Fantastic Fest began with the arrival of genre legends Tim Burton, Martin Landau and Winona Ryder for the premiere of Frankenweenie. Before getting queued up for the daily movies, I got a spot on the black carpet for some quick interviews with the talent.
First up was Tim League, CEO and Founder of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Founder/Creative director of Fantastic Fest itself. We got a preview of what’s to come this week and some important perspective on the politics of theatrical exhibition.
CraveOnline: What are going to be the films I’ve never heard of yet that will be making waves this week?
Tim League: I’ve got a lot of favorites in that regard. Those are my favorite ones to program, the discovery films. There’s a documentary called The Final Member which is about the Icelandic penis museum and the thrilling fight as to who’s going to be the first human penis in the museum. I love this Australian movie called Hail which stars an actual prisoner in a Shakespeare troupe in Australia. He and the director wrote 500 pages of treatment about his own life and he basically re-enacted it with him and his girlfriend. It’s a very harrowing story and one of the best performances in the festival.
You program so carefully, when a movie doesn’t go over with the audience, what’s your debrief on that?
Tim League: Well, the audience is wrong. No, hopefully it doesn’t happen. Honestly, we always strive to improve so we look at the things people like and also I think we curate the festival to the tastes of what it’s getting known to be. We don’t play a lot of straight ahead horror movies. We look for incredible storytelling and I think we’re building a fan base for our kind of weirdo storytelling.
Thank you for speaking up at CinemaCon about texting in theaters. What do we do when the industry is moving toward accommodating disrupters?
Tim League: I want to make it a black and white issue for NATO [National Association of Theater Owners] that NATO has to make a stand on this that they are in our court, because really if the entire industry caves upon itself by allowing disruptive behaviors in theaters, I’m just a small guy. The industry’s going to start to fail so I don’t want to do that. I think everybody should be enforcing it with an iron fist.
First to arrive from the Frankenweenie team was producer Allison Abbate, who produced Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and other animated classics The Iron Giant and Fantastic Mr. Fox.
The original Frankenweenie short was a side project of Tim’s at Disney, was it even unauthorized?
Allison Abbate: It was authorized but I think it was a thing of “Let’s just keep that guy busy” and then it was so super cool that they might’ve been a little bit surprised, but to me you can see Tim’s genius right there.
How did you know John August was the perfect screenwriter to expand it?
Allison Abbate: Yeah, John August really did a great job of opening it up. You get to know Sparky a little bit. In this we had at least 10 minutes when you really get to see his and Victor’s relationship. And then also just opening up the cast of characters, so what would happen if the other kids at school got wind of this secret and this secret technology. That’s really the fun way that we opened it up and were able to bring in other monster pets or reincarnated pets and have some fun with family.
Were there any rules about what creates each monster, or was it anything goes?
Allison Abbate: Generally every monster is created by the owner. There’s some correlation so the Boris Karloffy character from The Mummy creates a mummy hamster and so on. There were definitely symbolic correlations but it was really just what would the character do, what does he deserve? Everyone gets what they deserve.
I love Weird Girl. What is up with her?
Allison Abbate: She’s just weird. I think it says it all in her name.
What’s with her eyes?
Allison Abbate: She’s got something on her mind but she’s definitely a breakout character.
What was the day when they settled on that figure in the studio?
Allison Abbate: We were looking for what she looked like and Tim was saying, “We’ve all known that person” and as soon as he said that and we had seen the drawing, we knew who it was. Catherine O’Hara did a great job of really finding that voice.
Tim Burton arrived in his traditional black, despite the Austin heat. It seems Frankenweenie still has the spirit of the rebel creative artist against the mainstream. He may be the hero of outcasts everywhere, but he seemed like a team player and didn’t take the bait to slam any authority figures.
One of the themes of the film I liked is that you really can’t trust adults. Is that a good theme for kids to take away?
Tim Burton: No, I don’t think it’s quite that bad. Adults are like kids. They have their good points and their bad points. Kids are pretty smart. I think you can tell when somebody’s telling you the truth or being good or bad and kids are quite smart.
Frankenweenie was a side project you did when you were working as an animator. What did you think when they asked you for a Frankenweenie movie?
Tim Burton: Oh, it was more something I presented to them. It was something I had wanted to do and do it in stop motion, so it didn’t feel like I was going back to old territory. It felt like it was a new project so it was something that I felt passionate about, so I went to them.
This is a total fanboy question, it’s never going to happen, but if Warner Brothers were to say, “Hey, let’s go back to the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman and do one more long lost sequel to Batman Returns …”
Tim Burton: [Laughs] That’ll never happen.
Would it be cool?
Tim Burton: The old folks home.
Martin Landau plays the science teacher Mr. Rzykruski who teachers Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) about electricity, which he uses to bring Sparky back to life. When the re-animated pets start to scare the adults, Mr. Rzykruski has to straighten the parents out.
Mr. Rzykruski’s speech to the PTA is great. What did you think when you read that?
Martin Landau: I loved it. He’s certainly not a diplomat. If you’re a teacher and a fervent teacher and a zealot and love science, you’re not going to keep your job if you tell your students’ parents that they’re stupid. I just liked him. I loved the character a lot and it turned out pretty much, if I were doing it live, I would practically play it the same way. I thought those animators did a great job. I love this picture. I think this is more Tim than almost any other thing he’s done. It’s a lovely movie and he’s been wanting to make this film for three decades. He never lost his desire and that’s great.
Finally, Winona Ryder truly graced the black carpet. It was a reunion with her Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands director, and she plays Victor’s neighbor Elsa Van Helsing, a disaffected youth the likes of which Ryder made famous in many films.
This is your first movie with Tim since Edward Scissorhands. Was it like no time had passed or has a lot changed?
Winona Ryder: It was pretty much like no time had passed for me just because he’s the same guy. Obviously he’s evolved and has kids now, but he’s still the same director. He actually directed me in the same way he did on Beetlejuice, used the same hand gestures and words and stuff. He’s someone I just love to be around and it doesn’t feel like work at all. If I’d heard he was in town I would go by anyway. It was just really special and it was special because it was so personal to him.
Your character’s name is Elsa Van Helsing. What does that name mean to you?
Winona Ryder: Well, I did Dracula like 100 years ago so I think of Anthony Hopkins a little bit.
Oh, I didn’t even make that connection.
Winona Ryder: But I always thought the name Elsa was a great name. I love all the names in this film.
There’s a script being written for a Beetlejuice 2. Would you be excited to see Lydia Deetz again?
Winona Ryder: I actually really don’t know much about that.
Just to think about seeing Lydia again.
Winona Ryder: Yeah, that was brought up recently and I was like, “Really? Wow.” Of course Lydia was a great gift, one of my favorite roles actually I’ve ever played. Obviously again I’d do anything for Tim so I don’t know. I have no idea what’s really happening with that.
Check back with CraveOnline for more Fantastic Fest updates, reviews and interviews all week.