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Danny Elfman’s Music for Film MasterClass Review: Composing Musical Masterpieces

Dive into the fantastic realm of film composition with the “Music for Film” MasterClass led by the legendary composer Danny Elfman. Is his unconventional approach the key to creating a musical masterpiece?

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Danny Elfman Teaches Music for Film: Our Verdict (2024)


4.6 / 5

Embark on a melodic journey into the world of film composition with the “Music for Film” MasterClass led by composer Danny Elfman. In this online course, available on the MasterClass platform, the Oingo Boingo founder and four-time Oscar nominee shares his creative process across 21 lessons—a total time of 3 hours and 35 minutes. Designed for aspiring composers and cinephiles alike, the course lessons cover topics like themes, melodies, instrumentation, and the art of storytelling through music. For fellow composers, learning from Elfman's unconventional yet masterful approach is the perfect chance to acquire technical skills while exploring their creativity, backed by Elfman's decades-long experience scoring iconic films.


  • Expert guidance
  • Lots of references and inspiration
  • Dynamic and spontaneous lessons
  • Contagious passion and unique approach


  • Lack of exercises
  • Lack of classical training
  • Lack of structured approach

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I just love the ability to make noise.

Table of Contents

Being an avid admirer of Danny Elfman’s mesmerizing compositions, the opportunity to peek behind the curtain of his creative process was nothing short of exhilarating. Being able to learn the secrets behind iconic scores, from Tim Burton’s whimsical worlds and the eerie charm of The Nightmare Before Christmas to action superhero themes like that of Batman, had me on the edge of my seat, eager to discover the magic that brings films to life through music.


But is delving into Danny Elfman’s Music for Film MasterClass a worthwhile investment, especially for those aspiring to bring their music into cinema? This review aims to answer this question by guiding you through the course’s landscape and diving into the lessons Danny Elfman has to share. Together, we’ll evaluate the course’s merits, exploring how it empowers aspiring composers and storytellers to appreciate every step of the film scoring process and start their path to becoming master composers.


Curious about how Danny’s unconventional approach can help you create cinematic masterpieces? Keep reading to find out!

What is Danny Elfman’s Music for Film Masterclass?

Music for Film” is a captivating MasterClass led by legendary composer Danny Elfman. This course, consisting of 21 video lessons with a total duration of 3 hours and 35 minutes, dives into the art of film composition. Danny Elfman, known for his iconic scores in films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Batman, takes you on a journey through his unconventional creative process. From themes and melodies to real-time listening and collaboration with directors, the course will equip you with the necessary skills to improve cinematic storytelling through music. The course also offers additional benefits, like a detailed class guide and advice on collaborating with directors, overcoming insecurities, and navigating the world of film scoring.

Talented composer Danny Elfman, known for his iconic film scores and musical compositions
Talented composer Danny Elfman

Who is Danny Elfman?

The instructor, Danny Elfman, is a four-time Oscar-nominated composer with over 30 years of experience in the film industry. Well-known for his versatility, Elfman has collaborated with directors such as Tim Burton, Gus Van Sant, and Peter Jackson. He’s the creative mastermind behind scores for films like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Good Will Hunting, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Edward Scissorhands. Elfman’s unique perspective makes this Masterclass an interesting and detailed overview of the film scoring process.

Who is this course’s target audience?

This course is ideal for aspiring composers, filmmakers, and anyone passionate about the art of film music. While no prerequisites are required, having a basic understanding of music fundamentals may make it easier to grasp certain concepts. Whether you’re looking to pursue a career in film composition or simply want to explore the creative process behind cinematic scores, you can learn a lot from what Danny Elfman’s Music for Film Masterclass has to offer.

What topics does Danny Elfman’s Music for Film cover?

Danny Elfman’s Music for Film Masterclass covers a lot of amazing and practical lessons to help you navigate the film music industry.

