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Frankenweenie - Tim Burton interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

TIM Burton talks about his delight at having Frankenweenie open the London Film Festival and why the film is such a special project for him ever since he first created it as a short and got ‘fired’ from Disney.

He also talks about the decision to shoot in black and white and use stop-motion as well as getting the amount of horror references right, so that it wasn’t reference dependent and therefore alienating for some members of the audience. He was speaking at a press conference to mark the start of the London Film Festival.

Q. This film was made in London, you are an adopted Londoner, so how do you feel about opening the London Film Festival?
Tim Burton: It’s amazing. It is special because it was made here. It’s strange, when we first started the film there was no Olympic Stadium and by the time we finished it, it was all over [laughs] so that tells you how long this took to make.

Q. You started this as a live action short and you’ve now come back to it 20 years later. What made you want to come back to it?
Tim Burton: Well, looking at some of the original drawings… I think at some point [producer] Don [Hahn] had mentioned the idea of it. Since it was such a memory piece… the drawings and doing stop-motion, the drawings in black and white and thinking about the kids you remembered from school and the weird teachers. It just became a real memory piece. And the purity of stop-motion and, for me, the idea of seeing stop-motion in 3D and black and white was exciting. And then being able to work with loads of people that I’ve worked with in the past and loved just made it more special.

Q. Picking up on the point of Disney not knowing what to do with you when you were younger. Legend has it you were actually fired when you delivered the print for Frankenweenie? So, could you comment on that and if that’s true could you perhaps reflect on whether you’re surprised that your outlook on the world is part of the cinematic mainstream now?
Tim Burton: Well, it wasn’t like The Apprentice: “You’re fired!” No one pointed there finger. It was a bit more Disney friendly. It was like: “Here…” And I was guided to this nice little exit with little cherubs on it [laughs]. It was a strange period in the company’s history. It’s changed over the years and it’s a whole different place now. It was also a low point for animation, not just for Disney but for everything. Nothing was really going on. But at the same time I got to do the film. So, even though they weren’t really released, the opportunity to do them was really great and so I’ve always been grateful to them for giving me the chance to do it.

Q. And looking back are you surprised that you’re now part of the mainstream?
Tim Burton: Well, I’m still not so sure that’s true [laughs].

Q. What has it been like meeting heroes that you grew up watching, such as Mr Landau or even Vincent Price?
Tim Burton: Well, it’s so inspirational. I could say that about working with Martin [Landau] and hearing him talk about working with Alfred Hitchcock and being on Space: 1999. I told him I had a Space: 1999 lunchbox. You learn so much from those people and it’s just a joy… you love making films and meeting these people keeps your energy flowing. It’s why you make movies. And in terms of Catherine [O’Hara] and Martin [Short], I mean I’ve been a fan of theirs forever. That’s why, on Frankenweenie, I said: “Guys, just do as many characters as possible…” It wasn’t because we didn’t want to pay other actors [laughs], it’s because they’re so great at being a part of the creative process and coming in and doing it. There was a weird kind of demon possession that came over them as they did three different characters in one session [laughs]. So, working again with some of the people that I worked with in the past made it very special for me on this.

Q. Can you talk about the decision to shoot in black-and-white?
Tim Burton: It was very important… that’s a crucial element. It was something that is hard to put into words but for me it made it more emotional, the idea of seeing black and white. And also the 3D element… to me, it helped support the work of the people who worked on the film. You look at these puppets and you see the reality of them and the tactile nature of them and how they’ve been hand-made and all… the black and white really shows off the hard work the artists put into it. It really does show off their work very well.

Q. Did you find any problems with the style and tone of Frankenweenie, especially in light of the success of the more modern style of Pixar?
Tim Burton: Well, from my point of view I feel and I hope that all forms of animation are still alive. I remember a few years ago, after Pixar took off and computer animation took off, that Disney said they weren’t going to make any more hand-drawn movies. And I thought that was really unfortunate. But thankfully they changed their minds on that and I hope it’s the same for stop-motion because I think it’s a beautiful art form and you hope that all forms of animation can flourish.

Q. How much would you describe Frankenweenie as a tribute to the horror genre? And how did you go about dropping in references that younger viewers might not get?
Tim Burton: Well, it’s an interesting point because obviously there are a lot of references and it’s all based, for me, on a love of those type of movies but we thought very hard about it throughout the film. I didn’t want to make it reference dependent. When shooting we tried to make it feel like one of those movies, so you could feel what one of those movies was like even if you didn’t know the references. We knew that not everyone would get exactly every reference, so it was always something in the back of our minds to make it more the feeling of those films so that people that didn’t know what the exact references were could still enjoy the film.

Q. You say you have a romantic feeling towards your hometown. Is Burbank still a real place for you? Or has it become something a little bit different?
Tim Burton: You mean like Mount Olympus or the Lost City of Atlantis? I don’t know if I could live there now but I think any place you’re from you have… it’s where you’re from! People think I give it a bad rap but actually I’m quite affectionate towards it because it’s where I grew up and it’s part of my life. I think that was the interesting thing about this, as opposed to the short… it’s more Burbank specific, the neighbourhood and the school and everything really tried to go back and delve into those memories of what the architecture and those places were like. It’s a strange place in that regard because unlike a lot of places it hasn’t really changed much. It’s sort of like it’s in its own bubble.

Q. How important was it to be working with Danny Elfman again on this film’s score?
Tim Burton: Well, I’ve been working with him since the beginning of my career basically. On my first feature film, both of us didn’t know what we were doing and nothing’s changed [laughs]! So, I feel quite close to him and I always feel like he, again, is another character in the film and he helps to solidify the emotions or whatever’s going on. I’ve always felt he’s been very good at guiding the film and setting the tone of where the film is.

Q. Death seems to figure prominently in a lot of your stop-motion work. What is your fascination with bringing things back to life?
Tim Burton: When I was a kid I always wanted to be a mad scientist. I don’t know… a regular scientist just was no un. But a lot of those movies… it’s not so much about bringing dead things back to life, because I find that quite creepy actually, but it’s more about creating – creation and doing things and making things. I think that’s why I was in love with Frankenstein’s story because it’s partially about creation and making things. You know, that’s what filmmaking is and that’s what stop-motion is and so, for me, that’s the fun of it. That’s why I like doing it. It’s not about box office or getting good reviews. It’s about actually making something and, again, why this was so special was because I got to do it with a smallish group of people and real artists. It was a more pure version of why I like making movies.

Read our review of Frankenweenie

Read our interview with Martin Landau