ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

JER'S TURN: WHAT HAPPENED TO TIM BURTON?

JER: To begin with, let me state that this blog entry is a cry for help, not of criticism. It seems very likely that it will turn into large sections of anger, disappointment and outrage… the fact of the matter is that I chose this topic to knock a few things back into place: sense, perspective and delivery. So, without further delay, here it goes…Mr. Tim Burton, if you are out there possibly surfing the web and coming across my meek and humble little blog page… please note… WHAT THE HELL HAS HAPPENED TO YOU?!?!?

After taking in a glass of orange juice and removing the cold compressant from my forehead from popping a vein in my brow from that outcry longing to come out for a number of years, I am coherent enough to continue on with my topic.

Within a time span of almost ten glorious and bizarre years, the world of cinema casted a luminous and darkened shadow over captivated audiences. We were challenged to love the unwanted; feel pity for a boy with scissors instead of hands, dared to summoned a spirit by calling out his name three times and believe that a winged vigilante fought for justice in a foreboding manner. One thing that was common with all of these mentioned was a name that called on the deepest of imaginations, peaking into the dark side and finding something beautiful awaiting with great surprise… that name was Tim Burton.
A respected tribute to Tim Burton. A must see!



Johnny Depp: overstayed the welcome?
 I would have to say that the journey along the downward spiral began, for most people, after the start of the “remake” cycle Burton seems to be spinning on beginning with 2001’s PLANET OF THE APES. This was quickly followed by the controversial “remake” of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY in 2005, also marking a ‘curse’ of movies featuring the Burton- favorite go-to actor: Johnny Depp. The abysmal adaptation of the Broadway smash hit SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET was released in 2007 with Depp in the lead, again. Although a box-office hit, (why, I am not sure of) ALICE IN WONDERLAND was belched- out in 2010… this time having Depp play the absurd Mad Hatter. Could it get any worst and what other torturous characters did Burton have in- store for Depp? How about the 2012 summer release of the attempted “remake”/ “re-imagined” version of the television Goth/ soap opera DARK SHADOWS. Why, Burton, why? What happened to the originality and the fascinating world you drew us into? Now, I wanna get off the ride and demand my money back! Where did the demise begin? Are the cells in your dark yet imaginative mind run out of beloved characters like Edward? Jack Skellington? Or even Vincent? Let’s see if we cannot start from the beginning and identify the ugly wart that has been the cause of recent infections…

Composer Danny Elfman
The first time I had heard the name Tim Burton was back in 1985. Before we get to talking about that year, let’s go back another five… If you grew up in the early 80’s, like me, you were hopefully exposed to the ‘man-boy’ known as Pee- Wee Herman through a twisted adult/ children’s show taped at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood called, what else, THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW in 1980. Burton was also attracted to the bizarre little world that Herman (Paul Ruebens) created and knew he had to work with the child inside the man. The collaboration grew into his first feature- length film, PEE- WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE. Being a fan of Mr. Herman and his silliness, I proceeded to see the film with great excitement and wonder. As the opening credits rolled, another familiar name appeared from my past. ‘Music by Danny Elfman’ flashed onto the screen and a smile formed upon my lips. I know this name very well! Is it not the lead singer of my favorite New Wave L.A. based band Oingo Boingo? You better believe that it is! At that moment, I never saw Elfman as a composer of soundtracks; he’d always been the front man on vocals and the maestro in writing those great tunes. Little did I know that this would be the start of an everlasting collaboration between director and musician.

In just a short three years, Burton would return with another original, comical and dark entry this time starring a fairly unknown Michael Keaton (MR. MOM) as the lead character in BEETLEJUICE. With a fantastic ensemble cast that included Alec Baldwin (THE SHADOW), Geena Davis (THELMA & LOUISE), Jeffrey Jones (FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF), Catherine O’ Hara (HOME ALONE) and Winona Ryder (HEATHERS). I say again, the key to the success of the earlier Burton films was the originality and creativity that bonded and crafted such entertaining films. Elfman was brought on-board for another memorable accompaniment by way of an enjoyable soundtrack including the very bouncy and high energy theme that plays over the opening credits. The visual and special effects departments were challenged to create a world of ‘undead’ characters that were alluring and somewhat frightful! Who can forget the reaction you had when you saw Beetlejuice in his full appearance or the humorous “Day-O” number to Harry Bellefonte’s classic tune? Hold that thought until the end…

