Details on The Simpsons Composer Alf Clausen’s Firing
According to The Hollywood Reporter, court papers have revealed why composer Alf Clausen exited The Simpsons three years ago after being attached to the animated series for 27 years, earning nearly two dozen Emmy nominations for his work.
Last August, Clausen filed a lawsuit against Disney and its Fox divisions claiming that he was fired due to age discrimination. The Simpsons producers have argued that Clausen’s suit is “a frivolous one that impinges on its First Amendment rights.”
The outlet reports that an amended complaint Clausen filed earlier this month alleges he was let go because of his age as well as a perceived disability, with the composer revealing he was been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Clausen also attacks Hans Zimmer in the filing for creating Simpsons music he says is “inferior in quality, depth, range and sound, yet stylistically similar in substance,” after the company replaced him on the show.
In new court papers, Fox and Simpsons executives tell their own story beginning in 2011 when producers implemented pay reductions for the staff and voice actors. The show had considered replacing Clausen’s large, live orchestra with synthesizers and computer-generated music, but kept Clausen on, who was earning about $12,000 an episode plus royalties, according to a contract that was included in the court filings.
When work on an episode of The Simpsons titled “The Great Phatsby” (a hip-hop spoof of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel) began in November 2016, Jim Beanz, one of the producers of Empire, was brought in as a guest star and composer. Apparently, everyone thought that Clausen did much of the work, but producer and president of James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films Richard Sakai declared that “Brooks questioned whether Clausen was the right person to prepare rap music and questioned his work more generally.”
“Around that time, I learned that Clausen had been delegating some of the work of composing music for The Simpsons to others, including his son Scott Clausen,” added Sakai. “I believed his unauthorized delegation was unacceptable. I called showrunner [Al] Jean and told him that Clausen had been delegating his composing work; he conveyed to me that he was surprised and disturbed as well.”
This allegedly led to more meetings between Brooks, Sakai, Jean, and The Simpsons showrunner Matt Selman. The group discussed how Clausen was having others do his work. Sakai states that they decided they could “improve the music on the show by replacing him.”
Under California’s SLAPP statute, defendants brought into court for constitutionally protected activity on a matter of public concern get a chance to defeat litigation at an early stage. In those cases, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate a likelihood of prevailing before the litigation moves any further.
The outlet notes: “Where California’s SLAPP law has undergone recent appellate scrutiny is in the domain of employment law, particularly with regards to entertainment and media companies, which are in the business of speech. At some level, all actions by a media company — even staffing ones — might be connected to constitutionally protected activity on a matter of public concern so does that mean any plaintiff suing these companies faces a more difficult path? California’s appellate judges have directed courts to focus on the ‘specific nature of the speech rather than on any generalities’ before coming to a conclusion about whether to invoke SLAPP protections.”
Attempting to strike Clausen’s complaint pursuant to California’s SLAPP statute, The Simpsons defendants point back to that appellate opinion. Adam Levin, the Mitchell Silberberg attorney representing the defendants, wrote: “As in Wilson, Defendants have presented evidence that the decision not to use Clausen as composer in future episodes of The Simpsons had speech-related motivations.”
Levin argues that Clausen is unlikely to prevail in his complaint because he was an independent contractor and not an employee where the discrimination claims apply. They added that the former Simpsons composer can’t prove he was replaced on the animated series based on pretext given how producers offered legitimate reasons for their decision.
“Apart from the considerable evidence supporting the legitimate creative reasons for the decision, Clausen’s claims are undermined by several facts: he was 48 when he was first engaged as a composer and continued to work through his 50s, 60s and into his 70s; Clausen admits his disability was not affecting his work and that he needed no accommodations; and he fails to identify any comments showing animus based on his age, disability or any protected activity,” the court papers read.