Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Sweeney Todd" Slashes Box Office Competition in UK

ContactMusic.com reports that Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street had a smashing opening weekend in movie theaters in the United Kingdom. The film came out as number one at the box office, defeating competition. The film earned about £4,512,42 (about $8,960,807.42 in American dollars) in the UK during its opening weekend.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Possible "Sweeney Todd" DVD Featurette Revealed

The makers of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street have asked two Welsh professors, Professors Richard Hand and Mike Wilson, from the University of Glamorgan, to give their thoughts on the role and significance of horror. They were interviewed for a documentary on horror theater, which is said to be one of the many extras on the Sweeney Todd DVD, which will be released later this year. The two academics discussed horror and why we are so compelled to watch it.

The two professors were offered the job after publishing their new book, London’s Grand Guignol and the Theatre of Horror.

“Horror is escapism, as shocking as it can be. The horror industry has never gone away,” he said. “People want the adrenaline rush of the roller coaster ride. People do know it’s not real.

“Horror movies are adult fairy tales and they have very close links to comedy. I’ve been half-way through a film like Evil Dead 2 and suddenly realised it isn’t horror at all, it’s comedy.’’

Prof. Wilson said, “It is fantastic to be involved with such a high-profile film and to be included on a DVD which will be viewed by people around the world.

“We have been researching horror theatre for about 10 years now and this is an exciting opportunity for our research to reach a wider public audience.”

On which regions and versions of the upcoming DVD of the horror-musical this featurette is supposed to appear is yet to be known.

Tim Burton's Home

Tim Burton recently mentioned the curious fact that his parents, for some reason or another, walled-up the windows in the little suburban house he lived in during his childhood in Burbank, California.

"I had two windows that looked out to the lawn. For some reason my parents walled them up and gave me this little slit window that I had to climb up on my desk to see out of. To this day I never asked them why," said the filmmaker in the Australian newspaper The Age.

Helena Bonham Carter offered information on the home she shares with her partner (and possibly her future husband, as Burton revealed recently), and with their two children: four-year-old Billy Ray Burton and their one-month-old daughter, whose name has yet to be officially released (though rumors online state it's Indiana Rose Burton). The pair have two separate, ajoining houses in North London.

"His side is messier and decorated with props from the films. My side is cutesy, Beatrix Potter, which is fine for him to visit but there's no way he could live in it. He thinks his side is James Bond," said Helena.

Billy's bedroom is in Tim's house.

Helena said: "I have the kitchen and a fire so we'll watch TV in my place.

"There is no normality in life. Having two houses means that we can get out of each other's hair - which, let's face it, we've both got a lot of!"

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Elijah Wood Confirms Voice for "9"

Actor Elijah Wood recently confirmed that he has lent his voice for an upcoming computer animated feature film, entitled 9. Here's what Wood said:

[T]here's a movie called 9. It's an animated film directed by Shane Acker and executive produced by Tim Burton. That is actually a fully fleshed-out version of the 9 short film that won Best Animated Short at the Oscars, I believe, a couple of years ago. It's about a post-apocalyptic world, essentially, a world where humanity has been destroyed by the machinery it has created. There are these rag dolls, these mechanized rag dolls, that are the only living thing left and they are trying to figure out who they are, and what they are and why humanity was destroyed. It's sort of (laughs) it's relatively dark fare, but the animation style is extraordinary and the story is quite an adventurous one and quite unique in regards to the animated films that have been released in the past couple of years.

The film is based on a 10 1/2 minute long short of the same name, which was directed by Shane Acker. The short took 4 1/2 years to make. It differs from its upcoming feature adaptation in that the original short did not feature any voices. Instead, an unusual semblance of unique sound effects and music moved the story along. The film was nominated for an Oscar in 2005.

Though it will be made in CGI, the computer animation is said to mimic the movement of stop-motion animation, which Tim Burton is so fond of.

Poster for the original short 9 (2004)

Other actors who have lent their voices for the upcoming project include Martin Landau (who was in Tim Burton's Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow), Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, and Christopher Plummer. Along with Burton, Timur Bekmambetov, Dana Ginsburg, Jim Lemley, and Marci Levine will produce the movie.

9 is set for a U.S. theatrical release of December 26th, 2008.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Yet Another "Todd" Interview

Yup, another Sweeney Todd related interview from the UK. Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Timothy Spall discuss musicals and the violence in the movie.

Burton and Depp on "Culture Show"

With Sweeney Todd making its UK debut on Friday, there is still plenty of advertising and promotions going around. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton discuss their latest collaboration in this video from "Culture Show." Depp recalls Iggy Pop and Anthony Newley inspired his voice for Todd and Peter Lorre helped him with the acting.

