Caroline Thompson [Interview]


Oh sweet hell, we have a great one for you fine readers today! I have actually been trying to get this one going for quite a while, and well, ladies and gentlemen….we got her! Caroline Thompson is arguably one of the greatest screenwriters of the late 20th century. She has been the person behind the pen of some of the most iconic film’s of the 1990’s, and one of the greatest storytellers to ever tell a tale. Thompson penned the story behind what is arguably the greatest accomplishment of Tim Burton’s career, the cinematic masterpiece Edward Scissorhands. And her credits just continue to stack up with films like The Addams Family, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Secret Garden, and many more!

Seriously folks, I am SO excited to share these amazing words with one of my favorite writers in the business. I would have been happy with just a few yay or nay answers, but Caroline being the amazing person that she is, she got very deep into her career and provided some amazing insight on several of her projects in the past. I absolutely adore her work, and though she has entered into a semi-retirement of sorts, I will continue to hold on to the hope that she might allow us to watch/read another of her amazing tales. But for now, please enjoy this great interview with the amazing Caroline Thompson!

When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer? Has it always been a passion? Can you pinpoint any sort of event that lead you to write for a living?

The summer I turned 16, my parents rented a house in London.  The house was owned by a journalist named Connor Cruise O’Brien.  There were strange paintings on the wall (abstract geometry the likes of which I’d never seen), a purple velvet chaise longue and a wall of Penguin paperbacks.  I had never been much of a reader before that, but that summer I devoured those books – Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Woolf – much to the chagrin of my mother who wanted me to go look at cathedrals and God-only-knows-what.  Reading those books stirred me to write.  My first dream was to be a fiction writer.  But I also discovered movies that summer — A Clockwork Orange was released.  And, oh yes, boys.

You’ve been a major part in three of the greatest works of Tim Burton to date, in my simple opinion. Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Corpse Bride. That being noted, what do you believe it is with your collaboration with Burton that just simply works. Do you share common sensibilities? Are brain waves crossing or something?

Tim and I recognized one another as psychic soul mates the minute we met.  We shared a sensibility, beyond shared, really.  It is so sad that we have had our 13th major break-up and don’t work together any more because I feel we were each other’s finest collaborators.   Thanks for thinking so too.   That said, I was not really part of Corpse Bride, haven’t actually seen more than the first few minutes.  There was betrayal involved.  My name is on it because it got the green light to go forward on account of my participation.  Sigh.


Through the glory of the Internet, I’ve managed to see strings of well deserved praise for the above mentioned films. But, your catalog and track record of writing films that have made it to screen is extremely varying and impressive! So, when you look back on these films, how happy are you in general with how your words came out on screen? Is it mostly all there, or are there examples of when you might have said, “Well, that’s not it at all”?

It’s funny that you think of my movies as ‘extremely varied.’ To me, they are all basically the same story.  They are all animal stories (literally, in some cases; metaphorically, in most).   What does it feel like when the world is not made for you and you are basically expected simply to slot in?  The table is so high you can only see the bottom, for example.  Those are my stories.

Basically, I have been happy with their execution.  With great exceptions on both ends.  I was thrilled with Edward Scissorhands and I was miserable with City of Ember.

You were tapped to pen the amazing reboot of The Addams Family, that was released shortly after Edward. What was it like to be tasked to reboot a legendary television show? And what are you thoughts on the final outcome of the film?

I agreed to do The Addams Family for two reasons.  One, I was assured that we would be faithful to Charles Addams’ sensibility, which was much diluted in the tv show from my youth.  And, two, the producer introduced me to Larry Wilson, one of the Beetlejuice writers, as my potential co-writer.  I instantly agreed to collaborating with Larry.  He and I laughed every minute of every day working on the script.  He is still a great pal.  But… we had the shit beat out of us by the producer and the director and Charles Addams’ beautifully bent sensibility found little expression in the final film.  I don’t regret the experience, but I honestly don’t think much of the movie.  Still, it beats the crap out of the pile of poo that followed it.


Speaking of adaptations, you had a string of great youth-oriented films in the 90’s. Including the legendary Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, This film was fascinating to say the least. So, what was it like to adapt a story that involves animals with dialogue?  How does it differ rom writing dialogue that could usually be meant for humans?

When I was a kid, I loved the film The Incredible Journey.  I suggested the re-make to Disney and am very glad I did.  It is still my only movie that actually makes me cry.  The director, Duwayne Dunham (before directing he was a legendary editor, trained by George Lucas’s wife, Marcia, and editor for some of David Lynch’s wildest works), sure knows how to tease an ending.  I know the old dog is going to come over the hill – I wrote it for fuck’s sake – but the waiting is agony beyond agony and I can’t help but getting choked up and then releasing the tears when his limping self appears.  Amazing, right?

I was fired off that project three or four times.  They let me go after my initial flurry of drafts, but brought me back on to rewrite the animal dialogue.  It, and my Black Beauty, were, I believe, two of the last films where the animals’ mouths weren’t CGI’d around the dialogue so the dialogue could be changed and changed and changed.  I was fired and re-hired and fired again.  But I had the last pass, so the animal dialogue is mine.

Since all my movies, as I have said, are essentially animal movies, writing dialogue for them comes naturally.  As naturally as speaking for my stuffed animals when I was four, or for any of my dogs or horses today.

Also during this period, you managed to get behind the camera a couple of times as well. But, you haven’t seemed to have gone back to this world too much lately. Have you thought about directing again? Or is writing the true passion you strive towards?

I wanted to direct because I wanted to see if I could.  I did – I talked the powers that be into it, and I worked hard and I am proud of the movies I made — but I did not enjoy it.  I am an introvert and would rather stay home.


Once again, through the glory of the Internet, I learned that there was once a process going with our old friend Penelope Spheeris to adapt your novel, First Born, but it didn’t quite pan out. Would you be able to elaborate on these events? What did you learn from this experience?

My first dream, as I have said, was to be a fiction writer.  I realized that dream.  At 26, I published my first novel, First Born, a strange, angry adolescent examination of suburbia, the dark precursor to Edward Scissorhands.  Penelope Spheeris had made an amazing documentary called The Decline of Western Civilization about the LA punk scene.  I had my book sent to her (I was living in LA by then and flirting with writing for the movies) and she wanted to do it.  I gave her an option on the book for $1 in exchange for co-writing the script with her.  I took my computer to her house (an original portable that weighed 40 lbs!) and she cooked lunch, and we wrote the script.  Her agent was gobsmacked by it and asked to represent me.  He is still my agent today.

The movie didn’t get made, but it did get optioned several times which is a miracle considering how weird and disturbing the story is.  

So, what is next for you? Do you have anything you would like to plug here?

I have basically retired from the movie business.  The occasional great project comes my way, but nothing has panned out lately.  Instead, I have taken up oil painting.  Mostly I paint from police photographs of 1920’s murder scenes.  Loving it.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I went to the January 21st Woman’s March – the LA version.  It was a joyous, delightful, love-filled madhouse.  That made me smile.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

One Response to Caroline Thompson [Interview]

  1. Pingback: Caroline Thompson | literarydc

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