Tim Burton Grilled on His LACMA Exhibition, Depp & ‘Dark Shadows’

“There’s a period in my life when I wasn’t very social, and that’s how I spent my time, drawing and thinking of things, and it helped me”

Iconoclast filmmaker Tim Burton has an opening this week, but it’s not in theaters.  After receiving over 800 thousand visitor’s at New York’s Moma,“Tim Burton!” arrives at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this week, including hundreds of the filmmaker's drawings, paintings, sculptures and films. 

Burton sat down with TheWrap to talk about his drawings, his struggle with the studios, his long-time collaborator, Johnny Depp, and  his upcoming “Dark Shadows,” which he is currently filming in London.

Also see: A Look at 'Tim Burton!: The LACMA Exhibition (Slideshow)

Can you talk about the creature series, the untitled animation series, the number series; some of the more unfamiliar portions of the show?

A lot of these things came at a time when I was a student or working at Disney when I wasn’t really an animator, I just sort of had a lot of free time. There’s a period in my life when I wasn’t very social, and that’s how I spent my time, drawing and thinking of things, and it helped me. I think I was quite a depressed character at a certain point in life. This was kind of a catharsis for me, as a way to kind of explore and just get feelings out into the open nonverbally but just by doing things.

Is that something you commonly do to relax, just sit down and draw?

Yeah, it is. It’s a bit kind of like a Zen thing for me. It was a way for me to communicate with myself in a weird way, in a way to kind of explore things that I couldn’t quite intellectualize or verbalize. I found drawing was a way of finding a certain reality for me and exploring things. So yeah, it’s still important even if I’m busy doing other things.

When you were at Cal Arts, you felt you weren’t a good "life-drawer," but you had a revelation while sitting and drawing over at the Farmer’s Market.

I’ll never forget, it was like a mind-expanding moment. I was sitting at Farmer’s Market and we were there on a class trip, sketching. I was frustrated, and I just said, “Fuck it. I can’t do this so I’m just going to draw.” And at that moment, it just changed for me. Not that my drawings got any better, but it just did something that I truly felt like my mind expanded. It was like taking some kind of drug and it just did something. I’ll never forget it. 

A character from “The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy,” Stain Boy is said to have come out of your experience trying to get “Superman” made at Warner Bros. How does he reflect that experience and can you talk about the struggles between Jon Peters, you and the studio?

Any filmmaker that’s had that happen will tell you, it’s kind of a scarring. You don’t forget it. It’s kind of the worst thing that can happen to you because, as an artist you get excited — your whole energy is based on your passion for doing something. And then when you’re going on and on and on, and that’s sort of taken away, it’s quite traumatic because you put your passion into it. If you didn’t care, you’d just move on. It’s happened a couple of times. It seems to happen more and more with people. You know, it’s a lot of money; it’s a big responsibility. And movies are a gamble. There’s no such thing as a sure thing. I’m always amazed that certain studio executives don’t realize that. I guess there’s some things that are a bit more sure than others, but at the same time, you got to rely on the filmmaker. I’ve always been grateful when the studios understand, "Well, you’re the one making it, we should support you." I’ve always had this image of like, "Okay, you’re the star athlete,’ and right before the race, they beat the shit out of you then say, “Okay, now go win the race.”  It doesn’t make any sense. 

I know you’re in the first week of “Dark Shadows.” How do you usually ease the cast and crew into a production?

It’s been hard to kind of come here because I’m just starting, and it’s a weird tone and it’s a lot of actors and, you know, we’re not starting with the simple stuff; we're sort of getting right in there. You like to kind of sneak up on it a little bit, but this one we just kind of slammed right into it. 

It’s based on a soap opera. Will it have that soapy quality?

Yes, I don’t know. I’m early into it because it’s a funny tone, and that’s part of what the vibe of the show is, and there’s something about it that we want to get. But when you look at it, it’s pretty bad. I’m hoping that it will be — it’s early days, let’s put it — I’m very intrigued by the tone.  It’s a real ethereal tone we’re trying to go for and I don’t know yet.

Can you talk about your first meeting with Johnny Depp and how your relationship has evolved over the years? I understand you used to have to fight to get him in movies, and now people are begging you to put him in movies.

It’s true, I mean I just had an immediate connection with him. I didn’t know him, but he just felt right for “Edward Scissorhands.” We’re friends and colleagues, and we’ve always taken the tack of not working together just to work together. It’s got to be the right part, the right movie, all of that sort of thing. There’s a good sort of non-communicative communication, you know. Because especially back then I was not a good verbal communicator, and he’s a bit similar, but there’s more of a psychic kind of connection, I would say, that sort of has remained. I like actors, too, that like to change, become different things. Those are the kinds of actors I find fun and exhilarating to work with.

Will “Dark Shadows” be in 3D?

I have no plans for that. I loved doing "Alice" in 3D.  “Freankeweenie,” gonna do that in 3D. There’s people like, "Everything’s gonna be in 3D," or "I hate 3D!"  I think people should have a choice. I don’t think it should be forced on anybody. At the same time, it’s great, some of it. It’s like "Yes or no!?  3D!  Yes or no?!"  It’s like, well, you know, come on, whatever, some yes, some no.