Moving on… let’s turn back the time machine to 1989. If you were around at the time, you know that it was virtually impossible to avoid getting drawn into the massive merchandise machine that slapped the iconic bat- logo on shirts, underwear, cups, watches and anything else you could drum up in favor of the highly anticipated release of BATMAN. Michael Keaton collaborated with his BEETLEJUICE director to play the re-visioned and brooding Bruce Wayne. Jack Nicholson also joined the cast as the diabolical Joker. Talk about a smash hit, the budgeted 35 million dollar gamble struck gold at the tune of over 411 million dollars worldwide! The film proved to be an homage to the campy BATMAN television series starring Adam West. Pricey, but cheesy nonetheless.

This is when it felt like the Tim Burton Machine of Imagination could never sputter, much less offer up a hiccup. 1990 would bring a very iconic character and, for better or worst, another long- lasting collaboration. This time it would be with then unknown Johnny Depp (unless you were a fan of television’s 21 JUMP STREET) as both visionary director and post-teen actor breathed life into an innocent character named EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. The film performed modestly well at a budgeted cost of 20 million and grossing over 86 million dollars. Not bad for an unknown actor taking the lead. The film’s popularity grew in the age of video as many non-theater patrons were renting and buying the VHS videocassette copies and treasuring it for their very own. Not only had Tim Burton solidified his name but he also was beginning to make Depp’s a household name… especially for the females!

Burton tried capturing lightning in a bottle twice as the inevitable BATMAN RETURNS took to the screen in 1992, three years after the original. Keaton reprised his role as The Caped Crusader but had not one but two villains to deal with this time round. Danny DeVito would waddle his way onto the screen as the memorable Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer would slink into the very tight leathery body suit and purr her way into many fanboy’s fantasies as the sexy yet dangerous Catwoman. The budget was dramatically increased to an estimated 80 million with worldwide grosses of slightly over 282 million dollars. Although impressive, Burton was said to had been so disappointed with the returns and the uneven panning by critics and fans alike, that he swore that this would be his last attempt at directing any further sequels and would take a Producer’s title on the following BATMAN FOREVER (1995).

Having the misunderstood credits as a film “directed” by, Burton actually served as Producer, story and character developer for the contemporary classic, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. The stop- motion animation treat was presented as an homage to the days of clay- animated (“claymation”) holiday television specials including “Rudolph, The Red- Nosed Reindeer” and “Mad Monster Party.” Danny Elfman would serve as composer of the musical numbers, as well as lyricist and singing vocalist for Jack Skellington, the skeleton- like figure who serves as The Pumpkin King of Halloweentown. BEETLEJUICE’s alumni Catherine O’Hara served as both vocalist and singer for the character of Sally. Another Burton actor, Pee-Wee Herman’s Paul Ruebens, provided the voice of Lock, one of Oogie- Boogie’s little minions. Although grossing a respected 50 million dollars, the returns over the years would be extravagant! From a broad exposure stemming from video release, high- profile merchandising and the misunderstood poster-boy for every ‘emo’ across the nation. One would literally have been living under a rock to not know either the film or its characters.

Hoping for something different, which was the formula of early Burton films, he decided to pay tribute to one of his favorite childhood directors. He would draw on Depp’s talents to bring the interesting life of B-movie icon ED WOOD to the screen in 1994. The results won two Academy Awards: one for Best Make-Up going to legendary Effects artist Rick Baker and Ve Neill (from Sy-Fy’s FACE OFF) and the other win for Best Supporting Actor Martin Landau in his portrayal of the aging and forgotten Bela Lugosi. BEETLEJUICE’s Jeffrey Jones returned in another great cast including Sarah Jessica Parker (SEX AND THE CITY), Bill Murray (GHOSTBUSTERS) and Patricia Arquette (DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN). Light-hearted and tender, misunderstood and entertaining, it might be considered one of Johnny Depp’s best performances by this critic.

