Saturday, May 05, 2012

Producer Richard D. Zanuck on Burton, "Dark Shadows"

Richard D. Zanuck on the set of Dark Shadows with Tim Burton.

Legendary film producer Richard D. Zanuck has been in the business for decades, having started producing in 1959. He has been behind such films as Jaws, The Sound of Music, and Driving Miss Daisy, to name a few. In an interview with Variety's Christy Grosz, Zanuck talked about working with Tim Burton, including their most recent of their six collaborations, Dark Shadows. You can read the interview in its entirety here, but here are some noteworthy excerpts:

CG: Do you think there are misconceptions about what a producer does?

RZ: I think there's been a devaluation of the concept. Maybe too many people have used the term "producer" when they weren't qualified. That's what the Producers Guild has been fighting for years. I was the chairman of the producers' branch of the Academy for about 10 years, and we were constantly trying to find ways to prevent this proliferation of credits. A producer should contribute from the very beginning until the very end, in all aspects. I'm there at the set every day, on every shot. Not that the director, particularly Tim (Burton), needs me, but just in case. There are producers who don't even watch the dailies, who have some contact with the project and get their name slapped on there. That's what we've been trying to get rid of.


CG: Is there any way you can predict something like "Alice in Wonderland" making a billion dollars?

RZ: If anybody could predict those things, they wouldn't be working. They'd be enjoying life by the pool. "Alice" had wonderful ingredients, but a billion dollars is a big number to hit. As it was growing and we were releasing in more territories and we were getting these unbelievable numbers, we'd ask ourselves, "Why?" It's one of those things you don't understand. But it was a story that had been around for 160 years. It was so well known, but you still can't really figure it.


CG: "Dark Shadows" puts you together with Tim Burton for the sixth film in a row. What about that collaboration works so well?

RZ: This would be a dream come true for any producer. I've worked with so many top directors -- William Wyler and George Cukor and Franklin Schaffner and Vincente Minnelli -- and each one is brilliant in their own right. But Tim is the only real artist, literally an artist, of the group. His creative genius is to combine the physical image with some emotional values, and people don't give him enough credit. Working with Tim, it's like I was in the early days with (Steven) Spielberg. I try to free them up as much as I can. I want that mind to be uncluttered, so it can work on the picture.

Studios think a director just walks on set and things happen, but (directors) have to do endless weeks, months of homework if they're any good. Most agents and studios know that they have to go through me if they want something answered. I'll only bring the important things to Tim.

Between set-ups, Tim will pick out a spot about 50 feet long and pace. I've never seen him sit down. One time we put one of those pedometers (on him) at the beginning of the picture, and it was amazing how many miles (it registered) -- he could have walked around the world. (Sometimes) I'll walk and pace along with him. I'll say, "I know you're doing your laundry list, but we have to have an answer on this or that." I think it's part of his way of thinking, but also keeping people at bay.

But it's an amazing collaboration for me at this point of my life. Not that I wouldn't have gone on (producing) without meeting Tim, but it's made it so much more fascinating. It's really been a wonderful part to a long, long career.

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