Me on Burton on Burton


The man misunderstands your
gothic fantasies;
I like your beret.

Now for the review portion of this week’s haiku: Burton on Burton

If you love Burton, you must read this book from Faber and Faber’s wonderous “Directors on Directors” series. Basically, he talks about himself and his career for 262 pages, and it is amazing. It’s a personal tour inside the mind of one of the most visionary directors of all time. The book unfolds chronologically from one project to the next; beginning with his early life as an art student and Disney animator and going all the way through Corpse Bride.

The most interesting part–apart from the inclusion of Burton’s preliminary sketches for each project and learning about his creative process (the most touching, are the descriptions of his stop motion projects)–is the eye-opening tales of studio woes/wars. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Beetlejuice was almost titled Ghost House
  • People were really pissed about Michael Keaton being cast as Batman (50,000 hate letters, Warner Bros. shares took a hit, and one superfan wrote into the LA Times saying Burton/Warners had “defecated on the history of Batman.”)
  • Tom Cruise was in the running for the title roll in Edward Scissorhands
  • Burton almost made Superman Lives with Nic Cage as everyone’s favorite alien and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor(…hmmm)
  • Burton toyed with the idea of casting Jack Nicholson as both young AND old Edward Bloom in Big Fish (with a little CG help)

It was really refreshing to read about an artist like Burton and his process–especially in a time of egomaniacal CG worshipers like James Cameron. There were multiple instances where Burton discusses being pushed by studios to cut corners and save money by using CG and blue screens, and he resisted. For example, one of my favorite scenes in Big Fish is when Edward gives Sandra an entire field of daffodils. The studios wanted him to CG the flowers in, and Burton quite rightly told them to eff off:

“We’ve all gotten CG-lazy in this film world…we’re going to plant all those flowers out in that field and have Ewan standing in them, not in front of a fucking blue screen…it was always important that the handmade human quality come through…”

Another great example was in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Burton wanted a real actor to play the Oompa Loompas, not an animated thing. He wanted to build full sets, not half; have a real chocolate substitutes used to make the cocoa river, not CG; use the right lenses and visual tricks to make a scene work, not kick back and rely on some dude to fix it for you with his Macbook.

Isn’t it nice to know that you’re not being duped all the time–that some directors are still interested in the purity of the craft of filmmaking and employing other talented artists that don’t rely on machines to set a scene?

Bravo, Mr. Burton. I dig your ways, and thanks for believing in Johnny Depp. Also, I hope you rock the shit out of Cannes 2010!

I’ll leave you all with some of my favorite quotes:

“When I first got to Disney they were still talking about Walt and it was like this weird mantra: ‘Walt would have done this.’ And it was like, ‘How do you know?'”

“I’ve always felt : how can anybody else want to see it if I don’t want to? And if I want to see it, and nobody else wants to, then at least I get to see it. So, there’s one person who’ll enjoy it.”

“It was called Superman Lives…I always hated those titles like Batman Forever…that sounds like a tattoo that somebody gets when they’re on drugs or something some kid would write in the yearbook of somebody else.”

“It’s like they [the film ratings board] think I’m doing something, so they put a lot into the kind of ‘Worried’ category: ‘He’s not really doing something, but he might be doing something…'”

Though, the best words come from Johnny Depp, who wrote the forward to the book:

“He is an artist, a genius, an oddball, an insane, brilliant, brave, hysterically funny, loyal, non-conformist, honest friend….I have never seen someone so obviously out of place fit right in. His way.”

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One thought on “Me on Burton on Burton

  1. […] talent. These are the things that I feel like motion capture freezes out. It makes me think of my Burton on Burton review. In the book, Burton talked about how they considered using effects to have Jack Nicholson […]

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