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Danny Elfman Myths

Bluntinstrument's - Danny Elfman Myths

A new page to explode common misconceptions, explain difficult concepts and save the message board some burning questions answered many many many many times before. Feel free to e-mail with any rebuttals/additional info, so long as you can name a SOURCE!

Q. I've heard a rumour that Elfman's orchestrators write his film scores and he just hums the tunes.
A. I won't hit you this once because you can't be blamed for being uneducated and therefore liable to believe what people tell you without asking for proof first. Only kidding - the web is rife with this myth to the extent that everyone "knows" but noone "knows how". As Elfman said, "The fact is, if I had done some more pop- oriented or synthesizer-oriented scores, nobody would have thought twice. It is because I entered the sacred territory of orchestral composition, of classically styled composition. Because I broke the taboo." (American film, 1991). Here are facts based on interview and documentary evidence: 1. Danny Elfman could write music before he composed for films (he wrote an early 'piano concerto number one-and-a-half, and spent much of his time transcribing Duke Ellington during his time with Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo) but had help with some of the notation side from his orchestrator Steve Bartek on their first feature, Pee-wee's big adventure. Bartek, in turn an inexperienced orchestrator (though musically trained), was helped and proof-read by Lennie Niehaus. 2. Since then both Bartek and Elfman attest most strongly that as a rule Elfman composes and writes (gradually shifting to a mix of synth/samply mock-up and notation) the music and Bartek normally orchestrates - i.e. makes it readable and performable by the desired forces. 3. The exceptions prove the rule: where Bartek is aided in orchestration (a film composer's schedule is an ever narrowing one, especially with the advent of digital film editing) the help is credited, and where cues are commissioned by other composers (e.g. Jonathan Sheffer for Darkman, Shirley Walker for Nightbreed) or where existing material is used (Schifrin's theme in Mission: Impossible, Mychael Danna's theme for Hulk), Elfman is studious in giving them credit. 4. In the Film score monthly article 'Sound effects suck' (1995.12), Elfman gave permission (out of pure frustration perhaps) for two pages of autograph scores to be reproduced - one from Batman returns, another from Black Beauty. So long as we take his assurances that this is his hand, then we are de-mythtified.

Q. Danny scored all Burton's films except Ed Wood. Why is that?
A. Partly true: Danny Elfman has scored all Burton's features since Pee-wee's big adventure. He didn't score work prior to this, and did not score all of the Stainboy episodes. And then he didn't score Ed Wood - Howard Shore did. Why? Well, it is common knowledge that some kind of disagreement or even personal animosity grew up at around the time of A nightmare before Christmas, but was resolved just in time for Mars Attacks! (Ryan Keveaney claims that Shore was hired for the score but remains silent over how this didn't come about).Prior to Nightmare, Elfman had been bitterly disappointed with the dub of his score to Batman returns (according to several 1995 interviews), and with an intense relationship between them on this animated feature, tempers appear to have frayed. Whether this was during or after the work, though, is a mystery. A lighthearted comment during a Nightmare scoring session: Elfman "Tim, when was the last time I decked ya?" Burton: "When was our last meeting?" - telling in retrospect, but interviews at the time of the publicity merry-go-round suggest that Elfman was expecting to score Ed Wood. By 1995 Elfman was making oblique hints that he wouldn't be working with Burton again; Michael Fleming (Variety) claimed Elfman backed out in anger after not getting communication or support needed; Elfman eventually saying "Why does any marriage end? We had a falling out, and that was that." (Penthouse). Maybe the swiftness of the change-of-heart was over the perhaps excessive use of Burton's name in conjunction with the film at the expense of composer and director. However, by the time Mars Attacks! was released, it was clear they had sorted out their differences, both admitting they worked well as a team, being on the "same wavelength" (Starlog, 1997). One thing is seems certain: only Elfman really knows what was going through his head at the time. Because even Burton can only suggest a reason for the estrangement: "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." (Burton on Burton, 2000)