John Powell Michael J. Fox Still
Michael J. Fox in Still courtesy of Apple

John Powell is the Oscar-nominated composer behind How to Train Your Dragon, Don’t Worry Darling, The Borne Identity, Shrek, Face/Off, The Road to El Dorado, and a laundry list of other beloved films.

But when director Davis Guggenheim tapped him to do the score for STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie, he realized he was stepping into uncharted waters: Powell had never composed music for a documentary before.

“He’d been looking for somebody who wasn’t used to doing documentaries,” Powell tells MovieMaker of Guggenheim, who also directed An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 and Waiting for Superman in 2010.

“He was trying to think of composers for the film, and he asked his daughter if she remembered any music in films that was particularly joyful. And his daughter basically said, ‘Well, yeah, How to Train Your Dragon,'” he adds. “I think that’s what Davis was really after, was a way of finding the joy in Michael.”

John Powell Breaks Down the Music Behind STILL

Despite having worked on dozens of films before — STILL is actually his 65th movie — Powell found himself in surprisingly unfamiliar territory.

“The whole score was much harder than I ever expected. I got much more lost trying to make heads or tails of the structure of the storytelling because I was so used to stories that had been written; fiction. And I’d never really done anything quite like this where the filmmaker was finding the story. So it doesn’t follow all the beats that I expect it to,” he says. “I really became quite disoriented in a way that I was not expecting on film number 65… so I was a little shocked by that.”

But he trusted Guggenheim, who he calls “one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” to give him the support and the trust to find his footing.

“The score may seem as if I know what I was doing, but it certainly didn’t seem like that for quite a long time. It took quite a lot of experimentation and then being lost in the wilderness before we hit off on the things that started to work.”

Also Read: Michael J. Fox Documentary Still Celebrates His ‘Amazing F—ing Life’

One of Powell’s biggest tasks when approaching the score was how to find a musical representation of how Fox surmounted the challenge of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 29, which is the central theme of the film.

“The more complicated thing was trying to find a way of representing how a roadblock, a problem in your life so grave, could become something that brings you grace. That discovery from somebody so energetic, that’s the whole thrust of the movie — somebody who’s got so much energy, never stops moving, it took Parkinson’s for him to become still… trying to find that through line was hard,” Powell says.

After much trial and error, he ultimately got the effect that he wanted through the sound of a violin.

“We achieved that through a few things. One of them is this very high violin at the very beginning, which is almost a painful sound at the beginning, but hopefully, you see it as something of beauty by the time you see the last shots of Michael. That came quite late in the process,” Powell says.

“By putting it at the beginning, and then using these kinds of little filigree moments of violin, and then eventually, it comes back to the same sound that you had at the beginning, at the end. Hopefully, everything in the middle is sort of drawing you along to maybe, in the back of your head, understand that the pain has become the beauty.”

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Main Image: Michael J. Fox pictured in STILL courtesy of Apple