AOL Interview with Danny Elfman

January, 1997


OnlineHost: Your emcees this evening are Melanie (AOLiveMC1) and Lisa (AOLiveMC9).

AOLiveMC1: Hello and welcome, Danny Elfman! It is a thrill to have you with us this evening!

DElfmn: Thank you.

AOLiveMC1: Are you ready to answer some questions, Mr. Elfman?

DElfmn: No. :)

AOLiveMC1: LOL! Here's our first audience question:

AOLiveMC1: NOSPLBOO wants to know:

Question: I hope this gets through to Mr. Elfman..I was wondering, if Oingo Boingo will get back for some small shows. I would like to see them play just one show a year. A annual Halloween show would be great. I am such a fan of the music and style. email me back.

DElfmn: That will not be the case. Farewell means farewell, and as we performed our "farewell" tour a year ago last Halloween, it would be hypocritical of us to announce more shows. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but, alas, that's the way it is. Please check out the live video, as it's the closest we'll ever be to performing live again.

AOLiveMC1: Jim007bon has a question:

Question: What do you think are the key elements that a great film score should possess?

DElfmn: It completely depends on the film. There's no one type of score that works for every film. In general however, I believe a great score should leave you with something memorable, as well as serving the film's needs, i.e., a melody or some type of rhythmic figure that gets under your skin.

AOLiveMC1: JasonDS48 asks:

Question: Danny, Do you see yourself ever directing a movie you make music for?

DElfmn: I hope so. I've written and sold 3 scripts. 2 of them are still alive, and I hope to see at least one of them, if not both of them, come to fruition in the near future. I'm devoting myself starting in spring of this year to working on these projects.

AOLiveMC1: Jim007bon asks:

Question: Do you feel that to be effective a piece of film music must underscore a scene without calling attention to itself?

DElfmn: Of course not! If that were true, we'd never have any great film scores like "Lawrence of Arabia," or "Star Wars" or "Citizen Kane," or "The Day the Earth Stood Still," or "Vertigo," not to mention my favorite, "Psycho." The music for "Psycho" could not have worked better for the film and it, at least to my ears, called glorious attention to itself, every time it played. I'm thankful for that, or I probably would not be a film composer right now.

AOLiveMC1: Oops. Sorry about that little interruption!

AOLiveMC1: Fixit agi wants to know.

Question: Hi Danny, I'm a big fan, which is more fulfilling, doing a soundtrack, or a record?

DElfmn: I assume that you mean by "soundtrack" and "record" a film recording versus a non-film recording, since e both of them end up on records (CDs). So, assuming that's what you meant, they're both fulfilling in very different ways. A film score has unique challenges and I love hearing the orchestra playing my music. However, doing a non- orchestral recording (i.e. Oingo Boingo, or a solo project) I have freedom that I would never have on a film. I hope to keep both types of recording projects alive during my career, however short that may be.

AOLiveMC1: Ephraim01 asks:

Question: Does Steve Bartek or John Avila work with you anymore?

DElfmn: Steve Bartek (Oingo Boingo's guitarist) has worked with me on practically all my films as my primary orchestrator. And I hope to work with him regularly in the future, if I'm lucky. John Avila (Oingo Boingo's bass player) is a great bass player and I hope I'll work with him in the future as well. As a trivia note, John played bass on the soundtrack for the movie "To Die For."

AOLiveMC1: Atruji683 asks a long one.

Question: People usually complain that music is so ambiguous, that it leaves them in such doubt as to what they are supposed to think, whereas words can be understood by everyone. But to me it seems exactly the opposite. How do you feel Mr. Elfman ?

DElfmn: What makes you think that we're ever "supposed" to think anything?

AOLiveMC1: CmmandoGr asks:

Question: I had heard that there was to be a project with the L.A. Philharmonic where various composers are going to be scoring works of animation. Are you going to have any part in this?

DElfmn: The project is not for animation but for silent film, which could be live-action or animation. I hope to be part of it. They announced that Tim Burton and myself would collaborate on such a project, but Tim has to make the movie first, before I can score it! And that may take a little time.

