive portfolio, including bringing My Little Pony back to life with the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Another reason being the success and demand for more female super hero projects. DC Super Hero Girls follows the adventures of teenage versions of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Bumblebee, Batgirl, Zatanna, and Green Lantern, who are students at Metropolis High School. Warner Bros. official description, “The DC Super Hero Girls franchise provides kids with a relatable world filled with aspirational characters, immersive stories, and action-packed missions that inspire viewers to be smart, courageous and empowered to be an everyday Super Hero.”
One of the creatives helping breathe new life into the franchise is composer Michael Gatt. Gatt is no stranger to animation, he has scored multiple projects for Illumination/Universal featuring characters from Minions, Despicable Me, Sing and The Secret Life of Pets. When asked about his work on DC Super Hero Girls he says, “Each episode is scored almost entirely from scratch. As an artist, this is a real gift, it means I’m doing something new and different every week.” Below Michael goes more in depth about his creative process and working with Lauren. Read the exclusive interview below.
What do you use as a source of inspiration for the score?
I used to feel that coming to composing later in life versus just out of school was not an asset and have found just the opposite. All the life experience outside the studio is really what informs how and what I write in the studio. DC Super Hero Girls really calls on so many of the different roads I’ve taken in my musical journey. Along with the show calling for score for action, comedy and drama, there are plenty of moments where the line between source music and score is blurred and I’ll be asked to write something that may sound like a pop song that was licensed but is actually original score that plays to picture. Along with the other film and televisions scoring I’ve done, having played in bands and written for commercials, songwriting, jingles, as well as traveling to over 60 countries hearing and playing the music of local cultures along the way. All of it comes into play when scoring on this show.
How did you originally get connected with Lauren Faust, whom relaunched the show?
Often the door opening currency in show business or any other industry for that matter is pre-existing relationships. That said, as I like to tell aspiring composers, it is still possible to go in cold and make something happen. As with the SyFy series Blood Drive and Braid, so it was with DC Super Hero Girls. My agent and I did not have any pre-existing connections with anyone on these projects. My agent sent me the DC Super Hero Girls reel request which had gone out to all the composer agencies. I was so excited when I saw that Lauren Faust was doing a DC show, I started writing music that very morning for a reel submission that went out that same day. This led to a meeting where Lauren referenced these exact tracks that I had written for the reel. Ultimately, she brought me on to the show and I’m so grateful and honored to be collaborating with her and all involved.
How involved is Lauren Faust with the score?
I cannot overstate how involved Lauren is with the score. We have a very detailed spotting session for every episode where we watch each scene and talk at length about its emotional thread and explore ideas on where we may want to take the score. Then I’ll score the episode and this is followed by a review process where we tweak and dig into every nuance in hopes of maximizing the role the score can play in the episode. As well it has been really great to co-write with Lauren for some of the songs that happen inside the show. You can hear one of them in the Sweet Justice movie, an 80’s leaning ballad that comes on the radio as Babs is being driven home by her Dad after a rough day, the song carries into the radio in her room and she starts actually singing along with the song…
As for musical directions that we explore in the score of the show…scoring animation can often mean scoring by the second, and the 11-minute episode length for DC Super Hero Girls makes this even more the case as there is a ton of storytelling in a short amount of time. This translates into a score that has to make a lot of emotional turns quickly and smoothly. As well, we we’re dipping in and out of all different genres, rock, pop, jazz, punk orchestral, 8 bit, EDM, metal, mariachi, yes even mariachi to name a few!
Do you have a favorite episode you’ve scored so far?
I was just tasked with putting a clip reel together for a coming SCL event where I’ll be on a panel talking about the show. This meant going back through all the episodes and it’s a testament to Lauren and everyone on the series that every single episode is really quite special and unique. There is nothing formulaic about this series, every episode is like a standalone movie. This is why there is very little or no reuse of score from one episode to the next. For example, the #Burrito Bucket episode is populated by Batgirl’s theme however it’s all done in a Latin/mariachi vibe. #MeetTheCheetah, has our hero and villain themes but the episode plays and is scored in the horror vein.
Though I don’t have a favorite, a couple moments that come to mind are Star Sapphire going off on Hal Jordan in #HateTriangle which always has me laughing and more dramatic moments like meeting Diana’s mother in #Sweet Justice.
DC Super Hero Girls is a lot different than your Syfy show, Blood Drive. Which do you think is more challenging to score and why?
It’s funny, these two series could not be more different, with one major commonalty in that they both call for an almost entirely new score every episode. Blood Drive was an anthology that payed homage to a different grindhouse film genre in each episode with the score following suit. So I would score over 30 minutes of Blood Driven Spaghetti Western music for one episode that was never be used before or after the spaghetti western episode. And so, it went with the Classic Kung Fu episode, the Halloween horror episode and on and on.
As mentioned above, for other reasons this is the case with DC Super Hero Girls as well. Each episode is scored almost entirely from scratch. As an artist, this is a real gift, it means I’m doing something new and different every week.
The only “challenge” for either is time. Relatively speaking we’re talking about a great deal of diverse music turned around very quickly. Before scoring long form TV and film I spent many years scoring commercials and have found it was the ultimate training for scoring series like Blood Drive and DC Super Hero Girls as commercials move VERY fast, I would often be turning around multiple broadcast ready pieces of music with same day turnarounds in every genre imaginable.
The series relaunched with the film DC Super Hero Girls: Sweet Justice. How would you describe your score for that film in a few words? Did you do anything musically different in the film, then in the series?
We spent a great deal of time and effort exploring the score for the characters and show before putting anything out the in the world. This is why, everything from The Late Batsby theatrical short that preceded the Sweet Justice film, has the very themes and sounds that populate the Sweet Justice film as well as the episodes from the series. You can hear the signature themes and sounds for each character in all. From guitar driven surf music for Batgirl with big brass stabs stinging her comedy and action to full on 8 bit synth for Bumblebee.
Many thanks to Michael Gatt for taking the time for this interview.