Q: According to your DVD commentary, it was Shelley Duvall who recommended Tim Burton to be the director. For those of us who haven't yet seen the DVD, can you relate how your working relationship came into place?
PR: I didn't actually say that on the DVD. What happened was someone I was talking to at a party who had seen Tim's short film Frankenweenie mentioned that its director seemed to be right up my alley. She suggested I call Shelley Duvall, who was in the movie, about her experience with Tim. Which I did and, of course, she raved about him. So I screened Frankenweenie the next day and I knew in about the first minute and a half that Tim was the guy.
Prior to that, I had turned the script in to Warner Bros. and then gone on a vacation. Just before I left, I made a list from the Directors Book. I probably had between 150 and 200 names on that list people whose work I knew, or people who just sounded right from their credits.
When I came back from vacation, Warner had approved a director who wasn't even on that list and said if I agreed, the project was green-lit to go. But it was someone who I just didn't feel was appropriate. I'd seen two or three of his movies, and while they weren't bad movies, I just didn't think he was the right one to direct my movie. I remember meeting with my two managers at the time and saying, "This guy is not the right one. I want to do something different with this movie."
And they said, "You've got a green-lit picture if you approve this guy." And I said, "Well, I don't think you understand. It took me more than 10 years and a lot of hours of writing to get to this point, and I know this isn't the right guy." The studio wound up giving me a week's extension to find someone that, in their words, was "approvable, affordable and available."
And I think this is all on the DVD commentary then I went to this party. I asked everyone there for names of new young directors. That's when Tim was mentioned, and then my call to Shelley
The Frankenweenie screening was the very next morning and I sent Tim a script that day, and a day or two later he agreed to do it and that was that.
There are quite a few versions of that story but this is the one that really happened.
Q: How did that work out in terms of actually making the movie? Can you describe the dynamic on the set? Did the fact that you had created this character give you the right to direct yourself in some regard?
PR: Of course, it worked out amazingly well. Tim and I were really like brothers. I knew the first time I met him that I would be completely comfortable with him, and I think he felt the same way. We'd communicate in shorthand because we'd had a lot of the same experiences. We also had a lot of the same concerns and obsessions with things like art direction and style.
I had created the character and written the script, so I knew a lot about it. Tim was very open to any of my opinions, suggestions, and ideas, but Tim was the one who directed the movie and directed me in the movie. We did a small rewrite with Tim on the chase sequence, mainly to keep expenses down. So he had some input into that, and we were open to anything else he wanted to do with the script.
As far as my input, for all intents and purposes, while I wasn't credited with producing Pee-wee's Big Adventure, I certainly think I did. I chose Tim Burton; it was my decision to hire Danny Elfman, and I also had a lot to do with production design and those kinds of things with Tim. But it's Tim's film in terms of the direction.