Captain Marvel Composer Pinar Toprak Talks Creating the Score for DC's Stargirl
Composer Pinar Toprak made waves in 2018 when it was announced that she would score Marvel Studios' Captain Marvel, something that made her the first woman to score a major superhero film, but while it was a major achievement, it's far from Toprak's first foray into the world of superheroes. She also provided the score for several episodes of SYFY's Krypton and contributed additional music for Justice League. Now, Toprak is making beautiful music for superheroes once again with her score for DC Universe's upcoming new series, Stargirl.
The series, which will debut Monday, May 18 on DC Universe and then have its network debut on The CW the next day on Tuesday, May 19, follows will follow Courtney (Brec Bassinger), a high school sophomore as she moves to Blue Valley, Nebraska after her mother (Amy Smart) marries Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson) and inspires an unlikely group of young heroes to stop the villains of the past. Helping to tell Courtney's inspiring story will be Toprak's score that itself is a bit unique. Toprak scored the series using an orchestra for each episode of the series, creating epic music fitting an epic superheroine!
ComicBook.com recently had a chance to talk with Toprak about her work on Stargirl, her advice to aspiring composers, and even what superpower she'd want if she could have one. Read on for our chat with Toprak below.
DC's Stargirl debuts on DC Universe Monday, May 18 and on The CW May 19.
ComicBook.com: Captain Marvel is probably one of my favorite movies. I resonated a lot with that film, and I think a good chunk of that also comes from the sound experience as well. So, when I heard you were doing Stargirl, my music fan girl jumped out. What drew you to Stargirl?
Pinar Toprak: Well, Geoff Johns, who was the creator of the show, he reached out to me and it was a no-brainer because I'm a huge fan of Geoff Johns and everything that he's done. We met and I learned more about Courtney, the character, who was named after his sister who passed away in a plane accident.
The way he was talking about the character and what he was envisioning for the show, it really touched my heart. Obviously, I love this genre to begin with. So, it was a no-brainer and working with Geoff was just one of the best experiences of my career, to be honest.
Did you know much about Stargirl as a character from comics before meeting with Geoff?
I actually didn't. I knew about the name, but I didn't really know where she was standing in the world. It was just a vague awareness, but not very detailed.prevnext
When I was watching Stargirl screeners, one of the things that jumped out to me is that it has a very unique score to it. I think I read this, that each episode has its own score with the orchestra. I feel like that gives each episode almost its own epic feel.
Yeah. It was really important. The very first in-person meeting I had with Geoff, he was showing me some preliminary ideas. This is before the pilot was even shot. I was talking to him about what he was envisioning for the sound and the style we were going for. It's not very common for TV shows to have live orchestra for every episode. It's definitely a beautiful blessing and a gift, to be honest, which doesn't get gifted often.
When I heard the style, I told him, "We really need that human touch. Yes, this could be done with computer, we can have beautiful mockups and things like that, but it needed to have this timeless element to it." The writing style that he was looking for was also... There's definitely some synced elements, futuristic things and sound design elements that go into score as well.
But bulk of it is almost like Back to the Future sort of style. We wanted to have that American, suburban, timeless kind of writing. The action writing, for the most part... There's some really traditional callbacks in the writing style. For that I just threw it out there to see if we could actually have an orchestra and Geoff made it happen for us. So, I'm incredibly, incredibly grateful. It definitely made a difference.prevnext
There's definitely a warmth to the music that comes through that you get with a live orchestra as opposed to, like you said, those more computerized elements. This is going to sound terrible, but it's like listening to a record versus listening to a CD. There's a warmth to it.
It definitely comes out in the course of each episode and it's beautiful.
When you mentioned the more traditional elements of it, were there any particular traditional music pieces or specific traditional styles, or artists, that you had in mind when you were trying to weave that into the score?
We talked quite a bit about Back to the Future. Alan Silvestri. That came into the discussion quite a bit. I love that score. Alan Silvestri. You watched the screeners. So, you can tell, it's a pretty cinematic show.
There's CGIs in everything. It's a very cinematic show. We wanted every episode to feel like this cinematic, film experience. I wanted to make it sound as little TV-like as possible if that makes sense. Not that there's anything wrong with it. It's just I wanted it to sound big and epic when it needed to get to that feel.prevnext
Is there a specific sequence in the show overall or specific episode that, from your standpoint as a composer, is your, quote unquote, "favorite" or one that you feel like really exemplified that, "Let's give it something epic to take it a little bit off that small screen?"
Well, definitely it gets more and more epic as it goes on. The last couple of episodes, especially, are quiet grand, which I won't give away. I think every time they've had a new character emerging and having their own origin stories, that was all very exciting, because what is the sound of that person? What does is that character?
