Danny Elfman adds sweet music to Chocolate Factory
by Tim Lammers, Web Staff Editor
Subtitle: Film Marks 11th Collaboration Between Composer, Burton
There's no doubt a No. 1 opening with a $55 million-plus box office take is
a sweet way to debut a movie, especially for one called Charlie and the Chocolate
But for composer/musician Danny Elfman and director Tim Burton, there was little
time to savor the success. Instead, as I talked with Elfman by phone from his
studio in Los Angeles Monday, he was preparing to start in his daily ritual
of writing and recording movie musicfrom 2 p.m. until the time he connected
with Burton in London as they continue work their next film, "Corpse Bride."
"We do our teleconferencing at about 2 o'clock in the morning, L.A. time,
which is 10 a.m. for him in London, and generally spend a half-hour on the phone,"
Elfman told me in an @ The Movies interview. "It's the end of my day and
the beginning of his."
In a sense, the Elfman-Burton movie machine runs around the clock.
But that doesn't mean the maestro neglects to take the time to see what people
think about his music. And in the case of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
it's especially of interest because Elfman wrote the score and composed four
original songs using famed writer Roald Dahl's words: Songs that, to Elfman's
surprise, are being well received.
"I expected to get tons of criticism for the music on Charlie for
the music, but it's been kinder than I was expecting," Elfman said. "What
we're doing is so different."
Naturally, Elfman thought he was going to heat from fans so endeared to the
music from the original. That's because he hit them up with four songs performed
by the Oompa-Loompas (Deep Roy) to signal the exits of four unruly kidsViolet
Beauregarde (Annasophia Robb), Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz), Veruca Salt
(Julia Winter) and Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry)from the tour of Willy Wonka's
(Johnny Depp) wondrous chocolate factory. The fifth kid on the tour is none
other than the humble Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore).
Elfman said he wrote the song for Augustus Gloop first, and the rest of the
songs took on lives of their own from there. The tuneswhich are all sung
by Elfmanessentially styled after the kid's different personalities, are
"I thought it was bold from Tim's point-of-view to go in the direction
of the Bollywood musical/pop-production number, which is what that first song
is based on," Elfman said. "I half-imagined that the three other songs
for the kids would be variations on 'Augustus Gloop,' and Tim was like, 'No,
no, let's have fun with this. Let's make it really like a Bollywood musical
where, when each song comes on you'll have no idea what style it's going to
be in or where it's going to come from.' I said, 'Well, alright, that's bold
and we'll take a lot of heat for that.' I expected a lot of criticism for it
being too scattered, too confusing, too ambitious or too over the top."
That's Too Bad?
Perhaps the most surprising response about the music in Charlie is that
some reporters at the premiere assumed that Elfman re-recorded the songs from
the original, rather than crafted his own.
"When I did the press line at the premiere, it was really ratting because
three or four interviewers at the beginning of line were saying (in a stern
tone), 'I assume you used those wonderful songs from the original, didn't you?
They're so much a part of our culture and our psychehow did you use those
songs?'" Elfman said.
Then I would just go, 'I didn't,'" Elfman added, with long beat of silence.
"Then they would go, 'Ohhh. That's too bad.' It put me into the frame of
mind that I was going to take a beating. When we did 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,'
I knew I was going to take a beating and I did."
The reviews for his Nightmare music, in fact, were the worst reviews
Elfman, the former lead singer of the rock group Oingo Boingo, said he had ever
read about himself as a composer.
"That because the model for the music in that genre of Disney musicals
was all based on contemporary Broadway stylesthat was the only music we
elected not to do," Elfman said.
"We wanted to be very different. We wanted to be retro, based more on
Kurt Weil and Gilbert & Sullivan rather than the contemporary Disney animated
musicals. Plus, we had no pop tunes at all," he continued. "So, I
took a lot of flak for it. I knew it, so I was kind of prepped for it and I
didn't care. Coming out of our theater group The Mystic Knights and Oingo Boingo,
I eventually took pride in the worst of the reviews. We'd print and use them
in our own ads."
