Danny Elfman MasterClass Review: How to Edit Film Scores
Danny Elfman is a renowned film composer and has a MasterClass on how to do what he does. This is part 3 of my 4-part review of Danny Elfman’s MasterClass, where you learn to compose music for film. You can see parts one here and two here.
This part discusses several movie case studies, score editing and why everyone in the music industry drives me to the brink of madness with their ridiculous decisions.
Please note: MasterClass is an affiliate. That means if you take the class through me, I’ll earn a small percentage of what you pay. It won’t cost you anything more and regardless of my affiliate status, I will always give my completely honest opinion of each class.
Danny Elfman’s MasterClass
If you’re taking this class, please let me know!I'm taking Danny Elfman's MasterClass! Click To Tweet
If you’re taking any other MasterClass and want to chat about it, let me know that too!I'm taking a MasterClass! Click To Tweet
If you prefer to watch instead of read, here is my video for this part of the course:
Listening to the Music from Batman
Elfman begins this series by stating that, unlike most of us watching this, he can’t write sheet music off the top of his head. Bruh. I can barely read it, are you kidding? He also says he’s not good enough at piano to really know what he’s doing when creating melodies. Danny and I have so much in common.
Apparently, Danny Elfman wrote the main Batman theme in the bathroom of an airplane. He sang it into his voice recorder, running back to the bathroom every time a new idea appeared in his head. He suggests clearing your mind of any pre-conceived notions you might have about a film before going in, so you can “start with a blank slate.” Since I *STILL* don’t know what my film is about, that should be easy for me.
We discuss how to find the “tone” of the movie and how to carry that through so that the film is cohesive. Elfman laments that often, film scores are forgettable because there is no consistent tone throughout.
Elfman briefly touches on how you shouldn’t always follow the script literally when composing. Sometimes using improv and going with your instinct can change the score for the better.
If you go this route, be sure that you keep things relatively consistent. For example, if you decide to make the score jazzy, keep it at least somewhat familiar throughout so that it’s cohesive.
When The Film Keeps Changing
I discussed this in a previous post, but it baffles me that movies have the score made before they are finished. This just seems far more complicated, but what do I know?
We discuss “finding the editors’ rhythm,” meaning figuring out where the editor will make cuts that you will use to make the score. I have very limited experience with syncing voiceover to video and it’s mind-numbingly frustrating. I am not cut out for life as a film composer. But hey, at least I know that!
Elfman talks about having to remake 25 seconds of a score, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but you have to keep making other changes and, “at a certain point, I re-write half the fucking cue…And there’s no simple solution to that, you just have to feel your way through.”
Um, Mr. Elfman? I have a simple solution: WAIT UNTIL THE FILM IS DONE. I am so confused?? Or like, if the editor has a rhythm, maybe give them a metronome?! I just…as a Project Manager/Producer/Virgo, this drives me up a wall. Elfman is a Gemini, so maybe that makes him more amenable to this bullshit.
Adding Musical Detail
This is another thing I would totally phone in, because my other option is to dive in, become obsessed over every tiny thing, then go slowly mad. Elfman says that as much detail as he wants to add to the score, he has to allow the sound effects and dialogue to have their moments. In some spots, the score will need to be very minimal to allow other parts to shine.
This makes sense and is the one part of this class I’m not yelling at my computer screen.
I guess I’m also just learning that sound effects and scoring are two different things. I worked on a lot of indie films (as an actor, where details like this were not my job), and maybe I’m used to one person doing multiple roles.
Obviously on a huge budget you’d have separate people for each thing, which is cool. Again though, that makes even less sense why they would not have someone be the go-between for the editing and scoring?! Can someone please help me out and explain why this happens? I am going slightly (more) mad.
We end this session on a live listening session: The Score for “The Unknown Known.”
Danny Elfman makes me laugh out loud when he says this quote:
I was curious about this at the start of this class. There have to be movies or subjects that composers don’t like, and I wondered how they got past it or if they just turned those jobs down. Now we know.
As we listen to the score, I wonder if Danny’s hatred of the subject comes through in the music. The music is eerie, almost forbidding. I haven’t seen the movie so I assume it also fits the film. Elfman makes frequent pauses to explain why he added certain elements, which is really cool to watch. I love watching musicians review their own work, it’s always a fun learning experience.
Let me know what you think of the Danny Elfman MasterClass if you’re taking it! If you want to check it out through me, here are my affiliate links!
Not sure what other classes there are? Here is the home page:
You can give MasterClass as a gift! It’s a great idea if you know someone who’s a huge fan of any of the teachers:
Whether or not you buy a class through me, thank you so much for being here! I really appreciate you.