WAMG Talks To TIM BURTON At The FRANKENWEENIE Press Day
With today being the release of FRANKENWEENIE, several members of the press, including myself, were invited to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA to talk with Tim Burton about his innovative new film.
From creative genius Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”) comes FRANKENWEENIE, a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog. After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the entire town all learn that getting a new leash on life can be monstrous.
Several members of the press, including myself, sat down with Tim Burton to talk about the film, and the original short that it is based on. Check out our roundtable discussion below.
Tim Burton : Welcome to Disneyland. [LAUGHS] Yeah. We’ll make this short so you can all go on some rides. How’s that sound? [LAUGHS]
Have you been on some rides yet?
Tim Burton: You can just write whatever you want. Just say whatever you wanna say.
When did you start to thinking about making this feature about, you know, of a Frankenweenie?
Tim Burton: Um, well, these things always take a long time to get going, but I, I think, uh, it, it was a… it was many years, I mean ’cause honestly after doing a live action short, which was great, I, I got to go on and do other things, and so I didn’t really think about it for a while. And I think once, uh, with the moment people came to me and wanted to do that show I sort of started looking at more older drawings. And there was something about the drawings and, you know, lov… loving stop motion and the idea of doing black and white stop motion, 3-D.
And I… and because it was such a memory piece I, I started thinking about other things, you know, except the thing with me and my dog, but I started thinking about other kids that I remember in school, and other types of kids, and certain weird teachers and things. So, it, it, it… all that sort of new stuff and other monsters and things all that stuff kinda made it feel like a whole new project, and that’s when I started to kinda really thinking about it.
If it is semiautobiographical, are Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein based on your parents in any way?
Tim Burton: Well, I think they’re, they’re more optimistic versions [LAUGHS], uh, nice ver… I mean in, in some ways. I, I, I, I had a slightly more troubled relationship with my, my parents, but on some level, yes. I mean ’cause my father he actually was a — my father was a professional baseball player, so he was a… and he got injured, but he still worked in the sports department of Burbank, so that whole sort of dynamic of trying to get me into sports thing, you know, that, that… that’s all, you know, fairly accurate. In a cartoon kind of way. [LAUGHS]
Also I wanted to ask… did we see Sparky in Corpse Bride?
Tim Burton: No, I mean that was anoth– that was a skeleton dog. No, I mean [LAUGHS]… yeah, my drawings unfortunately I have a very limited range, so my drawings end up kind of looking like each other, no, but that — this one has skin. The other one didn’t. [CHUCKLES]
This, this seemed like… I’m sorry. I’m, I’m asking for like three additional people here. So [CHUCKLES]… um, well, you know, this, uh… you… I’ve heard you love dogs, and, uh…
Tim Burton: Some dogs.
Some dogs [LAUGHS], okay. And Victor kinda remind us, you know, the same… and in the same line, you know of you. And, uh, so when you are making this film or you… when you decide to make the film you, you made some little bit bad. What is the most memorable f… like episode that, that you, you know, you remembered when, you know, when you’re growing up, you know?
Tim Burton: Well, I mean I think, I think… I just tried to put everything in this that way, I mean ’cause it was a lot about, you know, the, the genesis again, the, the — is the relationship with the dog. But then going back so unlike the short film with this I tried to even with like the, um, the architecture and the design to go much more with the architecture of the place I grew up in Burbank. And like I said the other kids, and the sort of dynamic of the classroom, and the way the classroom looked, and the way the other kids were, and the way, you know, all the other kids were kind of… felt kind of strange.
And, you know, I mean I tried to link everybody to people that I remember. Like I mean, you know, that… I remember a few different weird girls that I remember in school, and, and, and like every character, teachers that were quite kind of scary and intimidating, and, and… but also inspirational. So, everyb… everything in the movie was a… based on some sort of personal memory of the place, or people, or, or… so, it is more general that way. It wasn’t so much of like one incident that, that, that sort of… that, that captured it. It was sort of the overall feeling of it.
This, this baby’s like an homage to horror movies of the past. You previously said you were a big fan of them. Why are you such a big fan? What…
Tim Burton: I, I don’t know. I think it’s just because I could always relate to it. You know, it’s, it’s like s… you know, with Frankenstein, you know, I think a lot of kids relate to, you know, you feel a certain way. And it was like it was the — kinda easy to relate to the monster in the sense of like, you know, he… he’s kind of alone, and he’s, you know, and, and, and, you know, like remember growing up you could feel those feelings. And I mean like your whole… you, you… what you feel about your neighbors is like they’re like the angry villagers, you know. So, it was easy to kind of make connections that were slightly abstract, but the feelings were there in those films.
Well, what does scare you now?
Tim Burton: I was never scared by monster movies, uh, really. I just f… ’cause I felt like they were always the most emotional characters at least in those old kinda films. Um, it, it… you know, I guess it maybe slightly different these days, but, uh, the monsters were always the most emotional characters. And so, I think, I think I was just more, you know, real life and, you, you know, I could watch a monster movie, but if I had one of my, you know, relatives come over you… they’d be terrified, you know, it’s [CHUCKLES] of your family.
