I'm the one who studied fear

I'm the one who studied fear
What's Inside
Am I scared?
But I don’t.
I adored this fact.
Batman? Sure.
Feel at least something.

Am I scared?

All I remember is how my parents boarded up windows in my bedroom.

I don’t know why they did this.

They left for me a small hole near the ceiling through which I could peer out. My room turned into a cold dungeon, where at night a quiet whistling of the wind is heard and nothing more.

I climbed onto my desk and could look into this small hole for hours until my legs hurt. I did this until I noticed that the sun, which was desperately trying to get into the room through this hole, began so painfully burn my eyes.

For a very long time I remembered the wet smell of wet concrete, I felt the cold of a brick.

I began to be afraid of my parents, relatives and the place where I grew up. I felt lonely, and that was what made me develop on my own.

My brother, Daniel, always insisted that I needed to communicate with people more and go out, but I always looked with fear at the front door. I knew if I go out, people will try to seduce me with their social norms. I was happy with what I had. It was something much larger, more significant than the meaning of life.

Always sociable and friendly Daniel burdened me. Soon, I stopped letting him into my room.

At school, I always sat at the back desk. When I was bored in the classroom, I drew. Once, when my vigilance was euthanized, I discovered that some of the drawings disappeared. More precisely, they did not disappear, but were staggered out on the door of my school locker for all to see.

I did not understand why everyone was laughing at me and why they called me a freak. When I looked at my drawings with everyone together, I understood why. In the crowd, everything seems somehow wrong. But I was not upset. Reason overcame resentment, and I calmly took what was originally mine.

Faddish Timothy Walter Burton turned into a gloomy teenager with a sick imagination. They thought so, not I. But what do I care about if they ridiculed what they looked like?

The same unfortunate and lonely, rejected by the whole world and himself.

The only thing that distinguished me from everyone else was that I just liked what I was doing.

And imagination is just imagination, it cannot be measured and therefore it is not logical be called sick. You just may have it or not.

I was struck by their waffle and sickly colourful country houses. Neighbourhood’s cleanly cut lawns, waxed cars sparkling in the sun, sugary voices. It seemed that everything was mixed into the gamut of some kind of wild nature, where I am a stranger and at the same time not.

I was born in sunny California, grew up in the suburbs, spent my childhood in a place where there was no sense of history, any passions. I don’t remember anyone like the music. And no emotions. This is a place where you were forced to either adapt and give up part of your personality, or create your lasting inner world, where you could feel isolated from others.

My dad did not return to sports after his injury. And he dreamed that I, as the eldest son in the family, would follow his footsteps. My father always dreamed that I would become an athlete.

But I don’t.

Probably because I did not want to be like my father. However, I joined the water polo school team. My father continued to cherish the hope of my professional sports future.

Mother was poor in love, all that interested her was a souvenir shop with cats. Sometimes, looking at these cats, I dreamed of a dog.

Valhalla Memorial Park was my shelter, where I felt safe. The places where Death dwells have always scared ordinary people, but I was always curious about how peace sounds. The local cemetery guard got used to my walks in the wrong place and always politely greeted before starting his duties. A middle aged man made sure that no one touched the graves, and that no one disturbed the peace of the deceased. I remember when he saw me for the first time, he asked what purpose I came for. I replied that I like talking to the dead. He, like everyone else, mistook me for a strange teenager and looked at me suspiciously, and then I added:

“They just have no one to talk to. They are lonely, because when you stop remembering them, they disappear for good.”


I always thought about Death. I was curious what colour Afterlife is, how food taste there, what kind of music can listen to, and what you can dance when there no music at all. Probably there is also a long queue, gloomy cleaners and people with displeased faces. I wonder, are the dentists also so scary there?

My favourite pastime was watching horror films and science fiction. My parents once admitted that I started watching a movie about monsters before I even started talking or walking. I was struck by such rare frankness in our family and said nothing in response.

I have never been afraid of monsters, rather the opposite - I sympathized with them. I loved the movie about monsters, always wanted to be one of them. For example, a man in Godzilla suit. Once, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I realized that there was no difference between them and me. They were outsiders and freaks like I was.

I adored this fact.

The Cornell Theater was my favourite place to go for three consecutive horror shows for only 50 cents. Most often, I watched horror films of Category B, such as Scream Blacula Scream and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

The film that had really a serious impact on me was Jason and the Argonauts. I was impressed by the scene in which the main character fought with skeletons. It was the most incredible thing I could see in my life. I suddenly wanted to do something similar, something that will be remembered and amaze others as well as I was.