AOLiveMC1: Good4soul asks:

Question: Mr. Elfman, an intriguing thing about your music is the use of your unique percussion instruments in it. What are the names of some of these? If you can a brief description please. If not I understand due to time and other questions.

DElfmn: Mostly it involves banging on just about everything an anything. That ranges from microphone stands to trash cans, to West African Balafons, to my own head. No one is safe when I'm carrying drumsticks.

AOLiveMC1: CmmandoGr wants to know:

Question: What directors would you like to work with in the future?

DElfmn: Good ones.

AOLiveMC1: SBIGS wants to know.

Question: Will the older albums be released again on CD?

DElfmn: I have no idea. Those types of things are completely out of my control. It's entirely up to the record companies, who own those albums. BUT...I hope so.

AOLiveMC1: EStarkey has an interesting question:

Question: *Really* stupid question. Are you an atheist?

DElfmn: Absolutely not. I believe in Dog.

AOLiveMC1: RSotelo10 asks:

Question: Are you doing the score to "Batman and Robin?"

DElfmn: You must be kidding. After being so publicly uninvited to "Batman Forever" I believe that they prefer the newer, themeless, almost-"Batman" score to the little ditty that I gave them originally.

AOLiveMC1: Boy, my fingers! Sorry!

AOLiveMC1: Good4soul has another Question:

Question: Mr. Elfman, When it comes to recording your music do you use digital samples, orchestra, or both? -Rebecca

DElfmn: It depends on the score. "Batman" was almost 100% orchestra, but a movie like "Dead Presidents," it's about 50-50, combining my own digitally sampled percussion instruments with live orchestra instruments.

AOLiveMC1: That is so interesting. :D

AOLiveMC1: BeeKind1 asks:

Question: Danny, at what age did you know that you could write music?

DElfmn: I'm still not sure that I can.

AOLiveMC1: LKPerez asks:

Question: A socialist friend of mine swears that your song "Capitalism" is satire, but I believe it's serious. Which is it?

DElfmn: You're both right. It's serious satire.

AOLiveMC1: Swimmerbo asks:

Question: Your scores for "Batman" and "Beetlejuice" are magnificent. How long does it take to come up with the scores for such movies. And please don't stop.

DElfmn: To write a film score can take between three weeks and three months, depending on the complexity of the job at hand and what type of desperate measures the filmmakers are being subjected to (release dates, etc.) but, whenever possible, I like to have at least 6 weeks.

AOLiveMC1: DBlues48 asks:

Question: What are you working on now?

DElfmn: I just started work on a movie called "Men in Black" which should be out next summer.

AOLiveMC1: Dingbelle would like some advice:

Question: Danny, I am considering film scoring as my major, and I was wondering what your advice would be to a young student?

DElfmn: God help you.

AOLiveMC1: Russ619 asks:

Question: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

DElfmn: Anywhere but six feet under.

AOLiveMC1: Amphigor asks:

Question: What was the last costume you wore for Halloween? What's the next costume you'll wear for Halloween?

DElfmn: Last Halloween I was a giant penis. Next Halloween, I'm disguising myself as a tiny one.


AOLiveMC1: Designwc wants to know:

Question: What role did you play in the visual design of "Nightmare Before X-mas?"

DElfmn: None, really. I was involved with just about everything *but* that, but the visuals belong completely to Tim, Henry, and his talented crew.

AOLiveMC1: DCGorka asks:

Question: When we use your music for scratch tracks, many times we send a rough cut to a music company that "rips off" your work. Does this bother you as an artist?

DElfmn: Sometimes, but I suppose that, in an offhanded way, it's a form of compliment.

AOLiveMC1: OingoFrea wants to know:

Question: When is or is Mars Attacks going to be released? I am about to bring a tape recorder to the movies to get the damn soundtrack? Can we write anybody?

DElfmn: Thank you for asking. I sincerely hope "Mars Attacks" gets released; I'm told that it will. I have a particular fondness for that score, so I'd really like to see it happen. I suppose it can't hurt to write Warner Brothers, who released the movie, and give then a nudge, but I do believe they're trying.


