Danny Elfman Says He Freaked Out Flight Attendants by Composing ‘Batman’ Score on Plane

Elfman made so many trips to the bathroom to compose the score that he left the flight attendants unnerved.
"Batman" (1989)
"Batman" (1989)
© Warner Brothers /courtesy Everett Collection

Danny Elfman revealed on a recent episode of Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast that he first started composing his iconic score to Tim Burton’s “Batman” on an airplane while flying back to Los Angeles after visiting the set in London. “That hit me at the worst possible time,” the composer said of the experience. “On the way home, the thing fucking hits me. And it was like, what do I do? I’m on a 747. How do I do this? I am going to forget this all. I’m going to land and they’re going to play some fucking Beatles song, and I’m going to forget everything.”

Elfman always had a recorder on him at the time in case ideas struck on the fly, so he used it on the airplane to begin composing the “Batman” original score. The composer would take frequent trips to the airplane bathroom to play ideas that were coming to mind during the trip.

“I start running in the bathroom [and hum phrases] and I go back to my seat, and I’m thinking, I’m thinking,” Elfman said. “Ten minutes later, back in the bathroom. And then back to my seat and then back to the bathroom, because I couldn’t do this with the guy sitting next to me.”

Elfman continued, “Ten minutes later, I am back in the bathroom, And I open the door and this time there are three flight attendants,” he said. “And they were probably going, ‘What the fuck he is doing so frequently? You can’t do that much blow. You can’t shoot up that often. What is he doing in there?!’ And I piece by piece was working out the Batman score in my head.”

Eflman made headlines in May for admitting he was “terribly unhappy” with how his “Batman” original score was used in the theatrical release of the movie. Elfman said the version of the score used in the Burton film obscured the gravitas of the orchestra. In other words, he was “reasonably happy” with the score itself, but not with the transfer of the music to film.

“They did it in the old-school way where you do the score and turn it into the ‘professionals’ who turn the nobs and dub it in,” Elfman said. “And dubbing had gotten really wonky in those years. We recorded [multi-channel recording on] three channels — right, center, left — and basically, they took the center channel out of the music completely.”

Elfman’s “Batman” score won him a Grammy Award. The composer is returning to superhero movies by working on the music for Sam Raimi’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

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