Every episode had their own unique way of... I really approached each one like a film of its own. Obviously, there's continuation and connections all throughout, but I can't pick one. But near the end, definitely, there are some pretty epic moments. The last couple of episodes.prevnext
You also did the score for Captain Marvel. I know TV is a little different than the big-movie situation. How was working on the sound of Stargirl different than Captain Marvel? Or, if it wasn't terribly different, in what ways was it similar?
The writing is writing. Composition process, the actual process of creation coming up with themes, ideas and the craft of writing itself, it's the same no matter what the medium you're writing for. In terms of the overall process, we have 13 episodes to tell a story and so that's just a different way of evolving. We have a long time to develop characters unlike having two hours to tell the story. The pace is quite different.
The process in general is quite different too, but Geoff gave me... We just had a really great understanding of what we needed to do. So that freedom and that trust that he gave, and the support, was just a blast to work on. Captain Marvel, I'm a huge fan of all and everything Marvel and DC. I grew up with both so, for me, that was a dream come true to be a part of that universe. It's one of those experiences where I was pinching myself every day that this is actually happening.prevnext
One of the things that really jumped out at me, and maybe I'm the only person who sees this because, I, like you, love Marvel and DC. I have my whole life. One of the things that really leapt out at me is that, in a very real way, Captain Marvel, Carol, and Stargirl, Courtney, are in a sense in a similar place when we meet them. They're both coming into their own. They're both learning what it means to be their own hero and finding their identity. Was there anything about the similarity in those two characters that helped you create the sound for Stargirl?
You're absolutely right about coming to their own, but I really tried to separate the experiences and my thought process with both of them and just really treat everyone, every project and every character as their own thing rather than trying to find similarity, if that makes any sense. In my brain when I compartmentalize, separate things, I work better. But there are definitely similarities. Absolutely.prevnext
In terms of how long it took you to create the music for Stargirl, what was the timeline for that? How long did it take for you to build that sound?
Well, I'm trying to remember. The pilot, in general, it always takes a bit longer than the rest of the episodes because once we have the sound established everything moves around a little faster. I worked on the series for several months. The theme and the suite. Usually, when I start writing a project, and I did this for Captain Marvel too, I write a suite of themes and ideas just to get the ball rolling with the showrunners or, if it's a film, for the filmmakers. So, everybody's familiar with the theme, agrees on it and just overall, "Okay, are we living in more of an orchestral world or a hybrid world? What is the sound palette?" That was last summer. Once that gets approved then we just get on a roll with every episode.prevnext
Having a background as a musician, I know that from my own experience and experience with the people that I worked with, every person involved in music has their favor to the people who inspire them. For me, as a flute player, it was always James Galway. What composers would you consider to be your favorites or the ones that really inspire you?
There are few that never change and then there are many that I discover every day, which is a beautiful thing. Growing up, music of Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, John Berry. They really affected me and definitely grew my love and passion for their film composition.
Then over the years... For example, when I did my master's thesis, I did my thesis on John Corigliano, who's primarily a concert classical composer, but he did a few films. One that he did called The Red Violin, which won Oscar too, it had affected me so much that I wanted to dive into his music more. It was a time in my life where it was highly inspirational.
Then classical repertoire in general. I study scores regularly. I'm a huge fan of Mahler, fan of Elgar, the list goes on and on. So, I constantly try to discover and most of what I find is that there's been times of my life I discover different things. When I was studying, let's say, Mahler's second back when I was in school, 20 years ago, I had a very different understanding of that piece than I do now.
I go back, I listen, and I try to train my ear, because I think our ears, they're the most important instrument. If we can't hear it, we can't really create it. Training our ear and just experiencing as many different styles as possible. It's not just classical and film scores. Jazz is a big part of my life. I love listening to jazz and world music. I have a bit of a musical ADD, so I listen to everything.prevnext
If you had any advice for someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps and break into composing for movies and television, what would that advice be?
Persistence, discipline, patience and hard work. There's a big list of things. I think that the first thing is to really believe in yourself and this is what you want to do with your life. Make it your mission and every day do something that will get you closer to that mission. That entails several things obviously.
Improving your craft, not only musicianship, but these days that also equals technology. Improving relationships, being organized, getting a good work ethic and networking. Really knowing that this is a marathon and it takes a while. Before Captain Marvel, I've done 40 films. It took 20 years for my overnight success. It's really resilience, persistence and patience.prevnext
I have to ask, if you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
Hmm. I would love to read people's minds because I think there are so many people who don't say what they think. They don't operate honestly, sometimes for better or worse. I think it would be wonderful to have that transparency. But I would also love to fly. That would be pretty amazing.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.prev