I can promise that you have heard the work of super composer Pinar Toprak. With a genre-crossing body of work, she has tickled your earholes before. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Pinar began her classical music education at the age of 5, and has been creating beautiful music ever since. After moving to the United States she continued her music studies in Chicago, earned a masters in film scoring in Boston at the Berklee College of Music, and then a masters in Los Angeles at CSUN she quickly became known as an active and invigorating composer. The Los Angeles resident has made musical history working on Marvel Studios' Captain Marvel, SYFY's Krypton, HBO's McMillions, and the immensely popular Epic Games' Fortnite. Pinar even has the distinction of crafting "The Epcot Anthem" for Epcot Center at Walt Disney World. You will soon be able to hear her latest work on The CW's recent addition to the Arrowverse, Stargirl.
Pinar begins our conversation by discussing one of the biggest honors of her life. Scoring the theme for the world-famous theme park attraction. A serendipitous trip to WDW in 1997 left an impression on the newly transplanted artist that she wouldn't forget. At 17 she had not traveled anywhere else in the world and was taken by being able to experience all the different parts of the world.
"I kept telling everybody how much I loved Epcot. When I was asked to write the scene it was magical, it was amazing, and last August at D23 I performed it. It was kind of our unveiling…of what was going to happen at Epcot. It was a magical experience, and you know, that the film's, they all have a different place in my heart. But this is a bit different. The whole theme park experience, and to know that when hopefully the world goes back to normal, you'll start experiencing these things again. To know that you're kind of part of history that way it's amazing."
Seriously, writing an anthem for the world's most popular destination might be enough for most folks, but not Toprak. Before Mickey came knocking on her door, Pinar scored the (currently) most popular game in the universe- Fortnite. Responsible for the original orchestral score, and some of the emote music, Pinar shares the "not so magnificent story" of how she came to work with Epic Games. At that time, Fortnite had not yet been released and the world had yet to discover its power and the kind of impact it was going to have so Pinar thought her agent had spelled the title "Fortnight" wrong. As you probably know, the game became an enormous success that came almost overnight and all of a sudden, Toprak was getting noticed in Hollywood. She describes for me the moment she went from scoring the biggest video game in the world to working on one of the biggest movies of 2019. Pinar explains a different process she went through to audition for Captain Marvel.
"I knew that they were making this film. I knew when it was in development, basically. It's been a dream of mine. I didn't even think that I would even get a shot at it. and finally, I was given the opportunity to demo, which I thought was enough. I didn't even think I was going to get the job but I thought 'Hey if I am demoing at least they're going to listen and be aware of my existence.' So in the future hopefully they can hire me."
Pinar set about making the biggest impact that she possibly could by hiring a 70 piece Orchestra, an EPK crew, and a video crew that filmed Toprak as she was conducting the score. Trying to give them a sense of who she was, she also filmed another video in her studio talking to the camera like an actor in a self-audition, passionately describing what Captain Marvel meant to her and how she would approach the theme. Fast forward a couple of weeks and the phone rings with a call from Destiny. Pinar shares the moment that Dave Jordan, music supervisor for all Marvel films, called with the news.
Making the Move to Marvel Studios
"He called me personally, and when he told me I got it I literally lost the feeling in my legs. I just dropped down on the floor. it was like a movie moment, I can't even explain it. I just collapsed on the floor, in a good way. not like I passed out – oh my god, I can't believe it. It (the video) actually worked. It was pretty surreal. It was like winning the lottery and not being able to tell anybody for weeks. That was difficult because I couldn't tell that was pretty amazing."
When asked what her favorite place to compose is, Toprak said that ultimately the magic happens in her studio.
"I have a studio in my house and everything gets everything it's done here in terms of the composition side of things but sometimes coming up with ideas, they don't happen here. I just stress myself out too much. For example, the Captain Marvel theme, it was a big thing and I had to kind of crack that code before I could start doing anything else. I remember being in the studio and being completely overwhelmed by the responsibility of coming up with a theme for this new character for Marvel movies so there wasn't an established theme for her." she continues…
"So I completely psyched myself out in the studio for a while and I just went out for a walk. And during my walk started humming to myself like a crazy person. when I finally came up with this theme. Something about it felt genuine and right to me."