But things like spiders or, you know, like creepy crawlies.
Tim Burton: Yeah, I don’t… I’m not a big fan of spiders, rats, especially, you know, if they’re like… I got up one morning, uh, on a holiday recently, and I… and there was a centipede in the bed that big. I wasn’t very happy about that. [LAUGHS] So, you know, that kind of stuff I’m not [LAUGHS]…
Seems like you already, you know, decided to, you know, just ship either submer… you know, submerging. I missed it from the beginning. Why? And also, what are the things that you could express in this film, because it is — this is a black and white… and thus 3-D?
Tim Burton: Well, I just find the black and white very beautiful, and, um, I… y… you know, I was very happy that the studio went along with it, because I s… I said, you know, I, uh, I only make it in black and white. If it were color I wouldn’t d… wouldn’t have done it, because it was something… it’s part of the emotion of it, uh, the black and white. And also I was just quite excited about seeing black and white in 3-D, because there’s a depth in the black and white and the clarity in the image, which I a… love.
And so, and also the thought… the 3-D element it…in– in the stop motion process I, I find really works, because if you ever been on a stop motion set it’s like you could touch the puppets. You’re in a set. You know, the light, the characters are going in and out of shadows for real. So, there’s something quite beautiful, and also just the, the paint… you know, what the artist put into it is so beautiful. So, black and white and the 3-D for me helped enhance, you know, all the work that people put into it.
Did you try to negotiate, uh, how dark it could be with Disney, or did they let you do whatever you wanted?
Tim Burton: Well, they, they… people… no, I mean I… ’cause I always felt quite confident that in this sense it was a very kind of tri… in my mind quite traditional Disney movie. I mean, you know, Disney movies, you know, Bambi, Lion King have dealt with, you know, i… issues that, that are s… not just similar in some ways, and, and, you know, I would just find people forget, I mean even probably people at, at Disney [CHUCKLES] forget that, that, you know, from the beginning from Snow White th… you know, all the fil… the people…
Why people remember Disney films is that there’s a certain element of danger in them and… or, or darkness, and, and, and it… you know, if, if all of that stuff was out of every Disney movie I… it wouldn’t be… it wouldn’t have any power to them. So, I always felt quite confident in that, that, that the themes were I… you know, it’s positive. Uh, it’s, it’s… y… you know, it’s got a happy ending. [CHUCKLES] You know, it’s got things that are, that… so, I never felt s… like it was pushing the, the boundaries very much. From my point of view.
Do you dream in black and white or colors?
Tim Burton: [LAUGHS] What do you mean like a dog? Yeah. Um, both. I’ve had, I’ve had black and white dreams and, and colored dreams. I… you know, I guess… but I love black and white. I mean I always have. I think there’s a real beauty to it. When you serve… not for every project, but when you take color out of something sometimes you, you start looking at things, other textures and sort of the characters. I don’t know. It’s just something quite interesting I think.
When you were doing the 1994 short film did you already have the whole story in mind… that we see today?
Tim Burton: Well, that was the original. I mean that was the original thing, and I think like as I was saying earlier it, it just other memories came up. And, you know, ’cause I w… I was never interested in just a… revisiting just to remake something. I… it had to be sort of… and, and I didn’t wanna feel like it was this idea and then it was just padded out. So, it took a while, but once all the other characters and the kids, and the kind of, you know, kind of House of Frankenstein kind of mash-up of things came into play then it felt like it was, uh, a, a way t… that it f… that… like I said it felt like a complete movie as opposed to adding on and… or just padding out.
Will the original be on the Blu-ray or DVD?
Tim Burton : I don’t know. [LAUGHS] Let’s not get… I know they like talking about DVDs, but I, I, I hate talking about DVDs before the movie’s even opened up [CHUCKLES], but, you know, I guess that’s modern [CHUCKLES] way.
What was your own childhood dog. I know you had a dog called [SOUNDS LIKE: P-A-P-P-Y] I think it was.
Tim Burton: Uh, yeah, but…
But was that a Bull Terrier?
Tim Burton: Burbank is ver… no, I had a… no, no, it… this dog is a just a… it’s a nondescript whatever. Um, uh, you know, I, I, I… it, it w… and it wasn’t meant to be like a literal translation of, of my dog. It was just more of an emotional sort of translation. So…
But do you like Bull Terriers?
Tim Burton: I like… well, I like… I’ve… you know, I like kind of all dogs, but again it’s like dogs are like people or animals are like people. I’m sure if you like cats I’m sure you’ve had a favorite cat or… same with dogs. I’ve had maybe two or three out of the series of, you know, pets that, you know, you really connect with. And I think that that’s just, you know, it’s like people. You never quite know which one is gonna have that kind of emotional connection.
What, what dog do you have right now?
Tim Burton: I don’t have a dog, ’cause you travel too… I mean I, you know, I don’t wanna just leave it abandoned. [LAUGHS]
What other pets do you have?
Tim Burton: No, my kid has a tortoise and three terrapins, but that’s about all we can handle at the moment. [CHUCKLES]
Did you get an-…an explanation for this huge title from a Governor? And also can you talk about, you know, what is the reason to have this, um, like Japanese, uh, like Asian or, you know, character, Toshiaki?
