Harry Interviews Tim Burton – Nightmare Before Christmas 3D, Vincent Price, Stop Motion, Geek Love, Sweeny Todd and lots more!!!

Hey folks, Harry here…. With NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS getting the 3D treatment this weekend – Disney set me up to interview Tim Burton… someone that I’ve wanted to talk to for a very very long time. Burton is just someone that loves many of the same classic old films and quirks of the past that many folks like me share. We float all over the place here, but specifically – we’re having the most fun talking about 3D, Vincent Price, Hammer Films, Johnny Eck, etc… Enjoy this interview, I know I did…


TB: Hi, this is Tim Burton calling for Harry.

HK: Hey! This is Harry Knowles.

TB: Hey. Sorry I’m a little late. I know you gotta run… go, too. Sorry I’m calling you a little late.

HK: No problem. My screening wound up getting pushed back.

TB: Oh, okay. Good, good, good.

HK: I’m on a series of push-backs today.

TB: I know the feeling.

HK: How’re things going on SWEENEY TODD?

TB: Oh, it’s just early days, you know. It’s interesting. I’ve never done something like this before, so the casting process is quite different and interesting. I’m right in the middle of that. I’m excited because it’s something new for me, so… just a whole new process.

HK: What do you mean by it being so different for you?

TB: Well, just doing a musical kind of thing. I mean, I’ve done… with the animated things, there’s music and stuff, but this is a different process. I don’t know. You just look for different things. It’s just slightly different than what I’m used to.

HK: This has been one that has been floating around with you…

TB: I’ve always loved it ’cause it’s… I don’t know… I remember when I first saw it on stage it was this sort of Grand Guignol kind of horror movie musical. I always loved it for that.

HK: Are there going to be stylistic similarities to the way you handled that sort of Grand Guignol sort of stuff in SLEEPY HOLLOW?

TB: Well, you know… yeah, I do love those kinds of movies and things, so yeah… there’s certainly probably a bit of that in there. Just those old expressionist movies and old horror movies, but that juxtaposed against the music, which is so beautiful and strong. I don’t know… it’s just an interesting combination to me.

HK: I can’t wait to see it.

TB: Me, too! (laughs)

HK: I just can’t wait to see how Johnny (Depp) handles that character.

TB: That’s what’s great about him. He’s just so game, he’s so into trying different things, too. So, that’s going to be exciting.

HK: So, what do you think about this 3-D process that’s being adapted to NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS?

TB: Well, I love it. To be honest… I’ve always been very protective, especially of that movie. Because it’s stop-motion and it’s dimensional… The fact is, if you were on the set… it’s like, 3-D, you know? Because you’re on the set with the puppets and the characters. 3-D actually fits right into it. When I first started seeing some tests, it kind of reminded me of the little Viewmasters… you know the little 3-D Viewmasters?

HK: Yep.

TB: It just seemed to accentuate and help it, in a way. You can almost feel the puppets, you feel the texture of it more. I think it just almost gives more of a mood of it, in a certain way. So, I’m really excited about it.

HK: I remember back when Disney was originally promoting NIGHTMARE they actually had that 3-D Lenticular poster…

TB: Yeah!

HK: Which kind of promised a 3-D film.

TB: I know! I know!

HK: It’s like, “Finally! Here it is!”

TB: Exactly and it’s the first time I’ve watched a 3-D movie without getting a headache, too, so that’s good. The technology has gotten better. Obviously, it wasn’t shot with 3-D in mind, but it works quite well. Again, I think it’s because of the stop-motion process and the fact that it’s kind of half-way there, in a certain way.

HK: I know that Lucas is planning on using the same process on STAR WARS and Cameron’s going to do it on TITANIC and I think Peter Jackson’s going to try it on LORD OF THE RINGS and stuff… How do you feel about the concept that perhaps some of your past films can be turned into 3-D. I mean, is this exciting or…

TB: I don’t know… With 3-D technology… some things it’s good for, some things… There’s always a danger… is it going to be the way every movie is going to be made from now on? Possibly… But I’m sure we thought that back when they were doing HOUSE OF WAX and that kind of ran its course. It’s hard to (see) if things are sometimes a gimmick or if it’s something that helps the medium or helps a specific project. I mean, some projects seem more 3-D than others. Or is it going to be the complete wave of the future? It’s sort of hard to predict that. Will people expect to see every movie in 3-D or not? It’s hard to know.

