Filmmaker Tim Burton Discusses His “Corpse Bride”

Tim Burton on “Corpse Bride,” Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham Carter.

Tim Burton on the Appeal of the Dead: Burton’s been dealing with the subject of dead people (and animals) since his 1984 short, “Frankenweenie.” Why is the subject so fascinating to the filmmaker? Burton says, “Well, I think dealing with the undead comes from growing up in Burbank, sort of a suburban kind of feeling of like ‘Night of the Living Dead’ during the day with the bright sunlight. No, I don’t know. I just always liked monster movies. I was always sort of fascinated by [them].Growing up in a culture where death is looked upon as a dark subject and then, you know, living so close to Mexico where you see the Day of the Dead, where the skeletons and it’s all humor and, you know, music and dancing and a celebration of life in a way. And that just sort of always felt more [like a] positive approach to things, you know? So I think I always responded much more to that than this dark unspoken cloud in the kind of environment I grew up in.”

Tim Burton Shares His Views on the Afterlife: “You know, I have no idea what happens. But like I said, I do respond to other cultures that treat life with a much more positive approach. I think this other form teaches, especially when you are a child, it teaches you almost to be afraid of everything and feel like something bad is always going to happen. Whereas that other way seems like a much more spiritual and positive approach. That’s as far as I go because I really have no idea what will happen.”

Tim Burton on the Differences Between Directing “Corpse Bride” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas:” “The difference on that was that one I had designed completely. It was a very completed package in my mind. I felt like it was there. I felt more comfortable with it. With this, it was a bit more organic. It was based on an old folk tale. We kept kind of changing it but, you know, I had a great co-director with Mike Johnson. I feel like we complemented each other quite well. It was just a different movie, a different process.”

On Casting His Partner, Helena Bonham Carter, in “Corpse Bride:” Carter said Burton made her wait two weeks after she auditioned before letting her know she had the part. Burton said, “Oh, I think she’s an actress so she is making it much more dramatic. There was probably a slight little bit of torture there, but it’s a two way street. I don’t think it was a dramatic as that.

I think maybe, because I am with her, I probably was a bit harder on her. Nobody else had to audition, that’s true (laughing). She’s cool. Long before I met her she’d done many movies and she’s very secure of what she has done. There’s never been any problems yet. It’s been great.”

Will he dare not cast Helena in another one of his films? “Of course, yeah. I wouldn’t just cast her to cast her the same way I wouldn’t cast Johnny or anybody that I love working with just to have them in the movie. You always want it to be the right thing, the right role, and I think she understands that. Most of the people I work with understand that,” explained Burton.

Tim Burton on His Relationship with Johnny Depp : “It was weird because we were doing both at the same time. He was Willy Wonka by day and Victor by night so it might have been a little schizophrenic for him. But he’s great. It’s the first animated movie he’s done and he’s always into a challenge. We just treat it like fun and a creative process. Again, that’s the joy of working with him. He’s kind of up for anything.

He just always adds something to it. The amazing thing is all the actors never worked [together]. They were never in a room together, so they were all doing their voices, except for Albert [Finney] and Joanna [Lumley] did a few scenes together, everybody else was separate. They were all kind of working in a vacuum, which was interesting. That’s the thing that I felt ended up so beautifully, that their performances really meshed together. So he was very canny, as they all were, about trying to find the right tone and making it work while not being in the same room with each other.”

Johnny Depp Said He Scrambled His Character Together in 15 Minutes: “Oh yeah, yeah. We were shooting ‘Charlie’ one day and I said, ‘Let’s go over to the recording booth and let’s do some recording.’ I think as he was walking over he was like saying to himself, ‘S**t, I don’t know what am I doing. What is this character? I have no idea.’ Great thing is he likes to work spontaneously, too, and really in that one session he got it. I think he might have been a bit worried to begin with, but I think he kind of likes that.”

