Some people might take a little bit of a break, after headlining Coachella. But Danny Elfman didn’t have the luxury of time off. “I had multiple projects going at the same time and you know, none of their time clocks stopped for me to do Coachella,” the composer and artist tells Consequence. “So I ended up really jumping in without a break — the second weekend, I drove from Coachella directly to Costa Mesa for a 10:30 dress rehearsal, for a percussion concerto played on Sunday. There was really no time to chill.”
Still, Elfman was full of energy as we spoke via phone about his work, both past and present, as he recently reunited with long-time friend Sam Raimi to compose the score for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. While the film marks the director’s return to superheroes after over a decade, it’s a genre of cinema Elfman still knows well, as his legacy includes iconic themes for Spider-Man, Hulk, Darkman, and of course, the movie which gave birth to the modern superhero film as we know it: Tim Burton’s Batman.
As Elfman explains below, the 1989 action film is still, to date, the toughest project he’s ever worked on, due to his relative inexperience at the time and the involvement of mercurial producer Jon Peters. But it proved to be the beginning of a thrilling career, with Multiverse of Madness just the latest evidence of his talents.
In this interview, transcribed and edited for clarity, Elfman reflects on the experience of making Batman and breaks down some of the most exciting musical moments from his work on Doctor Strange. He also reveals why he has a pretty small team of employees, despite working on numerous projects simultaneously.
[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.]
In preparing to talk with you today, I was looking over everything you’ve got going on. And I was curious how many people there are in your sphere right now, whose job it is to just help you get done everything you have to get done?
I keep a really small crew. I’ve always been proud of having one of the smallest groups in my business — I just have an assistant who does my coordinating of meetings and stuff, And I have a studio assistant that works on making sure I’ve got the right kind of video and music and files going in and out. But other than that you know, it’s mostly on me. If it’s a film project, there’s usually a music editor that’s helping coordinate stuff. Stuff that’s like concerto classical music, it’s really just me and-or my orchestrator that I might be working with. Just us, no one else. Team Elfman is like the tiniest team in town. And I kinda like to keep it that way.
I know that with other composers, a lot of people can be involved in the process.
Yeah. But it’s also one of my criticisms of the process where it currently is. There’s too many people making it too much of a team effort.