Possibly inspired by Ed Wood’s cheep-o flicks, Burton decided to make a tribute film that borrowed from the classic 50’s sci- fi films with 1996’s MARS ATTACKS! The dark comedy/ fantasy/ thriller boasted a stellar cast of actors making appearances throughout including Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Annette Bening, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, Natalie Portman, Pam Grier and even Tom Jones! Burton used Computer Generated Images (CGI) effectively to create the ‘Martians’ and the destruction path laid by them. The groundwork of the story and the progression of the film might have been slow, but it still proved to be thoroughly entertaining and slightly violent!

Recruiting and challenging the acting abilities of Depp once again, Burton decided to put his own ‘adult-like’ spin on the classic Washington Irving tale, SLEEPY HALLOW. Could this have been the early signs of Burton’s artistic freedom to twist stories to his own approval? We have always known the story and various adaptations to play Ichabod Crane as beening the scrawny teacher who had a run-in with the legend’s Headless Horseman. This also marked Burton's first R- rated film, filled with gruesome violence and plenty of heads rolling this way and that! However, liberties taken would literally change the dynamics of the story and the background of the characters. Now revealing itself as a murder/ mystery, Crane (Depp) is portrayed as a Constable sent to the town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a rash of decapitation murders. Although played with a dramatic flair, the film still allows Crane to come across as a goofball. Whether it was the right approach or not, Depp’s facial gestures and body language tends to lean towards his portrayal of Edward Scissorhands… innocent yet clumsy, but we cannot blame his metallic appendages this time! Elfman’s score is bold and brass and highlights the action with an added bonus of Christopher Walken as Hessian Horseman. A rightful Academy Award was given to the team of Rick Heinrichs and Peter Young for Best Art Direction- Set Design. Could the re-design of a beloved yet haunting tale been the beginning of too many liberties taken by the director thus causing a chain reaction of cinematic failures? Here is where it might have begun…Let’s label this as Exhibit A, for now.

Badly panned by critics and considered a let- down by fans, the next project would consist of taking another recognized story and subjecting it to the shifting Burton-esque touch.  A re-boot of THE PLANET OF THE APES starring Mark Wahlberg still grossed an estimated 362 million dollars worldwide. The true die- hard purists felt that a remake of the classic 1968 sci- fi adventure starring Charlton Heston was unnecessary and the storyline was “re-imagined” to the degree that it failed to measure up to its predecessor. I’ll make this one Exhibit B!

Oh thank Heavens for 2003’s BIG FISH! A refreshing step back to originality that was the staple of Burton films… although not viewed as the traditional dark film; Burton allowed his talents as a director and faith in his crew to project his visions of romance, tragedies and humor onto the screen. He allowed a feel for vunerability not clearly seen before. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS might have come in at a close second in that field. Yet again, a great supporting cast including Ewan McGregor (THE PHANTON MENACE), Albert Finney (WOLFEN), Jessica Lange (KING KONG), ROBERT GUILLAUME (TV’s BENSON), ALISON LOHMAN (MATCHSTICK MEN) and the soon to be future Mrs. Burton, Helena Bonham Carter (A PASSAGE TO INDIA). Maybe considered a bit too tender-hearted for the whimsical crowd, the film still pulled an impressive 122 million dollar worldwide gross. The story evolves around a son’s wish to learn more about his dying father’s life, told through fantasy- like tales and myths. The film blended a nice mix of fantasy and drama for a fantastic film. It is this critic’s sad statement to say that this may be considered the last great Tim Burton film to be directed…I stress the word “directed.”

2005’s CORPSE BRIDE would be a project using a brand new computer- simulated version of stop- motion animation. This time Burton would direct and share credit with Mike Johnson, who worked as an animator for THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Elfman would also return as both composer and lyricist for the dark musical with vocals and singing talents of Johnny Depp as Victor and Bonham Carter as the Corpse Bride. Although belonging amongst the ranking of great animation, the film was compared to and seen as an unfit equal to NIGHTMARE. The film would also serve a cult classic within its legion of fans.