Tim Burton and the ‘Outcast’ Qualities of His Actors: Burton says that’s something he specifically looks for. “Yeah, of course. Like Johnny, I think that’s one of the reasons I responded to him when I first met him on ‘Edward Scissorhands.’ He is sort of looked upon as this handsome leading man but I don’t think in his heart he felt that way. That’s why he wanted to do ‘Edward Scissorhands’ was because he understood that story of being perceived as one thing and being something else. Does that same thing hold true when it comes to Helena Bonham Carter? “Same thing. If you read the London papers she’s one of the worst dressed people in the history of Britain or some sort of posh aristocrat, you know? She is completely misperceived.

It maybe bothers her a little bit but once you get labeled, there’s really not much you can do about it. But there’s something about it I’m sure she feels.”Tim Burton on the Inspiration for His Animated Movies: “Mainly it had to do with Ray Harryhausen. He was the guy. If I saw his name, no actor meant anything but his name certainly meant something. I think that’s where the love of this animation comes from because you could see an artist at work. His monsters had more personality than most of the actors in the movies. Even if the monster was just a monster, their death scene was always so beautiful and tragic. The final twist of the tail or whatever or the one final breath, he brought such passion into the work. To me he was the guy that not only inspired me but inspired almost any animator.

In fact, several months ago Johnny [Depp], Helena [Bonham Carter] and I went to his house in London. We met him for the first time and he is just such an amazing man and so generous with his time and his enthusiasm and all. Then he went to the set of ‘Corpse Bride’ and production kind of ground to a halt that day cause everyone was like, ‘Uhhh…’ I think he not only inspired stop motion animators but any animator.”

Tim Burton Addresses the Question of Whether Children Should See “Corpse Bride:” “I’ve always had problems with that, with certain adults. I mean I remember people saying that about ‘Nightmare’ and tiny, tiny little kids come up and say that they loved the movie. I think it’s more of an adult problem than a kid problem. Because even ‘Corpse Bride’ I find is even softer in a certain way. It’s basically a love story, an emotional story [with] humor. And like any kind of fable or fairy tale, there may be elements that are somewhat unsettling. But that’s part of the history of those kinds of stories.

It’s PG, which is appropriate. To me the story is quite just emotional. I personally don’t find it dark at all. In the same way of ‘Nightmare…’ In fact I think it’s somewhat less dark in a certain way. I also find that kids, I think adults forget that kids are their own best censors. Some kids like that kind of stuff and some kids don’t. I think they are the best ones to judge it.

Adults are like, ‘You can’t see this. You can’t see that it.’ It creates this climate of fear and it makes kids more afraid. I have a child that is under 2 years old and he has watched ‘When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth’ and ‘Viva Las Vegas,’ which isn’t a horror movie but some people might call it scary. It’s about how you present things. If he didn’t like something, then he’d run away. If you were like, ‘Oh my God! Elvis and Ann-Margret are about to kiss!!!’ He’d freak out, you know?”

Tim Burton on the McFarlane “Corpse Bride” Toy Line: “That’s really important to me, especially on a project like this. It’s harder in live action stuff to get things right, but on this it was pretty simple. ‘Make it look like the damn puppet!’ They’re so beautiful and they’re so right there, you know? It’s like that’s it and so I hope and I think they’ll be good. They should be good because there is no reason for them not to be.

I’ve always said I am not into mass marketing. If there is one thing that looks cool, then that is fine with me. I’m not interested in a whole bunch of stuff. I hope it will be fine.”

Tim Burton – From Drawing to Making Movies: “I always liked to draw as probably every kid does, and make Super 8 movies like a lot of kids did. And weirdly, I never had the real goal to do that, until in school, I was such a bad student and I remember having to do a report where you had to read a book and write a 50 page essay on it. And I said I can’t read and so I made a Super 8 film on Houdini. It was a book we had to read, and I remember not reading the book, not having to write it, and getting an A+ on the project. I thought this might be a good living to try and do, so I always liked making things. I got into animation – and also luck comes into it as well.”