Interview with Danny Elfman

Subtitle: Composing 'Alice in Wonderland'
By René S. Garcia Jr.
Buzzine, 2010.03.01 or 02
Elfman_100302_350w: When one hears the name Danny Elfman, it's difficult not to immediately hear the haunting or carnivalesque music from one of his countless memorable film scores. He's worked with Tim Burton on roughly a dozen films, and now he adds his unique touch to the music of Alice in Wonderland. Danny Elfman had a brief chat with Buzzine to talk about his scoring process and his early introduction to the world of Alice in Wonderland.
Rene S. Garcia, Jr.: In the past, you've said that it doesn't matter if you come in with stuff before you get there with Tim (Burton), because it's never going to wind up in the movie — it's stuff that happens as you go along.
Danny Elfman: I learned that way back with Beetle Juice, where I got a head-start on the movie and I thought I'd read the script and write a bunch of music and get a head-start, and not one note of it made it into the movie, of course. I'd rather take the opposite point of view and try to come in and see the director's — especially Tim's — first rough-cut that he shows me with absolutely no thoughts at all of what to expect. It serves me much better. On this film in particular, (Tim) told me a year ago that this was going to be the craziest roller-coaster ride we've ever taken in together in 12 or 13 films — I'm not sure — and when I first saw it … at first I was extremely offended because I thought the whole film was just about the questionable and dubious nature of redheads. I had to work through that, and once I became okay with that, there was a point halfway through where he had me visit the set, because I've done that in all the films I've worked with him — spend a little time and see what it was like on the set. I actually wrote the Batman theme walking through Gotham City with Tim and seeing just a little bit of footage, so it was enough to get a real flavor and feel. This was the first time ever I visited a set and in the distance was Mia (Wasikowska, who plays Alice) on wires with green-screen. I said, “Alright.” And he warns us, “There's nothing about what you're going to see that's going to help you.” He was absolutely right. So I decided to wait … but it was just exactly as Tim said. It was a wild roller-coaster ride with everything coming together at the very end, so knowing that, having ridden a lot of roller-coasters with Tim, I just felt I would roll with it, and that's the best way to go with his film — just try a lot of different things, experiment and be as loose as possible, and just go with it, and it was an intense ride, as he had predicted, but a great one, as the best roller-coasters are.
Elfman2_100302_350wRG: When did Alice in Wonderland enter your life, and how did the book influence you?
DE: The book had a profound influence on me, but in a much different way than most people because I was only about three or four and we had it in the bookshelf. There was a picture on the book of Alice with her neck distended — very long. I'm not sure if it was on the spine or on the front of the book, but it scared me. In frightening me, I became infatuated with the picture and actually began what became a lifelong obsession and infatuation with physical anomalies. I don't have my shrunken head today, but I've had many nightmares about this girl with this incredibly long neck. It sort of became part of my subconscious from an incredibly early age. Of course, I read (Alice in Wonderland) later, but the effect was there from very early on.
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