Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Top 10 Takeaways: 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation' Opens Strong, But Summer 2015 Has Peaked Top 10 Takeaways: 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation' Opens Strong, But Summer 2015 Has Peaked Arthouse Audit: Controversy Reigns as 'End of the Tour' Tops Limited Newbies and Weinstein Dumps Jeunet's Latest Arthouse Audit: Controversy Reigns as 'End of the Tour' Tops Limited Newbies and Weinstein Dumps Jeunet's Latest Friday Box Office: Cruise and 'Mission: Impossible' Do Their Part, But Grosses Lag Friday Box Office: Cruise and 'Mission: Impossible' Do Their Part, But Grosses Lag Fall Calendar Reveals Awards Itinerary and Stealth Contenders Fall Calendar Reveals Awards Itinerary and Stealth Contenders Sarajevo Film Fest Lineup Has Auteurs, Cannes Winners and Favorites Sarajevo Film Fest Lineup Has Auteurs, Cannes Winners and Favorites Jason Segel Takes On David Foster Wallace in Controversial 'End of the Tour' (VIDEO) Jason Segel Takes On David Foster Wallace in Controversial 'End of the Tour' (VIDEO) First Look: Cynthia Nixon Plays—and Narrates—Emily Dickinson in Two Films First Look: Cynthia Nixon Plays—and Narrates—Emily Dickinson in Two Films Troubled Western 'Jane Got a Gun' Rescued as Relativity Files for Bankruptcy (Updated) Troubled Western 'Jane Got a Gun' Rescued as Relativity Files for Bankruptcy (Updated) Read Martin Scorsese's Column on His Favorite Hollywood Leading Ladies Read Martin Scorsese's Column on His Favorite Hollywood Leading Ladies A Woman in Charge: Warner Bros. Names Sue Kroll Head of Global Distribution A Woman in Charge: Warner Bros. Names Sue Kroll Head of Global Distribution Netflix and Marvel Shake Up TCAs, Amazon Rescues Bryan Cranston Pilot Netflix and Marvel Shake Up TCAs, Amazon Rescues Bryan Cranston Pilot 'The Witch' Won't Open Until 2016, But Its Sundance-Winning Director Has a New Film 'The Witch' Won't Open Until 2016, But Its Sundance-Winning Director Has a New Film Charles Aidikoff Screening Room Shutters: End of an Era for LA Critics? Charles Aidikoff Screening Room Shutters: End of an Era for LA Critics? How HBO's 'Ballers' Fails Sports Fans How HBO's 'Ballers' Fails Sports Fans Michael Moore Reveals Stealth NSA Project 'Where to Invade Next' on Periscope Michael Moore Reveals Stealth NSA Project 'Where to Invade Next' on Periscope Showtime Chief on David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' Revival: "It's His Show" Showtime Chief on David Lynch's 'Twin Peaks' Revival: "It's His Show" Toronto Film Festival Lineup: What Did They Get? Toronto Film Festival Lineup: What Did They Get? Discover the Brothers Quay, Identical Twin Animators Who Inspired Christopher Nolan Discover the Brothers Quay, Identical Twin Animators Who Inspired Christopher Nolan Jill Soloway Says "There Is an All Out-Attack" on Female Filmmakers Jill Soloway Says "There Is an All Out-Attack" on Female Filmmakers Why Kevin Costner Paid for 'Black or White' (New Trailer, Sneak Preview Q & A) Why Kevin Costner Paid for 'Black or White' (New Trailer, Sneak Preview Q & A)

Immersed in Movies: Screenwriter John August Talks Burton's 'Frankenweenie,' 'Big Fish' Musical, and Industry Frustration

Thompson on Hollywood By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood October 11, 2012 at 3:44PM

"Frankenweenie" scribe John August was willing to concede industry frustration when we spoke even before the lackluster opening for Tim Burton's critically praised stop-motion animated feature (which was even outgunned by animated rival "Hotel Transylvania"). It's increasingly difficult to get quality features produced, let alone commercially embraced.
1
John August

"Frankenweenie" scribe John August was willing to concede industry frustration when we spoke even before the lackluster opening for Tim Burton's critically praised stop-motion animated feature (which was outgunned by animated rival "Hotel Transylvania"). It's increasingly difficult to get quality features produced, let alone commercially embraced. That's why he's been dabbling in theater and TV, with a musical stage version of Burton's "Big Fish" and the supernatural pilot "Chosen" for ABC and Fox, and making apps (including FDX Reader, a Final Draft for the iPad and iPhone) to help make screenwriting a lot easier.

August has also been blogging about the craft for a decade at johnaugust.com, where he did some Monday morning quarterbacking on "Frankenweenie" this week:

"On a personal level, it is disappointing, because as the writer I had hoped a lot of people would see the movie this weekend and enjoy it, perhaps beginning a conversation about black-and-white cinema, stop-motion animation or the perilous state of science education. That didn't happen. Instead, the story is about how much money we made."


Still, "quality plus time equals success," August believes, so the notion that "Frankenweenie" will no longer be a strong Oscar contender is premature. This Burton adventure wasn't only personal for the director, who revisited his troubled childhood in Burbank in the '70s, losing his canine companion and retreating into the fantastical world of horror.

Frankenweenie still
Disney

"When Tim called, I knew I had to do that story," August recalls. "I knew I had to do that relationship between a boy and his dog; I knew what the loss was; I knew what the excitement was. I had my own dog, Jake, who was 14 at the time. I knew I was going to lose him soon. He was a pug in the shape of Sparky. And I have a young daughter and we had conversations about the death of a beloved dog. It was the right movie."


After Burton presented August with a list of other iconic monsters that he wanted to incorporate in the second half, the go-to guy for weepy Burton movies went back and studied the original live-action short from 1984 in search of clues. "I tried to figure out who those other kids are in class and what they are trying to do. What is so special about the town and why is Victor able to do this thing that no one has been able to do before? And so in a conversation with Tim I pitched the science fair as a unifying way of explaining why everyone is doing these experiments and trying to bring these animals to life. Once it was clear that Tim really meant for this to be American suburbia, I knew I wanted a giant windmill, and that's how we came up with New Holland, this ersatz Dutch town. That also became Dutch Day, which was their fake cultural celebration (let me write one more song). So I unified the very disparate elements in that sequence, which was all the boys making their monsters and the threads coming together."


This article is related to: Immersed In Movies, Interviews, John August


E-Mail Updates








Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.