"Sweeney Todd" London Press Conference Video

You can now watch the London Press Conference of Sweeney Todd online. Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Timothy Spall take questions and poke fun at one another a bit. Beware of SPOILERS!

Part One:

Part Two:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Burton on Blood in "Sweeney Todd"

Tim Burton has stated that the highly stylized use of blood in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was crucial for the story. He says that he let the bosses at DreamWorks and Warner Bros. know that "blood was part of the production" as soon as he proposed his desire to make the movie version of the musical.

Talking about their initial meetings, he said: "It's an amazing thing that [we said]: 'We're gonna do an R rated musical with no professional singers, with lots of blood, about a serial killer and cannibalism', and they go 'Great!'. That was unheard of, I've never had that happen in my life before."

The filmmaker added that the fake blood used for the movie was orange, sticky, and curiously sweet. "It was our own special recipe, very sticky, very sweet and it burns your eyes."

The young Ed Sanders, who plays Toby in the film, also gave his opinion of the purposefully unrealistic gore in the film: "For a start, [it] was orange, and you could also see it actually pumping in through the pipes around the people they were killing's necks."

Good thing for star of the film Johnny Depp, who revealed that he is squeamish of seeing blood.

"There's a lot of blood-letting in the film but I like to keep mine inside me thank you very much.

"I'm not very good with the sight of my own blood. Nobody likes to be prodded or poked in any way, whether it's in the doctor's office or in jail."

Depp continued: "I always look away when I draw blood at the doctor's office. The blood we use is very theatrical. That's one of the reasons it still feels like a play to me. The realistic edge is off."

Burton admitted that he shared Depp's phobia, but didn't have a problem with their false blood concoction used during filming.

"The South Bank Show": Tim Burton Episode

Think you've seen everything there is to see and know everything there is to know about Tim Burton? Think again. "The South Bank Show," an award-winning television arts magazine show from Britain, has come out with a new episode featuring the director with rare footage, information, and interviews (with Tim, Danny Elfman, Rich Heinrichs, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, and many others) you may never have seen before. From his youngest years and earliest ventures into film (including his student movie "Houdini" and his 2D animated short, "Stalk of the Celery Monster") to the present day, the episode encompasses a great deal of the filmmaker's works.

Little Tim on a pony. Shocking.

Tim Burton in "Houdini."

"Stalk of the Celery Monster"

A young Rich Heinrichs and Tim Burton being interviewed, with puppets from Vincent (1982) between them.

Sketch of Mrs. Lovett and Todd by Burton for Sweeney Todd

Watch the episode on YouTube (in multiple segments) or on Stage6 (which is in one piece. You can also download the video from the Stage6 link). Video courtesy of John Erik Taylor.

BAFTA Nominees Announced

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has been nominated for two BAFTA awards: Best Make Up & Hair (Ivana Primorac and Peter Owen), and Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood). The results from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts will be announced on February 10th, 2008.

Oscar Nominees Announced

The nominees for the 80th Annual Academy Awards have been announced. The official website, oscar.com, states that Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has been nominated for three categories: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Johnny Depp as the title character), Best Art Direction (art director Dante Ferretti and set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo), and Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood, making this her second nomination for her work on a Tim Burton film, with Sleepy Hollow being the first). Click on the links for Academy Award history on each of the nominees.

The Oscar Awards ceremony will broadcast on February 24th, 2008, at 5PT/8ET on ABC in the United States.

Timothy Spall on Johnny Depp

Actor Timothy Spall recently discussed why he wanted to be in the Tim Burton adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. One notable reason, Spall said, was because his daughter wanted him to be in a film with Johnny Depp.

"I really wanted this one - I knew Tim was directing and that Johnny Depp was going to be in it. My daughter, my youngest daughter, really wanted me to do it for that reason - Johnny Depp was in it. [She came on set to meet Depp] and he was really delightful to her, she had a great time. Then, I took her to the junket - and [Johnny] greeted her like an old pal when he saw her. I've got plenty of brownie points at the moment," said Spall.

The actor also recalls how down-to-earth and good-natured Johnny Depp was.
"[Depp's] a lovely lad actually - considering he's one of the biggest film stars at the moment, if not the biggest, he's totally down-to-earth; there's no attitude or weirdness about him. I know they can get like that - living in isolation and all. It's not like he's just some guy off the street, so it was nice to see he functions normally, but more so, he's a really nice guy and a lot of fun."

Timothy Spall plays the sinister Beadle Bamford in the movie musical.

"Sweeney Todd" Soundtrack Climbs Higher on "Billboard 200"

Playbill.com reports that the soundtrack to Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has climbed higher and higher on "The Billboard 200" charts.

Released on Dec. 18, the album debuted on the chart at No. 56 and jumped to No. 23, then No. 18 in succeeding weeks. For its fourth week, it has climbed to its highest spot thus far: No. 16.

