Burton on Burton

Excerpts relevant to Danny Elfman
ed. Mark Salisbury
Faber & Faber, London, 1995, revised 2000
[p.48] While Burton had previously used composers Michael Convertino and David Newman to score Frankenweenie and Aladdin, to provide the music for Pee-wee's big adventure he chose Danny Elfman, lead singer with the cult group Oingo Boingo Band, who had never scored a film before. // "Before I was in the movies I'd go see them in clubs. I had always liked their music. Of all the groups that I went to see, which was mainly the punk kind of stuff, which I love, I always felt that because they [Oingo Boingo, presumably] had more people in the band and used weirder instruments, the music seemed to be more story-oriented in some way, more filmic. So when the Pee-wee movie came about, it was great, because being low budget they were more willing to take a chance. They took a chance on me, they took a chance on Danny. Their attitude was to surround me with a bunch of old pros, but music was the one area which that didn't carry over into. Hearing the music played by an orchestra was probably one of the most exciting experiences I've ever had. It was incredible and so funny to see Danny because he'd never done anything like that. It's always magical when you've never done something. I guess it's like having sex: it can be great, but it's never quite the same as that first time. Music is always important, but that was really the first time where it was like a character, definitely a character. // [p.49] "Danny was great because he had never done this and so it was good for me because I got to go through the process. He got a tape of the film and I would go over to his house, and he'd play little things on his keyboard so I could see it right there. Ww were definitely on the same wavelength. It was good because what he couldn't verbalize, or what I couldn't verbalize, didn't matter because it was there and he got it. It was pretty much like 'It's great, it's perfect', and it's so much easier when that's the case. I've always tried to be very sensitive; if you find the right people, you're almost on a different level.
[p.66] It was Danny Elfman who again provided the music for Beetlejuice, creating a fantastical score that was, as with Pee-wee's big adventure, as much of a character as Keaton's bio-exorcist. But the soundtrack also featured two calypso songs from Harry Belafonte, including the 'Banana boat song', which became the film's unofficial theme tune. // "That was something Warren Skaaren put into the script - the people reacting to a musical number - and he had picked this Big chill/yuppie kind of Motown music that was very happening at the time. I didn't want to do it. So I just started listening to a bunch of music, and I liked the Belafonte songs. There was something about Adam and Barbara being on vacation and this kind of calypso music which I liked. // "There was a weird incident with Beetlejuice. We did some test screenings without the score, and the film got some really low marks. Then we showed it with the score and it got really high marks, and one of the things people liked from these test screenings was the score. But then somebody at the studio said that the score was 'too dark', which was odd because these are the people who live and breathe by these audience research screenings and here they were contradicting theonly positive thing from the screening."
[p.81] As with Pee-wee's big adventure and Beetlejuice, Burton called upon Danny Elfman to provide Batman's dark, orchestral score. This time, however, Elfman's soundtrack album was complemented by one from Prince, who had initially been commissioned to provide two songs for the movie. // "We needed two numbers—one for when The Joker goes into the museum, and the other for the parade sequence, and I actually used music by Prince for those scenes when we shot them. But what happened was it snowballed. It got bigger. He really got into the movie and wrote a bunch of songs. Guber and Peters had this idea of getting Michael Jackson to do the love theme, Prince to do The Joker theme, and Danny would just tie it all together. They can make that work for Top gun, but my stuff isn't like that. It needs to be finessed a bit more. And I don't think those songs work. It doesn't have anything to do with Prince's music, it has more to do with their integration into the film. I liked them on their own, but I'm not proficient enough to make something like that work if it's not right. ... The songs bring it too much into a specific time frame."
[p.121] [For A nightmare before Christmas] To adapt his original , three-page poem into a feature-length script, Burton originally called upon Beetlejuice writer Michael McDowell. But when the collaboration didn't pan out quite the way Burton planned, he decided to attack the project from a musical standpoint and turned to his regular partner Danny Elfman. Together, Burton and Elfman, who also provides the singing voice of Jack in the movie, fleshed out a rough storyline and two-thirds of the film's songs, which Selick and his team of animators began work on even before Caroline Thompson was brought in to incorporate them into a screenplay. // "I brought Michael in at the beginning and I realized that the way I really should do it was the way Danny and I eventually did it, even though it's not the most logical way. Michael's a friend, but it just didn't work. What Danny and I had when we started was the poem that I wrote and some drawings and some storyboards, and also this story outline I did about ten years ago. I would go over to his house and we would just treat it like that old-fashioned kind of thing, where the songs are more engrained in the story. I would begin to tell him the story and he'd write a song; he wrote them pretty quickly, actually, at least the initial pass on them. We worked in a weird way, where there was the outline and the songs and then we worked out the script. There was a lot going on, that was what was so difficult about it. They were doing the storyboards up there, we were doing the script, all this stuff was happening at once. It's not the best way to do it, but this was a new thing we were trying to do. I had seen other stop-motion animated features, and they were either not engaging or they're just too bizarre. There was one I liked when I was a kid called Mad monster party. People thought Nightmare was the first stop-motion animated monster musical, but that was. // "So, Danny and I would go through my little outline and I'd say Jack does this and then he does that and then he falls into Christmastown. We'd worked together so much that it didn't matter that we didn't know what we were doing; at least we knew each other. So we just took a stab at it. And again, since we had worked together before, he worked very quickly, which was good because we needed the songs so we could do the script. He wrote them fairly quickly, within a couple of months; he would play me stuff the next week, sometimes the next day. Then I brought in Caroline and she knew Danny. It was a gradual, evolving processL there's Henry, there's me, there's Danny, there's Caroline, and that's a lot to deal with. And then you add in the other incredible artists." [N.B Burton worked on Nightmare and Batman Returns at the same time, p.127; the decision to add his name above the film's title under advice of the studio, according to Burton, p.125-126]
[p.142] Surprisingly, given his six-film relationship wih Danny Elfman, Burton chose composer Howard Shore to provide the music for Ed Wood. // "The situation with Danny right now [presumably this is from an interview in the 1995 version of the book], I don't know if it will stay that way or not. I don't know what to say about it because I don't know where it's going. We're taking a little vacation from each other.
[p.153] Providing the score [for Mars Attacks!] was Danny Elfman, who had had a falling out with Burton prior to Ed Wood. "I think he was mad at me from Nightmare. Nightmare was hard because between Danny, Henry [Selick, director] and Caroline [Thompson, screenplay] we were like a bunch of kids, fighting. That's what I felt like anyway, and I think it was just one of those times when, like in any relationship, we just needed a break, and it was probably good for all of us. Danny works with many different people, so I think every now and then it's worth trying something new, and I enjoyed working with Howard [Shore]."
Back to The Elfman Zone