Danny Elfman: Film Score Composer

Posted on November 8, 2014 at 8:00 am

We attended a superb concert at the Kennedy Center, with the National Symphony playing some of film scores Danny Elfman composed for his long-time colleague Tim Burton. So I was especially glad to see this excellent interview with Danny Elfman with Sean O’Neal from the A.V. Club, a part of their Set List series. I loved his story about coming up with the idea for the “Batman” theme, one of my favorites, on an airplane.

It’s one of my funny stories, because instead of being in a car when the title music hit me, I was on a 747 flying back from London, and all I was thinking was, “I don’t have the ability to pick up a napkin and write music.” I’ve never taken music lessons. I can write, but I need a keyboard and some kind of reference to write. And I didn’t have a keyboard. Now I try to travel with a little equipment, and if it ever came up again, I could grab my little mini-computer and play these parts. But at that point, I had nothing—certainly not a laptop. All I had was this little Sony tape recorder, so I kept running into the bathroom and laying down track after track after track, hoping that they would later mean something. I was thinking melody, counter-melodies, rhythms, all this stuff separately, and I kept getting more ideas and running back.

I couldn’t do it at my seat, because I didn’t want to sing into my tape recorder with this guy sitting next to me. And it got to the point where I’d open the bathroom door and there’d be two flight attendants standing there saying, “Sir, are you all right?” And I’d go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” I’d go back to my seat and be back in the bathroom 10 minutes later, and this time there are three flight attendants. And clearly they’re looking at me as some sort of hopped-up junkie who’s just shooting up every 10 or 15 minutes. I’m sure they didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t appear to be sick or throwing up or green around the gills. If anything, I was excited.

But also the bathrooms were incredibly noisy, so when I got home to my studio—as I had feared—the plane erased the entire piece of music from my mind. Because they played landing music, and I think it was something like “Yesterday” by the Beatles, and it was a total memory eraser. I came off the plane and all I could think of was “Yesterday,” and I’m like, “What happened to the Batman theme? ‘All my troubles seemed so far away…’ Fuck! I’m screwed!” And I turn on the tape recorder, and I have about 30 minutes of notes on there—and all I’m hearing is loud engine noise. I finally heard little bits of myself coming through it, and I could catch a little bit of a “bum bum-bum-bum bum” and I’d go, “There’s a bit of the rhythm, okay, I got that.” And finally it all came back to me and I was able to write it down. But I was really relieved, because it almost is the exact main title to Batman.

Related Tags:


Composers Music
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik