When it rains, it pours.
That adage applies not only to El Nino and salt, but to award recognition for Danny Elfman, former frontman for Oingo Boingo and now possibly the most prolific composer of Hollywood film scores.So far this year he's been up for a Grammy for the title theme to "Men in Black" and two Academy Award nominations (for "Men in Black" and "Good Will Hunting").
He didn't win any of them, but he did manage to pick up the best score honor for "Men in Black" at the American Music Awards.
In 13 years of writing music for 30 films - among them "Bee-tle-juice," "Batman," "Edward Scissorhands" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" - these are his first Oscar nomi-nations.
"There's some big change of heart or shift (among Oscar voters) that caught me off guard," he says of finally making the grade. "There was a joke three years ago when `The Nightmare Before Christmas' came out that, even if there were a Best Danny Elfman Score category, I still wouldn't get nominated.
"I was kind of enjoying my anti-status, so I was very surprised when I got the 6 o'clock phone call (about the Oscar nominations)."
"Good Will Hunting" favors harps, flutes and soothing violins, with a chorus of seamless, ethereal "ahs" sometimes floating above the instrumentals. Some movements are meant to blend into the background, a subliminal layer on a scene's entire sight-and-sound package, while others very definitely set the tone for a moment. Here and there he has included nods to the Celtic background of the South Boston youths whose story the film tells.
On the other hand, "Men in Black" sounds "muscular," to use one of Elfman's adjectives. Strings, from bass to violin, are used to build tension and accentuate rhythms. The title theme is built around a pulsing '60s secret-agent-type line. The brass is punched, a chorus added for climactic chords. It is mood music for a very visual movie, made even more confident when played at high volume.
Elfman has experienced both ends of the film spectrum, from relatively low-budget works to studio machine blockbusters. The score is one of the final elements added to any movie, so by the time he sets to work, the heat is on.
He says as a listener he prefers smaller films because the composer usually has a freer hand than in, say, a $100 million movie that has the studio suits sweating about its opening-weekend box office. Professionally, he is game to take on either kind.
"I look forward to balancing projects," he says. "I've done enough big-budget projects to know the ropes. The way I look at it is, I know there's going to be a lot of pressure and that I'm going to get paid a lot more to endure that pressure. What I care about is the end result.
"It's a rough-and-tumble business. Any composer will tell you that," Elfman says. "Being in a punk band, being in a mosh pit - that's sissy stuff compared with this."
At 44, Elfman is one of the best-known scorers in the industry, but he still worries that he is not perceived as a serious composer because of his rock-band background and his lack of formal training in theory and composition.
"People, when they hear that, tend to say, `He's a hummer; he has a team of people who do it,' " Elfman says. While he doesn't have a shingle from Juilliard or Berklee College of Music hanging in his Santa Monica Mountains home, Elfman taught himself music transcription by taking down Duke Ellington piano solos and other complex works from ear to page in his eight years with a musical theater troupe.
"If there's anything I ever wasn't, it was a hummer, and I hate that thing following me around, which it still does." He says if there is anyone laboring in his shadow without due credit, it is former Boingo bandmate Steve Bartek, who creates Elfman's orchestrations.
Just the same, Elfman says, if he could go back and spend 10 years in training, he would - just to speed up his creative process.