This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.More info

An Interview with Tim Burton


Stretching beyond his array of award-winning blockbuster movies, the visionary film director Tim Burton is an extremely talented artist, illustrator, and author who expresses his personal views of the realistic world through his imaginative works. We are happy to speak to him on his first visit to Hong Kong.

What sort of childhood did you have?
Look at me, you can tell! You have to have visited Burbank California to understand. It was a very 1950s, ‘60s suburbia, the weather was always sunny, and that was where I got attracted to monster movies and things because it was against the environment I was growing up in. I was quietly rebellious. I was very quiet so you wouldn’t have known it, but I always had a rebellious streak and I’ve kept it.

How did that feed into your work?
A lot of it was the movies that inspired me. Ray Harryhausen did all that beautiful stop motion animation, I was a real fan of monsters and those sorts of things and it just spoke to me. It was something emotionally about them that I found exciting and creative. 
“I feel like life is sometimes good and sometimes terrible - that’s the journey. Even things that are dramatic I sometimes find humour in.”
You are known for your dark sense of humour - where did that come from?
I never considered myself a dark person. I feel like life is sometimes good and sometimes terrible - that’s the journey. Even things that are dramatic I sometimes find humour in. That’s why I don’t think I could ever make a serious movie because the more serious it is the funnier I find it.

Looking at this retrospective, do you perhaps see an evolution of your work that you didn’t notice at the time?
Not really. The thing that I enjoy about this exhibition is all the different cities it’s been to. The exhibition is the same, but it’s the artists who help create the show and the environment that is different each time and I get quite a thrill from that.

Are you emotionally attached to your earlier work?

No. It’s like my movies - I enjoy making them, but I don’t enjoy watching them. When I look at this show I kind of waft through it, I don’t spend too much time in it. A lot of it wasn’t meant to hang on a wall so it’s a strange phenomenon. Seeing it at the Museum of Modern Art was really surreal.

Do you find it easier to sketch something than to express it in words?

I get more of a feeling with a sketch rather than by writing, it’s more memorable. I’m not really a writer, it’s more like little sentences, phrases and snippets.

I recall that Johnny Depp said as soon as he saw Edward Scissorhands he knew what you were after.

Yes, my drawings are not very accomplished or literal. And I’m always interested in working with people that get the idea, but it’s not a literal thing because I’m not really a literal person. You know you are connecting with someone who can see a rough sketch and then get the feel of it.

I get the sense that you are the sort of person who is always “on”, always looking and processing.
In this modern world it gets too much. I hate my phone - I try to spend as little time looking at a screen as I can. It’s like when you go to a concert and you see people holding up their phones and it’s like they are experiencing something through something else. Are you enjoying the concert or are you trying to capture it? We all do it, but I try to resist it. I think it’s important to not be on and just be looking at the sky or the clouds go by, I think that’s an important part of the day.

Is that how you switch off?

Even though my mind is whirring, I can switch off. I have to. Those are important times of the day. You get to be an adult, you’ve got kids, got responsibilities, got screens - very much of life for people is taken up with stuff. It’s in those quiet moments when you get ideas.

Do you prefer to work alone or in collaboration?

Both. I was not a very good communicator and I’m still not, but I’m better than I used to be. I used to not really speak and people didn’t know I could talk almost. My alone time is very important to me. I am kind of a loner, but I also enjoy collaboration and I get energy from it. Film is like a weird dysfunctional family. There’s the back and forth not just with the actors, but with the cinematographer, costume people, so if it’s a good group of people, it is an amazingly exciting thing.

I hear you collect photographs. What kind?
I began because it was the only kind of art I could afford. But photographs are amazing because they tell you a story without telling you everything. There is something quite beautiful and strong about them.

Any regrets?
No. I think it’s best to not have regrets.

‘The World of Tim Burton’ Exhibition, 5 November 2016 – 23 January 2017, ArtisTree, 1F Cornwall House, Taikoo Place, 979 King’s Road, Quarry Bay

Daily 10:00am–10:00pm, Weekdays (Mon – Fri $180, Weekend (Sat - Sun) and Public Holiday $220)

Official Website:


“The World of Tim Burton” is organised by Jenny He, Independent Curator, in collaboration with Tim Burton Productions, and presented in Hong Kong by TAO Company. Exhibition venue sponsored by Swire Properties Taikoo Place.

App Image