Danny Elfman Breaks Down His Most Iconic Tim Burton Scores

Danny Elfman is a musical genius. The man really needs no introduction. But, for those who are unaware, a small sampling of his talents includes: The Simpsons, Nightmare Before Christmas, several Tim Burton films, Mission Impossible, Spider-Man, MIB, hundreds of collaborators, and that’s just abridged resumé. Batman (1989) was a groundbreaking movie at the time, and the score is iconic to say the least.

I saved an excerpt from his interview with GQ on the Batman score below because it’s simply amazing. Warner Bros. Studios wanted Elfman to collaborate with Prince to make a score for Batman. I don’t hate it, but it would have changed the movie in unimaginable ways I can’t even fathom:

I’ve never done anything harder than Batman because first off, I had to prove myself. You know, it’s like, okay, he’s the quirky comedy guy, and here I am doing like this Batman movie. Understandably, I think they were like, “uh, we need somebody who knows how to do this kind of music.” But, nobody knew what kind of music it was. There really was no superhero music. There was just Superman. And, we said we know we don’t want it to be Superman — John Williams.

And, then there was an element with the producer in the studio of wanting it to be a pop score. There was definitely this moment of like, “Danny, we want you to collaborate with Prince and co-write the score.” And I go, I can’t do that. People go, “you really said that?” I love Prince, but not for that score. I already knew what the score was, and I knew that if I collaborated, he’d be writing tunes, and I’d be orchestrating his tunes, and I would be essentially a glorified arranger rather than a composer, you know. Because he was world famous, and I was still nothing.

I had to walk away. I was so depressed. I felt like I just blew up my own career. And then a month later I got the call saying, Danny, you’re back on. It’s like this gamble paid off. But, it was a miserable period of time. On the other hand, I already heard the music in my head. I knew what it was, and I was determined that that was gonna be the score. The producer was so hard on me, John Peters, and then [they’re finally] he’s in — I think it’s the third presentation. And, I didn’t know how to do presentations.

I was playing this weird music stuff that was all like inspired, you know, crazy. And then Tim says, play the March, “play the March, play the march!”
[That’s] what he called the titles. I go, “oh yeah, I got this piece here.” And of course, now I know, you lead with your headline, obviously. I didn’t really know, or understand that back then. And I put this piece of music on, and John starts conducting in his chair. And then at a certain point he stands up,
and he’s going like this. [Danny waving his arms like a conductor] Tim looks at me and he’s like [Danny laughing], “yeah, we got it.”