I wanted to arouse in people the emotions that I knew.

This has become my life-aim.

I'm used to live in my dark room. Darkness never scared me, actually, it soon became my best friend. Lying on the bed face up, I imagined the world ceasing to divide into black and white, the line between them is blurred and the two colours begin to mix, turning into a light gray palette of muted dark colours.

Dark but innocent images began to appear, and I did not want to forget them. They say, thoughts become meaningful when you express them out loud.

When they are enclosed in your head, they cease to exist. These strange characters with sad eyes and gloomy faces reached out to me, as if I were the only one who could give them freedom. In each face I recognized my own and held out my hand in response.

Many, many angular faces with big sad eyes. I loved everyone. It seemed to me that if I did not capture at least one on a sheet of paper, it would disappear from my head, as the dead would disappear from my memory.

Cheerful, vulnerable, fragile. But everyone was full of life.

I often looked under the bed to meet the monster who lives there. I wanted to keep him talking about the eternal, but every time I pushed the edge of the blanket, I saw only a depressing dark emptiness, and I was lost.

Perhaps this was the way people, who knew me, felt - bewildered by the fact that they did not understand and therefore unhappy, because deep inside they carry the same gaping void.

At university, I doubted that I could draw, but several teachers convinced me, saying: “Do not worry. If you like to draw, just draw.”

It is amazing how a few kind words can help you gain confidence in the future.

I was used to being different from others, but it struck me why others were not different from each other.

Disney is a fabulous place where true stories are made. I wholeheartedly wanted to work there, because I hoped that, finally, I could find my place in this cramped world.

My first task there was to create animations for the cartoon "Fox and Dog". I did not fit into the work on a cute story about animal friendship. The foxes I was trying to draw for the cartoon looked like they were being hit by a car. Therefore, I quickly enough flew out of the project.

But I'm not used to giving up and retreating from my own beliefs. I was allowed to create the first adult short film: it became a six-minute black-and-white cartoon “Vincent”.

I'M THE ONE WHO STUDIED FEARCritics liked Vincent, and I felt relieved and satisfied. Always considering myself mediocre, despite successful studies at the university, for the first time I felt that I was recognized. The main character of the cartoon Vincent Malloy lives in two worlds: in real life and in a fantasy world in which he represents himself as an actor Vincent Price. Vincent Price is my idol since childhood, because he starred in many of my favourite horror films. It was a great success and joy for me that Price agreed to personally work on the Vincent’s voice! Despite the fact that “Vincent” did not combine with the Disney style, but taking into account its success, the bosses of the studio allowed me to make another film.

Once I believed that miracles happen. My parents let me have a dog. Peppy was my favourite. Then it seemed to me that the shadows began to humbly diverge, sacrificing themselves in warmer shades and for a moment I allowed myself to believe that it was so. I no longer paid attention to the curious and sugary neighbours, did not think about how sickly their acid houses were and evenly trimmed lawns looked. I found a friend and everything suddenly changed.

If there existed a science in the world that could deceive fate or Death itself, I would begin to study it even then. But I decided to obediently bow my head to the inevitable, again thinking about what I would do if I had the opportunity to go against nature.

Peppy died of the disease, and again I was left alone.

Therefore, returning to my origins, I took up the game short film “Frankenweenie”. The main character, a boy named Victor, decides to resurrect his pet - the dog Sparky, who was hit by a car.

I'M THE ONE WHO STUDIED FEARHowever, after the Disney Frankenweenie test shows, the idea was abandoned: the children were supposedly very scared of the story of the resurrected dog.I decided to honour the memory of a friend with a movie. I remember everyone who came into my life and everyone who left. He was the only one who was there the longest. Therefore, he is a frequent character in my creations now.

Have parents ever told their children that someday they will die too? Since when did the natural become disgusting?

I realized, working with large budgets and serious studios, you have to sacrifice independence and adapt to other people's requirements.

I felt that I was losing what I lived and what gave me spiritual satisfaction, in return for this came emotional stress. The bosses of the studio did not like the fact that they sponsored projects that in the end could not show their audience, and I had to leave.

Ideas are worth fighting for. Why spend your life realizing someone else's dreams?