Going back to either previously labeled Exhibit A and/ or B, the following should be marked as C. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY was also released in 2005 with Burton remarking that this version would stay truer to the original Randal Dahl novel of the same name. His statements were in defense for reasons as to why make another film other than the excisting classic 1971 musical WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY starring Gene Wilder, loosely based on the original book. Still, Burton found a way to sprinkle his own twisted fairy dust upon it and make it grim and humorously dark. Yet again, finding purist fans of the original displeased with his end product and the waxy, almost annoying interpretation of Wonka by Johnny Depp. Please note that bringing to the attention of the “Exhibits” only highlights the fact that his most criticized are the projects that are labeled as “remakes”, “re-imagined” or “re-boots.” Are we seeing the gradual trend? Wait, there is more to follow…

Saddened to say, but the next seven grueling years would have fans endure a love/ hate relationship amongst them…myself included. There are times in which I consider myself to be a ‘purist”: defined as one who feels that a film should be left as is and not be finagled with from its original source (example: STAR WARS is not at all the same film it was from its original 1977 presentation anymore!) or that a film should be remade or retold. However, I also don’t mind another director’s interpretation of a story… as long as it is done right and with class! I hate to say that I fall into the latter when it comes to my opinions of the movies that follows.

Depp and Bonham Carter in Burton's version
As mentioned earlier in my rant, 2007’s SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BABER OF FLEET STREET was a disappointing adaption of the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical hit. Johnny Depp is, again, brought in to weave his personal web on another brooding and misunderstood character, that being of Benjamin Barker aka: Sweeney Todd. I think Depp can sing, no doubt about it and I also think he is a fine actor… I want to make that statement perfectly clear. However, Depp can be over-the-top when he doesn’t need to be and stiff when he shouldn’t be. I honestly feel that Depp’s presence was too adolescent for the mature Todd and that hairdo is completely out of range for the time period to which the film takes place in. This cow-licked, swept-up bird’s nest was a cross between Disney’s Cruella DeVille’s half- white/ half-dark dye job and Edward Scissorhands’ lost battle with an electric appliance! Worst off, the horrible casting of Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett. As an educated and respected actress of the late 80’s and 90’s, it boggles me as too how difficult it was for her, as an Englishwoman, to simply adapt the proper Cockney accent: a distinct dialect spoken by lower East-side Londoners. Her singing was hurried… to the point of mumbled lyrics sung under breath. Hell, even the show’s actual ending was removed! What? That was the best part!!! Someone give me a meat pie, stat!

Let's try this for fun: I will have two clips of the same song "The Worst Pies In London": one from the film and from the Broadway show. You decide who did it best!
Bonham Carter's rendition for the film... too bland for my taste!

The staged SWEENEY 1982

Side Note: May I please recommend the available 1982 SWEENEY TODD musical filmed in front of a live audience starring George Hearn and Angela Lansbury… you will see what I mean in comparison. Listen to the rightful accents spoken by Lansbury... also an Englishwoman and the prolific delivery of both dialog and lyrics sung! A "concert" edition has Hearn as Sweeney and Broadway-baby Patti Lupone as Mrs. Lovett filmed in 2001.

 Lansbury's Broadway rendition...what do you think???


Still mourning the loss of the almost $50 dollars I paid to see this next movie in theaters, and in 3D, was the stomach- turning adaption of ALICE IN WONDERLAND. You wanna hear the punch line??? The friggin’ movie grossed…drum roll, please… over a billion dollars worldwide! So, then what’s my problem then, right? Plenty! Granted, the visual feel was presented beautifully along with the set designs and cinematography of the movie. However, I do not like the “what- if” proposed questions delivered to an audience…especially when it is unsuspected! Case in point: why couldn’t Burton stuck to the original Lewis Carroll whimsical and enchanting story about a curious girl’s travel down the rabbit hole to find a new world awaiting her… instead, Burton forces us through the “what- if” question of “what if Alice had already visited Wonderland, but she forgot and came back a second time?” Here’s a question back for you… why would you do that to your audience? Steven Spielberg did the exact same thing when he posed the “what- if” question: “what if Peter Pan grew up” in his own messy adaptation of the J.M. Barrie “Peter Pan” novel, HOOK. Here is another question for you…

