Interview: Tim Burton from “Alice in Wonderland”
Interview: Tim Burton from “Alice in Wonderland”

The Massie Twins recently had a chance to sit down with legendary director Tim Burton (at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con press event) to discuss his latest project for Disney, a re-imagining of “Alice in Wonderland,” to be released March 5th, 2010.


Q: Lewis Carroll and Tim Burton seem to be the perfect marriage of psychedelic, mysterious and macabre. What drew you to the story and what do you hope to bring with your unique filmmaking sensibility?

Tim Burton: It wasn’t just the books. Something about the imagery, music and songs from seeing versions growing up throughout the generations that still plays in people’s minds. Anything that has strong, dreamlike imagery is important to your subconscious. I’ve never really seen any live-action movie version that I liked. The intent was to take that imagery and make it into a movie.

Q: What’s your emotional connection to the story?

TB: With every other movie version, I never felt an emotional connection. It was always a girl wandering around from one crazy character to another and I never felt any real emotional connection. This is an attempt to give it a framework and emotional grounding that I’ve never seen in any version before. That was the challenge for me. Every character is weird – the real goal was to make Alice seem like a story instead of a series of events. These characters represent things inside the human psyche – some people get therapy, some get to make movies.

Q: What do you think of Comic-Con and how did you get Johnny Depp to make a surprise appearance?

TB: He just happened to be wandering around dressed as Jack Sparrow. No, he came out to support the movie! I came here to Comic-Con when I was a student. It was a few people in a room with a slideshow. This is a whole new, amazing different thing. It’s always nice to see people dressed up. I love Halloween – it’s my favorite time of year, and this is like an extension of that.

Q: Looking back at your films, have you noticed an evolution in your filmmaking process?

TB: It’s easier to see things in retrospect and to see where you were mentally. It takes time to see things in that way and I never try to think about it.

Q: Tell us a little bit more about the Mad Hatter, Johnny Depp’s influence and his importance to the film.

TB: Well, it’s an iconic character. Johnny tries to find a grounding to the character and give it feeling as opposed to just being mad. In a lot of versions it’s a very one-note type of character; his goal was to bring out a more human side from the strangeness. For many years, every time I work with him, that’s what he tries to do.

Q: How did you decide on how much makeup, puppets, costumes or CG to use and what kinds of technology were used?

TB: There are so many different techniques. For my own personal reasons I didn’t want to do the mocap (motion capture) thing. I wanted to mix the live-action into the world. We’re still working on it, so it remains to be seen exactly how it turns out. When you have actors, use them. If an actor connects with something and feels passionate about it, you usually get something better from them, something meaningful they can grasp onto. Those are the actors you want to be around.

Q: Tell us about the decision to do this in 3D.

TB: Disney came to me and mentioned the fact of Alice in 3D and I felt like the material worked and the medium was a good mixture of elements. It wasn’t shot in 3D, partly because of the time element. We didn’t have five or six years to make it. With what we were doing, this seemed like the right approach and technique to do. You no longer have to walk out of the theater with a splitting headache. It’s a much more pleasant experience. It’s not a gimmick. Especially with the Alice material, with her continually growing and shrinking, and with the spatial issues, it helps with the experience. When Nightmare Before Christmas was turned into 3D, you felt things more, like the textures of the puppets – things you felt when you were on the set and it helps the experience more. It’s the way it should have been, the way you wanted it to be.

Q: Is this a sequel in any way?

TB: It’s not a sequel because there are so many stories in Alice in Wonderland. It’s taking elements of the books and making up a story. A lot of it is based on the Jabberwocky poem.

Q: Do you have plans to bring to the screen another original character like Edward Scissorhands?

TB: Oh yeah. I’ve got a few lying around that I’d like to sneak in somewhere, but nothing right at this moment.

Q: Is the relationship between Alice and the Mad Hatter much different than the books? Perhaps romantic?

TB: No, she’s just a young girl. Please.

Q: Is Dark Shadows going to be your next project?

TB: Yeah, that’s the plan. If I ever finish this one. It’s hard to think beyond this at the moment because there’s so much to do still.

Q: Can you tell us about the casting, especially Mia Wasikowska and Helena Bonham Carter?

TB: I wanted someone with a gravity to her. Most Alice roles are just a precocious girl wandering through things and I wanted somebody with an internal life, not flamboyant but with a simple power. Helena? I don’t know. She has a big head. It seemed to fit with the part.