[An interview with Danny Elfman, composer of the score for Batman & Batman Returns]
The first movie you scored was a Tim Burton first film, Pee Wee's Big Adventure. How did that come about? It was being at the right place at the right time. He used to come and see my band, Oingo Boingo.
When you did the music for Batman, was it your most ambitious score up until that point? Oh, yeah. There was a lot of scepticism, and I think reasonably so, on the part of the studio and Jon Peters, the producer, in terms of whether I could handle that kind of load. I had to really prove myself. I had to mock up pieces of music and play it for them.
One day we were sitting there in my studio, and I was making this big presentation, and Tim said [whispers], 'Play the march, play the march'. Peters jumped up and started conducting, and I knew at that moment I had it!
At what point of a production does the music come into play - are you there from the beginning? Usually I'm not. On Batman I was brought in early. They flew me out to London and walked me thorough Gotham City, and it was actually walking through there that I started to formulate my ideas. The theme really hit me on the plane on the way home. I ran into the bathroom with my tape recorder and locked myself in, and was taping and singing all these notes because I didn't want to forget my impulses and the rhythm of the thing. But the bathrooms on those airlines are so noisy, it was really interesting trying to decipher it when I got home.
How much creative freedom do you have when composing a score? I would say ninety-five per cent of the time I do pretty much what I want to do, and the director is very happy. Five per cent of the time I'll do something and they'll go, 'Oh no, I was thinking of something completely different'. When it happens, obviously I have to bend to their will.
When you write music for a character like The Joker, do you try to write a theme for him? It's what you call a secondary theme. The Joker does have a theme, but you only get to hear it about three times in the movie. So when you hear it at the very end, and he's dead, you recognize it but it's not necessarily the theme that you're going to leave humming. You have to hear a theme more than two or three times to really carry it away. The intention, as with any of my scores, is to leave you with the primary theme in your head so you can instantly recognize that and carry it away with you. That's the goal.
How did you handle the themes for the characters in Batman Returns? It was harder in Batman Returns because there were three characters, each with their own theme, and weaving the themes together was very tricky.
You're quoted as saying that Batman Returns was the toughest score you had ever written. The film was just more difficult on every level. I think I said that primarily because the sound mix was really a mess.
Wasn't that also true on the first film? It was miserable from both dubs, but for different reasons. Batman was done in England by technicians who didn't care, and the non-caring showed. They took three-channel stereo and just split it left and right, so at its most powerful moments it was never more than two-thirds there. I'm not putting down England because they've done gorgeous dubs there, but this particular crew elected not to. For me on Batman Returns I would have liked to see less of everything. I thought there was too much of too many things going on too much of the time, and had I been given the opportunity I would have knocked twenty or twenty-five per cent of the score out completely.