Sweeney Todd Q&A w/ TIM BURTON!

Attended a very special AFI Directors Screening of Sweeney Todd at ArcLight Hollywood which would feature a Q&A with Tim Burton! Burton’s directed some gems including: Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Big Fish, and let’s not forget Pee Wee’s Big Adventure! It was great being on the planning end of this event. It’s a shame since the studio was pushing really hard to get Johnny Depp out for this as well. Don’t get me wrong, Burton himself is great, but that would have been insane. I have to say, that the first time I saw the Sweeney, I wasn’t terribly impressed. After this viewing, I totally had a different view. It really is a solid film. Perhaps all the alcohol that I consumed prior to my first viewing skewed it the way it did.

Credits start rolling and blue shirted ushers feverishly start setting up the director’s chairs, mounted one sheets, and an AFI banner. The AFI president begins his opening remarks. He first introduces the Q&A moderator, Claudia Puig, of USA Today. At least, there will be good questions. He runs down the some of the same films that I did earlier, and then says, “I purposely left off one film. We have a great surprise. Introducing Tim will be MARTIN LANDAU!” I was half expecting a surprise, but not that one. It was great seeing Martin come out and just decide that he was just going to have a seat on the stage.


By the way, all photos courtesy of Rachel Thompson who came with me. It’s great that she had her camera on her. I mean, I’m usually the one with a camera attached to his hand for things like this, but all I had was my phone. You’re a rockstar, Rachel!

Martin eventually brings Tim Burton onto the stage. Tons of applause and a standing O from everyone around me. The questions begin. I didn’t have a pad of paper or a voice recorder. I had the notes application on my iPhone. Obviously, I shorthanded a lot of this, so don’t get all crazy if you were there and I’m a bit off. Here are the highlights for me:


– When asked about how Stephen Sondheim and he (Burton) got together, Burton replied, “Stephen Sondheim is a fan of horror, so we had that in common.” Asked if Stephen Sondheim had approval of the cast, Burton said, “Stephen’s Simon Cowell that way. He approved everyone.”

– There was a comment about the great working relationship with Johnny Depp. Burton stated that he had no idea who Johnny was until he saw him on the cover of a teen magazine. Obviously the rest is history. Burton stated that Depp does it all, but he won’t dance. He’s trying very hard for their next project together to be a ballet movie. LOL!

– Moderator asked about the color palette used throughout the film. Burton responded, “Surprise! It’s dark.” Burton said that the color and tone were very important. He used the same special effects guys from Sleepy Hollow. He also said that because he was working with actors who had not really sung before, the color and tone of the sets really helped set the mood necessary to bring out the performances. He then gave the actors props for singing. He said singing really gives you an exposing feeling, like a porno!

– A guest asked what his criteria is for casting his films. Burton responded saying that he envisions wax statues, like the ones in the wax museum, and could he see the actors as those statues.

– When asked about Sacha Baron Cohen’s involvement in the project, Burton told a great story about the audition. Apparently Sacha came in with loads of material and began belting out every song from Fiddler on the Roof. Burton was quite surprised and but wasn’t sure how to react or how to stop him.

– This is probably my favorite quote. When asked what overall feeling he was trying to convey with Sweeney, Burton said, “I wanted to have the collision between the violent and the tender.” This was also what he would focus on to have a differentiation between the film and the iterations of the musical.

dsc00117a.jpg The spotlights were quite bright.

– When asked where the white streak in Sweeney’s hair came about, Burton said he got the idea from Humphrey Bogart’s ONLY horror film, “The Return of Doctor X.” Burton stated that the image he had in his head was Bogart’s dark hair, the white streak, black gloves, and how he just sat and petted a bunny.

– One guest started asking the usual, “What would you have done differently?” question. They decided to throw in an example of something they would have changed but quickly realized just how DUMB that was going to sound. There were hisses coming from around the guest. Burton took it in stride and began laughing. He then asked if his editor was in the audience. Finally, Burton said he wouldn’t change a thing.

– Burton showed even more of his humorous side when a guest began her question with, “I just moved here from New York…” to which he exclaimed, “You moved from New York over here to ArcLight’s Cinerama Dome? Do you sleep here?”

– Apparently during the filming of Sleepy Hollow, Burton started his own little competition to see just how much blood he could get on Johnny’s face. The guest asked if he did that on this project. Burton responded, “I’m the Jackson Pollack of blood. I use a very large syringe. Johnny hates it because I’m very accurate.”

– Finally, a guest asked the inevitable Batman question. The actual question was, “How could you let them allow Joel Schumacher destroy the next Batman film?” Burton said, “Hold on. Hold on. I didn’t allow them to do anything.” He went on to tell about the meeting with studio execs to discuss the next film and how he got the feeling that this was a courtesy meeting and that they had no intention of allowing him to do the next film. He then stated, “I made black stuff come out of the Penguin’s mouth. You can’t sell happy meals with that kind of shit.”

It was a great time. The people around me were definitely hard core Tim Burton fans. It’s always great to be able to hear the creative thought process of someone who is great at what they do and is also pretty prolific. Attending things like this always serve as motivation for me to do more.


~ by Francis Orante on January 5, 2008.

4 Responses to “Sweeney Todd Q&A w/ TIM BURTON!”


  2. I was there and like a fool had no way to take notes and didn’t dare turn on the phone to take pictures. I was already pretty annoyed the girl next to me who was texting on a phone that made nose when she got a response. It took 5-6 of us tell her to turn off her phone before she would.

    So thank you. I loved the meeting but was thoroughly annoyed at those who seemed like they were trying to network with Burton. I was there to hear him talk not hear the life story of every kid there.

  3. Love your blog! thanks for sharing…It is my first time to your website and I couldn’t stop reading. Very interesting stuff. Keep it up! Love, R

  4. The Batman answer was my favorite part of the entire Q & A. I’m glad you were able to jot down highlights :)

    Here’s a link to some of my pics, on Flickr :)


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