Alice in Wonderland is hitting stores June 1st, and I recently got to take part in a virtual roundtable with producers Jennifer and Suzanne Todd. If you aren’t familiar, the producing duo (and sisters) have worked on a wide range of films, and whether you love or hate the films they come in contact with, they choose interesting titles.
Hudson Hawk, Austin Powers, Memento, Boiler Room, and Must Love Dogs, just to a name a few, though they weren’t both on all of them. With a variety of genres behind them, they are a decidedly interesting pair of producers. (Sorry, I loved Hudson Hawk)
As part of the roundtable, I got a chance to check out some special features from the film’s release, and they were quite interesting. The Blu-Ray is a loaded effort, and if what I caught is indicative of the entire bonus line-up, it’s going to be a must own. Actually, it is in any case just based on the movie, but you probably already know that.
The features I got to preview are-
Wonderland Characters: The Red Queen (Blu-ray exclusive bonus)
Wonderland Characters: The White Queen (Blu-ray exclusive bonus)
Making Wonderland: Effecting Wonderland (on both DVD and Blu-ray)
A lot of interesting ground was covered during the interview, and I hope you enjoy it. Keep in mind that this was sort of a fabulous chat room, so there isn’t much rambling on.
Q: Suzanne, This interpretation of Alice has a definite darker, adult twist – was this the vision from the outset or did that evolve? How much did Tim Burton‘s unique style and interpretation affect this?
A: Suzanne Todd – Linda’s script had some already “dark” elements – the notion of the oversized body parts and the floating severed heads, for instance, but it naturally followed the course of Tim’s taste and sensibility after he came on board.
Q: Jennifer, What did you learn working alongside, director, Tim Burton, for Alice in Wonderland?
A: Jennifer Todd – I learned from Tim that you can never aim too high. He really reached on this film from his own comfort zone and the results were magical. I learned you can never stop pushing the envelope.
Q: Jennifer, As I understand it, Alice is the first time Tim Burton has filmed on a green screen. With so much of the film shot against green screen, combined with demanding VFX, how much pre-production time was involved and what were some of the challenges foreseen?
A: Jennifer Todd – We prepped the film for about 6 months; it was a long prep to get everything organized for the shoot. Even then we still came across a lot of difficulties on set, with Alice shrinking and growing and taking into account the Queen’s head and all the fake characters, it felt like a complicated math puzzle every day.
*Q: Jennifer, What were the biggest problems as a producer with getting the final product?
A: Jennifer Todd – One of the biggest problems was getting the film done in time. We had our release date locked very early, and we could not change it. So the last few months were very stressful waiting for the final FX to come in.
A: Suzanne Todd – Like almost all movies, and certainly big tent pole movies, it always comes down to time and money. Luckily for us, with Tim directing, we never lacked for creative vision, so the task for everyone involved was to work their hardest to bring Tim’s vision to the screen – within the schedule and resources that we had available.
Q: Suzanne, At what point in the process did Mia Wasikowska become involved? Was she always first choice for the role, did she audition etc.
A: Suzanne Todd – Tim had a very specific vision for the role of Alice and met with and read with a number of actresses. Although there were many famous actresses who wanted to play Alice, Tim wanted someone that would bring a timeless quality to the film. Mia demonstrated the perfect blend of strength and fragility, bewilderment and wonder, and is beautiful yet accessible.
Q: Jennifer, Did you find it more or less difficult to oversee production on a film with Burton’s whimsical touches? On a film that was mostly digitally created?
A: Jennifer Todd – I actually felt it was easier as Tim still had the freedom to make changes after we filmed the movie. That’s one of the upsides of a mostly digital film. He could make changes you could never make in a traditional live-action film.
*Q: Jennifer, If you could go back to the beginning now, is there anything you’d want to do differently?
A: Jennifer Todd – I can’t say there is. Because of the success of the film, I’m just thrilled with it all.
A: Suzanne Todd – There isn’t really much I would change about the production – I’m beyond thrilled with how everything turned out! I guess I would add time in the schedule if that was possible so Tim wouldn’t have had to work literally round the clock to finish the movie on time.
*Q: Jennifer, What turned out to be favorite scene in the film, and is it surprising?
A: Jennifer Todd – Hmmm…that’s so hard. I love the introduction to the Red Queen when she’s playing croquet, I also love the end with Alice and the Mad Hatter.
A: Suzanne Todd – I have too many favorites!!! I love the resolution to the wedding proposal, the goodbye scene with the Hatter, and I am always surprised by how affected I am when she says “Lost my muchness, have I?”
Q: Jennifer, Can you discuss the way in which Tim Burton works on a set, compared to say Chris Nolan or Julie Taymor?
A: Jennifer Todd – Every director is so different, but these three are clearly so talented. Chris is a writer/director so I think he’s very confident in his material when he directs. All three of them are perfectionists – which I think one must be to deliver films on the level they do.
A: Suzanne Todd – All three of those directors share a high-level of vision and commitment and we have been fortunate to work with such amazing talent. Tim is unique in many ways – one of which is that his process is SO visual – he starts by drawing and painting and sketching and moves forward in the process from there.
Q: Suzanne, The casting of the film was fascinating – not simply because of the little-known Mia Wasikowska. Can you tell us how Crispin Glover became involved?
A: Suzanne Todd – The casting was very unusual because on most films you go through a process of making offers, having actors pass on the project, and then working your way down the list. When you have Tim Burton directing, everyone is dying to work with him so he just picks who he likes and everyone says yes!
*Q: Jennifer, We often hear stories of Johnny Deep staying in character throughout a shoot, was he like that for Alice, was he in Hatter mode a lot of the time?
A: Jennifer Todd – He was, although at the end of the day when he was cleaned up and not in make-up anymore he seemed to just be himself.
Q: Jennifer, The visual effects are quite in-depth, is it hard to visualize the end computerized result when working with the actors?
A: Jennifer Todd – Yes – I give the actors great credit for acting to a green screen and making it so convincing. One day on the set Mia was running on a treadmill and an AD was yelling out “tree branch” for every time she was supposed to duck – it looked very difficult to me!
*Q: Jennifer, There’s an interesting quote in the special features we’re seeing, which says of the Red Queen that she is played like a petulant child pretending at being queen, does that describe the theory at the outset, or did that evolve dynamically during the shooting?
A: Jennifer Todd – I think Helena brought a lot of that to the character. She’s written as a woman who is cruel because she is unloved, but I think Helena brought a great petulant quality.
Q: Jennifer, How much creativity did Johnny Depp bring to The Mad Hatter character?
A: Jennifer Todd – Johnny brought so much to the character. We re-wrote quite a bit of the Hatter when Johnny came in, we fleshed out his back story of his family being killed, which explained his motivation and state of mind. Also all the lovely nuances of the character – his accent, wardrobe, etc were all created by Johnny with Tim.
Q: Suzanne, What was the most enjoyable aspect of bringing to life this darker interpretation of a much loved classic?
A: Suzanne Todd – The response to the female empowerment at the core of the film has been very rewarding. We have heard from so many fans that the film has inspired them to think outside the box, and find courage in adversity – and that is immensely rewarding.
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