Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rotten Tomatoes Interview with Tim Burton

Jen Yamato of Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Tim Burton during his visit to Comic-Con. In this interview, the filmmaker talks about his highly-anticipated Alice in Wonderland, the PG-13 rated animated movie 9, and coming to Comic-Con for the first time as a filmmaker pitching his movie to the fans:

Rotten Tomatoes: You're a producer on Shane Acker's "stitchpunk" adventure, 9. Could you describe your involvement as far as what kind of input you had in the production?

Tim Burton: Well I saw Shane's short film, many years ago, and I loved it. It felt like it was a part of a bigger picture, so I met him and talked to him, and... I just got excited because it was not something I had seen before. You've seen post-apocalyptic imagery before, but there was something about this that was quite touching. I just really loved it, I felt very connected to it. I'm going through the kind of thing myself, where it was hard to get movies going; I just felt I could help him keep the outside forces away and let him make his movie. What was really nice about it was, you see a lot of personal films, but you rarely see personal animated films. It was exciting to me to see that happen.

RT: How did Shane describe the project to you initially?

TB: He didn't have to, because he had the short film. That's the best.He didn't really have to sell himself, you could see his talent in what he was doing. He spent so much time on the short, that he already kind of had some idea in mind how to expand it. So we hired a script writer that I'd worked with before, and she helped flesh it out. With nine characters, you only see a couple, so it was interesting to see these other creatures.

RT: Would 9 appeal in the same way to younger audiences and older ones?

TB: I'm sure some people might think it'll be too scary for kids, and it's quite intense, it's quite scary. But there's nothing in it - there's no blood, nudity, or swearing, or things that maybe would make it not appropriate for kids. So I think it's one of those things; kids are funny, a lot of kids like that sort of things, some kids are afraid of that sort of thing, but I feel comfortable showing it to a kid. Because I would have loved it myself.

RT: What kind of creative notes did you give Shane?

TB: As an animator, you really have to do so much, think about so many things. Your mind is just filled with details; Shane's got to do this and that. For me it was easy; I was just sort of somebody who could give a fresh perspective. I think all of the producers, our job was to let him do his thing and keep any outside evil forces away and let him focus on the film, and when appropriate, make some suggestions. It was very easy, because there weren't any egos involved. Shane's such a good artist that he didn't feel threatened by anybody if they had a suggestion. So yes, our primary goal was to let him do his thing.

RT: What were your interactions like with 9's other director producer, Timur Bekmambetov?

TB: Same thing. He's made movies, too. He's great; he has a different perspective. It felt like a very positive group of people. There were no fights, or drag-out things. Everybody was just all for the project, so it was good. You usually have to have more fights to get things done, and this was more focused on the movie, which was good.

RT: The idea of an established director taking a younger filmmaker under his or her wing is nice, that even an auteur would take an interest in helping another artist's career.

TB: I think I felt connected to his sense of design and the world he crafted. I've not done characters like that, but it's an aesthetic I felt close to. That's, again, why I wanted to be involved, because I felt like, if he wants some suggestions I could give them to him, if he doesn't, fine. So it felt very easy, there wasn't a lot of pressure for me. The pressure's on him for that. [Laughs] I was helpful when necessary.

RT: As it happens, Peter Jackson recently described his similar relationship producing a younger director, Neill Blomkamp, on his film, District 9. He talked of it as protecting the director from the studio, if need be.

TB: Absolutely. Especially when you've been through it yourself. It stays with you, those things, and I always wished I had somebody like that because you work with people that are supposed to protect you, but then they end up [saying], "Well, you've got to do it like this, or like that." And that's not what anybody wants. As a director, I don't want anybody to do that to me. So I was very aware of not wanting to do that to him, and again, protect him and be of use whenever was helpful.

RT: Did you have a mentor yourself in your early career?

TB: Not really. That's why it's nice to be able to, if it works out that way, to do that for someone. I mean, you don't do it with anyone; you have to share some connective tissue, otherwise, why do it? I felt that connection with Shane, and I also wanted to see what he was going to do. So it was more of an exciting prospect.

RT: I would imagine you probably have enough of your own ideas funneling into your own directorial projects.

TB: Yeah, it wasn't like Shane didn't have anything. He didn't have to come in and pitch it, and say, "It's a cross between Terminator and Wall-E," or whatever. He didn't have to do any of that, because he had his film, so it was very easy.

RT: On Thursday you appeared on a panel here to share the first trailer for Alice in Wonderland. What were your feelings presenting yourself to the Comic-Con crowd for the first time as a filmmaker?

TB: I haven't been here since I was a student, so obviously it's gotten much bigger. But the thing that's always been great about it is that people are very passionate about things, so it's scary because you don't know how people are going to react, but at the same time, that passion is very exciting. There's an energy to this kind of thing. It's great, it's really exciting -- people dressing up and that kind of thing. I love it. It was that way many years ago, it's just a lot more of it, bigger. But it's still got that spirit, which is nice.

RT: You noted that you're still in production on Alice. How far along are you?

TB: I'll be working up until the end. It's a weird process, because we're using so many different techniques, it takes a very long time to get to a finished shot, so I have very few finished shots, if any. And it comes out in March. So there's a lot of work to do, but a lot of it will come together at the end. It's a bit scary, but it's exciting as well.

RT: Considering how many different balls you're juggling with Alice, so to speak, do you think this is a film you could have made early in your career, or is there a sort of necessary learning process as a filmmaker that you had to go through to get to this point?

TB: No, it would be hard. It's kind of working in the opposite way of how you work. Usually you have actors and sets and you do a shot and you know what you're going to get, even with stop-motion animation -- you have a set and character there, and you know pretty quick what you're getting. This is like the opposite; you've got this little piece, and that little piece, and you're trying to stick them together. And you don't know exactly what you're going to get! So it's scary and it's exciting, but it's nice to keep that sort of fear factor.

RT: What I like best about that idea is that means there are all those elements that will eventually come together in the final film, but for now they're only dancing around in your head.

TB: Well, they're trying to be held together. That's the scary part! My head leaks a lot, so I don't know what's going to happen. But it's good to have that kind of challenge. The fact is, in film you don't know -- you never know how something's going to turn out. You have something in your head, and it might come out 90 percent of that, 50 percent, who knows? But it's all that way anyway, so this is just the extreme version of that.

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