Tim Burton: Yeah.
And what kind of information do you have ab… about the Japanese y… you know, youth?
Tim Burton: Well, I mean… I… y… you know, I’ve, I’ve said it many times before. I grew up one of the, you know, one of the genres of movies was Japanese monster movies and science fiction films. So, those obviously… that’s why I put, you know… just a Japanese monster kind of thing, because that, again, was one of the things that I loved growing up. So, you know, those are… every type of movie, every type of that kinda stuff is reference, because, u… um, and like I said I, I tried to make sure that you didn’t have to know the references to enjoy it, ’cause most people won’t know references. And, and so, I, I certainly… I tried to think about just giving the flavor of those movies and not necessarily people having to know what those references are to hopefully, you know, enjoy the, the film.
Toshiaki’s a Japanese name, right but…
Tim Burton: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Tim Burton: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Tim Burton: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, no, you know, it’s…’cause I mean we had, uh… like I said the kids in the movie are kinda based on real… not necessarily one person, but people that I, I remember, and so, you know, a little bit has to do with references of real kids, and then those kinds of, you know, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, you, you know, Japanese… dubbed Japanese movies that I remember seeing, you know, every type of movie and, and person, but also then like I said relating it to the real people that I remember.
Victor makes a movie in, in the movie. Uh, when you were a kid did you used to do that or…
Tim Burton: Yeah. I mean l… you know, a lot of kids did I think. You know, it was, uh, it was a good way to just kind of… you know, it was like drawing or playing. It was just like doing little projects, just like doing little science projects and things, you know. It, it was just seemed to be, you know, uh, uh, uh, a fun thing to do, and, and, and, you know, once I started doing it at school and, and, you know, d… you’d have fun making a film and get a decent grade, because it had a novelty of making a little film, you know, was very, you know, kind d… d… kind of an easy way to get good grades. [CHUCKLES]
Were these films like live action or stop motion, or…
Tim Burton: It was just like mixture like s… stop mo… just single fr… you know, mixed. Sometimes it’d be stop motion. Sometimes it’d just be live. Sometimes filmed drawings, uh, just m… mixture of things.
What, what about the science projects? Was there a favorite one?
Tim Burton: No, but I… the, the idea of science I mean like the little short film making and, and sci… you know, doing science fairs and projects, building volcanos, and things like that, you know what I mean, that was… it kind of all in a similar vein, you know. It, it, uh, it, it was, it was the idea of making things, and, and creating things, and things that you had to kinda thing about, and, you know, ’cause I, I always treated sort of the science thing and the art thing as quite s… similar thematically.
Outside things that are very popular in the moment with Leah and so many other projects, and, and you’ve been doing this entire career, I wondered if anybody ever approached you, told you that they identified with any of these memorable characters that have been lonely characters.
Tim Burton: Well, yeah. Well, no, I mean get… yeah, that’s the, you know, the best thing I ever, you know, happens to me is, you know, that’s… that, y… you know, is not so much, you know, uh, reviews or box offices. I mean obv… you know, like you try to make money back for the film and all, but, uh, yeah, you get people coming up to you and, and that… that’s the most… the nicest thing is when you know it’s not like oh, here’s a script where… it’s like a real connection, and it’s, it’s… that’s really, really nice. You know, that, that to me, you know, means more than anything, because that’s sort of the reason why you do something. And when you do have that kind of personal connection it’s, it’s really, it’s really nice.
What’s been your most bizarre fan encounter? Do you have a strange fan following?
Tim Burton: No, but I mean you… sometimes you get people that show you tattoos that are quite strange based on [LAUGHS] your, your work. No, that… that’s always an interesting one, strange places, strange tattoos. I mean…
Have you ever seen your face tattooed anywhere?
Tim Burton: Uh, yeah. [LAUGHS]
How many times?
Tim Burton: Yeah, that’s [SIGHS]… that’s… that… don’t remind me. [LAUGHS]
Who do you admire the same way that people admire you?
Tim Burton: Oh, I mean it’s a… I mean I’ve been very lucky that, uh, I’ve grown up meeting a lot of people that I grew up being inspired by I got to kinda work with, you know, Vincent Price, or meeting Ray Harryhausen, and Christopher Lee, and Michael Girard. I mean I, you know, I… I’ve been quite lucky to meet people that have inspired you. So, you know, and it h… you know, there’s a lots of [CHUCKLES] people.
If you could bring someone back to life…
Tim Burton: No.
Tim Burton: No, no, no. [LAUGHS]
The main character of the Corpse Bride was also Victor and, here is Victor. Why do you have the same name in this, you know? Is there any relation?
Tim Burton: [SIGHS] ‘Cause I guess I’m bad with names. [LAUGHS] I, I guess I’m just not very good with names. No, I don’t know. They… I… and again I just never really think about it. It just seems like if a character… I just try to look at the character and see what a name feels like. So, it’s more based on that than it is about overly thinking it too much. So… Enjoy Disneyland.
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