By David Braun
I'm sitting in my apartment in Prague fighting the last bits of jet lag with coffee and reflecting on the unexpected week I just spent in my native land of Southern California. I've been in Prague studying animation since September, enjoying the delicious and impossibly inexpensive beers of Pilsner Urquell and admiring the futuristic, bizarro sculptures (see: David Cerny's pissing statues) peppered throughout this mysterious city.
My recent trip home seems like a dream, probably due in part to the fact that my coffee grinder has broken, forcing me to crush the beans in a McDonald's bag with a wrench on my balcony, leading to an extremely weak brew, weak buzz, and a very weird state of mind. The dream-like feeling of the trip might also be because of the reason I went home: To interview Tim Burton.
After randomly responding to an e-mail requesting student filmmakers from Los Angeles as candidates for an mtvU interview for the network's "#ask" series with pop culture icons, I was shocked beyond belief to find an almost immediate response in my inbox. With two months to go in the semester and the interview happening in less than two weeks some 6,000 miles away, I didn't have a clue how it would work out if I was chosen. But there was no turning back.
I made an audition tape and before I knew what was happening, I was on a plane to return to L.A. in the middle of my Prague sabbatical to interview one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. The nights leading up to the meeting were definitely on the sleepless side. Like many in my generation, I grew up with the weird offspring of Burton's imagination, from the fearless daydreaming of Jack Skellington to Michael Keaton's crotch-grabbing ghoul in "Beetlejuice." And how many of us 80's babies were haunted by that infamous bug-eyed moment with Large Marge in "Pee Wee's Big Adventure?"
As I narrowed my questions down from upwards of a million, my mind refused to quit turning over the infinite number of faux pas that could spill out of my mouth during the interview. Following some solid words of encouragement from my supportive CalArts mentor and my lovely mother, I sat down to watch a few of his interviews and was relieved to find that he was a total dude (in the "Big Lebowski" sense of the word). Here was a guy who just likes to "make things," expressing surprise and gratitude for the fact that he has been able to make a living doing what he loves, quick to encourage kids to keep drawing and to bring more creativity into the world.
You'll have to watch the interview to see how we finally hit it off, but I must say it was an absolute honor to have the chance to spend some time with the talented Mr. Burton. I was touched by the genuine excitement he showed when I handed him a gift of the severed head of one of my puppets. It felt like my weirdness was being validated by the very person who showed me that it was okay to be weird in the first place. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go smash some more coffee beans in a paper bag with a wrench.