I never suspected that weirdo attract weirdos. Now that nickname has become flattering to me, ha-ha. Paul Rubens, a comedian and screenwriter, offered me to join a project, and I could not refuse. In 1985, we were working together on the full-length film “Pee-wee's Big Adventure”. As it turned out, Paul is my fan!

The film “Pee-wee's Big Adventure” tells the story of the infantile guy Pee-wee Herman, who lost a bicycle. Throughout the film, the hero tries to find his favourite thing.

Kitsch vibrant scenery and the main character, who is not like the others and behaves a little strange - this is what I always felt confident in. Reminding me of a house never left me idle. Rather, the memories helped me stay away from this place.

The eternal sun and not a single shadow. After that, London seemed like the perfect place for me.

The main event that happened during the filming of “Pee-wee's Big Adventure” is an acquaintance with composer Danny Elfman. He struck me with the similarity of our ideas about art. He was probably the first person with whom I felt comfortable.

Jokingly, Danny admitted that if it weren’t for me, he would never have built a career. Who knows, maybe I would not have built a career if I hadn’t discovered such a talented composer as he, ha-ha!

I never gave up my ideas, knowing that I can to understand outsiders better than others. I decided to make a movie, revealing the antagonists as deep and causal personalities, and not as a backdrop for the heroes. My characters are a voice of conscience and sober opinion on essential things.

Once Death seemed to me a bit of a ghost, now she has learned to talk and even laugh.

Unexpectedly for me, “Pee-wee's Big Adventure” had a success in a mass audience, so after its premiere I immediately had two working projects. The first is Beetlejuice.

There are two outsiders - Beetlejuice and Lydia. The first is a rebel in the afterlife, the second is in real life. Nothing better can lead a person astray as the appearance of the characters, so in order to tear the society to shreds, I wanted to start with a panic - costumes and makeup.

Faddish black comedy with faddish characters.

The deep concept of a simple desire to show others that the framework of far-fetched morality is the same as the boundaries in the head.

Batman? Sure.

I was never interested in comics, but when I found out about a character like Batman, without hesitation, I agreed to this project. He became the second.

Inspired by two gloomy comics about this superhero: “Batman: The Return of the Dark Knight” by Frank Miller and “The killing joke” by Alan Moore, I decided to bring my usual dramatic and muffled sensations into my project.

I belong to that unfortunate generation for whom television has largely replaced reading, so I took the city from Fritz Lang's Metropolis as the basis for the image of Gotham. I like to use visual citation or links to films of directors representing German expressionism. They perfectly show the essence of everything that exists. What I value most in my characters is their content and soulfulness.

The aesthetics of expressionism is built on contrasts, exaggerated emotions, a combination of different means of expression (image, music, acting) to achieve a stunning effect. Expressionism is sharp corners, broken lines, bare nerves and passions to shreds. Visually, this is light and shadow, symbolizing good and evil, which fight for the souls of the hero and the spectator.

A game with colour and light (either black and white, or all shades of “tear your eyes out”), juggling with proportions and angles, expressive make-up of actors, decorations reminiscent of an old movie. Someone from the critics said - and everyone, of course, amicably picked up - that I do not shoot films, but cartoons with live actors.

And who did not want to live in a fictional, but ideal for the soul world?

By the way, I still do not like to read.

I identify Batman with the idea of human ambivalence, that there is not white-black, bad-good, but gray. It seems to me that the world is becoming more and more gray, borders are blurring, and it is becoming more and more difficult to recognize good and evil. This applies not only to politics, but to everything that happens to us. Therefore, Batman, who constantly has to deal with these issues, is an amazingly modern hero.

I shot “Batman” as a duel of two madmen (both Batman and the Joker are pretty crazy), and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” - so I want to sympathize with Todd and Mrs. Lovett, and not their innocent victims. Yes, and in “Dark Shadows” it is not clear who the main sufferer is: “involuntarily vampire” Barnabas or the witch Angelika who is unrequitedly in love with him. I took inspiration for “Dark Shadows” from childhood, but not mine, Johnny Depp’s: the actor, when he was younger, watched the same named TV-show of 60s.

By the way, Sweeney Todd was the first and so far the only musical in my career. The film was based on the eponymous Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim.

The author of the Broadway production is not a big fan of film adaptation of musicals, but he appreciated my work. He commendably said that even at the moments of the performance of songs, it was necessary to entertain the viewer with something on the screen.

