After decades of creative creatures, innovative design, and melancholy heroes, Tim Burton can easily be called a living legend. The man behind Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, Alice in Wonderland and the recent Dark Shadows has always been interested in a sort of tender macabre, filming his own shorts from his teen years in Burbank, CA. Considered one of his first professional shorts, Frankenweenie has been an important story in the writer/director's repetoire. Now, years later, Burton has finally expanded his short to full-length, black and white, 3D stop motion spectacle.
At Frankenweenie's red carpet premiere at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA Buzzine's Nicole Rayburn stopped to chat with Tim Burton, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Catherine O'Hara and some of other eccentric Burton-ites to learn more about Burton's ultimate pet project.
Nicole Rayburn: At this point in your career, you have firmly established a recognizable style. When people – fans, audiences, critics – hear ‘Tim Burton”, they think they know what to expect. What is it that fans don’t know about you, or are misperceiving?
Tim Burton: Well, the thing for me is I never really think about that – because it's such a strange thing to think about, so I never try to think about, like, what people... like what the style is, or what I'm supposed to do. Because I never know if a movie's going to be a failure or a success, so you just try to do what you like to do and then hope somebody relates to it or not.
NR: Part of that perception is that your work is dark… yet your bright humor always shines through. Frankenweenie seems no exception. Have you always wanted to inject some of that lightness into your films?
TB: No, I think that's just the way you feel about things. But, you know, you'd see, in all those old Ray Harryhausen films, this sort of beautiful animation, and sort of emotional. So that's more about what it was.
NR: It must also be emotional to watch Frankenweenie finally come back to life. How does it feel to have one of your first short films completed in the grand scale you always intended?
TB: It's been a long time coming. A lot of people put a lot of hard work into it, so it's nice to see all the artists' work come to life, which is the most important thing.
NR: Did you always intend for the full-length feature to be in stop-motion?
TB: Yeah, that's what was exciting to me about it. I love stop-motion, and the idea of doing it in black and white and 3D; just all those elements together just made it feel like a whole different project.
This movie was important to me, so it was nice to work with people that I love that I haven't worked with in a while. So that made it extra special.
Nicole Rayburn: Martin, you play several different voices in this film. How did you get involved with Frankenweenie?
Martin Short: Well, Tim did this short [also] called Frankenweenie. It was the first short he did, actually, at Caltech. Or the first one... so they say. I mean, obviously, he did other shorts. But so it's a return for him to a story that he loved very much, and to do it 3D and to do it stop-motion is spectacular.
NR: The 3D stop-motion aspect of Frankenweenie certainly makes it spectacular. It’s also what makes his color palette so interesting. What do you think about his choice to do the entire film in black and white?
MS: The feel of it is of an era. When Tim grew up, things were a little more black and white—especially some of his favorite films from the '40s and '50s, so I think it's appropriate. And I think in a way, you know, one of the recorders that came into the junket said, "You know, I brought my 6-year old. He was sad when the dog died, but he wasn't scared by it." And I think some of the black and white element makes it a little more ethereal.
NR: Lastly, are there any cameos by other famous Burton characters that sneak into the film?
MS: Well, he does draw up little clues for his fans all over the place to some of his great work and some of the great horror movies of all time. I don't want to reveal too much.
Nicole Rayburn: Winona, you are easily known as one of Tim Burton’s earliest muses. How does it feel to be working with your old friend again?
Winona Ryder: Well, it's incredibly special. It's just a very special film in general. I just saw it when we premiered it in Austin, and I was in tears, I was just so blown away. I expected it to be fantastic, but just it's... He's so special.
You know, it's been 25 years that I've known him and that I've seen his short, and to be asked to be part of something so personal to him was such an amazing feeling, a great honor, and also just an amazing excuse to hang out with one of my favorite people in the whole world. And just to be a part of this—I don't think I've ever felt so proud, really.
People just genuinely, really love this movie because it really has so much heart, and it's completely original and unique, and it's Tim all the way. It's emotional too, you know?
NR: Of course. It also seems like the style really lends itself to that emotional quality. What do you think about Frankenweenie’s black and white palette?
WR: It's really an homage to those movies that he grew up loving, the black and white—and that I grew up loving, really. Most of my favorite movies are in black and white. I think this is the second movie I've ever done that's in black and white. And I'm not—it's just my voice, but, yeah, I can't really imagine it in color.
But I do think it's an incredible experience. People who are used to color won't be like, "Why... what's going on?" It's really, really perfect.
Nicole Rayburn: You and Tim go way back… what brought you into the story of Frankenweenie? What was it about this particular story that appealed to you?
Martin Landau: It's a boy and his dog, but it certainly harks back to Frankenstein. It's a film that Tim's been wanting to make for 30 years, and finally is doing it the way he saw it then... It even is enhanced now with 3D, which invites you into it in a very nice way. I love the movie; I think it's one of the best, character-driven films of the summer.
The thing I like about it most is it's a good movie. The fact that it's black and white makes it work very well, and it's funny. It's moving. It's charming. And entertaining.
Nicole Rayburn: Are you a big Tim Burton fan? Do you feel honored to now be part of his universe?
Atticus Shaffer: Absolutely. I mean it definitely is Tim Burton. You can see it's that Tim Burton animation style, and just being able to be a part of this awesome genre of film, almost creating this new tribute to all of the old classic films, it's amazing.