Elfman said it took 10 years before it was proven that his Nightmare
could withstand the test of time and all of the critical barbs. With Charlie,
he hopes the wait won't be that long.
"I'm happy with the way it came out and hopefully over time, there will
be a generation that will come to love this version, much like the generation
that came to love the old one," Elfman said.
As for the purists of the original who are a hard sell for the new Charlie,
Elfman offers this bit of wisdom from Burton.
"The thing that Tim kept saying that which was so true, was, 'It's not
like we're going back and burning all the DVDs and videos of the original film.'
I don't know why people are reacting so strongly," Elfman said. "There's
no reason why some people can't like the original, there no reason they can't
like this, and there's no reason that they can't like both.' People get so upset
sometimes when you're dealing with something they consider to be sacred. Neither
Tim nor I thought of it as sacred ground at all. To me it seemed like wide-open
territory to work in."
Starting with 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Burton and Elfman have
worked together on 11 films, including Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward
Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes and Big
And while it's not unusual for certain filmmakers to work with the same composers,
there's something different when Burton and Elfman get together for a film.
Despite the obvious chemistry, there is no "clockwork" system to the
way they do things. In a way, every film Elfman does with Burton is like a new
start to their collaborative partnership.
"If anything, I'm little more nervous when I'm starting one of Tim's movies,
in terms of wondering if I'm going to be able to meet up to the challenges and
expectations," said Elfman, whose endless list of credits include several
films with Spider-Man director Sam Raimi and the themes for the shows
The Simpsons and Desperate Housewives.
This time the process was different because the songs needed to be completed
early in the production process because the film's elaborate choreography called
for Roy to individually perform the moves of each Oompa-Loompa: And for those
who haven't seen the film yet, there are a lot of them.
"The songs had to be totally finished for them to do their work,"
Elfman said of Burton, Roy and company. "I was constantly updating the
songs, making edits, tweaking voices and instruments, and even going in and
hanging out with Deep and the choreographers to talk through the songs to help
them understand the stuff. It was a long, drawn -out process, much more than
usual, because of the songs."
But just because the process was drawn-out was not to say Elfman didn't have
a great time on the project.
"It was more fun than I ever had working on a movie," Elfman enthused.
"It was so crazy and doing all the vocals was so much fun. I found myself
falling into voices, singing vocal mannerisms. I was having such a gas.
"You could hear me in my studio in the basement in my house through the
living room floor, and my wife (actress Bridget Fonda) can kind of hear what's
going on," Elfman added, laughing. "She'd hear me wailing falsetto
voices, background parts and chants, and come down to see if I was OK."
As for Depp, Elfman's involvement with celebrated actor on the film was not
quite was huge, but not as direct as it was with Roy.
"Johnny's contribution affected my contribution in a large way," Elfman
said. "I hope that there's a connection in his acting aesthetic and my
compositions because a lot of what inspires the music is the performance."
Elfman said early in his career, he used to write music based on what he read
in a scriptbut "not a single note ever got used in the movie."
Now, individual songs like the ones in Charlie and Corpse Bride
aside, Elfman goes into a project with no notes in his head.
"When you see the movie later, there are things that radically change
with what will happen to the music," Elfman explained. "One is the
style of the direction, two is the pacing of the editingwhether it's a
fast or slow moving type of the film, that changes what kind of music you do
a lotand three, is the performances. Certainly, more so in Charlie
and the Chocolate Factory and Edward Scissorhands, the performances
were a huge part of what I wrote because the tone of the movie was coming from
the performanceand the performance and the tone, were driving the music."
It won't be long before we hear from Elfman, Burton and Depp again, since Corpse
Bride is slated for a September release. Like The Nightmare Before Christmas,
Corpse Bride is animated and features Elfman's songs and score.
In fact, Elfman will sing a song in Corpse Bride as well, as a character
appropriately known as "Bonejangles."
So what can Elfman tell us about Mr. "Bonejangles"?
"He looks like Sammy Davis Jr.but he's a skeleton.","