We’re just days into 2012, and Tim Burton’s calendar is already jam-packed. The director, alas, may not have time this year to go club-hopping in Paris with Mark Wahlberg.
No matter! Burton has an epic cinematic year in the works, from his Johnny Depp-starring adaptation of “Dark Shadows” and his long-gestating animated project “Frankenweenie” to his work as a producer on the supernatural/action/historical/drama mash-up “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” That’s why we’ve named Burton One to Watch in 2012. The director recently hopped on the phone with MTV News to discuss everything he has coming up over the next year and explain why thinking about it all leaves him in a state of panic.
MTV: Hi, Tim, we wanted to check in with you because it looks like it’s going to be a busy 2012.
Tim Burton: Don’t remind me. [Laughs.]
MTV: I’m sorry.
Burton: That’s OK. I have to face it sooner or later. I didn’t really plan it. I probably should have. I wish you could control film schedules a bit better. But it’s OK. It’s all things that I love, so that’s good.
MTV: How are you dividing your time between the various projects?
Burton: With “Frankenweenie,” it’s a little bit easier to do it, because you only have a couple shots coming through each day. It’s like a slow-motion process. When you’re dealing with something like “Dark Shadows,” that’s immediate and intense. And then with “Lincoln,” [director] Timur [Bekmambetov] is great. I’m there just to support it. It’s a project I really liked and just wanted to see.
MTV: I got a chance to visit the set, and I was impressed. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was on the set of a historical biopic.
Burton: You were! It is! That’s what’s great about it. It just seemed like a natural thing for Timur. It being an American history story, it seemed right for it to be directed by a Russian. [Laughs.]
MTV: What stage are you in for “Dark Shadows” right now?
Burton: Panicking. That stage. We’re editing and doing effects. It’s not an effects-heavy picture, but it’s still got stuff in there. There’s a strange tone to the movie. That’s always what’s fun about movies. You never know exactly what they are. It makes it both exciting and scary and why you like doing it. I have to keep remembering that.
MTV : With over 1,200 episodes of the original series to draw upon, what was important to you to retain?
Burton: It’s got such a strange vibe. And it’s not something that a lot of people necessarily know. You’re trying to do a weird soap opera. I felt really lucky, because the cast is really good. People like Michelle [Pfeiffer] grew up watching it. Some of the cast knew about it. Some didn’t, but they were all game for it — getting into the weird spirit of what “Dark Shadows” was. It has a weird sense of heightened melodrama. There was a generation of us who would run home from school to watch it. That’s probably why we were such bad students. We should have been doing homework; we were watching “Dark Shadows” instead. It was hard to put into words the tone it was. It had a weird seriousness, but it was funny in a way that wasn’t really funny. We just had to feel our way through it to find the tone. We didn’t do any real rehearsals, because the cast all came in at different times. But there was an old photo of the [original] cast which I always remembered, so a couple days before shooting, we got the whole cast together to take a similar shot so everyone could see each other and get that vibe from doing a group photo. That helped set the tone more than anything.
MTV: Some of it takes place in the 1700s, but most of it takes place in 1972, is that right?
Burton: Yeah it goes back, but it’s mainly in 1972, which to the era of “Dark Shadows” is the modern era. To me, it was a scary time.
MTV: Does the film leave that house much?
Burton: A little bit, but the thing about “Dark Shadows” was it was a very hermetically sealed world. It’s mainly the internal family melodrama. You get a little bit of the sense of the world, but it’s like “Grey Gardens,” where these people are in their own sort of world.
MTV: Do you utilize time travel in the movie?
Burton: Not too much. A tiny bit. For me, that’s when the show kind of made me want to do homework. I was like, wait a minute! That came near the end of the trail of the series.
MTV: You decided not to do 3-D this time around?
Burton: No. It’s the ’70s, man. Only “Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror” was in 3-D. That’s the only one I remember from that time.
MTV: Is it true that you’re considering doing another “Beetlejuice” film?
Burton: Yes. I love that character, and Michael [Keaton] is so great in it. I always think about how great and fun that character was, so I just said to [“Vampire Hunter” writer] Seth [Grahame-Smith], “If you have some idea about it, go for it, and then I’ll look at it freshly.” In the past, I tried some things, but that was way back when. He seemed really excited about it.
MTV: Has he run any of his ideas by you yet?
Burton: No. I told him to try some stuff, but he hasn’t come back to me yet. Michael was so great in it. I’m sure he’d strangely tap right back into it.
MTV: It must be extremely exciting for you to return to “Frankenweenie,” considering the original short led to your demise at Disney.
Burton: Maybe it’ll cause my second or third demise. [Laughs.] I’m very excited about it. The opportunity to do it in black-and-white and 3-D really fits the story. For me, it’s the heart of the story that we’ve gotten to go back to and expand. It’s more of a “House of Frankenstein” kind of situation now, but also it stays with the same thing. It taps into the politics of other children that you remember from school. It’s still intimate, though. It’s still the basic story with a few more elements.
MTV: It actually shocks me there hasn’t been a Broadway musical version of “Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Burton: A couple of schools have done it. I think it could lend itself to something like [Broadway]. I’m just happy it’s taken on a life of its own. We’ve resisted any kind of sequelization thing. Some things are just best left on their own.
MTV: Did anyone try to dissuade you from doing “Frankenweenie” in black-and-white?
Burton: I’m very grateful, because I think they understood that that was part of the emotion of it. I was very happy about that, because it’s a big part of it. It’s a big deal for a studio to go along with something like that. And the 3-D really suits it. With a lot of 3-D, you lose some of the detail, but with stop-motion, you actually feel more of the detail. So all the work that people put into the puppets and the spaces on the set — you actually feel it.
MTV: Is IMAX interesting to you?
Burton: Yeah, definitely! We’re doing a test for “Frankenweenie.” “Frankenweenie” is such a tactile funky project. It would be interesting to see it in that, so we’re playing around with it.
MTV: Is “The Addams Family” the next thing on the stop-motion docket?
Burton: Oh, I don’t know. I got so many things to keep up with now …
MTV: You do seem to have a long list of things with your name attached.
Burton: That’s why I don’t go on the Internet, Josh. It freaks me out. I’ve got my immediate things to worry about. It’s like when they thought the Earth was flat and you hit the horizon and fell into a black hole.
MTV: So this laundry list of things that are stressing you out …
Burton: Just check them all off till later. Next year, we’ll take a look at them like Santa’s list. I’ll tell you yes or cross them off the list.
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Check out everything we’ve got on “Dark Shadows.”
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