One of the film industry’s unique visionaries takes on Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of mad hatters, rabbits and a girl called Alice. It seems the perfect marriage as he confessed to Paul Fischer.
Question: What is it about this book you felt suited your sensibilities?
Burton: It wasn’t only the books. It was growing up and you hear this kind of imagery and music and songs. I don’t know, it was just something about the imagery that he created that throughout lots of different generations, it still plays in people’s minds. I think any kind of thing that has strong, dream-like imagery that stays with you is important to your subconscious and thinking and creative mind. I just felt like try to do it a different way, because I’ve never really seen any movie version that I really liked. The intent was to take that imagery and try to make it into a movie.
Question: What’s your emotional connection to Alice in Wonderland?
Burton: The emotional connection came from the fact of seeing other movie versions of it that I never felt an emotional connection to. It was always a series of a girl wandering around form one crazy character to another. I never really felt any real emotional connection so it was an attempt to really want to try to give it some framework and emotional grounding that felt that had never been seen in any version before. That was the challenge to me, to take it. Every character is weird but I tried to give them their own specific weirdness so that they’re all different. I think all those characters and this imagery sort of indicates some type of mental weirdness that everybody goes through but the real attempt was to try to make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events.
Question: What did Alice mean to you as a child?
Burton: Well, I think it’s a fairly universal concept. These kind of stories whether The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland, it’s an internal journey. These characters represent things inside the human psyche. I think that’s what every child does. You try to work out problems as you go on. Same thing as an adult. Some people get therapy, some people get to make movies. There are different ways of getting this sort of thing worked out.
Question: How did you get Johnny Depp here and what do you think of Comic Con?
Burton: He just happened to be in the neighborhood. We saw him wandering around outside dressed as Jack Sparrow. No, it was jut nice that he came to support the movie. I haven’t been here [since] I came when I was a student but it was a few people in a room with a bad slideshow. This is a whole amazing different thing. The one thing that was always true about it was people love, passion about this kind of stuff so it always had a good feeling that way. It’s always nice to see people dressed up. I love, Halloween is my favorite time of year so this sort of extends that a whole weekend seeing great costumes and stuff. It’s got a great spirit to it.
Question: Is there an evolution to your films?
Burton: No. I don’t know. It takes a while. It’s easier to look at things in retrospect and see where you were mentally. At the time you’re doing things, you’re just kind of in that zone of in the present and all. So I think it takes time to see where things lie in terms of that kind of thing. I never try to think too much about it, just kind of move on.
Question: First Alice experience?
Burton: Well, like I said, I’ve seen the imagery. Movies I’ve seen, I’ve never like, ” Oh, Alice in Wonderland.” I’ve seen the Disney cartoon probably, that might’ve been the first one. There’s like a 1930s version, there are other TV versions. I never really got into them. The goal was to try to make something to make sense of some characters.
Question: Did you read the book? What age?
Burton: Oh yeah. I don’t know, when I was about, well in school so maybe 8, 10, or whatever. I had a weird connection because I bought the house, I don’t know if you know the illustrator, Arthur Rackem. I live and work out of his studio. He did, in 1905 he did some amazing versions of Alice in Wonderland, Sleepy Hollow, things that I’ve been involved with so I felt there was a weird connection to me, the material, and life. It always helps somehow.
Question: Thoughts on the techno split?
Burton: Well, as you know, as you can see here today, there are so many different techniques. There’s pure mo-cap kind of thing or animation, live action, a mixture of them. For my own personal reasons, I didn’t want to do the mocap thing. I’m not personally so much into that. So I just went more with the pure animation and then live action, but then try to work the live action to fit into the world. All the techniques have been done before but this is a new mixture of them that way. We’re still working on it so it remains to be seen how it all turns out. The goal is when we had actors to use them, and not put green dots all over them and not use them. All these mediums are valid. It’s not like there’s one, I don’t think that’s any better than the other. Whatever the project is, you just try to do it for whatever you think works for that project.
Question: [From guy in costume]
Burton: I’m about to be arrested by the galactic policeman.
Question: Is this a sequel or re-imagining?
