JULY 26, 11:00 EDT
from The Associated Press
'Apes' Heaps Stress on Composer Elfman
By ANTHONY BREZNICAN
AP Entertainment Writer
MALIBU, Calif. (AP) — When work is stressful and he thinks about ending it
all, composer Danny Elfman hangs himself in his studio.
But the loops go around the mischievously macabre musician's hands, not his
neck. And as he dangles, he's thinks of ending his career, not his life.
``The work is very consuming. It's maddening,'' Elfman said, shaking his head
of short-cropped, red hair. ``I can't tell you how many times I've said, 'I
never want to do this again. This is killing me.' Ultimately, at the end I
finish and say, 'All right, I'll do it again.'''
After more than 15 years in the movie business and surviving early critical
derision to become one of Hollywood's top composers, Elfman finally thinks he
has had enough — maybe.
Stretching on the gymnast rings hanging in his studio was one way he relieved
tension during the frenetic last-minute race to score ``Planet of the Apes,''
his latest collaboration with director Tim Burton.
``Sometimes, I'll just go upside really aggressively ... sometimes 'll just
hang and stretch my back out,'' he said. ``It's great for when you're sitting 12
hours a day.
Staying still is something Elfman can't bear, said Burton, who worked with
the composer on such films as ``Sleepy Hollow,'' ``Mars Attacks!'' and Elfman's
personal favorite, ``Edward Scissorhands.''
``I think creative people need to be able to be creative, and that's Danny,''
Burton said. ``If you saw his band's original stage act, they mixed it all.
Music, drama — it was very theatrical.''
Burton said he felt a kinship with Elfman since neither had worked on a
big-budget picture before they teamed up on 1985's surreal comedy ``Pee-Wee's
At the time, both felt like outsiders, he said. It became a common theme in
much of their later work, particularly 1993's darkly comic animated musical
``The Nightmare Before Christmas,'' about a Halloween skeleton who wants to take
part in Christmas.
``There's something funny and amazing about Danny,'' Burton said. ``His music
is so strong it seems like a character in any movie he does.''
Elfman credits Burton for being one of the few directors who give him ``a
``Tim is usually pretty open to any kind of new thing or sometimes even crazy
stuff I would never even run past some directors,'' Elfman said.
When he works with other directors, Elfman complains that too often half the
job is composing and the rest is selling the director on the idea.
``Film work is a very interesting art form, but it's very impure. You can
only write for what's on the screen,'' he said. ``I have to mix it up with
something that has fewer restrictions.''
Elfman, who's written music for some 60 movies, wants to compose a ballet. He
wants to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia. He wants to record a solo rock album.
He wants to write screenplays, and maybe direct and produce some independent
movies himself. The divorced father would also like to spend more time with his
That doesn't leave much time for his day job (or rather, night job — since
he does most of his composing after dark.)
``It's not uncommon for me to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week with
maybe half a day off if I can,'' Elfman said. ``When I'm deep into scoring
there's no going out and meeting friends for dinner. There's no going to the
movies. If a friend of mine is having a birthday party, I'll have to send a
``Planet of the Apes'' was invigorating, but it also drained him.
``Whether I stop doing film music or just trim it way back, I don't know,''
he said. ``Right now I'm in the trimming-it-way-back stage.''
The pulsing score featured numerous complex themes of throbbing percussion,
most of which Elfman performed himself on his private collection of tribal
``The main titles include 48 tracks of my own stuff,'' he said. ``A lot of
the time, I'm outnumbering the orchestra.''
The soft-spoken Elfman, best known for his darkly triumphant ``Batman''
score, the retro bombast of ``The Simpsons'' theme and the achingly sad
lullabies of ``Edward Scissorhands,'' is not the madman character his fans might
The ex-frontman for cult-rock band Boingo (formerly Oingo Boingo) which broke
up in 1995, Elfman speaks in a near whisper inside his chilly home studio, which
is decorated with a menagerie of bizarre bric-a-brac.
A shrunken head adorns a table near his keyboard. Beside it rests a long-dead
stuffed cat curled up in an eternal nap. Broken bits of baby dolls play
peek-a-boo on shelves and above picture frames.
Such decor may be a subliminal reminder of the ``ultimate deadline'' for the
composer, whose work is often at its most lighthearted when the on-screen theme
``Those of us who do this, do it because we're good at being creative under
pressure,'' Elfman said. ``Everybody always wants more time to do everything,
but the reality is you get what you get.''