The technology is good. Like I said, no longer do you have to worry about looking like a complete idiot or getting a headache sitting in the theater. It’s pretty easy to deal with now. It’s genuinely interesting and I think for this one specifically it seemed to fit with the medium.

HK: I have to say… when Disney announced they were going to do this new “Miracle of 3-D” to NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, I was sort of, like, ecstatic because there’s something so cool about that film being the first film of many that are wanting to do the process, you know?

TB: It’s great, too, ’cause, Harry… what’s really amazing is it actually just accentuates the stop-motion more. You know what I mean? I don’t know, you just feel the texture of the puppets more, you kind of get the spacial difference you felt when you were on the set doing it. It just feels very special for me and I’m really happy that it’s that one, too.

HK: So, with a movie like… I know you’re producing Shane Acker’s 9. Is 3-D something y’all are thinking of for that?

TB: That seems like a pretty good candidate for it, to be honest. We’ve had discussions about that. That one really, in my mind, lends itself to the possibility of that.

HK: How’s that comin’ along?

TB: You know, it’s going to be a long process. It’s going to be interesting. It’s a different type of animated film, which is great. It’s not the usual talking animals kind of thing. I think it’s exciting to be involved with something that’s dealing with a different type of animation and in a different kind of movie.

HK: His short was just brilliant.

TB: Yeah, I know. I was amazed that he sort of single-handedly pulled that off. It’s going to be interesting. It’s nice to see, again, animation branching out into different kinds of stories and not just kids stuff.

HK: Would you, if NIGHTMARE’s successful in 3-D, would you look to convince Warners to do the same to CORPSE BRIDE?

TB: Um… I think… Again, there’s something about the stop-motion medium. Those lend themselves to this process and, again, I think because of the fact… I mean, it allows the puppet-maker’s work, the artist’s work, the set-builder’s work to really kind of come through in a way that is like the reality of it when you’re making it. It’s not so much the feel like a gimmick as it helps to accentuate the artistry that was sort of put into it by all the artists.

HK: One of the things that I think is interesting about bringing 3-D to a film that was composed for 2-D is… that sort of taking of 3-D the way Hitchcock wanted to use 3-D in DIAL M FOR MURDER…

TB: Yeah, it’s not everything in your face kind of thing, that’s what I liked about NIGHTMARE. You do have things come forward… there are a couple moments when Jack gets close, when he’s singing SANDY CLAWS, and it kind of has a real good 3-D effect, but it’s not the kind of thing that’s completely in your face. You’re not just going, “Wow! The technology!” You’re still kinda just looking at the story. You almost kind of forget about it in a certain way, which, to me, in this case, is good.

HK: How satisfying is it to see NIGHTMARE just continue to grow each year, the way you’d imagine Rankin & Bass had to feel about the RUDOLPH story….

TB: That’s… I mean, Harry, for me… the whole genesis of NIGHTMARE was because I was in love with Rankin & Bass, watched it every year. And THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS every year. It was a ritual that I really, really loved. If it affects anybody that way, then I’m extremely happy because that’s where its heart came from, those kinds of things. It’s also amazing to me, too… Going back to when NIGHTMARE first came out. I’ve never heard of this in the history of any movie. They didn’t even want to put out a trailer for the movie. I was, like, “Wait a minute! Even the worst movies have a trailer!” You know? (laughs)

It’s like, to see it go from that to where it is now is kind of amazing.

HK: For a while there… It came out and did well for its budget, but I think it underperformed to some people’s expectations and then the Japanese toy market, in a weird way, kept the thing going…

TB: I know, I know. It really is strange because Disney’s always, obviously, been known for their toy-making abilities, but they couldn’t crack this one. It really was the Japanese that completely kind of shamed everybody into, “Yes! You see? You can make a toy of a character with no eye-balls! You can make appealing and great toys!” It kind of goaded them into reassessing it and kind of re-looking at it, in a way.

HK: Do you have a favorite of the NIGHMARE toys that have been release?

TB: Well, they just keep kind of coming out. I don’t know who buys them or anything… (laughs) I was impressed completely by the Japanese in that way because they really, really… I mean, you can almost animate some of them, you know what I mean?

HK: I have a large selection of the big-sized toys. If you had a way of locking their legs down… that’s the big difference.

TB: Exactly! We tried different things around the house just see if we could do it, but no… You could use little screws there, but then you got little holes in your floor all over the place! That one they haven’t quite cracked yet. But, beyond that, in terms of the look and texture and the movement of them, they’re beautiful.