Sweeney Todd also maintains a steady position on the "Top Soundtracks" chart at No. 4. The recording, however, did slide on the "Top Digital Albums" chart (to No. 11) and on the "Top Internet Albums" chart (to No. 8).

Nonesuch Records released two versions of the film's soundtrack of Stephen Sondheim songs: the first was a "Highlights" disc, which featured specific songs from the film. The second was a "Deluxe Edition" CD, which featured all of the songs used in the film and an 80-page booklet of fully colored images from the movie and lyrics. Click on this link to see the full track list (SPOILERS might be present).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Burton and Bonham Carter to Tie the Knot?

After nearly seven years, five films, and two children, Tim Burton announced that he might be ready to become officially married to his partner, Helena Bonham Carter.

"Helena and I feel so married we never got around to doing it, but I'm thinking about it.

"I'm a late bloomer."

The couple, residing in England, recently had their second child, a daughter, born in December 2007. The newest addition to the Burton-Bonham Carter family apparently has yet to be officially named, despite earlier rumors.

Burton, now 49 years old, was briefly married before to artist Lena Gieske. After that, he had a long-term relationship with model Lisa Marie. Helena Bonham Carter, 41, dated Kenneth Branagh before her relationship with director Burton.

Monday, January 14, 2008

2008 Golden Globes Results

While the ceremony didn't occur this year (due to the writers' strike), a press conference revealed the winners of the 65th Annual Golden Globe Awards. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was nominated for four awards. Here are the results:

Sweeney Todd won Best Picture (Comedy or Musical category), and Johnny Depp won the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) for his role as the sinister barber, Sweeney Todd.

Tim Burton was nominated for Best Director of a motion picture (which covers both comedy/musical and drama films) and Helena Bonham Carter was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) for her role as Mrs. Lovett.

Tim Burton's films have been recognized by the Golden Globes in previous years. In 1990, Jack Nicholson was nominated for Best Actor (comedy or musical) for his performance as the twisted Joker in Burton's Batman. In 1991, Johnny Depp was nominated for Best Actor (comedy or musical) for his performance as the quiet Edward in Edward Scissorhands. In 1994, Danny Elfman's musical score for The Nightmare Before Christmas was nominated for Best Original Score. In 1995, Tim Burton's Ed Wood was recognized in three categories: Best Picture (comedy or musical), Johnny Depp for Best Actor (comedy or musical), and Martin Landau won the award for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (of any both motion picture categories) for his performance as Bela Lugosi. Big Fish was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards in 2004: Best Picture (comedy or musical), Albert Finney for Best Supporting Actor, Danny Elfman's score, and the original song for the film, "Man of the Hour" by Eddie Vedder. And in 2006, Johnny Depp was nominated for Best Actor (comedy or musical) for his performance as the wacky Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Friday, January 11, 2008

RIP, Maila Nurmi

Maila Nurmi, better known as Vampira, died on January 10th, 2008. Born on December 21st, 1921, she lived to be 86 years old.

Nurmi's legacy is perhaps best known to fans of Tim Burton as being portrayed by Lisa Marie in Burton's 1994 film Ed Wood. As seen in the bio-pic on the B-movie director's life, Nurmi was a late-night host of classic and campy horror films on television. She appeared in Wood's most famous film, Plan 9 From Outer Space, in 1959.

After having lived a life of poverty (and a failed legal case against Elvira), Nurmi died of natural causes, peacefully in her bed.

Coverage of UK Premiere of "Sweeney Todd"

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street had its United Kingdom premiere in Leicester Square last night on Thursday, January 10th, 2008. Director Tim Burton and much of the cast (including Alan Rickman, Jayne Wisener, and Timothy Spall) were present for fans from all over, some from as far away as Russia and Japan. Star Johnny Depp spoke of his experience tackling the difficult singing in the musical horror film, based on the staged musical by Stephen Sondheim. "It was a challenge to see if I could do it. You've got to try something once and I gave it a shot," he said. Depp spent over an hour talking with fans from far and wide (the actor has been called the "best autograph giver", who likes to get to know his fans while signing for them).

Johnny Depp signing autographs.

While singing is one aspect of the film that has generated a lot of talk, the amount of blood and violence is another ever-present feature of the movie. Tim Burton defended that hyper-stylized gore effects in the movie.
"By having more blood, it actually made it a bit less graphic, because sometimes when you don't show stuff it has a tendency to be more real and disturbing," he said. Burton has also said that it befits the film to be bloody, since it's been violent ever since the story began as an urban legend during the 1840s.

Helena Bonham Carter

Burton's partner Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Mrs. Lovett in the film, had no issue with the gore, and she was ecstatic to be a part of the movie.
"It's one of the best written roles for women ever. I loved it from the age of 13. I think I've always wanted to be Mrs. Lovett," the actress said.

Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman, who plays the sinister Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd, also shared a large group of fans as well as concerns about singing.
"It was less singing and more careering from one note to another," he claimed. But Burton and Sondheim both had a preference for casting actors who could sing instead of casting singers who could act.

19-year-old Jayne Wisener plays Johanna in Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd will be released in cinemas throughout the United Kingdom on January 25th, 2008.

From left to right: Alan Rickman, Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, and Timothy Spall (who plays Turpin's right-hand man, Beadle Bamford)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Johnny Depp Tastes Like Frogs' Legs

At the Tokyo, Japan premiere of his latest movie, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Johnny Depp was asked to consider what he would taste like if he was a real life cannibal. Depp's answer: "Frogs' legs," and adding he would taste a little bitter. "I would suggest deep frying," the actor said with amusement. Director Tim Burton pondered his answer for a while before coming to the conclusion of chicken, but producer Richard D. Zanuck did not hesitate with his response: "Shark!" the producer exclaimed enthusiastically, laughing. The trio said this at a press conference in front of 600 media. More than 6,000 fans were at the premiere.

Three very enthusiastic Japanese fans. (AP)

Depp and Burton were also asked about what they thought of the Golden Globes Awards ceremony being cancelled this year, due to a writers' strike.

"I'm just torn into pieces about it. I feel really disappointed," he said, grinning, while Burton added: "I'm just happy. I don't have to make a trip to Los Angeles. That's all I feel."

Sweeney Todd was nominated for Best Picture (musical or comedy), Johnny Depp for Best Actor, Helena Bonham Carter for Best Actress, and Tim Burton for Best Director.

Sweeney Todd's Tokyo premiere took place on Wednesday, January 9th, 2008. The film will be released throughout Japan on January 19th, 2008.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp at the Tokyo premiere.
(AP/Katsumi Kasahara)

(AP/Katsumi Kasahara)

For Depp, There Are Films, and There Are Tim Burton Films

For Johnny Depp, there are films and there are Tim Burton films. In an interview by Reuters, Depp, promoting Burton and Depp's sixth collaboration, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (which A. O. Scott of the New York Times has called ""something close to a masterpiece"), describes how he always looks forward to working with his director friend. "There are films that you do that you have enjoyed and the process is fantastic and the directors are great," says Depp. "And then there are the phone calls that you get from Tim," added the now 44-year-old actor. "That is a magical moment for me when the phone rings from Tim, because you know you are about to embark on something very very interesting."

Although Depp has been in the acting business for over twenty years, he recalls his latest collaboration with Burton -- taking on the lead, singing role of the murderous barber of Fleet Street -- as being one of his biggest challenges in his career. "It's an obtuse situation to be in when, at the ripe old age of 43, you find yourself suddenly trying to sing songs all the way through for the first time in your life," says Depp. "It's to say the least absurd and it was an odd feeling. So initially just hearing myself doing it, I was embarrassed..." But despite being "no Sammy Davis, Jr." or "no Frank Sinatra," Depp got the part as Sweeney Todd, with Stephen Sondheim's ultimate approval.

Tim Burton also fondly speaks of his many partnerships with Depp, although he feels that each film with the actor is a different experience.

"I've worked with him six times. I feel like I've worked with six different people," Burton said. "There are a lot of people that really do a very good job maintaining their persona ... they are good at being themselves in a movie. I like character actors that like to become different people, that's what energises me."

Depp and Burton at the Tokyo, Japan premiere of Sweeney Todd on January 9th, 2008.
Reuters/Michael Caronna

Burton and Depp first collaborated on Edward Scissorhands in 1990. Since then, they made Ed Wood (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), and the animated film Corpse Bride (2005).

40 Minute Tim Burton Video Interview

A new episode of "Lunch with David," starring David Poland, has been put on the Internet. In it, Tim Burton is interviewed. The filmmaker discusses cinematography, Sweeney Todd, his own style, and much, much more. The video is nearly 40 minutes long and very informative. Click here! (BEWARE OF SPOILERS!)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Burton Fed Up with "Ridiculous" Paparazzi

Tim Burton has slammed a north London newspaper, calling their rumors and paparazzi critiques "ridiculous." The director insists that the Camden News Journal has been making inaccurate stories about him and partner Helena Bonham Carter wanting to make bizarre developments to their home, which they share with their two children. He says, "There was an article that Helena and I were trying to get permission to build a fantasy land in our garden, some kind of amazing gypsy caravan. Our garden is about the size of this sitting area. And the paper showed a picture of an area that looked like what a homeless person would stay in." Burton also criticized the media for singling out him and Bonham Carter as "odd" and poking fun at Helena's fashion sense. The director adds, "Every other week there's a breaking story under the headline: 'Bonham Carter Dressed Like Shit.' So it's like we've got this reputation for being the spooky neighbourhood weirdos."