Here is an overview of what to expect from Danny’s Masterclass:

  • Lesson 1 – Introduction: Danny Elfman provides an overview and welcomes you to his surreal world.
  • Lesson 2 – Beginnings: Explore Elfman’s unexpected journey to film composition without classical training.
  • Lesson 3 – Spotting Session: Learn the critical first steps of mapping out a film score during the spotting session.
  • Lesson 4 – Storytelling Through Music: Understand the influence of film history on storytelling through music.
  • Lesson 5 – Themes and Melodies: Create and identify themes and melodies using examples from Elfman’s scores.
  • Lesson 6 – Real-Time Listening: A Simple Plan: A walkthrough of crafting the score for A Simple Plan.
  • Lesson 7 – Instrumentation: Dive into the art of choosing instruments to convey emotion and energy.
  • Lesson 8 Tim Burtons The Nightmare Before Christmas: A case study on creating the score for this iconic film.
  • Lesson 9 – Workflow: Gain insights into organizing a studio and project for a successful career.
  • Lesson 10 – Creating Your Template: Learn how to identify the tone of a film and create a template for building a score.
  • Lesson 11 – Insecurity and Instincts: Danny Elfman shares insights on managing doubt and sharpening instincts.
  • Lesson 12 – Writing Feature Scores: Explore the process of mapping out a score using examples from different genres.
  • Lesson 13 – Changing Your Approach: Case study on scoring for Milk, and the importance of improvisation.
  • Lesson 14 – Chasing a Moving Edit: Understand the challenges of composing for an evolving film.
  • Lesson 15 – The Devils in the Detail: Learn how sound design and detailing enhance a score with a scene from Lawrence of Arabia.
  • Lesson 16 – Real-Time Listening: The Unknown Known: Danny Elfman explains creating the villain’s theme for The Unknown Known.
  • Lesson 17 – On Failure: Insights into overcoming failure and persevering in the face of challenges.
  • Lesson 18 – Working With Directors: Learn how to collaborate with directors and present ideas effectively.
  • Lesson 19 – Crossing the Line: Understand the balance between influence, homage, and plagiarism.
  • Lesson 20 – Advice to New Composers: Danny Elfman provides a unique perspective on finding what makes you unique.
  • Lesson 21 – Closing: A reflection on the course journey and final words from Danny Elfman.

My favorite parts of Danny Elfman’s MasterClass

I loved every second of Danny Elfman’s Music for Film Masterclass, and here are some of my favorite lessons:

Analyzing the composition of the 'A Simple Plan' main title track by Danny Elfman
Deconstructing A Simple Plan Main Title

Examples and behind-the-scenes. They give you a deeper understanding of Danny’s process, and witnessing  the evolution from concept to final result for his most iconic scores offers a fascinating behind-the-curtain experience as you learn more about the score-making process.

Tim Burton and Danny Elfman faced uncertainty at the outset of their musical collaboration
Tim Burton and Danny Elfman didn’t know how to begin a musical

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. I loved this lesson because The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorite movies and I know every song by heart.  Danny talks about his collaboration with Tim Burton to bring this film to life. He talks about how there was nothing scripted, so it lacked a proper structure that allowed him to be very creative. Each song only took about 3 days to write! Seeing Danny’s thinking behind one of my favorite music scores was a delightful experience.

Otherwise, Danny Elfman might struggle to complete tasks efficiently
Otherwise, Danny would not get things done
  • The Big Board. Danny’s personality is very eclectic, and he knows the best way to organize his time is to have something external, which is why he likes organizing himself by having a big board that tells him where he is with his projects. On this board, Danny marks the days he has worked on a project and the days he has left. He also writes the score time he has to deliver and the scene it belongs in.  I found this “Big Board” to be such a great organizational approach that I started incorporating it into my routine. I didn’t expect it to be so useful, so thanks, Danny!
You can work with anything if you're inventive
You can work with anything if you’re inventive

Be inventive. “To show invention is a great thing.” Danny likes recording weird instruments and adding them to his scores. At one point, he made an instrument built of beer cans! He used to go around and pick up beer cans everywhere he went, and he eventually built up an octave and a half of beer cans. This became an amazing source of inspiration for me, as I saw first-hand how creativity can be born from the most unexpected places.

Preparing yourself for work is akin to gearing up for battle
Preparing yourself for work is like going into battle

Templates. Danny puts a whole week of work into building his template because once he starts writing, he wants to be as clearly focused on writing as he possibly can. He learned this from a wonderful artist named Francisco Clemente. Before an art exposition, Clemente would prepare blank canvases and all the pigments he thought he would need, and Danny liked the idea. So, when he’s trying to spend that week or ten days at the beginning of a score organizing himself, he does the same thing. He lines up everything he needs in advance, so when he begins creating, he knows where most of his tools are.

