On Dec. 25, Tim Burton will release Big Eyes, a period dramedy about the bizarre, true-life story of Walter and Margaret Keane, the couple behind those famously kitschy paintings of doe-eyed little kids that became a sensation in the 1960s. The film — which stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz — will mark the 17th feature film that Burton has directed in a storied career that now stretches over 30 years.
Burton has always been an unusual filmmaker, a semi-eccentric visionary who makes films about outsiders from within the Hollywood studio system. He spoke with Yahoo Movies about his career and some of his most famous films, including Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Check out the highlights in the video above and some more thoughts from Burton below:
On why Michael Keaton seemed crazy enough for 1989’s Batman:
"It got a lot of criticism for being too dark, and there was a lot of criticism for casting Michael Keaton. They thought it was going to be a comedy or whatever, but it felt very special. We met these big tough guys, but what it came down was that, you look at someone like Michael and you think, ‘Here’s a guy you can see dressing up like a bat.’ He’s got the eyes and the kind of crazy quality and the kind of internal life, but he’s not Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So, here’s somebody who needed to create a persona to frighten people and intimidate people, and Michael just seemed like the perfect person to be that. The studio was quite supportive. Thank God, the Internet wasn’t as big then, because we would have been really murdered. But even without the Internet, there was a lot of negativity and alarm.”
On walking away from Gotham City following 1992’s sequel, Batman Returns:
”I think I upset McDonalds. [They asked] ‘What’s that black stuff coming out of the Penguin’s mouth. We can’t sell Happy Meals with that!’ It was a weird reaction to Batman Returns, because half the people thought it was lighter than the first one and half the people thought it was darker. I think the studio just thought it was too weird — they wanted to go with something more child- or family- friendly. In other words, they didn’t want me to do another one.”
On the difficulty of making Edward Scissorhands even after becoming an A-list director:
After Beetlejuice and Pee-wee and Batman [were] successful, I thought I could do whatever I wanted. That’s when I learned every movie is difficult to get made. Even after Batman, presenting a story about a guy with scissor hands — they weren’t the most enthusiastic.
But that was a special movie for me because it was feelings, not autobiographical, but the sense of feeling that way as a teenager. It was very representative and symbolic of a lot of feelings that I had.
On the “bizarre” production of the stop-motion animated The Nightmare Before Christmas, which Disney released under its more adult-oriented Touchstone banner to an eventual $75 million box office:
"It was weird because at the time, it was something I’d never heard in my life: They weren’t going to put a trailer up for it. Even horrible movies you have trailers for. That was a bizarre thing. They basically [made] it because I had designed it [at Disney] many years ago, and I said, ‘You guys don’t really want to do this, let me take it elsewhere.’ And rather than let it go elsewhere, they let it happen. It didn’t cost a lot. But as we were going on, they didn’t know what it was. It was a strange movie that got more successful later and later."
And how The Nightmare Before Christmas has become the unofficial movie of emo teenagers:
"I’ve seen people that have amazing tattoos. That to me is the most amazing thing, better than any review, better than any box office, better than anything, when it connects with people so deeply."
On whether he’s been to Hot Topic, where Nightmare Before Christmas gear is still the rage.
"Not lately, but I have!"
On whether he’d go back and change things in his movies:
"No, I know some people update the special effects in movies or whatever, but I always think it’s a bit of a time capsule. It’s like plastic surgery — I’d rather see people’s wrinkles and warts, than see something that’s been glossed over."
On his unproduced Superman movie that was to star Nicolas Cage:
"We were going the same route in terms of exploring [the Superman story] on a more human level and a more emotionally grounded level. And it’s quite devastating when you’re working on a project for that long period of time, and it doesn’t happen."
On computer-generated versus practical special effects:
"I try to use it as a tool to achieve whatever you need to achieve. As an animator, for instance, on Alice in Wonderland, at the time I wasn’t a big fan of motion capture, so a lot of that we went pure animation, just because I felt it had better timing. You use whatever medium for whatever the project is and try to treat it like a character. If it’s a practical effect, it’s always fun to do because it connects the actors and the crew to what you’re doing instead of being in this void of room with a green screen.”
On his public persona:
"I’m not a dark person. My films are quite light, I find. Especially the way they are now, mine look like a light-hearted romp."