Creating character suites for Captain Marvel, The Kree, The Skrull, and now a vast array of heroes and villains on Stargirl, Pinar explains what specific aspect of a character she focuses on to inform each theme. "You look at the arc of the character as well. Like in the case of Captain Marvel we know that there's what we think are the bad guys and the good guys but they changed… they change throughout the course of the film, so to be able to find a theme or mood that can carry you through that evolution or through that arc, that is very important in the case of Carol Danvers," she explained.
"For me, I believe I wanted to find the theme that that does go higher, further, faster- but also has- I wanted you to be able to feel the power, the strength but also the vulnerability, and the humanity, and her character. Because when I first read the script and the film came to life through percussion, I really felt like ultimately her power comes from the humanity of herself. Her humanity is able to use these powers to their full extent but I wanted to make sure it's not just the strength and the power, It's a combination of the human side of her, she's a hybrid after all. How can I get that across in the music?"
Her Musical Influences Are Pretty "Super"
Favorite composer? Influences? Pinar cites John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, and Cinema Paradiso composer Ennio Morricone as her timeless inspirations, but John Williams wrote the score that made her fall in love with the music, and this particular genre that she happens to be working in: Superman. "The '78 first Superman. Richard Donner's Superman movie made me fall in love with film music. So, it always has a very special place in my heart… and wrote one of my most favorite film scores of all time."
Having been a Superman fan and getting to work on Krypton must have been incredible. Toprak explains how her love is reflected in her work. "I didn't want it to sound very earthy. With Superman, we're telling a Superman story on Earth. But with Krypton we're trying to Showcase how Kryptonians lived on Krypton. So that feeling of hope, but that's always definitely on the darker side. …" It's trying to make their world a better place but it's also just mixed in with just a lot of other just complications so I wanted to capture that feeling if that makes any sense."
Fans of the show might have noticed that Pinar used the theme that originally inspired her. She explains, "We actually had a chance to use the Superman theme on Krypton a few times. so that was also pretty wonderful that I could actually integrate that theme into something that I was writing, that was crazy."
Toprak Makes the Move Over to Stargirl
Which brings us to Stargirl. Having watched the first episode, I can confidently predict you will be blown away. The opening action sequence is worthy of any big-screen production, in scope, scale, and special effects. The show is very cinematic and I'm told the high energy score is provided by a live orchestra each episode, which is very unusual for television. Pinar shares that creator/ showrunner Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, Justice League) was looking for a very traditional, Back to the Future kind of sound for Stargirl:
"Of course you definitely had a lot of hybrid elements for different characters that were introduced throughout the show. There are some great songs and things. Trying to capture that high school energy, that age group. But then, we go into actual fight scenes and also, a lot of intimate emotional dramatic scenes… it's very film-like. And the sound definitely grows bigger and bigger. The CGI work is fantastic on the show, it definitely looks like a film. So we wanted to make sure that it sounds as good as it looks. It gets pretty epic."
Especially the first 10-15 minute fight scene in the cold open. This huge set-piece really sets the tone for what we can expect from the action on Stargirl and it really grabs you. Although both are female characters coming into their powers, Stargirl herself is a very different character from Captain Marvel. Pinar discusses the challenges composing for the two powerful females given their different ages and backgrounds.
"Geoff really liked my work on Captain Marvel, and there are certain things that I found some similarity in terms of how basically there are these human superheroes. So that again, that humanity and the lightness, and the fight aspect of it, and the playfulness. How she (Stargirl) works with the staff, the Cosmic Staff, and all of that needed to be powerful and strong and uplifting. I think that's why I wanted to make sure that her theme feels very hopeful and powerful and also it's playful too."
Stargirl features a newly formed Justice Society of America matching brawn and brains with the Injustice Society. With Batman-level characters, Pinar took a Neil Hefti approach and wrote a que or sting for each hero or villain.
"It's a pretty cinematic show and sometimes the themes are more- it can be a certain sound or certain color and you know that character. Like on Krypton for Brainiac. It wasn't a theme you could ever sing but it was a combination of a whole bunch of sounds I had made and as soon as you heard that you kind of feel it in your gut. … So we do a lot of things. Different characters and villains are fun to write for because there's just no limits on how crazy they can get."
You can see Stargirl, featuring the gorgeous scores of Pinar Toprak, when it premieres Monday, May 18th on DC Universe's subscription service, then again Tuesday, May 19th at 8 pm on The CW. I personally can't wait. For more info on her music, check out Pinar's official account (@pinartoprak) and the official Stargirl account (@stargirl_cw).