(l) R.I.P.: Jonathan Frid/ (r) Depp as Barnabas 2012
Is Johnny Depp Tim Burton’s cash cow? Including this year’s DARK SHADOWS, Depp would have acted in eight films by Burton. Actors and Directors have shared a collaborative history in the past: Robert DeNiro/ Martin Scorsese, Denzel Washington/ Tony Scott, Kurt Russell/ John Carpenter… the list can go on and on. Should a limit be placed to the kind of roles and does it become too much after awhile? It would seem as if fans are split, again, with that finding as well. Jump onto any blog on the subject and you can read a majority of people that have had quite enough of this group effort, whereas I thought it was only me. Yes, I was thrilled to hear Depp would play Willie Wonka until my overall digesting of it all, I was excited to hear Depp take on the role of Sweeney Todd until the actual viewing of the film and I was fooled a third time with Depp’s early photos as the Mad Hatter for ALICE IN WONDERLAND…another bizarre disappointment. After viewing the trailer for the upcoming DARK SHADOWS, I was reminded about how anxious I was to see Depp in the role of the beloved Barnabas Collins, originally played on TV by Jonathan Frid who just recently passed away on April 13, 2012 at age of 87. After the reviewing of the trailer, I can honestly say that I will not be in that line or occupying a seat in the theater for that piece of satirical garbage Burton smeared from its origins! 

Original live-action short: FRANKENWEENIE (1984)
So, is there any sign of redemption for Tim Burton? I believe anything is possible…I shed a narrow ray of light towards his next animated subject due for an October 2012 release: FRANKENWIEENIE. Wait, hold the phone… Burton is remaking HIS OWN short film he directed back in 1984??? Are we that desperate for material source that we are remaking our OWN @!$%@ films??? Well, even at that, the animated black and white looks far more interesting than the short made 28 years ago. Will the vicious cycle just repeat? What’s next: BEETLEJIUCE or EDWARD SCISSORHANDS again?!? I think a conclusion might be reached... Burton, stick to animated films... just don't remake them!
Yes, I am actually looking forward to 2012's FRANKENWEENIE!!!


My gripe is pertinent to what was and still is a great and imaginative director. It’s not too late to be saved, Tim. I think we have uncovered what has gone wrong and what path should be traveled. Take a couple of years off, get some sun for crying out loud and let the creative juices overflow…we are ready. Hell, I am ready.  I cannot wait to hear what JOHNNY CHAZZ has to say…so, without delay…take it away!

JOHNNY CHAZZ: We like to think that most directors out there today have some sort of “vision”. This week, our attention focuses on Tim Burton and his filmography. Thus, what is Burton’s vision? It might be fair to say that his films are of dark fantasies that appeal to a wide spectrum of age groups and audiences that, in itself, can serve as ideal ingredients to instant and life-long successes in this industry.
ED WOOD: (l) Burton (c) Depp (r) Sarah Jessica Parker on set
Jer asks this week “What has happened to Tim Burton”? Barring the chance that Burton himself may not actually chime in with a response (would be wonderful if he did, though); I will try to offer up my own answer to this question.

"The Nightmare Before Christmas", “Ed Wood” "Batman", "Edward Scissorhands", “Sweeney Todd” and "Alice in Wonderland" are films that would immediately come to mind when thinking of Tim Burton. I must confess that there is something “addictive” and “entrancing” about his films that make many of them a must-see. Yet, as Jer discussed, Burton’s products seem to be diminishing over the years, which is an aspect I would like to address.


SCISSORHANDS: Depp and Vincent Price
It appears as though Burton has fallen into the trap of simply utilizing classic fairy tales and novels / stories and simply re-vamping them with his own imagery while tossing Johnny Depp into the lead role. When taking a look back at a film such as “Edward Scissorhands” it was the kind of original storytelling and visionary vehicle that put Tim Burton on the map. One might even venture to say that Burton may actually be one of the most creative directors. In “Scissorhands”, which in all actuality was a fairly low-budget film; we see an idea that was truly unique, and an overall product that was marketed and distributed the way that today’s Hollywood would need.

