Why Danny Elfman Refused to Co-Write ‘Batman’ Score With Prince
Danny Elfman has earned a reputation as one of Hollywood’s greatest composers by penning the memorable scores to a bevy of blockbusters, including Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas and many more. Still, the acclaimed musician admits the biggest gamble of his career was turning down a chance to collaborate with Prince.
In 1989, Elfman was enlisted by his friend and colleague Tim Burton to write the score for the highly anticipated Batman movie. When producers suggested Elfman co-write the music with Prince, the composer threatened to walk.
“I was willing to walk away from the film rather than compromise what I knew should be the sound of the film,” Elfman explained in a conversation with Yahoo! Entertainment. “I just wasn't willing to do it. I knew what the score was, and as much as I love Prince's music, I didn't feel that his score was going to be the right score sound for the Batman movie. And so I had to walk away and let that play out.”
Elfman would second guess his ultimatum, admitting he “did go through a period of time where I just felt like I'd walked away from the greatest opportunity of my life due to my own stubbornness.” Still, the composer stuck to his self-described “fuck-it attitude,” unwilling to deviate from his singular vision for the film’s score.
For his part, Burton also felt pressure from producers to make a Prince collaboration work. "What happens is, you get engaged in this world, and then there’s no way out,” the director explained in a 1992 interview with Rolling Stone. “There’s too much money. There’s this guy you respect and is good and has got this thing going. It got to a point where there was no turning back."
The eventual arrangement saw Elfman handling the score, while Prince created a series of songs to be used throughout the movie. While the Purple One wrote nine tunes for the Batman soundtrack, only two -- “Trust” and “Partyman” -- would end up seeing significant screen time in the film.
In the end, the studio was so happy with both men's work that they released two Batman soundtracks: one featuring songs by Prince, the other featuring Elfman’s orchestral work.
Three decades later, the composer has no regrets about how he handled things. “I had to stick to my guns," Elfman asserted. "My feeling at that point was that Prince was a great, great songwriter, but that he probably was not a film composer, and that he would come up with melodies, and I would essentially be turning those melodies into a score. And so my feeling is that I would end up being a glorified orchestrator or an arranger, not a composer on the project. And I just wasn't willing to do that.”
Still, Elfman confessed that he would have loved to have worked with Prince on a different type of project. “If there was a different kind of film, a weird contemporary film with a twisted soundtrack and I could have collaborated with Prince — like, ‘You do the funky-feel stuff, and I'll do the weird orchestra stuff, and we'll find a medium between’ — it would've been great," the composer remarked. "I would have loved that opportunity. But at that moment, I felt that Batman wasn't it. I already knew in my head exactly the score that I knew would serve the film. And like I said, I was young and impetuous, and I took a gamble.”