UK Premiere for "Sweeney Todd"

For those on the other side of the pond, the United Kingdom premiere of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street will be on January 10th, 2008, in Westminster. It will be shown at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square. Click this link for more details!

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Visual Effects of "Sweeney Todd"

Tara DiLullo Bennett from VFXWorld interviewed Gary Brozenich of The Moving Picture Co. (MPC) in London on how the visual effects team of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street helped bring Tim Burton's vision to life. Here is an excerpt (more can be read on the link provided -- BEWARE OF SPOILERS!):

Tara DiLullo Bennett: MPC has long worked with Tim Burton on previous projects, so was it just a given that your team came to work on Sweeney Todd?

Gary Brozenich: MPC has a long working relationship with Tim, including Big Fish, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his Killers video. Chas Jarrett was the production vfx supervisor (on Todd) and he and I had a long working relationship at MPC, where he was a sup for many years. I think it was the combination of those relationships that made Tim comfortable that we could deliver what he needed for Todd.

TDB: How was it working with Tim on this project?

GB: As we are image-makers by trade, it is always great to work with a strong visual director. Tim is also very familiar with the medium and us as a company, which always helps. Also, the whole team was very excited about the project. We all saw it as a great chance to work with him on this outrageously black story, which posed such a great creative fit to his visual style. Tim also gave us a lot of room to participate in the visual development of the environments we created, but his "big picture" view of the film, how it all cut, its overall look and mood was very strongly guided by him.

TDB: What does he ask of a vfx house and, in return, how involved is he in your process since he's all about the visuals?

GB: There was some working and reworking of shot layouts and some concepts at various stages, but the visual feel of the film was clear from the start. As we were never intending to do very obvious FX work, we needed to fit in with the tone and beat of it all, no matter how comprehensive our content in the shot. In that way, [Production Designer] Dante Ferretti's subtly stylized set designs were the obvious present and clear guide [for us].

TDB: Most people will just focus on the practical effects in Sweeney because of the gore and blood, but Burton always adds a digital level to all his films. So what was his plan in merging the two for this adaptation?

GB: We did augment some of the blood work in the film and cleaned up a few bits of rigging, but the vast majority of it was in camera. It looks great! The special effects team did a great job and spent a long time prepping, and it really paid off. There were a few shots where Tim wanted more ability to add grace and control to the forms made by spilled blood and we were able to help there.

Digital Effects Supervisor Gary Brozenich (inset)

TDB: Was Tim's goal to only have seamless, invisible vfx? If not, what were the key elements and sequences you had to plan and create?

GB: There are always moments, particularly in period films, where you know that a scene would not be possible without vfx content. But there are a lot of moments in Sweeney Todd that I hope the audience has no idea they are looking at a CG environment. In that sense, we were aiming for seamless work. The imagery is also very much about Tim's visual style, which can push some boundaries of reality, so seamless, also, meant not jarring with the visual style of the whole of the film. Our primarily concern was the creation of digital sets and environments. The whole production was shot on stages, which ranged from full on builds that only required a top up where the build hit the lights, to a set extension where the street required views beyond the limits of the stage. In some cases, the actors were shot on entirely green stages and we created the entirety of their surroundings. In one case, two of the principles walk down some stairs, through a gate, across a street and stop for a chat in front of a pub. The only practical element is the dressed floor that they're walking on, and the other performers on stage. They even brush up against the CG pub as they walk by.

TDB: Did the break in production [due to the illness of Johnny Depp's daughter] affect your team's work at all? Did you get breathing room or were you just asked to do more to fill the gap with productive time?

GB: The break was positive for us in the creative sense that it gave us more time to prep work for Tim. The shoot schedule was very full on and the original post period was very tight. This made access to TB's time hard to achieve. So, in a way, it did both things. It gave us some creative breathing room and made for very productive time as we headed into post as a result.

TDB: How much time from bid to picture lock did you have to create your pieces?

GB: The whole show lasted about 10 months internally, 11 if you count a few test shots. Post was about four to five months. Some shots/environments required up to six months of work, others were done in weeks.

TDB: How many artists were on the project?

GB: The team was between 50 to 70 artists throughout the shoot and post period.

TDB: When all is said and done, what sequence or element is your favorite in the film?

GB: Eek, my favorite? It's the truly invisible effects shots and sequences that I like best. They are also usually the hardest. There's a few shots mixed into sequences we did that I know no one will question their realistic integrity. They're my personal favorites.

From Stage to Screen: Bringing a Musical to the Cinema

Bringing a staged musical to the big screen is not an easy task, especially for a production as ambitious (and beloved) as the one Tim Burton brought to cinemas: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The Times Online observes this in interviews with Tim Burton and Stephen Sondheim.