What is clear, however, is that Tim Burton obviously enjoys the work he does and the time he spends creating the final product on screen. As an artist (and this is such a key definition of who and what Tim Burton represents), Burton certainly tries to take old ideas and cast them into a new light, thus creating what one might deem as a new “art”.

Over the years, Tim Burton films have endured a fair mixture of both good and bad reviews. This is the “reality” of what Tim Burton probably deals with on a daily basis, yet his work and his aim continues to be focused on high-levels of creativity, design and art within his films.


The trailer to our favorite film: BIG FISH 


Jer discussed Burton’s “Big Fish” which may be his ‘deepest’ film, in a sense, which is probably one that becomes more appreciated with time. “Big Fish” is the one film that really does not seem to have that ‘eccentric’ touch that Burton places into a number of his films.

“Corpse Bride” and “Mars Attacks” were both abominable, so we can move right along.

As for “Batman Returns”, the film itself is certain eye-candy, but how in the world did it really have anything to do with what a true Batman film is supposed to be?

“Planet of the Apes” was a complete and total disaster with a weak script; horrendous performances and a storyline that was just plain dull. I would venture to say that it may be the worst Tim Burton film of all-time.
"I'm the Ghost with the most, babe!"
I may receive some feedback here, but my favorites continue to be: “Ed Wood”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Beetlejuice” and “Sweeney Todd”.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” – yet another un-original idea was an admirable attempt to re-visit and to modernize the film, but the film lacked fluidity, and the heart and soul that went into the original Gene Wilder film. I did enjoy the Elfman soundtrack, but some of it was a bit over-bearing and where in the world was the tune “Pure Imagination”? That in itself boggles my mind.

“Ed Wood” still remains a classic from Burton that I like to revisit over and over again with the blends of retro, humor and that film-noir aspect that really seems to fit Burton’s style like a glove. This is, in all probability one of his best films.

Some might say that the early films of Tim Burton were a cast of good fortune. What I respect is that he created, in a sense – a new genre of film making. Albeit, not my favorite director or my favorite films of all time, Burton did take the plunge and that merits respect. Still, I remain intrigued by the imagination of Tim Burton and the willingness that he has to re-create classic stories that I grew up with and to modernize and re-create them into a new vision on the screen.

JER: J.C., I do believe that this has been one of your most honest and forthright replies to one of my entries in quite a while. I thought that this would be a definite vehicle for you to pounce on and shred my topic to unrecognizable pieces. Instead, I appreciate your views and understand your definition of Burton as an ‘artist’… not just a director. Rightfully so, I just never thought of him in that sense… we both know Burton to be artistic with an eye for the visuals… but I guess it just never became that prominent to me. Afterall, he began as both an artist and animator for Disney as well as his stop- motion animated short entitled VINCENT, after his idol Vincent Price, had the best of both worlds tied in together: artist and director!
Haven't seen it before? Here is VINCENT!



With that mentioned, it's still inexcusable to allow his ‘artistic’ viewpoints the opportunity to make farce of respected materials or creative freedom to make unwatchable garbage from previous or existing sources… the opinions of this critic, of course. A line has to be drawn. It would seem as if his income is now deriving from just recycling… and not the kind that is good for the planet! My rant and reason for the subject is to educate others in the aspect that we, as an audience, deserve better. It goes back to a prior rant in a previous blog topic in which I feel that directors, writers, studios…whatever, feel that it is ok to ‘dumb down’ an audience. Meaning, we ain’t as bright as we should be and that purttee flickerin’ lights an’ shiny objects distract us from the story…duh, wuz dat? The sad truth is that we are slowly moving away from smart writing every waking day! We rely too much on visual effects: look at commericals and film trailers... I remember when a good story and the general subplots were good enough to wet the hungry appetite.

We know for a fact that the intelligence and imagination resides within that messy mop-top of a head on Burton’s shoulders… all I am asking is that he remove his comfortable cobwebs and dust- bunnies and let the wheels turn again!