Question: Are you still planning on creating your own record label?

DElfmn: It will happen someday, but unless I can figure out how to clone myself, it's not going to happen right away.

AOLiveMC1: WHunger41 asks:

Question: Danny your awesome, how about doing work with Quentin Tarantino?

DElfmn: I love Quentin's work, but he generally works without the aid of a composer, using only songs instead, which, in his movies, seems to work just fine. However, should he call.

AOLiveMC1: SweynWor1 asks:

Question: What do you feel is the most important skill for a film composer to have?

DElfmn: To understand film.

AOLiveMC1: Beawr asks:

Question: What is your opinion of current popular music - has it gotten better or worse?

DElfmn: I don't think it's better or worse. It's always a matter of waiting for the next, new surprise.

AOLiveMC1: Nienzus08 wants to know:

Question: Where do you see your orchestral compositions going? I mean are you going to move into say, ambient, etc.

DElfmn: All I've ever really wanted to do is elevator music. So, maybe I'll get my shot someday. P.S. - Dentist's offices would be nice, too.

AOLiveMC1: ELForman wants to know:

Question: Are there any films you were offered and turned down that you wish you had taken?

DElfmn: "Citizen Kane"

AOLiveMC1: PatsClark asks:

Question: Danny, how do you chose your projects? What's your criteria?

DElfmn: I type the names of every film going into production that year on small pieces of paper, tape them to the wall, and throw darts. Isn't it obvious?

AOLiveMC1: DGerard96 asks:

Question: Will you be releasing an album of all the sound tracks for movies that you have scored?

DElfmn: I've already done that, if I understand your question. "Music for a Darkened Theater: Volume I" covered pieces from my first 5 or 6 years of film scoring, and "Music for a Darkened Theater II", which just came out, takes us from "Edward Scissorhands" to "Mission Impossible." I hope I get a chance to do a Volume III in another 5 or 6 years.

AOLiveMC1: Kyle42sin wants to know:

Question: I particularly like your use of low brass instruments like the tuba and trombone. What section of instruments do you most like to write for and why?

DElfmn: I don't have a favorite section of instruments. It's just whatever seems appropriate for that particular scene, or that particular score, seems to call out for themselves whether it be low brass or winds. I know that doesn't make much sense, but that's kind of how it works.

AOLiveMC1: Oh, it makes sense to musicians!

AOLiveMC1: BLUR154 asks:

Question: Danny: Did you ever imagine you would be writing movie/TV scores when you first started out with Oingo Boingo?

DElfmn: No way.

AOLiveMC1: Max tao asks:

Question: What were you like in high school?

DElfmn: Quietly psychotic.

AOLiveMC1: And Zombyclow asks:

Question: Mr. Elfman, I heard that a CD was going to be released with unheard Oingo Boingo songs such as "Vultures," "Water" and others (A boxed set). Is this true?

DElfmn: Not that I've heard of.

AOLiveMC1: Huffed asks:

Question: Danny, assuming you have at least some spare time, what interests do you pursue away from music?

DElfmn: I'm a Photoshop bug.

AOLiveMC1: Macca 515 asks:

Question: Hi , were you influenced by the band XTC?

DElfmn: Yes. XTC, The Specials, Madness, and PIL all caught my attention and caught me quite off-guard, when they first came out around the same time.

AOLiveMC1: The time has really slipped by! Only enough for one final question.

AOLiveMC1: ARogantwr asks:

Question: How do you feel about people moshing to the "Pee Wee" theme, Mr. Elfman?

DElfmn: I'm a huge Primus fan and so, as you can imagine, if you've ever been to a Primus show, I was more than shocked when I heard the "Pee Wee" theme playing before they came out. To see people moshing to that absurd bit of music brought tears to my eyes. Not exactly what I expected when I wrote it.

AOLiveMC1: Thank you so much for dropping by and answering our questions, Mr. Elfman!

DElfmn: My pleasure. I'd love to do it again sometime. Again, my apologies to all those Boingo fans who keep hoping for some signs of life. Thanks and good-bye.

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