Why 'Captain Marvel' Composer Pinar Toprak Hired a 70-Person Orchestra to Audition

"I really wanted to make it sound like you're watching a ‘90s film."

While Captain Marvel soars at the box office, breaking records as Marvel’s first female-led superhero films, it’s also a huge win for composer Pinar Toprak.

We recently spoke Toprak about her work on the film, and she revealed the intense vetting process that Marvel Studios puts composers through, the secret-agent aesthetic that inspired the movie’s music, why she hired a 70-piece orchestra for her audition.

Captain Marvel Hala
When we first meet Carol Danvers, she's having a nightmare on the Kree homeworld of Hala.

Usually, a Marvel movie is either cosmic or earthly, but Captain Marvel is both. How did that duality influence the score?

That was a really fun part of it. My first mission was to create a sound for for Hala, the Kree homeworld. I knew from the start that I really wanted to create a cool ‘80s and early-’90s synth style.

We also knew that here on Earth, we really wanted to make a shift for the tone to make it more organic, so to speak — and also to quickly realize that we are in the ‘90s, embracing that sound as well.

It’s all been such a fun part of the score and as the film evolves, bringing back those elements — because Captain Marvel is a hybrid after all! We’re never abandoning the electronic sound altogether.

This is the first Marvel film that takes place in the ‘90s.

It was really fun, especially how both of the cues you might have heard is an homage to films like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. We really wanted to capture the ‘90s Cop Action kind of sound. The action writing itself was a bit different in the ‘90s, so we tried to emulate that.

I really wanted to make it sound like you’re watching and ‘90s film.

Toprak (middle-left) at the 'Captain Marvel' premiere with stars Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, and Ben Mendelsohn.

As part of your audition for Captain Marvel, you hired a 70 piece orchestra. Why? Was that required?

It was definitely not required. For me I try to I take every opportunity I’m given very seriously. For this one, I really wanted to let them know that I really wanted this. Sending an mp3 with a with a mock-up is fine, and it it’s very common. Also sending an mp3 with a live recording with some sort of an ensemble is even common.

What I really wanted to do was to show that I could handle a large-sized orchestra. I even hired a video crew. I didn’t tell anyone what it was for. I called it “Demo 1” and “Demo 2.” It was this mysterious demo project and I was conducting the orchestra. I wanted to make sure that they saw me in that capacity. I also wanted to show them my own setup in my studio sizes.

Another video was just me talking to the camera and telling them about my thought process about Captain Marvel’s character. I also played the theme I had — a different game I had when I first auditioned — on the piano.

My idea was to give them a more intimate version of what that would sound like. I just did my best honestly, giving the best presentation of my ideas in a go big or go home situation.

Did they give you any kind of direction when it came to the audition?

For the audition, as far as musical direction goes, there wasn’t much. The purpose of it anyway is for them to see how I would approach it.

In order to audition, I went through a security clearance process with Marvel. I was able to read the script at Marvel and I saw two preview scenes. Based on those, I wrote these audition pieces, but it was more about my gut feeling and how I saw it.

What preview scenes did they give you?

I can’t really mention which means but I can tell you which track has the DNA of some of those ideas because as the film evolved, we didn’t use all the musical materials, but some of the ideas are in the track called “Breaking Free.” I can still hear some of the older general demo ideas on that track.

How does the Captain Marvel theme strike a unique tone?

I thought about her theme quite a bit. I knew that I wanted it to be sustainable. That’s kind of “Superhero Theme 101.” The other one was that I wanted it to start with a certain interval that was different than a lot of other superhero movies that we’re used to. They’re wonderful. But especially with films like this we sometimes don’t have time until near the end to present the full statement of the theme. So I wanted to make sure that from the first two notes, it gives you the feeling of Carol Danvers anytime you hear it.

Those first two notes are important. For the music geeks, it’s a minor seventh interval. If you want to get even geekier, I wanted it to be the “higher, further, faster” mantra, rationalizing all that.

I actually came up with the theme not in the studio, but walking. I was stuck in the studio for two days trying to figure out what the theme was going to be. And I was psyching myself out a little bit and then I finally just had to get out of the studio and take a walk.

I was thinking to myself and this theme came out. I knew this was the first interval so I just kept thinking about these ideas. I was actually happy with it so I called someone in my team to get another idea and he was like, “Pick up the phone right now and record it on your voice memo or you’re going to forget it!” And I still have it on my voice memo.


That voice memo, the proto-theme, is still sitting on Pinar Toprak’s phone as a memento to the experience.

Captain Marvel is now in theaters.