Burton: I wouldn’t call it, it’s not a sequel because there are so many stories of Alice in Wonderland, books, a couple books. The goal was to take the sort of randomness of the book, it’s just taking elements of the books and making its own story. A lot of it is based on this Jabberwocky poem in one of the stories. That’s not a big part of the story but we’re just using elements of all the books because that’s the nature of them. They don’t necessarily follow a specific linear structure. Go back to your planet now, thank you.
Question: Do you have ideas for another original like Edward Scissorhands?
Burton: Oh yeah. Those are always kind of inside so yeah, I’ve got a few lying around. I’ll try and sneak them in somewhere. Yes. Nothing right at this moment.
Question: Do you enjoy dressing up for Halloween?
Burton: I’m sort of dressed up now, at some point. I don’t know. No, I did like Ha – – it’s the one time of year where you get into that feeling, you actually can learn more about yourself when you’re in a costume sometimes. There’s something about being hidden, a certain kind of freedom about that. That’s why it’s fun to see people dressed up around here because there’s a certain sense of artistic freedom that I think comes from that. I’m all for that whenever it’s possible. Not just Halloween. It’s something that’s very private though, dressing up, okay?
Question: Were the characters’ lines based on the actors?
Burton: People brought, yes, that’s what actors like to work with. They bring something to it, if there’s a line or something from the book, a Carroll line that wasn’t in the script that they wanted to be in the script. If an actor connects to something and feels passionate about something, it’s always nice to. You usually get something better from them because it’s something meaningful they can grasp onto. That’s always I think helpful. Disney came to me and mentioned the fact of Alice in 3-D and I just felt the material in that sort of medium worked, was a good mixture of elements. Again, as I said earlier, just wanting to try and do a version that’s like a movie.
Question: Did you shoot in 3-D or do it later?
Burton: We didn’t do it with a 3-D camera. We got all of our information with other cameras and stuff. It’s a mixture of things. There’s two reasons for that, or maybe three or four reasons. One was the time element where we didn’t really have five or six years to make it. Also, I felt with the techniques we were using, the kind of just pure animation, live action but manipulating, doing strange things to that, plus the other elements that we were adding into it, this gave us more freedom to get the depth, the layers, everything we wanted to in the time that we were dealing with. Also for me, I couldn’t really see the difference. There are people that are probably saying it’s more pure this way or that. When I lined it all up, with what we were doing, this seemed the right technique and the right approach to doing it.
There were days you used to put the glasses on, you’d walk out the theater with a splitting headache. That’s no longer the case. It’s a much more pleasant experience. As others have said, it’s not like – – I’m personally not out to make it a gimmick. It enhances, it puts you in this world more. Just with the Alice material, growing and shrinking, the spatial, the weird spaces and places that you’re in, it just helps with the experience. Obviously, these movies have to not only work in 3-D but you’ve got to look at it in 2-D and say this is still a good movie that you want to see. I think the gimmick elements are falling by the wayside and it’s just more about an experience that puts you in it more. I remember when we did Nightmare converted to 3-D, I felt it’s almost the way it should’ve been because it’s like you felt the texture of the puppets more. You felt things you actually felt when you were on the set and I think that that just enhances the experience and it kind of makes things in a lot of cases it makes more of the textures and things, the way you wanted them to be at the beginning. It’s stuff when you’re looking at them on the set or in real life or touching the fabrics or feeling it, you feel it.
Question: Is the relationship between Alice and Mad Hatter a love story?
Burton: I wouldn’t say. She’s just a young girl, please. She’s older but she’s not that old.
Question: Would you dispel the rumor you’re doing Dark Shadows?
Burton: Dispel the rumor, no, that’s the plan. If I’d ever finish this one, yeah. That’s the problem. Hard to think beyond this at the moment because there’s so much to do still, but that’s the plan.
Question: Why Mia and Helena?
Burton: Mia was just, we just wanted somebody with a gravity to her. Most Alice’s are just a precocious girl wandering through things. We just wanted somebody who had, it’s hard to put into words but just had a gravity to her, an internal life, something that you could see the wheels turning. It’s just a simple kind of power to her that we really liked. Not flamboyant, not very showy but just somebody that’s got a lot of internal life to her. That’s why I picked her. Helena, I don’t know, she’s got a big head. Seemed to fit the red queen, I don’t know. She was available.