Songwriter Robert Lopez Shares His Storytelling Journey on 'Marvel's Storyboards'
The double EGOT winner puts on a show with Joe -- and creates a new "super" hit song! (Maybe!)
If there's one person who has proven that songs are some of the best storytelling tools, it's songwriter Robert Lopez! The two-time EGOT -- winner of two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, two Oscars (Academy Awards), and two Tony Awards -- has written songs for stage an screen, famously for Disney's Frozen and Coco, solo and alongside his wife and creative partner Kristen Anderson-Lopez. But just because we've been able to see (and sing along with) Lopez's amazing successes, that doesn't mean that the hits he creates come easily.
On this episode of Marvel's Storyboards, Lopez joins Joe Quesada, EVP, Creative Director of Marvel Entertainment to talk about growing up in New York City and how he became one of the most celebrated songwriters in entertainment.
Marvel.com spoke with Joe about his impressions of Lopez's inspiring journey:
In this episode with Robert Lopez, you got to get your musical groove on. I also took note of a quote you said: "True talent never goes undiscovered,” and finding talent that needs to have their voices heard.
Robert was talking about how he felt that certain talents, diverse talents, may not be able to have their voices expressed and heard. And we discussed that, we debated that a little bit. So that was a key question to get Robert's take on that and it was really, really interesting and really powerful.
You two are also so quintessentially New York.
Yes, and the other thing is that Robert is very, very shy -- very, very shy. So when we started the interview, I could tell that he was nervous. By the time we ended the interview, he was behind the piano. Man, it was great. He opened up, and we really, really got into it. It was great to meet him, and he's just insanely talented. If you were to ask me a month before I'd get to meet Robert, “Would you ever get a chance to meet someone who's a [double] EGOT winner…” What? No, never in a million [years].
I also love what he said about learning to take criticism, how it takes a while to learn how to gracefully take criticism.
Yeah, especially when you're a younger creator. The thing that separates the people who will become pros and superstars from the amateurs is that ability to accept criticism and take it. Being in comics, whenever I lecture about it, I always use my daughter as an example. She's a figure skater. To me, it's not about learning to succeed, it's about learning how to fall, how to fail. You have to learn how to fail properly, because you hear the old saying, “When you fall, pick yourself up by the bootstraps.” That's true -- partially. The part that needs to be mentioned is that you can't [just] fall and pick yourself up by your bootstraps -- you have to make sure you learn something from that. If not, you're just going to keep falling the exact same way.
But if you take something from the fall and you learn, and say, “Okay, what did I do? What did I do wrong? What part of this failure is my fault?” and you learn from it, then the next time you do your work or you perform or whatever it may be, you're that much closer to success. You may still fail, but you might fail in a different way. And that's another lesson learned.
As long as you compound those lessons and you're making lemonade, that's really the road to success. That's what Robert was talking about, that he instantly related to that, especially from a musical standpoint. I'd get a tremendous amount of rejection in the early days with my music, and the same thing with my art, but you’ve got to learn from it.
And that's clearly what Robert did, right? He developed that thick skin that enables you to go, “Okay, all right, that's not working -- I got more.” You also have to have the confidence to understand that you don't have a limited supply of ideas. If you started thinking you have a limited supply of ideas, guess what happens? You have a limited supply of ideas. You just have to be open to that and say, “Hey, you know what? I'll make more. I'll just keep making more, you know, and I'll get you what you want at the end of the day.”
That's actually a good segue way into the conversation you had about writer's block, when you said, “Don't stomp on that little green shoot.”
I don't personally believe in writer's block. Some people do. To each their own. I think it could be frustration, and sometimes it's exhaustion, sometimes it's also not being satisfied with that first sentence, right? That it's just not good enough. Sometimes, I think writer's block is part of a creator trying to achieve perfection, which is never going to happen.
When Robert talked about creating the journey that went into writing "Let It Go," it was almost like he let us watch his home movies about creating that journey at the piano. Did this remind you at all of your storytelling process?
Oh, yeah. When I talk to younger artists, and little kids especially, I talk about the frustrations sometimes of drawing, especially when I was younger. But even today, for every page that I do, for every cover that I draw, there is a garbage pail -- sometimes a garbage dumpster -- filled with rejected sketches, doodles, ideas to get to that one piece. Now, I draw digitally these days a lot, so it's a [different] form of garbage can, but it is a garbage can, nevertheless. Because in order to get to that point to that thing that you feel is good enough to show the world from a special standpoint, there's a lot of work that goes into it. You don't have to start at one corner of the page.
It's the same thing with songwriters. There are bits and pieces, there are key changes, there are modulations… There are so many things that add to a song, to lift it beyond the norm that's very much the same thing as what you're drawing or writing.
Last question: When is that Spider-Man single going to be released?
[LAUGHTER] You know, we were actually going to get together and tighten it up and then give it to a thing. I think time got the better of both of us and we had to get back to doing the show and such. So we never quite got around to it. But it was a lot of fun to sit there and have a few laughs over that.
Stay tuned to Marvel.com for the latest from the House of Ideas!
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