In “Dark Shadows” there is a scene that describes my art as well as possible: the main character talks about love with a company of stoned hippies, and then, politely apologizing, kills them - because he was a hungry vampire.

In parallel with the work on Batman Returns, I was involved in the movie Edward Scissorhands.

This was my first full-length project, which I created by my own script. To work out a character always seemed to me a very interesting activity, because the development of the plot and how it will behave and feel at certain points depend on the image.

I always start all my work with a drawing. During my career I have accumulated a lot of sketchbooks. I'm not used to being restricted in my work, therefore, when there isn’t one at hand, I can easily ruin your napkin or wall.

I was inspired by one of my favourite characters - the Frankenstein monster from the 1931 movie. Edward is a strange kid who is not understood by others. Despite a frightening appearance, including scary hands with blades instead of fingers, Edward is not a monster, not angry and not dangerous. In fact, he is a vulnerable and innocent man.

I'M THE ONE WHO STUDIED FEARI am closed, more like a tambourine and mumble, rather than talking and frantically gesturing in the hope that someone will understand me. It is very important when a kind of symbiosis occurs between people. Johnny Depp was the only one who could do it.The only thing left was to find a good actor. Not only for this role, but also for me.

I will never stop wondering how people are able to find their own kind. How many years goes by? What are the motives of fate?

Johnny once told me:

“I love the atmosphere that prevails on the set. It is like returning home.”

Edward, who desperately wants to touch the world - and cannot do this. Like each of us, fearing to destroy, while not realizing that when we create, we lose much more. People who live an ostentatious ideal life are actually far worse than strange and gloomy hermits.

Such is the eccentric confectioner Willy Wonka, who lives in his fairy world. His gloves symbolize unwillingness to contact people.

By the way, in the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, I used my favourite trick - flashbacks. This could perfectly demonstrate the cause and effect of why some people have become what they are now.

For example, at Charlie, using a flashback, it became clear why Willy Wonka decided to open a sweet factory - his father was a dentist who did not allow him to eat sweets.

It took quite a few years, and I became in demand in circles that once rejected me because of my excessive strangeness. Well, I had to sacrifice some of my projects and give them to colleagues for implementation. One of them was a puppet cartoon based on the Adams Family.

This happened with "The Nightmare Before Christmas." This story was not shot by me, but by my friend from the time of my work at Disney, Henry Selick.

I'M THE ONE WHO STUDIED FEARNevertheless, I helped him in the implementation of this project, acting as a producer and screenwriter, and therefore I followed all the processes very carefully.I remember one moment when I worked at a corporation, and journalists with a camera burst into my office. I was scared half to death, because there were so many of them, and I was only one! But Henry saved me from the obsession of the reporters by politely dropping them from the office. I felt like they were going to shoot me. I don’t know why I remembered this moment, probably it is more connected with mortal danger than a memory connected with a friend.

The plot of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was based on a verse that I wrote during the days of hard labour in Disney. The lyrics were inspired by the workers who cleaned up the Halloween decorations and replaced them with Christmas ones. It was then that I first painted Jack Skellington. Dead, but with a soul. I liked him and still like him.

For some reason, all my films have always been considered gloomy, with the exception, perhaps, of Pee-wee. “Batman” was supposedly gloomy, although now it looks like a children's party. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was a true horror, but this does not prevent three-year-olds from singing songs from there. None of my films seemed really dark to me.

In 1997, an amazing idea came to me. I wanted to publish a book with my own poems and illustrations for them. If at first glance it seems to you that I am too cruel to children, then you are mistaken. Everyone is mistaken under the first impression.


The boy with nails in his eyes
The boy with nails in his eyes
Put up his aluminium tree.
It looked pretty strange
because he couldn’t really see.
(The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories)

I like the very idea of ​​conveying the main thoughts through my work. Not everyone takes them seriously, but whoever is lucky - they find only disgusting things in them. This is probably what everyone who looks in the mirror does.

That is why I came up with the idea of ​​filming a Washington Irving short story, Sleepy Hollow. I liked the idea itself, the essence itself, when death preys on people who took away from her something that she wants to return.

It’s common for actresses to act in my movies with blond hair. They should put on wigs. To avert eyes, as people do when they smile at our faces.

And also when they hug us. Probably to hide.

