Tim Burton has made three stop-motion animation feature films: "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Corpse Bride" and 2012's "Frankenweenie." The format has been good to him: "Corpse Bride" and "Frankenweenie" received Best Animated Feature nominations from the Academy Awards, and, as Burton joked to HuffPost Entertainment, the category didn't exist when "Nightmare" was released in 1993.
"There is something special about the process of making stop-motion films and all the people working on it, frame by frame, and the time it takes," Burton told HuffPost Entertainment. "So any kind of recognition or positive response means quite a lot."
Burton was busy in 2012, though not everything worked out as well as "Frankenweenie." "Dark Shadows," Burton's eighth collaboration with Johnny Depp, was derided by critics. Not that Burton necessarily minds. "I remember 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' and 'Beetlejuice' were named on the 10 worst movies of the year lists. Years later, it's like, 'Those are the best movies you ever did!' It's like, 'Oh, jeez, I'm in real trouble now."
Burton talked to HuffPost Entertainment about his Oscar nomination, why "Dark Shadows" won't get him down, and how his experiences on the lost Superman film, "Superman Lives," still sting to this day.
You've been nominated for two Oscars -- both for animated films. Does that kind of validate stop-motion animation?
I don't know. Because once computers came into play, that became sort of the medium of choice. I don't know. I grew up on Ray Harryhausen and Rankin Bass, so, to me, I've always loved the medium. It's a special art form. That it gets any kind of positive response is good. I remember many years ago, when computers were coming in, Disney said they weren't going to do any more hand-drawn films. It's like, "Hmm, that's a shame." Luckily, they kept making them. You just hope all kind of mediums -- computer-drawn, stop-motion -- survive on some level.
"Frankenweenie" is a great film, but it wasn't a blockbuster like "Brave" or "Wreck-It Ralph" ["Frankenweenie made $67 million worldwide]; does that frustrate you?
Look, for me, these films are special, so I never really think about that. You never know about box office, you just try to make something you feel close to. I love the medium and I also felt good about the movie. Box office, you never really know. Luckily, it didn't cost as much as a lot of films. It all kind of balances itself out to some degree. As long as it's not so poor that it turns people off from wanting to do stop-motion animation. That's the key thing for me: the opportunity for me to keep working in that medium.
When did you realize "Frankenweenie" was really working?
You never really know. This one was slightly different because it was all based on memories -- whether it was from the short film all those years ago or thinking of the kids I remember in school or the teachers or the kind of movies I loved. It was fun to run everything through a personal movie. I never ever thought -- which you never do on any film -- "This is great, I'm nailing it." But this was more fun. It was much more of a pure experience in terms of doing it. That felt good. You try to feel that on every film, but this was a bit more pure that way.
Danny Elfman wrote the score for "Frankenweenie." How has your relationship evolved over the course of your careers?
The longer you work with somebody the more important it is to feel like you're not just doing the same thing. It can always be a bit of a trap. But I think it's important to me and it's important to him that you try to grow and do something different. Even though we like the same kind of things. I knew he would understand the story: the monster movies, the emotion, the boy and his dog story. I knew he would feel it and I think that's the important thing. You just feel personal about it and I knew he would.
You've also worked with Johnny Depp many times with great success, but "Dark Shadows" was kind of raked over the coals last year. How do you keep that relationship fresh? Is it upsetting when that film doesn't work?
In the case of "Dark Shadows," it might be a bit of [fatigue], where I've done the last few films with Johnny. A few people said to me that if I hadn't worked with him in 10 years and then did that movie, it might have had a different response to it. I think that's out of your control. I love working with him, and -- like with Danny -- I'm always trying to do something different and I always feel like he's a different character. I never really think too much about that. It's more whatever people say and think. I can't do too much about that.
That's true. You never know when something is going to hit. Not many people thought "Alice In Wonderland" would make $1 billion.
Every movie I've ever done -- and I guess in some ways, I've felt quite lucky -- I've learned not to target an audience and think, "Is this going to be a success or not?" You hope anything is going to be a success. Up until the days of release I've never really known. You could have a movie that gets great reviews and doesn't make any money, or a movie that gets really shitty reviews and makes a lot of money. You could do a movie where people think it's the worst movie of the year and several years later, people think it's a great movie. I've seen it all.
Is there something you want to do with Johnny that you haven't done before?
One thing I've learned over the years is to try not to think way too far in advance. I've had projects [that didn't pan out]. I've learned about myself that it's best to be more immediate. Films take a long time to make -- a year, a couple of years -- and if you think too far in advance you may not feel a certain way. I know he's capable of lots of things; there's always something that you're not thinking about that is possible with him. He's just that kind of a person. I try not to think too far in advance. A month or a year from now, you might spin into a dark depression or you might be Mr. Happy. You don't know how you'll be doing.
It also depends on the movie, too, I would imagine.
Because you do have to spend so much time on it, you've got to feel really strongly about the movie. I don't really know what a good script is. It's more that I feel like doing this idea that's kind of capturing my feelings at the moment. Because you're going to put so much into it, it's more important that you have feelings to keep you focused and your energy going and your passion going. For me -- except for the stop-motion animation, which take a long time to make -- I try to be as immediate as possible.
Speaking of the fickle nature of moviemaking, someone has started a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary about "Superman Lives." Have you head about that?
Somebody told me about that. It might be more interesting than the movie, that's for sure.
That movie has become this fascinating lost film. Do you regret not being able to make it?
I've had a couple of projects that I was working on for quite a long time -- a year or more -- that were canceled. I have to say, it's quite painful and it's quite emotionally scaring. I don't think you ever quite get over it. At the same time, you don't really regret it. You kind of go, "Well, I guess there's a reason this didn't get made." I don't really go back and say, "Oh, I wish I made that movie." It was definitely painful. It takes a while to get over those things, for sure. It remains with you at some level. You try to keep a more optimistic reason. Like there's some unknown force of the universe out there.
It still happens. Steven Soderbergh said part of the reason "Side Effects" exists is because he was going to make "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." at Warner Bros., but it was called off. It amazes me that huge directors like yourself or Steven Soderbergh run into this.
They put a lot of money into "Superman Lives." What's interesting, too, is if we had been able to make the movie the way we wanted to back then. It was like "Batman" all those years ago; there was always a bit of controversy. Like, "Oh, it's too dark." It's like, well, now it looks like a light-hearted romp. We were trying to explore the more human side of the character and get into that whole thing. You know, whatever. There's all sorts of forces at work: Where the studio's at, the chemistry of the people and the producers. I think that's why it's hard to understand why certain things go down. Although it does seem like in the past several years there's more of that dynamic happening, which is a little scary.
Exactly. If someone like you or Soderbergh, guys with clear track records, can't get a movie made, how is a young director supposed to make it?
You know how it is. It's not an exact science and it's hard to predict why. Like I said, it's all the elements coming together or not. It's whatever energy of that time is. It's like trying to explain how Disney animation was back when they were doing "The Fox and the Hound" and "Black Cauldron." It is weird. It was a time and a place and it kind of feels like a weird dream. It's hard to explain. It's kind of the same with these things. It's [long pause] painful. [Laughs]