NR: It seems like Frankenweenie really pays homage to the classic monster movies. Do you think it could serve as a gateway film for today’s generation?
AS: I really hope it does. I hope that it'll form a new generation of young kids who will enjoy classic films, or are inspired to view old classic films.
NR: I hope so too! It also seems like, underneath all the ghouls and goblins, there is a really rich emotional story here.
AS: Absolutely. I mean it's not solely about just this boy and this dog in general; I think it's a message about every person who has ever had an animal, or another person, or a thing that they've cared about very much, and when that thing is taken away from them, you do whatever it takes, and to whatever extent, to either bring them back or to honor their memory.
Nicole Rayburn: Okay, rock star. So you wrote this song and you pulled in The Flaming Lips to collaborate. I heard a funny little story about how you wrote it, on an airplane bathroom…
Grace Potter: I know. We were really busy. The tour was going nuts, and we just kept adding dates and adding dates. And I looked at my schedule after Tim and the Disney folks had asked me to write a song for the movie, and I was like, "I literally don't know if I have time." I always overextend myself. But I'm on the airplane, and I was like, "Well, I've got five hours right now. Why not?"
And I was just flying back from the screening and I was very inspired. As I was landing, I had not turned my phone off—which is against the law; don't do it. But Wayne from The Flaming Lips had texted me a photo of a brain in a jar. And I was like, "This is my guy. I've got to get him on this track." It was just destiny. So I called him and invited him; I said, "I already wrote the song, but if you guys want to just play on it and make weird noises, it would be great." So they made weird noises.
NR: That's awesome. Not everyone gets texts about brains in a jar! How close are you with Wayne that he sent you this text?
GP: Well, we have a creative relationship where we throw weird things back and forth to each other and just see what the other one does with it. There's sort of a visual communication more so than, like, calling and going, "Hey, how have you been? I haven't seen you in forever. Let's go get drinks." It's not like that. It's just this sort of unspoken understanding that the weirder the photo the better. We just kind of exchange photos quite a bit.
NR: I dig that.
GP: It's good, it's creative, and when you're a kook like me or Wayne, I think you need something to kind of ground you. It's funny to think that someone like that would ground me, or Tim Burton, but here I am in beautiful company.
NR: So Grace Potter, self-proclaimed kook. You heard it here.
GP: I'm a kook.
Nicole Rayburn: You are another one of Tim Burton’s favorite actresses to work with. How great does it feel to work with him again?
Catherine O'Hara: Oh, it's lovely. Every once and a while, I get to see him. You get to hang out with him, and it's especially thrilling to get to work with him, and then be part of his film. I'm honored to be part of this film. So much beautiful work went into the stop-motion animation; I can't... It's almost impossible to appreciate what they do to make this beautiful story. I'm really honored to voice not one, but three of the characters.
NR: What do you think about the black and white style of stop-motion filmmaking that Tim Burton has created? It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
CO: I know Tim loves him a good horror film, especially one that has a sense of humor; you know, where you're scared, but you know you're safe. I used to love things like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein—that kind of movie. And I think he's a fan of those things, too. Along with the Christopher Lee and Vincent Price. Yeah, they were black and white. Those originals were black and white. Then, it wasn't by choice. Now, it is; it's by design. It's amazing-looking.
Nicole Rayburn: You’ve worked with Tim Burton on five different films. After that much collaboration, do you think you understand what he’s going for?
John August: Yeah, after five movies, you get to sort of anticipate what Tim's going to be excited about. And so, my job as a writer is to make sure that I give him a story that's going to excite him on every page, and he's going to feel good spending four years of his life working on a movie.
NR: With Frankenweenie, Tim already knew the characters inside and out. How did that help you two develop the full-length feature?
JA: Yeah, Tim really knew this movie. Tim had made a short-film version of this movie 30 years ago, so this was a chance to sort of go back and look at what the bigger version of this movie is and answer all those questions, and do all those things he couldn't do when he was making a little short film.
NR: Awesome. And when you guys were working together, did you discuss the family pets you wish you could bring back yourself?
JA: Absolutely. I think we all have that experience of, like, that beloved dog who was your dog. My dog came later in life. I had a dog, Jake, who passed away while I was working on the movie, and so much of the conversation that the parents have to have with Victor in the movie about losing a dog was really the conversation I had with my daughter about our dog. And so I very much knew what that experience was and what it felt like as a parent.
NR: I'm sorry to hear that. That's a beautiful story. This looks so funny, and seems to work for adults and kids. I think it might be the best one yet.
JA: I hope so. It turned out great.
Nicole Rayburn: You fit right in on this carpet! What brings you to this premiere?
Elvira: Well, for one thing, I have loved Tim Burton since day 1. I actually saw Frankenweenie back in the old days and wanted very much to hire Tim Burton for my movie, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark—I think it was back in '88. And, man, I loved the little short that he made, Frankenweenie.
So anyway, I have been a fan of his ever since then. I have loved everything he's done. I mean he's just, like, right up my alley, and I'm thrilled to be here. I even worked—well, actually I didn't, but my alter ego, Cassandra Petersen, worked on a little movie with him, Peewee's Big Adventure. In a small role, but very important.
Disney's 'Frankenweenie' will open in theaters nationwide Friday, October 5th, 2012.