​danny elfman talks tim burton ahead of royal albert hall performance this friday

Following a sell-out world premiere performance at the Royal Albert Hall last year, Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton returns for two super special performances this Friday 12th December.

by Francesca Dunn
10 December 2014, 7:30pm

What's this? What's this? Danny will be channeling his inner Jack Skellington as he joins the London Concert Orchestra on stage to bring to life the music from films including The Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Alice In Wonderland. Illustrated by Tim's original sketches and storyboards, the concerts explore the collaborative relationship between music and film. i-D decided to do the same and spoke to the legendary composer and longtime partner in crime of Tim Burton to discuss creating Jack Skellington, getting over stage fright, and learning that teamwork makes the dream work. Dark and magical, he's utterly fantastical, it's Danny Elfman!

Does working so closely with Tim make it more of a challenge to work with other directors?
If anything he's the most unpredictable of all the directors I've ever worked with! I've really learned over the years to never ever take him for granted or assume I know what he's gonna like or not like. He's very much of the mind that if you know him, work with him and respect him like I do, you just have to know never to second guess him or take him for granted.

Which movie was the most fun to create together?
I'd have to say Nightmare Before Christmas. I mean, we didn't know what we were doing, had no real template to work with, and there was no script! There was a studio in San Francisco waiting to start work on it, so we decided to start with the songs. Tim would literally come over to my house and tell me a little story, show me drawings, and then three days later he'd come over and I'd play him what I'd written. Then he'd tell me the next part. He was just like a kid telling a bedtime story… 'and now, Jack Skellington wanders into the forest and he comes to this tree and there's a door there and then there's another song'. So I wrote each song in about three days, which for me, is ridiculously fast. The whole act of putting it together was very clean, pure and simple. It was by far the most fun I've had.

How are you feeling about singing Jack Skellington's parts at the show?
I'm feeling really good about it! I was scared shitless last time though. I had flippantly agreed to 'do a couple of songs' but it wasn't until a month beforehand that I realised I'd never sung them live and hadn't actually sung at all in about 18 years. It was unfortunate that we had to open in The Albert Hall rather than some shitty little place and work up to it, which would have been more logical. So the pressure was huge and there was one point backstage where Helena (Bonham Carter) was sitting there because she was performing as Sally and she just said, "Danny, you're going to have a good time!" I was about to step out on stage and I thought, FUCK IT. What's the worst that can happen? The worst that could happen is that they hate me, and I've been hated many, many times by many different people, so I could survive that. So I just walked out there and did it.

And you enjoyed it in the end?
Oh my god, the audience! I'd never performed in England before and I expected them to be a hard crowd to win over but they were the exact opposite. From the moment I stepped out there I felt so much support and although it was terrifying, it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

So you're looking forward to it this time around?
I'm really looking forward to it because my last performance at the Royal Albert Hall was one of those life experiences that just can't be duplicated. The level and intensity of my apprehension was just so strong and it was all washed away by the warmth and enthusiasm of the audience. I went home and I was just on a cloud for a long time. I get emotional when I think about it.

How would you say that your attitude to writing for films has evolved since you first started?
I've actually learned a lot from doing these Tim Burton shows… I never usually listen to anything I've ever written, but this was the first time I was really forced to go back and listen to all fifteen scores we've done together. Going back to my very first scores I was kind of horrified that my early stuff was so primitive, but and the other hand I was going 'oh well there's probably something I could learn from that', because primitive isn't necessarily bad. I don't know if I've gotten any better but I think I've expanded my toolbox and my skills to be more versatile. I hope, at least. That's always been my goal, versatility.

Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton runs this Friday 12th December.


Text Francesca Dunn

tim burton
Danny Elfman
royal albert hall
music interviews