Over time, that I worked on my creations and learned my deepest art, I realized that life and death are not enemies, but allies. However, I also love fairy tales, but not hairy children's versions, but folklore horror films for adults, where there is the entire Criminal Code from incest to cannibalism. In many ways, my films are an attempt to return to Western culture the hushed-up theme of death, natural for folklore and frightening for the so-called rational age.

Love, blood, life, death, laughter, fear replace each other, as in a kaleidoscope. And that’s what I need - I want my viewers to experience the same emotions as that lonely guy in the dark room in front of the magic screen. That I was.

Feel at least something.

Honestly, I was always afraid to become complacent. I was afraid that suddenly what I was doing too well would bring Narcissus syndrome into my life, which, under the influence of Hollywood expressionism, would make the same sloppy films.

One of the facets of a misunderstood and unacceptable personality is an extremely subjective, up to inadequate, perception of oneself and one's creativity. Ed Wood, “the worst director of all time,” is convinced that his films will go down in history. The artist from the movie "Big Eyes" does not think about what she is doing - kitsch or art; at first, she doesn’t even care that her husband gives her work as his own.

But I cared. Perhaps that’s why I kept my identity.

This is like superpower, which not everyone has.

Perhaps that is why I was so interested in the film adaptation of Ransome Riggs’s book, The House of Peculiar Children, titled Miss Peregrines's Home for Peculiar Children.


In children “with special needs” living in a secluded boarding school under the supervision of the same “special” teacher, I did not see the second “X-Men”, but the idea that, before saving the world, superheroes should deal with themselves.

I always perceived these features not as superpowers, but as a kind of disease. These people are not going to save the world and defeat all the villains in the world. No, they learn to perceive themselves as they are. Their adaptation to the world is more likely to be similar to that experienced by children with developmental disabilities or physical peculiar.

The crowd never loved when something is different; they know that it is dangerous.

So I shot Alice in Wonderland in my own way.


My films work on the energy that occurs when the hero finds the strength to say “No!” to the opinion of the crowd in order to defend what is important to him. Alice is a heroic fantasy about a warrior maiden, not a surreal trip of a well-educated Victorian girl.

After a series of adaptations, I wanted to create something of my own. So the puppet cartoon “Corpse Bride” was born. I have never been a fan of computer graphics. It's like falling into a rabbit hole: “What the hell is going on?” But in the end, you still hit the ground. Same thing with technology. They are finite. And exaggerating everything - a characteristic feature of Hollywood.

The first film that impressed the little me, as already mentioned, was "Jason and the Argonauts", over which worked the most talented special effects artist of his time - Ray Harrihausen. Its special effects were created using frame-by-frame animation.

And I realized that frame-by-frame animation is fraught with energy that cannot be described: it makes things alive.

In the cartoon, I tried to fully reveal the theme of life in the afterlife. Everyone should know that after death, life does not turn into torment, but rather - it blooms with new colours, it becomes more interesting.

In “Corpse Bride” a solution unusual for puppet animation was used: the animators made dolls’ heads mechanical so that they could show different emotions. This made it possible to speed up the process of making the film a little, since the need to change dolls' heads often disappeared.

I want to admit that I am proud that in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” the set of each scene was completely built, with a 360-degree view - no compromises. The chocolate river in the same film is not drawn, but the real one - although, of course, not made of chocolate. And the squirrels are also real - forty trained animals, and not one reproduced on a computer.

If in “Sleepy Hollow” all “full-scale shootings” were made in the pavilion, and the town was rebuilt, as for old westerns, then for “Miss Peregrines's Home for Peculiar Children” I compromised, agreeing to use digital special effects. But here there is a real old mansion, where young actors were interested in gathering not only for the shoot, but also between takes. In a world captured by augmented reality, I try to remain a consistent retrograde.

Because magic is only something that can be touched.

When you watch some Fellini films, you see that he understood this. You feel the magic, watch the lights and decorations; they create this whole atmosphere. And magic is hidden behind them, but it is beyond your control - we are not allowed to control the elements.

After a while, I begin to understand why my parents removed two windows in my room.

They were afraid that I would run away.

Fears tend to materialize.

Am I scared?


Was somebody afraid of me?

Yes, it is possible. Pretty.

Fears tend to materialize.

And here I am, before you, like an open horror book. I am your fear in the flesh. Will you continue to bombard me with stupid questions, or can I leave already?

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