More than three decades later, composer Danny Elfman is still putting music to the films of Tim Burton. They’ve done everything from Batman to Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas to Alice in Wonderland. And now they’ve returned again to the Disney fold with a live-action remake of the 1941 classic Dumbo. Elfman’s musical journey took surprising turns, involving excerpts from the Oscar-nominated score for the animated original and writing all the circus music for the background of Danny De Vito’s small-town carnival. Here is my story for Variety.
A trend in journalism is generally defined by three or more happenings in the same field. So when I discovered that James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games) had written a cello concerto, Danny Elfman (Alice in Wonderland) a violin concerto and George S. Clinton (the Austin Powers movies) another violin concerto, I thought “here’s a trend” and decided to write a story. In fact, I discovered at least half a dozen concert works by composers generally known for their film music are getting premieres in the next six months — and that more than a half-dozen others had debuted in the past year, with still more on the way. It’s not just John Williams, it’s Michael Giacchino and John Powell and Bruce Broughton and Jeff Beal and many others. Here is that story for Variety.
On the occasion of director Tim Burton being honored at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, I revisited much of what composer Danny Elfman has told me over the years about their long working relationship. It’s amazing when you consider the number of classic, and award-winning, scores they’ve done together over the years, including Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Mars Attacks! and more. My story leads the Tim Burton section in this week’s edition of Variety.
Over the past eight years, the Film Music Foundation has been interviewing composers and others active in the movie-music business — getting down their life stories, their career anecdotes, their thoughts about this curious profession. I have been privileged to conduct many of these, and the Foundation (as part of its educational initiative) has now made them available online. Visit the website here — but be ready to spend a lot of time there, because most of these interviews are between two and three hours long! So far, I’ve done songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman; and composers Bruce Broughton, Bill Conti, Danny Elfman, Dave Grusin, Maurice Jarre, Laurence Rosenthal and Lalo Schifrin. (Others feature such giants as Patrick Doyle, Johnny Mandel, Van Alexander and Richard Sherman.) Three more interviews are scheduled for the first quarter of 2016.
Every year we try and assess who has the best shot at a nomination for the original-score Oscar. Eight of the 12 profiles in this year’s Variety Oscar-music section are mine: Marco Beltrami, Danny Elfman, Michael Giacchino, Jonny Greenwood, Henry Jackman, Clint Mansell, Thomas Newman and Steven Price. (Colleague Tim Greiving penned the other four: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Gary Yershon, Mark Mothersbaugh.) Tim and I also collaborated on this year’s overview of Best Song possibilities.
For the third year, I was privileged to host the American Youth Symphony’s salute to the music of Danny Elfman at UCLA’s Royce Hall. During the afternoon segment, I moderated a mini-panel with the composer’s longtime orchestrator Steve Bartek and mixing engineer Dennis Sands, right after the debut of a new concert suite from the documentary The Unknown Known. The evening performance included music from Dick Tracy, Men in Black, Beetlejuice and other Elfman scores — all conducted by the phenomenal David Newman. Elfman attended the evening performance and accepted a standing ovation from the cheering, sold-out crowd.
… a headline I liked, for a change. This was a really interesting topic thrown me by a Variety editor: How has the music of comic-book movies changed over the years? Can you still do what John Williams did in Superman in 1978? Or does the music need to reflect the darker tone of many contemporary superheroes? Hans Zimmer, Brian Tyler and Marco Beltrami were some of those I interviewed on the subject.
For the opening installment of the American Youth Symphony’s three-year “Danny Elfman Project,” I interviewed the composer after a performance of his score for the documentary Standard Operating Procedure, conducted by David Newman. Danny’s always a lively interview, and the audience loved it. That evening I hosted the concert — my fourth for the AYS — introducing Elfman’s music for Batman, Edward Scissorhands and Sommersby. Here‘s an overview of the afternoon and evening performances. The symposium was sponsored by The Film Music Society.
I’ve often written about composer Danny Elfman, and here is a career profile I penned in 2006 for one of Variety‘s “Billion Dollar Composer” issues. This story gave me a chance to interview not only Danny but also composers Gus Van Sant, Sam Raimi and Brett Ratner. The very next day I published a story about conductor John Mauceri leaving L.A., and it references Danny’s first major non-film work (and still one of his best), Serenada Schizophrana. And here is one I had completely forgotten about, a profile of Danny from June 2002 written for BMI. That one also quotes directors Tim Burton, Sam Raimi and Brett Ratner plus Simpsons creator Matt Groening.