Shooting at London's Pinewood Studios was one step that allowed the making of the movie version of the Stephen Sondheim musical easier for Tim Burton (“Here, I’m more able to focus on the movie,” Burton says. “There [in Hollywood], you just feel this vibe of the business around you”). But even after over twenty years of filmmaking, Burton acknowledged how ambitious this film would be. “I’d never really done something like this,” he says. “I’d always had music in movies, but never full-blown. It’s very operatic, and almost everybody in the cast is not a professional singer. Even seasoned Broadway people are saying how difficult it is.”

Stephen Sondheim, age 77, is perhaps best known for his musical Sweeney Todd, which premiered in 1979 and is based on the urban legend of a murderous barber that lived during the nineteenth century in London. But (perhaps luckily) he is less remembered for earlier attempts at bringing his other staged musicals to movie theaters. Still, Sondheim admires film greatly, but interestingly is not typically a fan of movie musicals. “The one form of movies that I never particularly enjoyed was the movie-musical,” Sondheim cautions. “I liked the sort of fluffy musicals before the second world war, the Astaire/Rogers things, but movie-musicals that told stories have always struck me as ponderous.” It’s all down to the gulf between “stage time” and “film time”, he explains, the movie medium being unable to accommodate someone simply standing and singing for several minutes. “Take 'Tonight' from West Side Story. It’s a close-up of him, then a close-up of her, then a two-shot, then a shot of the fire escape. There’s nothing to do. You have to waste the time." (Sondheim wrote the lyrics for West Side Story).

Stephen Sondheim

Tim Burton also was never much of a fan of movie musicals, or even staged ones, for that matter. The director remembered when he first saw the show in 1980. At the time, he was a student at CalArts. “I wasn’t into theatre,” he recalls. “I’d never heard of Sondheim. I just sort of stumbled on it and it really affected me. The first time on stage I saw them singing Johanna, and with the throat, you know, the blood, I thought, ‘This is a unique juxtaposition of music and image.’” It seemed, he adds, “like a great movie score. It would lend itself to one of those old horror movies." Burton's description was not far off; Sondheim's score was at least partially a tribute to the film music of Bernard Herrmann, a film composer who is perhaps best known for his collaboration with director Alfred Hitchcock (and, coincidentally, Herrmann is the biggest influence and hero of contemporary film composer Danny Elfman, who scored nearly every single Tim Burton feature film, with the exceptions of Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd).

Twelve years later, in 1992, Burton was regarded as one of Hollywood's A-list directors (after the successes of such unique blockbusters as Batman and Edward Scissorhands). The young filmmaker approached Sondheim about adapting the musical to the screen. “Then I never heard from him again,” Sondheim mutters. The Sweeney Todd film idea was passed around to other directors for more than a decade, but never grew beyond that concept. Years later, Burton was a year into pre-production for a biography on Robert Ripley, called Ripley's Believe It or Not!, which was to star Jim Carrey in the title role. The project fell through, however. Luckily, Sweeney Todd fell back into Burton's lap. “In some ways, I think the timing was more right,” he muses. “Because, having someone like Johnny, it’s like 10 years or more of life experience, which kind of informs this version.”

Sondheim's consent came with the conditions that he retained complete creative control on what stayed, what was taken out, and what changes and decisions would be made to the project's casting and score (the promise was upheld). But he was cautious of casting Johnny Depp as the lead. After hearing a homemade demo of Depp singing "My Friends" from the musical, Sondheim was convinced. “The fact that he came from a musical background, a rock band, even though he was not a lead singer, I knew he was musical,” Sondheim insists. “I also knew that he was intelligent enough not to allow himself to play this part unless he could handle it vocally.”

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp on the set of Sweeney Todd

Making the transformation from stage to screen needs to look as seamless as possible. As a result, lots of changes need to be made. For one, time must be considered; a staged musical is often longer than the average movie. “I do not believe that anything is written in marble. I want the story to move ahead,” he says. “The thing with Tim is that he understands that. Where the songs did not either suggest or need a camera, ‘Let’s cut’, Tim would say to me, or [the writer] John Logan, and I’d look at it and see if I could elide it or rewrite so it had film motion to it.”

Will hardcore fans of Broadway and Stephen Sondheim still be critical of the film re imagining of Sweeney Todd? Yes. But Burton is not disturbed by this. “I always say: this is a movie. If you want to see the Broadway show, go look at the Broadway show. It’s a different thing.”

Helena Bonham Carter: "Sweeney Todd," Motherhood, Acting, and More!

The Observer has published a lengthy and highly informative interview with Helena Bonham Carter. In the article, the 41-year-old actress discusses her roles in Tim Burton's films, her relationship with the director, her family life, her professional life, and much more.

