A Zoom malfunction meant we had to restart midway through our conversation, but Oscar-nominated composer Germaine Franco was more than understanding — because Encanto was a COVID production. “Usually you want to be in the same room so everybody’s listening to the same mix, the same speaker, the same environment,” she tells Consequence via Zoom. “But I was presenting cues on Zoom, and everyone had different headphones. It was so tricky to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to play this. I have no idea what it sounds like on your end.’”
Prior to Encanto, Franco’s film work included The Book of Life, Dope, Tag, and Coco — her Oscar nomination this year, for the lively Colombian-influenced score of Disney’s latest animated feature, makes history, as she’s only the sixth woman ever to be nominated for composing an original score, and the first woman of color. She’s also the first woman to ever individually compose the score for a Disney animated film.
While many composers take on multiple projects at once, Franco does her best to only do one at a time. “On Encanto, I turned down a lot of work. I felt it was very important. I wanted to focus on this and give it all my attention. So I think it was a good choice.”
Franco wasn’t able to say what her next project is, but in the interview below, transcribed and edited for clarity, she takes us behind her path to becoming a composer, the work she put into involving Colombian instruments and Latin musicians in the film’s sound, and how long a music cue intended to introduce one of songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs needed to be.
Elsewhere, she addresses the fact that at this year’s Oscars, the category for which she’s nominated, won’t be presented as part of the live ceremony. She also explains how she approaches being someone known often for being “the first” — and why she’s feeling more optimistic these days about people of color and women advancing in this field.
Tell me about your origin story. How did this end up being the path you followed?
I started playing piano and percussion as a young girl and was in band and orchestra, marching band, concert band. Any ensemble I could find, I loved it. That was what I wanted to do, I just had a passion for music. I played in the El Paso Youth Symphony, went to Rice University, studied at the Shepherd School of Music — I was training to be an orchestral percussionist.
Later I wound up, while I was in school, having a band and earning money with an ensemble, playing different events and concerts and wound up writing, you know, charts and arrangements. Then I worked in theater, and through theater, I got into film. My first film I worked on in LA, through Universal Hispanic Film Project, and loved it — I was on the Fox scoring stage for my first film with Armin Steiner, who’s an amazing mixer, mixed hundreds of films, and he called ASCAP and said, “You gotta hear this person.” So that’s how I got into film.