Busy Elfman looks ahead, not back


Composer Danny Elfman discussed his new album "Serenada Schizophrana," his long-standing relationship with director Tim Burton and his years in Oingo Boingo during a keynote Q&A session Wednesday at The Hollywood Reporter/Billboard Film & TV Music Conference at the Beverly Hilton.

"Serenada" marks Elfman's first classical concert work, and the composer said it originally was intended to be a "small work" but ended up as an "ambitious, crazy collection of six movements all countering each other. I'm always aware of the fact that there are two composers living inside of me that don't like each other -- one wants to be taken more seriously and the other anything but seriously."

Elfman has scored 50-60 films, including such Burton movies as "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Beetlejuice," "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," "Batman" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Elfman said he doesn't share any special sort of "shorthand" form of communication with the director but noted that Burton tends to give less direction than other helmers.

"He lets me get away with stuff that other directors won't," Elfman said during the Q&A with Tamara Conniff, associate publisher/executive editor at Billboard. "It's a longer leash, so I'm more likely to try something new than if I don't know the director that well."

Elfman, who is working on the animated feature "Meet the Robinsons," revealed that he has never had a music lesson and is entirely self-taught. In fact, in elementary school, he received a report that said he had "no musical talent."

Elfman added that he doesn't miss performing with Oingo Boingo, the band he founded and fronted, saying he had threatened to quit for seven or eight consecutive years before finally following through with it.

"I knew in the last couple of years that I was doing a lot of damage to myself (particularly in terms of his hearing); in hindsight, I wish I'd stopped earlier than I did," he said. "I have no desire to get into that kind of environment again."

Also during the session, billed as a "rare appearance" by the composer, Elfman joked that all composers secretly wish for untimely ends for their peers -- hoping for the chance to free up directors who tend to use the same composer time and again.

"We all secretly hope for each other to die so we have an in to their directors," he joked. "We'll eulogize them at their funerals, but at the same time our agent will be putting a phone call in to see who (the directors) are talking to. It's a dog-eat-dog world."

Elfman also noted that his "Nightmare Before Christmas" music has been ripped off so many times that he has become known as the "Christmas composer -- and I never liked Christmas, so it's bizarre."