Danny Elfman is a film composer, probably best known for his work with Tim Burton. Starting from his early days, Elfman had a real raw passion for music part of several troupes and bands in which he was able to cultivate and nurture his intuition, love and talent for musical composition. Seasoned filmmakers realise just how critical and game-changing sound in films can be. Using music to accentuate, guide and inform the emotional undercurrent of the characters or energise the scene, a film’s score adds a thick layer of meaning and can actualise the tone of a film.

A screenplay is able to craft characters and a scene that ripples with intensity, pulling strings and embedding characters in a scenario that bristles, compels audiences and portrays the intended direction of that moment. While all of these factors contribute to creating memorable moments on screen, music has a way of cutting through the style and dialogue to transcend to a level of rich and raw emotional understanding. Able to access subconscious layers, it’s quite amazing how it can say so much with so little, using non-verbal cues to help unlock character, inform us of intentions and weave subtext. Obviously, this is something that can be achieved by connecting the right film composer to your production.

Danny Elfman’s Masterclass on Music for Film is riveting thanks to his unusual charm, candid conversational style and ease of accessibility, keeping things simple without becoming condescending. Knowing very little about music, this reviewer was somewhat skeptical of just how much value could be gleaned from watching a film composer discuss his method. You would imagine that they would become quite technical and get to the nitty-gritty of what it takes to craft detailed scores. However, Danny Elfman isn’t pretentious or stuck up, keeping his master class on a level that can be appreciated by just about anyone.

Set in his studio, adopting a macabre style not unlike Tim Burton’s dark fantasy world, he expresses his rich insights and learning with great passion without pulling punches. Honest, experienced and confident in his own abilities, he unpacks the life of a composer, starting with his own story and using several of his most recognisable pieces to convey his lessons. From trying to remember a tune in a situation where you could easily forget it, to work ethics and politics, Elfman offers a smorgasbord of expertise and wisdom. One of the most recognisable names in film composing of the 20th-century, he has worked on noteworthy and famous themes and pieces including: Edward Scissorhands, Mission Impossible, Batman, Beetlejuice, Spider-Man, Corpse Bride and Milk. Having composed many famous themes and scores, he’s a prominent and well-regarded composer, who has been mimicked over the years.

Elfman goes into detail around his method, what works for him, where he finds inspiration and how he works to to deadline. Serving as an excellent 101 into the world of film composing, giving budding composers an idea of what’s expected and offering established composers some valuable insights into what it takes to become great, this master class is entertaining, informative and valuable to film scholars and composers. Danny Elfman is an absolute character, his light shines through in this master class and it’s wonderful to put a face to a prolific name, which constantly appears in opening credits. Citing some of his own inspirations in terms of composers in film history, makes it curious foray into the history of scoring, the technological changes over the years, the process of mapping out a film score, dealing with directors, extrapolating a theme, working to deadline, working with and changing time parameters and how to deal with failure.

Elfman has really brought the idea of film scoring to life in his master class, making it easy to understand the role of a film score as well as the behind-the-scenes in terms of expectations and delivery. Funny, offbeat and filled with valuable insights, it’s a rewarding master class that is not general enough to be vague nor in-depth enough to become boring or irrelevant. Serving as a capsule of Elfman’s career and legacy, it’s part documentary, pure master class.

Masterclass Review: Danny Elfman on Music for Film
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