Is it just me or do you see things as I do? What comments or opinions would you share in regards? Are ideas running out or are you OK with what he has been putting out??? We always look forward to hearing from our readers and check back for our replies in regards. Make sure to pay us a visit on Wednesday May 9th, 2012 for JOHNNY CHAZZ and the next topic to discuss...until then, thank you for joining us!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN: STORYBOARDS IN FILM

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Alfred Hitchcock once said (when discussing the idea of planning a scene and a specific shot): “You have a frame. Now, close your eyes and fill it.”

In order to properly maintain a balance between a film’s visual effects, sets, and plotline, many directors and producers will utilize the “storyboarding” technique. Hence, this is our topic this week on CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT.

One might consider Hitchcock as prime advocate of storyboarding in his films. Hitchcock basically looked at storyboarding as an artistic process of filmmaking. As the script was the guide, the storyboarding was the path paved towards creating the visual aspects of the film.
A facinating look, through storyboards, on the original ending for Hitchcock's THE BIRDS


You may have noticed that many DVD’s today will contain storyboards in the “extras” for the film. “Pan’s Labyrinth” (the scenes inside the tree as well as the buffet table) is a prime contemporary example, and a film such as “Taxi Driver” (the final shootout scene in the hallway) would qualify another from years gone by.

When beginning the process of storyboarding, directors must consider the creative as well as the fantastic (fantasy) aspect of the film in full detail. Angles, colors, lighting and movement within the frame become paramount to the storyboarding process if the final visual is to have a heavy impact on the audience.
Actual storyboards for Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER
Often times – although quite pricey, storyboard artists will be hired to develop the right images and detailed sketches for the film’s planned imagery and aspect ratios. However, on the other hand we once again look at Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” where he basically drew his own storyboards that, in essence, were stick figures. Thus, one might conclude that the process of storyboarding can be complex and full-detailed, or simply a tool to help tell the story without becoming a drawn-out process (no pun intended).

Understanding now that storyboards are the visuals of the written script, let’s discuss a bit of the details of what goes into storyboarding. Computer art designs and programs are often used in many of the films today with such tremendous effects and imagery. Storyboards that are drawn by the hand are usually done in black and white. However, many of today’s animated films utilize color palates with computer design software.
GONE WITH THE WIND: example of action on storyboard
The storyboard comprises several pieces included within the scene. Secondly, the characters are then drawn into the frame with the background remaining a blank. The actual scene number is tracked and typically in the upper corner of the frame with a simple description of what is taking place in the scene along with height, distance, and color aspects. Often times, arrows will also be placed or drawn into the storyboard frame to depict how and where the camera is to move within the scene.

In sum, we can positively say that storyboards are the visual interpretation of the script that, in turn can only make the written word explode off the screen. The key is to draw an image that is a proper interpretation of the story that was intended to be, while keeping key cinematic aspects and techniques in mind.
Storyboard of the helicopter sequence from APOCALYPSE NOW
My feeling here, Jer, is that films today could benefit a great deal by reverting to the types of storyboarding that we have seen in the past (Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”; Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” and “Rear Window”, and Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” are key examples) where the visual details within the frame and scene are paramount to the film’s impact and success on audiences. Films today have lost their creativity, and have simply become just plain boring to watch. Additionally, by not paying attention to the direction where a film is headed by outlining it with a storyboard, production costs rise and production deadlines are extended. Thus, by creating professional and detailed storyboards, films today are virtually guaranteed to stay within budget while resulting and a film that is truly outstanding.

JER: Although true that directors need the visual aspect to help relay the concept to both cast and crew…I don’t generally agree that the hand-drawn format is neither better nor worst than any other.

To start, it is a common fact that all human beings are picture- oriented. We must have the visual in order to help illustrate a concept, a story being told or flesh out characters and locations by an author’s written words. We have been using similar art forms since the dawn of man, etching crude drawings on cave rock to help tell a story.

Walt Disney reviewing STEAMBOAT WILLIE
Tracing its history, it turns out it began at the Walt Disney Studios back in the early 1930s. The first project to work on full storyboarding was the 1933 animated short, THE THREE LITTLE PIGS. The artist credited was Disney animator Webb Smith. His idea, like a comic book, was to illustrate drawings on small sheets of paper, or “story sketches”, then pin them in a story sequence onto a bulletin board for review. However, records show that the first animated storyboards dated further back into the 1920s, as artists illustrated concepts for animated short subjects STEAMBOAT WILLIE and PLANE CRAZY.

