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Arts & Entertainment

The Devil's in the Detail

Danny Elfman

Lesson time 05:23 min

Danny loves the process of detailing. He shows a scene from Lawrence of Arabia to illustrate how sound design and detailing can elevate your score.

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] - I love the detail. I loved listening to the great scores that I grew up on and hearing the detail. And to me, the detail is what brings it to life, makes it exciting. There's an quality of-- the intricacy of the structure, as you're building it, and the details of that intricacy is what makes orchestral music so beautiful to me. Unfortunately, in the real world, those details are usually steamrolled over in the dub, and one of the first things I had to learn was, often, when I'm doing a certain level of detailing in a piece of music that gets me very excited, I realize the audience will never hear this in the film because of the moment, because there's stuff happening on the screen. And there's a propensity most of the time, that if there's stuff happening on the screen-- and I'm not talking about Gatling guns and machine robots in an army coming towards you. I'm talking about just stuff, which shouldn't, on the surface, conflict with hearing the detail. But most of the time, it does because the people that are putting together the sound for the film, they like their own details, and their own details means all the detail of the stuff that you see and might hear in the background. And there's a conceptual problem here because I still believe in the purity of music and image, and there are moments where the music can do something that sound effects can never do. And there's moments that the sound effects can do something that the music can never do, and they should both have their place. But in contemporary film scoring and film dubbing, frequently, we're both asked to do everything all the time. "Lawrence of Arabia" has an incredible score by Maurice Jarre. One of the beautiful moments that I noticed when I first saw it was that, we're getting ready for a giant battle, and in the preparation for this battle, you hear nothing but horse hooves, rattling metal sound effects. And you feel like you're in the middle of this charge, and it's perfect. They're not using music. [RUMBLING OF THE HORSES' HOOVES] They want you to feel in the middle of the chaos of this moment that the sound effects are doing perfectly. It doesn't need anything else. [MUSIC PLAYING] Then the moment-- there it is. That's the city. We're going to take it. The score comes in, and it's huge. And the director, David Lean, let the score take over. Now, you don't notice, when you're listening, that the sound effects almost completely disappear and the score takes over because it's seamless. And it feels perfect because the score can deliver an emotional element for what's happening right there, as the great conflict is coming to fruition, that the sound effects can't possibly do. And he gave both of them their moment. Unfortunately, if "Lawrence of Arabia" were redone and scored today, rather than, I'm going to guess, a 50 minute score, less than 60 minutes probably, would be a two and a half hour score, or . If the mov...

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.

Even though it wasn't what I expected when I started, it was full of life lessons that can be used in any per-suite.

Im film director, and this masterclass approach to be able to deal with composers and their world ! love it !

More than a lesson on music composition, it's a class on professionalism, life skills, and how to be at peace with your own style.

Great instructor. I learned many interesting things from the stories and valuable information. Inspiration.


Eric L.

I agree with separation of music and sfx and how playing off each other can be so powerful. I always remember a similar example with Lord Of The Rings Ride of Rohirrim and the battle against the Mordor armies. Powerful theme during the charge and a sharp cut off once they impact the Orcs and it places you in the intense battle with sound design. Then music returns to bring to another emotional level. The push and pull between the two can be very emotionally impactful.

Antonia T.

Wow. Never thought about the separation of music & sound effect in film (and I'm a musician and a cinephile) and didn't realise that the movies of today use so much music all the time. Brilliant lesson. Thanks, Danny!

Suzanne W.

Music adds emotion to a film the sound effects add the realism, both are such important details, but they are supposed to be in the background. If you aren't aware of the music (but are touched by it) then the composer has done the right thing. Danny makes a good point here.

Ryan T.

Come on Masterclass.. $90 of my hard-earned money for this? This is not 'Danny Elfman Teaches Music for Film', this is 'Danny Elfman gives an extended interview'.

Marcus M.

Details; I like how he mentions how films could do with a little bit less music. Sometimes the story, dialogue, and sound effects is enough to carry the scene or shot without overbearing (or any) music...