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Getting inside the head of film director Tim Burton

Updated: 2010-11-25 09:32
Getting inside the head of film director Tim Burton

Jury president Tim Burton attends a news conference
at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival May 12, 2010.[Photo/Agencies]

In a long career, director Tim Burton has distinguished himself as the top Hollywood director for things weird, wacky, macabre and beautiful with his films ranging from "Edward Scissorhands" to "Alice in Wonderland."

Last year, New York's Museum of Modern Art launched an exhibition covering the 52-year-old filmmaker's career in art and movies, and it became an instant hit.

This week, a new version of the exhibit opens at the Toronto International Film Festival's TIFF Bell Lightbox. It features more than 700 original paintings, costumes, puppets, storyboards, doodles and drawings ranging from Burton's teenage years to present-day.

Burton took some time to sit with Reuters and talk about his work and the exhibit, which runs through mid-April.

Q: How does it feel to be honored like this?

A: "It's a very strange thing because usually this stuff happens when you're dead. This doesn't usually happen when you're still going, so it is quite an honor and strange because it's stuff I never expected to be up on a wall somewhere."

Q: Some of your original drawings and concepts are featured. What's it like for you to see scraps of paper with a drawing on it or an old letter you wrote on display?

A: "I never really went to museums, so the idea felt like an out of body experience. It didn't feel like me. It's kind of like "Oh, there's my dirty socks hanging on the wall." There's something strange about it. But I felt like I was in very good hands with (MoMA). I felt like they were presenting me in a way that made it more comfortable...cause I'd never thought I'd look at this stuff ever again. It's just strange, which is fine. I don't mind strange feelings."

Q: Going through the exhibit, your characters are somewhat bizarre and scary, but they are beautiful and often vulnerable at the same time. Is that how you view people and the world?

A: "I always liked the mixture of things. I always feel like things are never one thing. Funny and sad, pretty and ugly. Most are always a combination of things, so it's my way of juxtapositioning things that shouldn't necessarily be together. But that's what makes up everybody, really."

Q: When you look back at your own career, what films are you most proud of?

A: "Each one you spend time with so they're all a part of you. Even the ones that weren't successful, they're still a part of you. But there are certain films like 'Edward Scissorhands' that are more personal to me because the themes in that movie were very strong, personal feelings that were being explored when I was a teenager. 'Ed Wood,' the main character from the movie, is a character I kind of related to in terms of delusional qualities. I like 'Sweeney Todd' because he didn't say very much. With every character you try to find something personal in it."

Q: In the exhibit, there are sketches of projects that didn't get made, projects like "Trick or Treat". Will you be revisiting these projects any time in the near future?

A: "Not necessarily. At that time when I was doing those projects I was thrown in a room working on random projects. Some were more developed than others; some were ideas that Disney was thinking about. So a lot of that stuff became like a grey area to me. It's one of the things I like about the way they presented the exhibition because it shows the weird crossover of how things start out more abstractly and how one little sketch might turn into something for a bigger idea. It shows the weird process."

Q: Do you start with an image and develop it into a story?

A: "Often times, yes. I was never a very verbal person so I do a lot of thinking through sketches and doodles or drawings or whatever. I think coming from an animation background you tend to think visually, rather than intellectually."

Q: And how do you find your muse? Do you create a character based on an idea or one based on a particular actor or person?

A:" You try to keep open to things whether it's a person, an animal, a thing, a feeling, the weather. Whatever it is, the key is to always try to be open to see things differently."