HK: Here’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask you… We ever going to see a GEEK LOVE movie out of you?

TB: (laughs) I was really interested in that. I think it always just felt a bit daunting. It’s like… You probably heard this and you know this, but you get quite daunted… If there’s a book that you really love, there’s something quite daunting about doing it justice in a certain way. I’ve sort of played around with it, but you get sidetracked and stuff. It is something that I do love. I do love the book. I just sort of (need to) get rid of that fear factor of destroying a great book. (laughs)

HK: (laughs) It’s a perfect marriage of material!

TB: I know, I know, I know. I certainly respect it and love it. That would certainly go into it.

HK: I know you get a certain amount of the GEEK LOVE vibe out of being able to do something like RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT, if it ever happens…

TB: Exactly. I met some people… I met this one guy who was really amazing. He was like Johnny Eck, you know? It was fantastic. I was very disappointed, pretty devastated by that one, yeah.

HK: Leonardo DiCaprio was developing a Johnny Eck script for a while, that I read…

TB: Oh, really?

HK: Yeah, it was actually really kind of fascinating. It had him, as the half-man, swimming against Johnny Weissmuller…

TB: Yeah! He lived amazingly. He’s such a… He moved kind of like Fred Astaire or something. He was really incredible.

HK: Yeah. Just the idea that he was playing something like a trombone…

TB: This guy who came in who had the same kind of thing as Johnny Eck, he had this dance troupe… The way he moved… it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen because nobody else could do that, you know? You couldn’t simulate that. No special effects or anything. I was quite excited about him.

HK: Will we ever see you use some of the footage you shot for those interviews with Vincent Price?

TB: Yeah, you know what? I’m going to revisit that. The weirdest thing happened with that. Back at the time, we had trouble getting the rights to clips and that kind of thing and I kind of just left it alone. I was there interviewing him… I hated… I don’t know how to say this. I can’t sort of stand hearing my own voice, you know what I mean?

HK: I tooooootally understand what you’re saying! (laughs)

TB: As much as I loved him and wanted to do it… I just thought, “Aw, shit!” That kind of stopped it for me for a while, but now I think enough time has gone by and it is some of the last stuff of him, so I can get me out of it in a certain way and kind of let him… ‘Cause he’s so great.

HK: It’s weird because I’ve never seen just a great piece on Vincent Price.

TB: You see the Biography Channel, that kind of stuff…

HK: Yeah, that kind of stuff, but that doesn’t really… I mean, Vincent did a play in Wichita Falls, TX, back in the ’80s and spent an hour and a half on the phone with me one night on Halloween.

TB: Wow! He’s that kind of guy!

HK: Exactly! He’s that sort of guy. And I’ve never seen anyone capture that, you know?

TB: That’s the thing about him. I mean, when I first sent him VINCENT… you know, the idea for a short film, he was just so supportive! His involvement basically got the movie made, you know what I mean? In East LA he had this art school… you know, the poor kids in East LA have this amazing art collection due to him. He was just really generous with all that kind of stuff. He was quite amazing that way.

HK: The thing that struck me… I mean, I was just some kid. It wasn’t like I had done the site and…

TB: That’s the thing! That’s how I felt. He understood. He understood that the reason he was who he was was because of people like us and he was really cool about all that. I don’t know. I was really grateful that that was the first kind of Hollywood experience I had and it was so positive. You know, it didn’t start out on a jaded foot. It was like, “Wow! This is really amazing.” This is somebody who you grew up watching and he turns out to be a great person.

HK: I can’t imagine what it would be like to have actually met Lugosi on his heroine side, you know?

TB: Exactly.

HK: With someone like Vincent, you never had that. You always had a man of class and style…

TB: Yes.

HK: And to meet a hero… that’s the thing that’s so wonderful about what you did with the character of Lugosi in ED WOOD.

TB: I think that probably had more to do with Vincent in a certain way than it did with Lugosi, you know what I mean? In terms of that kind of relationship. It was so strong to me. My career in terms of realizing that not everybody’s an asshole here! That there are some really artistic, great people and they have a real positive vibe about them. So, when times go dark, I always remember that in a certain way.

HK: That’s one of the things that I’ve always loved about what you do. You resuscitate some of those Hammer film stars and get someone like Christopher Lee involved…

TB: Oh, yeah… He’s amazing! (laughs) In SLEEPY HOLLOW I was like, “What about Christopher Lee?” and they all kept saying, “He’s dead.” People kept trying to convince me that he was dead. And then, oh! Okay, he’s not dead and, by the way, after (SLEEPY HOLLOW) he goes and does STAR WARS and LORD OF THE RINGS and he’s recording heavy metal bands in Italy and doing Operas in Germany. That just begins to show you the sort of Hollywood mentality.

