The Burton speaks on Dark Shadows and more
With a career spanning almost 30 years and 14 features to his name, Tim Burton has stamped his unmistakeable style onto the history of Hollywood and earned critical and commercial success along the way, most recently with 2010’s Alice in Wonderland which rode the crest of the new 3D wave to earn more than $1 billion worldwide. This May, Burton is back with Dark Shadows.
The film is directly inspired by the 1960s gothic TV soap opera which produced over 1000 episodes in just five years. Together with frequent collaborator and fellow Dark Shadows fan Johnny Depp, he’s whipped up a gothic comedy which tells the story of vampire Barnabas Collins who is cursed and buried alive for 200 years. On waking in the 1970s and returning to his former home, he needs to deal with his clueless descendants, as well as the advances of an amorous witch.Depp himself pursued the rights to the TV series, which has retained a cult appeal for more than 40 years – despite the fact that it was also panned for poor acting, rickety sets and an uneasy mix of genres. New director Burton has fond memories of the series but was also keenly aware of its flaws, especially upon revisiting it decades later. Rather than a straight retelling, he’s opted for a more comedic slant, using the fish out of water element of Depp’s character to tell a period tale with more laughs than jumps.Depp is joined on screen by an impressive cast of Burton regulars and newcomers including the ever-present Helena Bonham Carter, EvaGreen as the witch who imprisons Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer as the matriarch of the Collins’ family, a somewhat villainous Jonny Lee Miller and Chloe Moretz, playing a relatively normal teenager for a change.
The film will also see the return of a quartet of cast members from the original series, including Jonathan Frid (who played Barnabas from 1967 to 1971), Lara Parker, David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott.
Ahead of the release of the film in May, we caught up with Burton in the UK recently to chat about the movie. He was deep in the mire of ADR and yet to cut a trailer for the film, start the scoring or finish the visual effects but seemed surprisingly calm and amiable as we peppered him with questions about Dark Shadows.Click: What are your prevailing memories of the series?
TB: The thing is it’s strange. What made it so special was at that time in American culture there was nothing like that on TV at all. It was on in the afternoon, and you’d run home from school, turn on the TV and there was this gothic soap opera - which was just very unusual. It had more to do with that than the actual quality of it, because in some respects it’s quite badly acted and strange. I think it was the strangeness of it – the music and the waves crashing against the rocks and everyone acting very seriously with the supernatural elements. And the environment of seeing it was all part of what made it special. It was like a weird dream. So in doing it we weren't remaking it, it was more just capturing that quality that it gave you – a strange melodramatic dream.Click: So how would you label it if you had to?
TB: I wouldn’t even do that because you wouldn’t want to. I mean there were over 1000 episodes and you can’t have every character. So I think I just took the way it made me feel when I saw it and tried to capture that. Once I analysed it I kind of realised that it’s basically just a family story, so that’s what I liked about it and it just happened to have supernatural overtones. I liked the idea of Barnabus being a reluctant vampire; he’s more of a romantic tortured soul who happens to be a vampire.
It’s funny because Dark Shadows was, to me, one of the first versions of all that vampire and supernatural stuff that’s out now. Many of these new things owe a lot to Dark Shadows.Click: Did you watch the old episodes again in preparation?
TB: Michelle [Pfeiffer] every morning in her makeup room would rewatch old episodes. I just thought it was worse than I remembered - rubber bats and weird shadows on the wall and things. I didn’t really want to show it to the other actors because I think it would have confused them. We wanted them to act well, not badly!Click: When Johnny Depp acquired the rights did you immediately want to direct it?
TB: Yes, although I did pause a bit because it’s a strange thing to do. It’s one of those things that there’s probably a hardcore group of fans that loved it but… I can look at Star Trek and I know why people are fans. With Dark Shadows, you look at it and it’s harder to figure out why! So I thought it was slightly dangerous material. What is it that people really like about it? I tried not to over analyze that and just go with the feeling it gave me when I thought about it.Click: Did you have certain actors in mind for the parts?
TB: Well Johnny was obviously there; and Michelle because she called me, so that was great. Eva, [Green] I didn’t really know her work very well, but there was something about her that I loved and she was the first choice for me which I’m really happy about that because she’s great. That was just an instinctual thing. Everybody you pick for certain reasons. Chloe [Moretz] has done great things – my only concern was that she’s done so many amazing things, could she play a real teenager! [Laughs] The cast was the most important issue on this as opposed to effects and other things.Click: Was it always going to be set in the 70s? Did you consider modern times?
TB: I did but there were a few reasons why we didn’t go for it. First of all the characters in the series just felt like they lived in that era and then, on the next level, the idea of Barnabus seeing things that are strange tapped into making things personal. Going back to that time in my life when it felt really weird and transitionary. That era felt strange at the time and it still feels strange now. Just all the weird stuff that was around like mood rings and pet rocks and those weird troll dolls! Jesus! So it was making it modern but still felt like Barnabus feels in a weird way.Click: Why did it take so long for us to see a trailer?
TB: I think trailers are really too long and come out too early.Click: Would you be in favour of not doing one at all?
TB: No, no, no not at all! I think it’s an organic thing. What exactly is the film? And we’re still figuring that out in a way. I’m not against it totally. But oftentimes they’ll put out a trailer and you’ll find out the movie has been pushed back another year! I’ve always questioned – why put out a trailer so early? I mean who sits there and says ‘on March 14th next year, I’m going to go to the movies!’ So I’m not against it in general.
Click: It’s great to finally see Frankenweenie being made as well.
TB: It’s fun because it’s going into the original drawings more and adding new characters. And we’re doing it in black and white and 3D, so I’m quite excited about that. It’s basically the same story but it’s a bit more like the old monster mash ups like House of Frankenstein or Dracula where we bring other things into it.Click: Did you ever consider filming Dark Shadows in 3D?
TB: We did consider it but there were a couple of issues with that. One was the time issue, the other was that setting it in the 70s we wanted it to feel more like a 70s movie. And one of the complaints that people have about 3D – just one of them, sometimes there are a few! – is that it’s too dark and muddy. And since we were going for shadows and a certain mood, we didn’t want to be dealing with that for this project.Click: What are your views on 3D overall?
TB: I think the more different things like colour or black and white or 3D or 2D and the more choice the better. There was that argument around the time of Avatar or Alice where people were either for or against it, and the studios were trying to push it as a new wave, but the thing for me is always that I’m for it but it should be a choice. As a movie goer if I had the choice of seeing it either way I’m happy.Click: Has it been difficult working across Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie at the same time?
TB: Yeah. A woman told me once it’s like childbirth in that you, rather fortunately, get this amnesia from one project to the next that makes you forget how traumatising it all is. But they’re two projects that I loved that happened to coincide and I couldn’t control that. At least with an animated film it’s a little bit more slow motion. And in reality I quite like having Dark Shadows on the one hand, and on the other I get to look at something else. It’s a little cleansing. So instead of being difficult, it’s quite enjoyable.Dark Shadows is in cinemas from the 11th of May. Check back soon for our full review.