IAR INTERVIEW: Tim Burton Talks 'Frankenweenie'

Monday, 01 October 2012 15:11 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Tim Burton Talks 'Frankenweenie'

For his new movie Frankenweenie, Tim Burton is doubling back.  Way back to a time before he was the globally-recognized blockbuster auteur behind films like Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, Big Fish, Ed Wood, Batman, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands.  In fact, Frankenweenie harkens back to before Burton was even a feature film director.

The new movie, arriving in theaters this Friday, is old-fashioned in that it is a black and white product of stop-motion animation, but it's also a feature-length elaboration on a short film Burton made in 1984, prior to making his directorial debut with Pee-wee's Big Adventure a year later.  The original, a live-action short also executed without color, followed a young boy who, after the death of his beloved dog Sparky, brings the canine back to life using science and a bit of lightning.

Frankenweenie the movie expands upon the idea, adding more creatures and a fuller story filled with strange inhabitants for the fictitious town of New Holland, a locale visually based on Burton's hometown of Burbank, California, which is, coincidentally, the home of Disney Studios. 

In order to promote the upcoming 3D release, Burton and company went south to Disneyland in Anaheim, where IAR was one of many outlets from all over the world participating in a roundtable interview with director in which he discussed the personal aspects of Frankenweenie, the enduring appeal of stop-motion, working with comedic actors, and weird kids in elementary school.


Here's what the one and only Tim Burton had to say:

The film is filled with tributes and homages, to the original short, your stop-motion short Victor, and old-fashioned horror movies.  How do you create a balance between the original storytelling elements and these allusions to existing material?

Tim Burton: It's probably the one project that I, when I did the original short, it was based on real feelings about when I was a child with a dog and the all the movies, mixing those up.  But as the years went on and I looked at more of the original drawings after working with stop-motion quite a bit, I started going back to other memories about that time, remembering other kids in school and the weirdness of the way kids are and weird teachers and other monster movies.  So after years of thinking about it, it just sort of made sense to kind of do that.  It was exciting to stop-motion, black and white, 3D.  It just made it feel like a whole different project.  And even with the references, even though there are a lot of references, for me, I tried to remember that most people don't know those references, so I tried to make sure that you don't necessarily need to know the references to hopefully enjoy the film.  I thought about that, as well.

The film is based on your childhood in a way.  How much of you is there in Victor?  How much of your life is in the film?

Burton: Well, this is a memory piece, so lots of things, like I said, that are feelings I had at the time.  I remember even just the way the classroom was and the other kids, I tried to personalize everything, even down to the settings.  It was much more like Burbank in the park and the houses.  Everything was more personalized, I guess, because it's a project where I could do that.  You can't necessarily do that with a lot of projects but this one was so much based on all sorts of memories, so that's what I tried to put into it.

Including an experience with a beloved dog?

Burton: Oh yeah, my dog didn't look like that, but the feeling of my dog, that was the whole genesis of what the project was about.  That was based on real feelings and real emotions at the time and a real sense of the relationship.

What made you decide that this was the time to revisit the material after so long?

Burton: It's twofold, because I've done three stop-motion animated films, but each time we've almost had to start from scratch because a lot of the crew went off to work at Pixar or go work at Laika or go work other places.  So a lot of it is about getting the right group of people at the time.  That's one issue that takes some time.  Then it's just making sure that, you know, I was trying to be conscious of not just taking a short film and just redoing it and padding it out.  The idea of stop-motion and the drawings and 3D, it's not something you think about, you know when the elements are there.  You can never really predict it.


How has the process of making stop-motion films changed over the course of the films that you've done?

Burton: Certain technologies have made it slightly easier in terms of registration with the digital cameras.  It's little technical things, but the thing is, there's something about it that can't change.  And that is the animators taking a puppet and moving it twenty-four times for one second of film.  That goes back to the beginning of cinema.  That sort of stays the same.  That's the sort of thing why people like doing it.  There's something about the old fashioned technique of it.  It's tactile and it's tangible.  The people that like doing it, they love the fact that nothing has changed technologically.  There's little things that help [the animators], but it's still the same, basically.

We have a lot of international journalists here today, so obviously there are a lot of different accents here, but the kids in the film also speak in a variety of very different accents.  Is that an attempt to reflect a realistically diverse setting or did it grow out of the references to older horror films?

