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– by Joseph Jammer Medina

What’s a movie without a good story. Tim Burton has had an ace of a screenwriter under his wing for years. We’re referring to John August, the same man who wrote “Big Fish,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and now “Frankenweenie.”

There’s no story more touching than the beloved tale of a boy and his dog, with a little bit of a twist. When Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) struggles to cope with the fact that his best friend and pooch is no longer with him, he brings him back from the dead through science. The rest of New Holland isn’t ready to embrace the revised version of Sparky, though some of his classmates are interested in outdoing Victor in his own animal science experiment. Latino-Review got the chance to sit down and talk with the accomplished screenwriter about being the right-hand writer for Mr. Burton and horror movies.

So let’s talk about “Frankenweenie”! You’ve been working with Tim Burton for years and years and “Frankenweenie” is one of his favorite stories. When you were given the task of translating it into a feature length script, did he give a reasonable amount of input on it or did he just trust you to do your own thing?

John August: Tim (Burton) made the short film which is terrific. Everything that was there, we wanted to keep that. Then there was a list of monsters in which the other kids in class would create monsters. When they pitched that to me I was like well, I want to make sort of a pro-science monster movie because monster movies are about the evils of science. We wanted to touch upon the science which segway’s into the new science teacher, the science fair, having to explain why the giant windmill at thetop of this suburban town that became New Holland. Just figuring out sort of what the rest of the world would need to be to support the things that are happening there.

Cool. Like you mentioned, there’s a variety of cuddly but terrifying animal monsters in “Frankenweenie.” Out of all of the new creations, which one is your favorite?

John August: Which is my favorite in the movie? The animators did a fantastic job with all of them. I’m a big fan of Nassor and his hamster mummy because it’s just this big set up for this tiny squeaky little gerbil. I love that. I’m a big fan of all of them. I love what Weird Girl ends up making with her animal, but I’m such a big fan of Mr. Whiskers in general. I’m always going to miss the original Mr. Whiskers. I feel like there’s going to be a lot of women dressing up as Weird Girl and carrying a little stuffed Mr. Whiskers. It’s just too good.

So you’ve been working with Mr. Burton for years. What’s so great about working with him, the dynamic of it all? 

John August: As a screenwriter what’s great about Tim (Burton) is that Tim tells you what he wants, you do it, he says “Thank you” and then he goes off and makes it. There’s not that constant let’s just tear it all apart, put it back together then tear it all apart. Tim has a very sharp vision for what he’s aiming for and then you give him that, give him what he asks for, gets excited and then he makes the movie. So like his other department heads provide wardrobe, providing great camera work, I’m responsible for making this script that’s going to be a framework for the movie he wants to shoot.

Being an experienced screenwriter such as yourself, do you have any advice for any aspiring writers out there?

John August: My simplest piece of advice for anyone who wants to be a screenwriter is write the movie you would actually pay to see. I think a lot of times a lot of screenwriters will write the movie they feel like they should write rather than the movie that would actually go to see on opening night. What I like about the example of the movie you want to see on opening night is that basically it’s the movie that you’re generally excited to work on. It’s not the movie that everybody else said it was the movie it should be. It was the movie you really want to make.

In “Frankenweenie” there’s a variety of monsters that are used. Since it’s Halloween time, what kind of monster movies do you love watching the most during this time of year?

John August: My go-to is just the “Alien” movies. That to me is the best balance of it’s terrifying enough that I’m scared but not so terrified that I can’t watch it at all. And it just hits that sweet spot where I’m repulsed by the aliens but I can’t stop watching the horror. “Alien” is definitely my monster of choice.

Is there any monster movies where it’s kind of hard to watch because it’s like oh my god this is so terrifying?

John August: Everyone has sort of their water fears. You have your shark fear, your piranha fears. I’m more scared of human beings and more scared of human beings that I can’t control. When it gets to satanists it’s always a go-to fear for me. Haunted houses for whatever reason I just can’t … those things I can’t walk through at all. I tried to watch “Paranormal Activity” on a plane and I was screaming on a plane which is never a safe thing.

What are you up to now in regards to future projects? Is there anything going on with “Preacher”?

John August: I don’t think there is any news to talk about “Preacher.” There’s a script that could be shot any day but there’s no plans for shooting it. As far as I know there’s no plans for production which is … Unfortunately I think that’s the nature of screenwriting which is sometimes you work on something and it just doesn’tshoot. I don’t think there’s going to be a “Preacher” movie anytime soon.

 

“Frankenweenie” is out in theaters now, presented in 2D and 3D.

Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.