Elfman announces music box to commemorate 25-year collaboration with Burton

Comic-Con 2010: Film composer Danny Elfman talks about his long career with director Tim Burton in his first-ever appearance at the San Diego Comic-Con.


Fable II

Who Was There: Danny Elfman, former member of the classic '80s new wave band Oingo Boingo and film composer for movies such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Alice in Wonderland, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The Elfman Cometh.
The Elfman Cometh.

What They Talked About: The panel began with a short trailer that had images of Burton’s various works. This was to introduce a collectible box set that would include 14 CDs, a DVD, a book with interviews of both Elfman and Burton, and artwork from the director. In the course of 25 years, they’ve completed 13 films together.

One of the first questions posed by the moderator was how this partnership began. Elfman joked that he was likely the only composer that Burton had a cell phone number for, and that he kept losing the numbers to other potential candidates.

“I’m not sure why he kept calling back,” said Elfman, who mentioned earlier that he was embarrassed and had a fear of public speaking.

The composer went on to discuss his early years when he first met the director. At the time, he was part of the band Oingo Boingo and hadn’t considered scoring films at all. The two hit it off right away, as they both had a similar upbringing in Los Angeles and were partial to horror films. Elfman’s admiration for composer and famed Alfred Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann played a large role in helping shape his career.

One of the hardest projects he had to tackle was scoring the original Batman. The studio, producer, and essentially anyone but the director didn’t want Elfman working on the project. In contrast, the most rewarding films he ever worked on was Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas because there was no one looking over his shoulder.

He said he had the most fun with The Nightmare Before Christmas because there was no script, so Burton would come by every three days and tell him a little bit of the story. When he was done, Elfman would compose a piece for that scene, and Burton would return in three days time and they would repeat the process for a month. Elfman said that since then, nothing was ever that easy and organic, especially not Alice.

For their most recent project, Alice in Wonderland, Elfman said that Burton was incredibly stressed out because it was the first time he had to work with a greenscreen and would be at a loss to what the final product would look like. Elfman’s music had to keep the film grounded because the crazier the movie got, the more Burton wanted the score to keep everything anchored.

At the end of the day, Elfman aspires to do a bit of everything.

"I had many opportunities to express myself with Tim," he said. "Everything in my career was defined by him. Every one of his films allowed me access to everything…do what I needed to do, which is hopefully get to the point to where I can write any kind of score."

Most of the hour was dedicated to fan questions, and he generally had amusing answers for them. He talked about how he was relieved he has never won an Oscar and that the thought of winning would make him sweat. He wasn’t interested in doing the Simpsons movie because as much fun as it is to listen to that type of music, he said the process of composing it wasn’t as fun.

When asked what his favorite song that he had composed was he replied with, "I hate every song I've written and I never want to hear them again.” But if he did have to pick one, it would be "Jack’s Lament."

One of the questions was about whether or not there would ever be a reunion for Oingo Boingo to which Elfman replied, "I hate rock-and-roll band reunions. To me, unlike the role of zombies...when you're dead, you should stay dead." His other reason was that he had sustained hearing damage and would never want to sacrifice his hearing for anything.

Quote: "If there was a taste with notes, they'd all be bitter." –Elfman, when asked if he associated any taste or colors with music.

The Takeaway: Elfman is a humble and incredibly funny individual who originally wanted to be a radiation biologist. He spent his early teens injecting flies with radioactive isotopes and irradiating plants.

Another question was about whether he would compose for computer games. After pausing for a moment to try to remember the name of the game, he did say that he worked on Fable and that even though he isn’t asked too often, he wouldn’t be opposed to doing something different and unique.

Random Fact/Who Knew?: Along with his fear of public speaking, tidal waves is one of Elfman's greatest fears.

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