HK: Peter Jackson set me up for the worst joke of all time… I was talking to him about Christopher Lee once and he went into this whole thing about how Christopher Lee actually met Adolf Hitler and he fabricated this entire story for me, knowing I was going to meet him. I have this footage of me asking (Lee) about meeting Hitler and Christopher Lee going (in Christopher Lee voice), “No-no-no-no-no-no! I have never met Adolf Hitler!”

TB: (laughs) Well, the fact is, he pretty much met everybody else. That’s the great thing about Christopher. You kind of believe it’s a possibility! (laughs)

HK: I was at a press junket with him in France and there was a reporter from the Czech Republic there and the next thing I know, he just starts flurrying into that bombastic voice of his in some obscure dialect that I don’t know!

TB: He speaks, like, 5, 6, 7, 8 languages… I don’t know. I remember the first time I met him in in the Dorchester… he walked in and everybody just turned. I sat down with him and talked for 2 hours and it seemed like 10 minutes. It was like you were hypnotized by Dracula, you know? It’s like, “Oh, my God!” He’s got such an amazing presence. Still! He’s still all over the place. He’s like (in Christopher Lee voice), “I’m off to record a heavy metal album with a band in Italy!” Or, “I’m reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS in Swahili!” He’s always amazing. That’s an inspiration to see someone like that keep going strong.

HK: Are you going to be able to squeeze him into SWEENEY somewhere?

TB: Yeah, I’d love to. I love him. I really think he’s amazing. Just that voice, you know? I haven’t had the nerve yet to ask him to do my answering machine… (laughs) I don’t like getting calls, so I think it’ll really be helpful for people to not leave messages. It’d be great.

HK: (laughs) What’s Michael Gough like to work with?

TB: Oh, he’s fantastic, too. I love him. Again, he’s just this sweet… He’s a great artist. He’s just a great, great guy. That’s the amazing thing. A lot of these guys who you grow up (watching)… A lot of times I’d be sitting there, talking to him and just go, “Man, I’m sitting here talking to the guy who was in KONGA!” You know? Or HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM. It’s just great. He’s just an amazingly down to earth, great guy.

Again, I’m so lucky to meet these people who I kind of idolized growing up and they’re all of them great!

HK: Earlier this year I brought in Ray Harryhausen to host a screening of the 1933 KING KONG…

TB: He’s great, too! He’s a great guy!

HK: Yeah! I just sat down with him and he was actually at the World Premiere of KONG in ’33 in Los Angeles.

TB: (Orgasmic/awed gasp)

HK: And I had him just describe the opening pre-show that Sid Grauman did…

TB: Wow!

HK: It’s like… literally! Who else could you ask? Who else is alive who was there? And for, like, an audience of 200 people, he just time-tripped back as a little boy and told the story of what the pre-show was. You’re just like… “Wow!” Yet he was so appreciative that I knew to ask the question.

TB: See, that’s great. I just met him recently for the first time. Johnny and I went to his house in London, here, and he’s just so open and warm. He’s such an open, enthusiastic… It’s like what you would hope in your life, that you would never lose your enthusiasm and interest in things and joy about things and curiosity about things. It’s a real inspiration, those people.

HK: For me, when I watch him move it’s like watching an old Mighty Joe Young, you know?

TB: (laughs)

HK: You can actually see his movements, you know?

TB: Exactly! You watch his hands, too, and it’s like you see some of the movement that some of his characters (made). It’s incredible.

HK: That’s something that’s just really amazing about stop-motion. A lot of times, you really do see the movements of the animators. But then you can say the same thing about the 2-D animators…

TB: Of course, of course.

HK: Because if you see Ollie Johnston, you see him in his characters.

TB: Absolutely. Definitely. Definitely. All those guys, Frank Thomas… That’s the great thing, that’s the excitement about animation… It’s something inanimate coming to life and all of that… there’s a real energy to it.

HK: Would you ever do a 2-D feature?

TB: Ummm… If it’s the right kind of thing… especially now that they’ve proclaimed it a dead medium, then you always get interested in it, you know? (laughs) I don’t know. You always try, I think, with animation, you try to treat the project with the medium, in a certain way, so I think with the right kind of story and the right kind of thing… it’s still a beautiful artform.

