A Conversation With Tim Burton

November 24, 2010 at 12:45 pm

A Conversation With Tim Burton Toronto Tiff Bell Lightbox RBC

Thanks to @michelsavoie and @rbc I was lucky enough to be invited to an amazing event held last night at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

A Conversation With Tim Burton.

The event is part of a pretty impressive tribute to Burton’s work including workshops, movie marathons and an impressive art gallery which I wasn’t fortunate enough to see but looked amazing.

Personally, I was extremely excited to hear the filmmaker talk about his career and inspirations and he didn’t disappoint.

Whether you love his films or not you can’t argue that they are easily recognizable.  His style is incredibly unique, strange and wonderful.

I couldn’t wait to get a sense of what he’s really like.

On stage, he was extremely humble and modest yet confident and surprisingly funny.  I’m not sure why I was surprised by his sense of humor given the fact that my personal favorite of his is Beetlejuice.   Ironically, it was one of the first films he talked about mentioning that the studios wanted to change the title to:  House Guests.  A title he relegated to the straight-to-dvd section of video stores.

I suppose I was expecting a quiet and weird auteur but instead we were all treated to an incredibly interesting mix of strangeness and honesty.

“I didn’t know I was weird until people told me I was”

That’s why we love Tim Burton. 

It’s that weirdness and unpredictability that makes him interesting. Within two minutes, I was hanging on every single word he said and it was absolutely fascinating.

A Conversation With Tim Burton Toronto Tiff Bell Lightbox RBC

The first portion of the evening was an hour long sit down interview where various clips of his films played in between his sincere comments about his film career.  It was followed by a short yet revealing question and answer period with the audience.

The format was a great way to introduce different aspects of his career.   You could feel the excitement in the room when people’s favorites were on the screen. I know I was giddy a few times. Especially when Batman made an appearance.

Tim mentioned several times that he never watches his own movies.  I wish I was able to see him during the clips to confirm whether or not that was true.  I like to think he was looking away.

It’s truly inspiring to get a window into a filmmakers creative process.

Tim spoke candidly about how he tries to find time every day to simply look out a window and let his mind wander.  I thought about that comment a lot.  It’s both strange and interesting.  On one hand, it’s good advice.  No matter what adult responsibilities (as he put it) you have, it’s always good to make time for yourself and let your imagination run wild.  On the other hand, I can totally see him sitting alone in a room with only a chair, a window and his thoughts.

Strange and interesting.

Listening to him speak about his background in animation and how he used to sit underneath his desk all day is a perfect example of an artist who isn’t afraid to be himself.  I had no idea he started as an animator for Disney.  I’ll never be able to picture him drawing The Fox and the Hound. I suppose he didn’t either.  He may not have considered himself a great animator but the man worked for Disney.  That’s saying something.

Eventually, he would bring his unique artistic style to millions of adoring fans but I still love the image of him drawing underneath his desk wishing he wasn’t sketching Todd and Copper.

You could tell Tim was proud of his body of work regardless of whether he watched his films or not.  He spoke honestly about his need to connect to a particular character or monster.  I think that deep connection is what makes his monsters and ghouls so sympathetic and endearing.  It allows us to connect to them just as deeply.  There’s a powerful relationship between a movie and a fan.

Sometimes we as fans have no idea why a director chooses a particular film.  I was happy someone asked him about Big Fish because it led to a personal story about how his own father had passed before he made the film.  He spoke about how he wouldn’t have made the film otherwise.  It was a touching moment as you could tell how much that film meant to him.

That level of care bleeds through the screen and into the hearts of the people who adore his movies.

A Conversation With Tim Burton Toronto Tiff Bell Lightbox RBC

It was also interesting to hear him compare Edward Scissorhands to himself.  He even called it his favorite movie because of how connected he felt to the titular character’s journey. 

A statement that drew a round of applause from the audience.

And yes…  People asked him about Johnny Depp as well and he had a pretty great answer for why he worked with him so often. He complemented the actor saying that if Mr. Depp wasn’t right for a part he wouldn’t cast him.  I really can’t argue with that as he is an amazing actor.

Tim spoke a lot about the people he works with often and how he likes to see them take on new challenges and succeed.  Yet it was also clear that the director liked bringing fresh eyes onto his projects.

I like to think about the different people who have interpreted his unique and original style over the years.  It isn’t limited to the people who work on his movies either.

Someone in the audience asked him about all the people who have tattoos based on his famous characters. Tim called it the best compliment he has ever received.

“I don’t even have that kind of dedication.” he joked.

People simply love his gloomy black and white style. The black and white stripes in particular have fascinated many over the years.  The subject of the stripes came up towards the end of the evening and Mr. Burton provided one of the strangest answers of the night.  I’m paraphrasing here but he essentially believed that wearing black and white socks made him feel more connected to the ground.  Nobody seemed to know what to make of that answer but we were all thinking about it in depth.

But why?

I would have been happy listening to him elaborate on that statement for the rest of the night. 

Sure he is a strange guy but we don’t love Tim Burton because he’s normal.  We love his work BECAUSE it’s weird.

Before I knew it the conversation was over and he thanked everyone graciously before leaving the stage.

All I wanted to do was hurry home and either edit my latest short film or work on my newest screenplay.  Listening to him speak so honestly about his career was truly inspiring and as an aspiring filmmaker myself, I’m happy I had the opportunity to be there.

I think my favorite moment of the entire evening was when he was asked about the all the different images of skeletons in his movies.  He said:

“There’s a skeleton in each and every one of us.”

It’s an old joke that caused many to giggle lightly in the theater including myself.

However, I also look at it as a perfect way to describe his connection to both his characters and his fans.

We all have monsters and ghosts inside.

I’m thankful for directors like Tim Burton for putting his on the screen.