Burton: It was interesting.  Obviously, because there were other monster movie tributes, there's a kid who is a bit like Peter Lorre, a kid who is a bit like Boris Karloff, a kid out of a Japanese science-fiction movie.  So there's that element of it, but at the same time, all those kids were based on real types.  There was definitely a Weird Girl that I remember, a few of them.  The dynamics of the kids were all accurate.  The kind of rivalry, the kind of slight bullying, the cliquey quality, but also the separateness.  All that stuff was based on real feelings.  Even though Burbank was very suburban middle class, there were different nationalities there.  Not as much as there are now, but that was a true experience that way.

Victor is a loner, but he also seems to be respected by his peers and other people in the town.

Burton: That was an interesting dynamic.  I think you can probably say this about most kids, but I grew up feeling like, you know, you're alone, no one understands you, you're different, all those kinds of feelings.  At the same time, I remember feeling quite normal, whatever that means.  I didn't feel like a weirdo, I felt just, "Well, I don't know why people are treating me like this."  So I tired to reflect that in Victor in the sense that he's kind of a loner, but also, he's actually the most normal character in it, in a way, to me.  It was just reflecting that duality of how you can feel one way and you can feel conflicting feelings within yourself.  And I remember thinking, too, like, "I'm being treated like I'm a weirdo," but I remember thinking, "All these other kids are really weird too."  So with the weirdness of the other kids I just to reflect those feelings that I recall in going to school and your relationship with the other kids and teachers and parents and all that.

Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short both provide voices for three separate characters, some of which are not quite what we expect from them.  You've done that with a lot of actors pigeonholed as "comedic performers."  Is that a deliberate effort?  What appeals to you about working with actors like them?

Burton: Those guys are great.  If you've ever seen SCTV and other stuff they've done, they're brilliant.  I haven't worked with them in awhile, but with them, I thought, "Next time, I'm not even going to have a script.  Just, 'Guys, go into the booth and do it.'"  They were doing, in one session, three different voices like boom-boom-boom-boom.  Just crazy, psychotic in a way [laughs].  But that's what they're so brilliant at.  I just said, "Martin, you do three voices and Catherine, you do three voices."  That's part of the creativity.  That's part of why they're brilliant.


Can you talk about the process of casting the various voices?

Burton: Obviously I knew Catherine and Martin and Martin Landau.  I think I always thought of him as [Mr. Rzykruski].  And Winona, I wanted to just a simple reality with that character and she still sounds like she did when she was ten years old anyway.  But Charlie [Tahan] and the kids I hadn't met.  So, that was just hearing, when I first heard Charlie's voice and looking at the model and I just thought that needed to have simple gravity to it, almost like it's a live-action film, not like it's an animated film.  I didn't have him go look at horror movies or anything because it isn't really about that, it's just him being him.  Atticus [Shaffer] was great and got the whole Peter Lorre thing.  It was funny mixing up the kids and adults.  I don't know if it's because, for me, Martin's doing a kind of Boris Karloff kid or Catherine, her Weird Girl, it all somehow, strangely fit.  That's part of the fun of it.  You never quite know when something's going to work or not.

Since you're doing this remake or whatever it should be called –

Burton: Rehash, remake, who knows?  Whatever you want to say.  I don't know.  I'd say it's just another, it's just a different version. [Laughs]  A different version.

When you were making it, did  you have any flashback moments to thirty years ago where you felt like you'd grown up a lot since?

Burton: I wouldn't say that, but I do think that with a project like this, you have so many people working on it that comes out to be kind of a singular thing is great.  From the animators to the voices to the photography, I feel like everybody got on the same page and was working for one kind of common cause, which is great.  Sometimes, especially when you're dealing with artists, things change and you may still like it, but it just moves in a different direction.  But this, I just admired everybody, they just put a lot of hard work into something that's just an old-fashioned medium, which they did beautifully.

Did you ever contemplate doing this Frankenweenie in any style other than stop-motion?

Burton: No.  It had to be stop-motion and it had to be black and white.

Why?

Burton: Just because.  [laughs]  The whole black and white issue is just part of it and it's hard to put into words but for me, it just makes it more emotional.  And it makes it more what it is.  I felt so strongly about it, if the studio had said, "We'll do the movie but it has to be in color," I just wouldn't have done it because it was just that important.

Make sure you've got your Rogue 3D Eyewear ready, because Frankenweenie arrives in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D in theaters nationwide this Friday, October 5th.


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