HK: Any plans to do further things with STAINBOY or OYSTER BOY?

TB: I don’t know. I do love stop-motion. There are things kind of bubbling around, but nothing really specific.

HK: What’s happening on RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT?

TB: I don’t know… I was just so devastated by it that I just had to take a step away for a second. It’s something I like and that’s why I wanted to do it. I like Jim (Carrey) very much, I think he’s really talented and stuff… I just… You know, when you work something for almost a year and that happens, it gets… it’s pretty devastating. So, I’m taking a step back from it for a minute.

HK: While waiting on the call today, I just got the soundtrack for SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO in and finally found a full hour length one. To me, there’s a lot of that film’s spirit in a lot of the work you’ve done.

TB: It’s interesting. I remember seeing that movie. It’s a really odd movie in a way. It sort of defies categorization in a certain kind of way.

HK: To sort of revisit NIGHTMARE a little, did you ever want to show the little boy who gets the shrunken head cry when Santa Claus takes his shrunken head away? (giggles)

TB: (laughs)

HK: Because that was me, right? I always opened every Christmas present hoping for a shrunken head!

TB: I know, I know. Well, that’s a limited audience of you and I and a few other people… (laughs)

HK: I know you wanted the shrunken head.

TB: Of course! No, of course!

HK: On SWEENEY TODD, is Danny (Elfman) going to be doing some re-orchestration for you on that?

TB: I’ve talked to him, but I just don’t… My relationship with Danny now… I don’t think I’d ask him to do that just because it wouldn’t be using him to what his great talents are. He’s busy at the moment, so I think… I mean, he’s very supportive of me and that’s great, but it wouldn’t utilize his talents very well.

HK: It was just one of the things I was wondering because I couldn’t really imagine him musically fitting in with that, you know?

TB: I know he’s done things, like when did the PSYCHO (remake)… when he was involved with that thing, but you know… I wouldn’t ask him to do something like this because it wouldn’t really use his talents the way they should be presented.

HK: You were developing for a really long time MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES…

TB: Oh!

HK: Is that something that’s been abandoned?

TB: There are always those that kind of float around a little bit. You get side-tracked with things, but it’s kind of like seasonal… Sometimes I revisit it because it’s something that still interests me.

HK: You hear about people in Disney that have been wanting to do something more with NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, but at the same time, as a fan of it I just can’t imagine any sort of sequel…

TB: I completely resist it because I feel like… It would just undermine what makes it special to me… you know, visiting Thanksgiving World or, you know… whatever… Doesn’t seem right.

HK: How do you feel about them using the NIGHTMARE characters on something like The Haunted Mansion. Does that feel good to you or is it sort of like messing with something precious to you in a different form?

TB: At one level, I feel quite honored by it, but there’s one level where it kind of pissed me off because they never… Because, you know, you feel like it’s your creation and it’s something that they… I mean, they were excited enough to let the movie be made, but that was about it, and then it becomes something else. I have mixed feelings about it, but basically I think it’s fine. Where I would draw the line would be doing spin-off movies or something like that. That I don’t feel is right.

But that I felt was kind of cool. I love The Haunted Mansion. I felt more bad for The Haunted Mansion in a certain way because that’s like toying with a classic!

HK: That’s sort of what I was thinking of. I know you growing up in Burbank… going to The Haunted Mansion had to be…

TB: Yeah, that was a big deal. I remember when it first opened up. It was a big deal. It was a great ride. I feel more sorry for that.

HK: Well, awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time…

TB: Sure, Harry. Nice to talk to you. What are you seeing tonight? What is your screening?

HK: I’m seeing Tom Tykwer’s PERFUME.

TB: Oh!

HK: I hear it’s really, really great. A film that you’ve got to do whatever you can to get a look-see at is PAN’S LABYRINTH by Guillermo Del Toro.

TB: Yeah, yeah. That was at Cannes, I think, this year.

HK: It’s incredible. For who people like you and me are… it’s such a great film. You’d love it.

TB: Well, he’s great. I’ll have to look for that. Thank you. I’ve been looking for something to go see. (laughs).

HK: It’s not out until late December and I imagine you’ll be in full-swing on SWEENEY.

TB: I’ll have time to check it out. Thanks for the recommend. Again, Harry, it was great to talk to you and… yeah. I’ll probably talk to you again sometime.

HK: I’ll talk to ya’ later!

TB: Talk to you later. Bye!

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