One of the first live action films to benefit from complete storyboarding was GONE WITH THE WIND. The illustrations were credited to artist William Cameron Menzies. Other directors began to take notice of the new visual concept and by the mid 1940s; it became a standardized format in the film industry.

Storyboards from NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Storyboarding, it seemed, would serve other purposes other than just for illustrating the visions while filming. For example, directors Joel and Ethan Coen have been known to use storyboards extensively before taking the pitch to their funders to approve (‘green- light’) their project. This has helped them grasp the concept much better than what could have been described within words.

Animation and complex live action scenes seem to benefit the most from the use of storyboarding. As JOHNNY CHAZZ mentioned, directors like Scorsese and Coppola have effectively conveyed the drawing to the screen, but let’s take a look at a few others as well.

Art to Film process for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Steven Spielberg joins the ranks of successful directors in the use of storyboards. In the earlier part of his career, Spielberg himself drew all of the storyboards himself, using limited artistic abilities, by drawing stick figures in place of the actors and Spielberg would review the action with both cast and crew. In later days, especially for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, he would hire professional artists to help illustrate his images better. One conceptual artist that became popular between the likes of both Spielberg and George Lucas was Ralph McQuarrie.

Concept Artist Ralph McQuarrie
I feel it was a coincidence that JC selected ‘storyboards’ as a topic, considering the fitting tribute that must be paid to the legendary Ralph McQuarrie while on the subject. Having just recently passed away on March 3, 2012, McQuarrie’s work is synonymous to anyone who is a fan of sci-fi films. He single-handedly created the visual design of STAR WARS for Lucas. Fellow artists that contributed to that world included Joe Johnston (director of CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE ROCKETEER) and John Dykstra (Special Effects Supervisor on STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, HANCOCK and 2004’s SPIDER-MAN). McQuarrie went on to create visual concept designs for both THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. He also did the spaceship designs for Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and E.T.: THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL. His work branched to television when he designed concepts on the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series in the late 1970s and worked with Ron Howard on his 1985 hit COCOON (he shared an Academy Award win for Best Visual Effects) and for the 1986 film STAR TREK: THE VOYAGE HOME. A book was published in 2007 entitled “The Art of Ralph McQuarrie” that is a must- have for any fan of the genre.
A fitting tribute to the artwork of Ralph McQuarrie-RIP

Moving into the 21st century, all hand-drawn storyboards have been replaced with the new computer-animated visual board known as “animatics.” This revolutionary concept raised the bar in the new world of computer 3D animation and the use of Computer Generated Images (CGI) in film. Directors like James Cameron and the recent George Lucas’ STAR WARS prequels have extensively used this for creating their respective worlds. Considering the new world of green-screen photography and the high- tech use of computer images for both background designs and special visual effects, it was important that Lucas had the use of animatics to help visualize his concepts to artists, actors and crew.
Blending drawings and animatic shots, a preview of STAR WARS- THE CLONE WARS

Animation companies like Pixar and DreamWorks Animation rely heavily on the use of animatics for the pre-production of their respective films including TOY STORY, FINDING NEMO and KUNG- FU PANDA. Storyboards have helped actors get an idea of the characters they are voicing by understanding their physical and emotional appearances presented by the artists.

Detailed boards for Pixar's FINDING NEMO
An exploration of how animation has assisted in the creation of animation may seem ironic, but storyboards and its history has come a long ways in less than 100 years. It is hard to imagine that film and animation have been around for as long as it has. More importantly, the art of storyboards may have been a technique in film making that has never been recognized or thought of before. This is a topic well worth bringing to the spotlight and should be held as a viable tool in the making of films.

We ask our readers to chime- in on their thoughts… do you think storyboarding or animatics are an important tool needed in making films today? Had you ever really thought about it before? We always welcome your comments and opinions and we do reply to all submissions. Please check back with us again on Wednesday April 25th when JER takes a turn on the spinning wheel of film topics! We hope you continue to enjoy our blog- page and thanks for reading!

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