Tim Burton’s first live-action film “Hansel and Gretel”

Effectively buried for years “Hansel and Gretel” finally resurfaced in 2009, at the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit “Tim Burton.”  It’s now at LACMA, running continuously in the galleries.  I’m pleased about the new exposure because I edited this film in 1983 (on videotape). It was made for Disney Cable and the powers-that-be decided to air it *once* on Halloween night 1983.

I found this screen grab on-line of Vincent Price's introduction - fitting because Tim's short "Vincent" aired along side "Hansel and Gretel." to fill one hour of air-time.

I found this screen grab on-line of Vincent Price’s introduction — fitting because Tim’s short “Vincent” aired alongside “Hansel and Gretel.” to fill one hour of air time.

My college friend Henry Selick (best known as director of “Coraline” and “Nightmare Before Christmas”) had worked with Tim as an animator at Disney.  Burton had already made his amazing animated short “Vincent” and there was an aura around him.  H&G was a budget production, and I believe that everyone pulled together and worked free or cheap. Henry suggested me as an editor. I was based in NYC and ready for adventure in LA, but I didn’t know how to drive.  (I was 29 and a real native New Yorker:) I did a crash course and the ink on my driver’s license was still wet when I boarded the flight to L.A.

I'm pretty sure Rick Heinrichs, who was Tim's partner at the time, designed this clock and most of the other props in their Pasadena studio.  It captures the vibe of the film design.

I’m pretty sure Rick Heinrichs, who was Tim’s partner at the time, designed this clock and most of the other props in their Pasadena studio. It captures the vibe of the film design.

On arrival I met Tim’s partner and creative collaborator Rick Heinrichs. We went for a seaside walk with Henry (photos below) to get acquainted.  The project had a charmed feel and was smoothly run.  I guess Henry suggested me because I was young, would probably ‘get’ Tim’s sensibility and most importantly, I was an experienced CMX editor.  Experience is a relative thing because in NYC, few knew how to use “trace” software required in sophisticated tape off-line edits in the days when one had to copy parts of edit v1 to make revision 1 and so on.  I would come to master trace software in later years but lack of that skill didn’t seem to matter because the film was tightly storyboarded and Tim knew exactly what he wanted. We nailed the edit in one pass and everyone was happy.

PD & Rick   -   Tim & Rick in the edit room   -   Rick & Henry

PD & Rick – Tim & Rick in the edit room – Rick & Henry

This is the most detailed write-up about “Hansel and Gretel” I’ve seen. The reviewer describes it having “weirder-than-Adult Swim sensibility” – cool:)

One happy dividend of my involvement was the fact that H&G was shot in white limbo, which inspired me to shoot a music video that year in black limbo – that was Rap Machine by Whodini.  Shooting in limbo is very efficient in a budget production. For that reason it was one of the one few videos I directed that I feel like I really finished shooting: on the others we just ran out of time and had to fudge the edit. Things came full circle when Tim came to NYC on a business trip and I screened the music video for him— he really seemed to enjoy it.

Finally the most fortuitous aspect of “Hansel and Gretel” was that when Pee-wee’s Playhouse (TV series) was looking for an editor, I understand that Tim vouched for me, (thanks pal:) and that cinched my being hired.  This was a big break for me.

About avideolife

video editor & director
This entry was posted in Editing Work, Off-line Tape Editing (Linear Days), Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Tim Burton’s first live-action film “Hansel and Gretel”

  1. I’ve been able to watch this movie and it has become an obsession of mine, leading me to work on my own adaptation of Hansel and Gretel. I have a couple of questions

    1. Besides the Japanese influences, what other things inspired Tim Burton? For me, I get a strong feeling of TV show’s and movies like HR Pufnstuf, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., and of course Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (whose musical director composed the music for this film).

    2. Why was Johnny Costa, the composer for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, hired to create the music of this film?

    3. In what parts of the film are forced perspective and front projections used?

    4. Have you been involved with or know any projects similar in style to this movie? Particularly featuring minimalist sets such as the ones used in this film?

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