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Arts & Entertainment

Creating Your Template

Danny Elfman

Lesson time 7:53 min

Identifying the tone of the film can dictate the sounds that make up your template. Danny walks you through how he creates a template from which to build a score, and he tells you how being prepared can help you realize your vision.

Danny Elfman
Teaches Music for Film
Oscar-nominated composer Danny Elfman teaches you his eclectic creative process and his approach to elevating a story with sound.


[MUSIC PLAYING] DANNY ELFMAN: When I start a score, the first thing I'm thinking is the tone. And so, yes, the tone involves color, orchestration, and I'm going to build a template in my software based on what I think I'm going to need for that score. So I'm going to put a whole week of work into just building my template, because obviously, once I start writing, I want to be as clearly just focused on writing as I possibly can. Kind of an analogy, I-- a long time ago, there's a wonderful artist named Francesco Clemente, and a friend of mine, who was an artist, brought me into his studio. He was just setting up for a show, a new series of paintings. It was just the very beginning, and the room was lined with blank canvas, and he was getting all his colors, all his pigments, lined up in the middle of the floor. And I learned a lot from this because this is actually the image of how I begin to try to get my shit together when I'm starting a score. He was getting all the hues and pigments he thinks he was going to use for this project from one side of the floor to the other, and that was his way of organizing himself. Now, I have no idea what his mind is like, what his process is like, how chaotic or not chaotic it is, but I liked that idea. And so when I'm trying to spend that week or 10 days at the beginning of a score organizing myself, I see myself as doing the same thing. I'm lining up these pigments, so when I begin painting, I know where most of them are. And that doesn't mean I'm not going to want to find a color that I didn't imagine I was going to want, but it does allow me to start with some organization, lining up my sounds-- my colors, my pigments-- in a way that I'm going to know where to find them, at least. But on top of that, I might have a feeling that, for this score, I'm going to need a lot of ethereal sounds. I'm going to really look at everything I have in bowed glass, in synthetic sounds, and on many scores, I might spend a week just programming synthesizers. If I'm going to use synths, I'm going to go through my library, and I'm going to tweak sounds. And in that template, I'm going to have 20 ethereal synth sounds that I'm already liking. If it's a certain type of score, I might be building arpeggiated things. And so even though I'm going to want much more, I want to start with 20 arpeggiated sounds that I like, that it feels like I'm getting into the ballpark of what I think the color of the score is going to be. If I'm looking for samples, I might go and do a deep library I've done on prepared pianos and piano harmonics because I love piano overtones and piano harmonics, and I'll find the ones that are appealing to me. So, yeah, there's a lot of work in the beginning that's going to go into, before I've written anything, a feel of color, and/or another word for tone, of what I think the film is going to be. And then over the course of, as I'm starting to write, I'm going to expand on that. But I want to...

About the Instructor

From The Simpsons theme to the soundtracks of Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and The Nightmare Before Christmas, Danny Elfman’s compositions are original, memorable, and exuberantly weird. Now the Oingo Boingo founder and four-time Oscar nominee shares his unconventional (and uncensored) creative process. Step into Danny’s studio and learn his techniques for evoking emotion and elevating a story through music.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I liked Danny's honesty and I felt like he shared tangible skills. I also just loved that it was very encouraging for people of all backgrounds.

I loved the class. I enjoyed the lesson dealing with how to work with directors and producers. Danny also did a great job of encouraging you when you get in those moments of self-doubt. All in all, lots of useful real-world information. I seriously need to take this class again!

A great masterclass from a real master who is eager to teach you and bring your mindset of film scoring to the next level. Thank you Danny !

Danny Elfman is briiliant. This content was truly inspiring in not losing focus on simply composing. It helped me in not editing myself before I even start.


Suzanne W.

Wow, Danny is so organized. I often get tripped up in my creative process when I have to stop and create a new sound or find something I want. Prepping is clearly the key to being free to create without distraction. Awesome reminder.

Neil B.

I have been trying to get my workflow sorted for the last month, I realised it was the biggest creativity killer and prevented actually getting things finished! Great advice!

Ryan W.

Organization is something I am great at, but... you guessed it. Not with composition. I definitely need to figure out how to have some sort of schedule for when I am working on a project, and while I tend to have certain melodies and musical notes come to me mentally, I need a way to map those out before I begin the project to make the process more fluid and attainable without taking an excessive amount of time. What I have always said my projects with composition are lacking is a template, but it is also difficult because I do not necessarily know how to create one because of the types of processes I encounter and have to endure... especially with the concert band style.

Brian Michael F.

Love this! Templates and curating the tone of the project first is so critical!! It’s also very fun:)

Marcus M.

1 week on a template. That’s so smart. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone specifically point that out before.