Helena Bonham Carter recalls one of the first conversations she had with Tim Burton, long before she and Burton got together, about her home place, Hampstead. The director had stayed there while shooting Sleepy Hollow and told the actress that it was the only place in the world where he felt that he truly belonged. Since then, the pair have become a happy, unmarried couple, with a home in Hampstead, England, and four-year-old Billy and a brand-new baby girl, just born this past December. Bonham Carter states that she is very happy with her relationship and family with Mr. Burton. "I think it's to do with our hair - the lack of comb, the lack of hair care," the actress stated.

Of course, Burton was curious about his next project at the time, Planet of the Apes, and Bonham Carter remembers that the very first thing the filmmaker told her was: "I can really see you in an ape mask." Bonham Carter continued, "'He said: 'Don't be offended, but you're the first person I thought of.' Then he explained himself, which was much more intuitive. He said: 'I just got the feeling you like to change what you look like.' And I said: 'You're absolutely right.'"

Helena Bonham Carter as Ari the chimp in Planet of the Apes (2001)

Bonham Carter explained that she wanted to be in Planet of the Apes for two main reasons: partly because of the ape suit ('I always like to do the thing you're never going to be able to do again'), and also because she wanted to be able to work with the acclaimed filmmaker. "I was excited to work with Tim Burton, even though the script was absolutely crap," she says. "But it wasn't a case of: 'I want to work with him because I'm going to have two children with him, and he's going to be my husband!'"

After Planet of the Apes, Helena Bonham Carter worked with Tim Burton on Big Fish (playing a witch), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (playing Charlie's poverty-stricken mother), lending her voice for the animated film Corpse Bride (playing the dearly departed bride), and most recently the love-sick, somewhat-maniacal Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Bonham Carter states that the horror/musical is "not feel-good," but she adored playing the part of Mrs. Lovett in the cinematic adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical. Bonham Carter is a self-described "musical whore." "I've always loved musicals," she says. "Tim thought I was making Billy gay because that's all I'd sing to him." She even claims that singing for Sweeney Todd may have got her pregnant. "It was all the oxygen. And my pelvic floor has never been so fit. I've got great hopes that after this baby it's going to bounce straight back" (Bonham Carter was pregnant with her and Burton's second child while this interview was being made).

A very pregnant Helena Bonham Carter

But the actress asserted that, contrary to accusations, she does not get the parts in her partner's films simply because of their relationship. "I really do have to be righter than right before Tim lets me do a part," she says. "Sexual favours don't get me anything" (nor does it for frequent Burton collaborator Johnny Depp, she said). This was especially the case for Sweeney Todd. Composer Stephen Sondheim, not Tim Burton, ultimately had the final say on whether or not she would play Mrs. Lovett. Luckily, after Bonham Carter auditioned for the Broadway legend, she passed Sondheim's test. She describes getting the part as "the most absolutely amazing thing. I just could not believe it. Nor could Tim, actually. He burst into tears. And I burst into tears."

As happy as Bonham Carter and Burton are in their relationship, she admits that their relationship, like any other, has its rockier moments, and not surprisingly when work is the issue. "There are certain stresses that come with working together," says Bonham Carter, particularly alluding to their experiences on shooting Sweeney Todd. "There's no pretence with us, you see. No 'Let's adopt our formal selves'."

What sort of thing is she talking about? "Well, he was all: (growls) 'How difficult is it to come through the door and cover that spot!' And I'd be (whines): 'I've got wool in my head because I'm fucking pregnant, and there's blood everywhere and I didn't see it, all right?' And all I get is: 'Action!'"

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (as Mrs. Lovett) in Sweeney Todd (2007)

But when things got tricky, Johnny Depp was able to step in and act as relationship counselor for the director and actress. Helena said, "Johnny was very helpful because me and Tim would sometimes have little domestics and he was very diplomatic." She continued, saying, "Johnny was very thoughtful because I was pregnant and when you are pregnant, for the first three months it's difficult to concentrate on anything - all your energy goes into the baby. Sometimes he was off-camera and when I had completely forgotten what Tim had told me, Johnny would just sign language, 'Look over there!' or whatever it was I needed to do, so that was particularly helpful!"

On feeding one another's creativity, Bonham Carter stated what she thought of the title of "muse." "I don't know if you could call me a muse," grins Bonham Carter. "Most muses are silent."

But despite minor mishaps during shooting, and despite how much she relished playing Mrs. Lovett, Helena Bonham Carter is absorbed and fully ecstatic with her role as a mother. The actress enthusiastically described motherhood as "the ultimate creativity," and said she'd love to do it again and again. "I'd really like six of them!" Does Bonham Carter feel that having her children in her late thirties and onward makes them all the more precious? "Yes," she says. "Because you really want them by then, don't you? You've made the decision. You don't resent the time, or any loss of freedom. You're just so very happy to have them around."

Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter

Bonham Carter reflected on whether or not Tim Burton was equally excited about becoming a parent. "Totally. He's very childlike anyway. He's never let go of his inner child. Or his outer child!" As for Helena?: "It does make you grow up, doesn't it?' she says. 'But it makes you grow down, too. It brings back the child in you."

The actress stated that she does not like to look at herself in the films she acts in ("It's not false modesty... It's torture!"), but she still loves that career. Her being in touch with her childlike sensibilities is what attracted her to acting in the first place. She says acting is "taken way too seriously - it's all just dress-up and make-believe." The actress also said that there should be a role of play in acting. "That and transforming. You know - getting away as far away from yourself as possible." But why would she need to get 'far away' from herself? "Because," smiles Bonham Carter, "that's what makes me feel liberated."

You can read much more on Helena Bonham Carter's career, film roles (including Harry Potter, Fight Club, and more), her family, her personal history, her fashion sense, and much more in the article from The Observer.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Burton: "Studios Feared 'Sweeney Todd'"

Tim Burton recalls that studio bosses were fearful of investing in his film, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, an ultraviolent, hyper-stylized movie-musical with no "pop songs," fearing that it would be a disaster. Even with Johnny Depp set to play the lead role, studio executives in Hollywood were cautious, since they felt Depp did not have enough experience, especially to tackle such difficult music as featured in Stephen Sondheim's opera-like musical. But in the end, Burton praised Hollywood for eventually allowing him to make such an ambitious motion picture.

The director tells British film magazine Empire, "What's weird is that they (the studios) are afraid of musicals anyway, but an R-rated musical with blood that's not based on pop songs, it's like, 'F**k!'

"Then it was like, 'Um, can he (Depp) sing?' Nobody knew. I didn't know. So that's the joke of the whole thing. In a way, that's the surreal nature of Hollywood, so you have to love it for that because on paper, it's like the worst idea of all time!"

Sweeney Todd did not dominate the box-office on its opening weekend in the United States. It's opening weekend box office, starting on Friday, December 21st, 2007, was only $9,300,805 (opening in 1,249 theaters, $7,446 average per theater), less than one-fifth of the film's cost of $50 million. But since then, the film has grossed an estimated $38,472,000 (as of January 6th, 2008) in the United States alone, and global box office results and DVD sales should more than make up for the underwhelming opening weekend.

You can read more on the box office results of Sweeney Todd and many more films at BoxOfficeMojo.com.

(world entertainment news)

Pictures of Burton at AFI Directors Screening in L.A.

Pictures of Tim Burton at last Friday's AFI Directors Screening have been posted, courtesy of Joshua J. Smelser. After a screening of Sweeney Todd, Burton took questions from the audience. A surprise guest introduced the director: Martin Landau, an actor who won an Academy Award for his performance as horror legend Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood and also had a small role in Sleepy Hollow.

Martin Landau and film critic Claudia Puig of USA Today.

More pictures can be viewed here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

AFI Director Screening with Tim Burton

Tonight (Friday, January 4th, 2008, at 8pm) in Los Angeles, AFI (the American Film Institute) will present a screening of Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The screening of the film will be shown at the Cinerama Dome, and will be followed by a question and answer session with the director. Film critic Claudia Puig of USA Today will moderate.

Click here and here for more information about this exciting event!

Depp Says Burton Dragged Him Through Manure

Johnny Depp recently recalled one of the worst movie-making experiences in his life in an article. The 44-year-old actor remembered when he and collaborator Tim Burton were shooting the film Sleepy Hollow in 1999 and Burton made Depp hold onto a carriage while "curry"-fueled horses pulled him through the stinking mire.

Depp said, "One morning when we were filming 'Sleepy Hollow', Tim called me to the set, pointed to two large horses strapped to a carriage and said, 'This is what we are going to be doing today.' I was to hold on to the carriage behind the horses, being dragged along through the muck."

"The horses must have fed on curry. I've never smelt anything like that."

Being dragged through feces was just one of many traumatizing feats Depp had to pull working with Tim Burton. Johnny Depp faced another terrifying challenge when they worked on their latest film, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The actor would have to sing extremely difficult songs while acting as the menacing title role. But Depp felt more confident after taking singing lessons from his partner, French singer Vanessa Paradis.

But Tim Burton insists Johnny "exceeded all expectations" with his vocal performance as the murderous London barber.

He said, "I always had every confidence in him and he needn't have worried at all.

"His performance was wonderful and exceeded all of my expectations. He is a great actor."

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton in West Hollywood, California, on December 5th, 2007.
(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, file)

You can see Tim Burton and Johnny Depp discussing these issues with one another and so much more concerning their careers in AOL's Unscripted interview with the two collaborators.

There is also a version of this episode on YouTube.com, in three parts:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three