And yet, it's important to allow yourself to feel insecure, knowing that it's okay
And still allow yourself to feel insecure knowing that it is okay

It’s okay to feel insecure. Many composers are arrogant, and Danny believes that arrogance is generally hiding the great insecurity that we all carry. Danny himself is constantly insecure about what he’s doing. You never know if it’s right. And it’s okay to feel unsure of yourself. It’s okay to feel insecure, even during the process and even at the end of it. It’s okay, you’ve got to keep yourself moving. “It’s okay to not feel really confident in what you’re doing all the time.” Doubting yourself and then finding confidence and moving forward – Danny thinks this is the life of a composer and the life of an artist in general.

Life is simply too short to fret over failure
Life is just too short to worry about failure

You are going to fail. There are very few composers that haven’t had failures. That’s part of the territory. Failure is going to be part of your existence. How do you deal with that? It’s hard. Danny says you have to let it go and refocus yourself and get back going. There’s no other way to do it. But you’ve got to find something to do. Danny got into boxing, and as he says: “There are ways to deal with rejection and one great way is just any physical discipline, and if it’s some sort of discipline that involves some form of contact better yet.” It’s a reminder that failure is an integral part of the artistic journey, and the ability to confront it shapes your artistic identity.

How much does the MasterClass cost?

MasterClass is a subscription-based learning platform, so it’s not possible to purchase courses individually. If you want to take this MasterClass, you have to become a subscriber.

The standard annual plan has been renamed "Plus" and is available at $120 a year (which makes it $10 per month, billed annually), and now provides access to all MasterClass courses on two devices instead of one. The Premium plan, providing access for up to six devices costs $240 per year.

A MasterClass subscription gives you unlimited access to a catalog of 200+ classes, so if you want to take multiple classes throughout the year, the subscription is definitely worth it, and there are pleny of interesting courses on related topics to explore.

Also, the platform offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, so if you’re not happy with your learning experience, you can request a full refund.

Note that the "Standard" membership, priced at $72 per year, only gives you access to their short-form learning content – none of their full MasterClasses are included.

What I liked about Danny Elfman’s Music for Film

Lots of references and inspiration. The course offers a lot of references and inspiration from movies and composers that influenced Danny and can also inspire you and ignite your creativity.

Dynamic and spontaneous lessons. The dynamic, spontaneous nature of the class reflects Danny’s personality and makes the lessons fun and easy to understand.

Eerie atmosphere and music. I just loved the class’s eerie atmosphere and visuals that, accompanied by a captivating score, create a mysterious aura that aligns with Danny Elfman’s signature style. It gives Danny’s Masterclass a distinctive touch and makes it a unique learning experience.

Contagious passion and unique approach. Danny’s contagious passion for music inspires you to dive deeper into music composition. His unique approach offers a different perspective on the industry and encourages you to continue learning as much as you can.

Drawbacks of Danny Elfman’s Music for Film

Lack of practical exercises. One noticeable drawback is the limited exercises or assignments provided in the course. While the lessons are great by themselves, incorporating more practical exercises would greatly improve the learning experience by helping you apply the theory into practice and reinforce what you learned.

Informal structure in Dannys approach. Some people may find Danny’s unstructured composition approach challenging. While I liked how he sorts things out, it might be stressful for people who like to have everything down on paper.

Lack of classical training. Some people, especially musicians may find Danny’s approach challenging. The absence of formal training or reliance on notes may be stressful for those who prefer a more systematic and methodical approach to music composition.

Conclusion – Is Danny Elfman’s Music for Film worth it?

Venturing into Danny Elfman’s Music for Film MasterClass felt like stepping into a cabinet of curiosities filled with sound, where melodies are born and stories come alive. This course is a backstage pass to the process that shapes cinematic masterpieces, and it inspired me to explore my creativity through music.

This course deepened my understanding of film composition and sparked a deeper passion for the process of both listening to and creating memorable scores. I loved Danny Elfman’s lessons and advice, especially the ones on the importance of embracing insecurity. His emphasis on overcoming failure through physical discipline, such as boxing, gave me a valuable lesson in resilience and perseverance. And getting to see the behind-the-scenes for some of my favorite scores was with no doubt one of the best things of the course.

In conclusion, Danny Elfman’s Music for Film is an excellent investment for anyone passionate about film composition. The course provides a rare opportunity to learn from a master like Danny Elfman, with lessons that go beyond technicalities and into creativity and emotion. While there are some minor drawbacks, the knowledge gained and the inspiration drawn from Danny’s experiences make taking this course a wise choice, as it gives you the tools you need for musical storytelling and inspires you to start composing and applying what you learned.

What are you waiting for? Dive into this musical odyssey and let Danny Elfman teach you the magic of creating cinematic musical masterpieces!