In 1990 Tim Burton was at the peak of his creativity. He had burst through Hollywood’s doors with the playful “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” five years earlier, then followed that up with two vastly different — and equally great — movies, “Beetlejuice” (1988) and “Batman” (1989).
In ’90 Burton would team with Johnny Depp for the first time with “Edward Scissorhands,” in which Depp plays a gentle boy with scissors for fingers who must adapt to a new life when his creator dies.
Like his previous work, Burton thrusts us into a bizarre world of fantasy and unique characters that delivers a different kind of melodrama.
Production designer Bo Welch had worked with Burton previously on “Beetlejuice,” so he was aware of the director’s style and aesthetic desires. But that didn’t prepare him for what Burton wanted to take on in this project.
Welch told Business Insider thinking back on Edward walking in Kim’s (Winona Ryder) neighbourhood is still edged in his brain 25 years after the movie came out.
“The friction between Edward’s look and the neighbourhood, that we altered severely, just gives me infinite joy,” Welch said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it again.”
Welch said the script had little detail of how the neighbourhood should look. But he and his team began looking at neighbourhoods around the US, mostly in Texas and Florida, and came across a new development of homes in a suburb of Tampa. Basically a blank canvas that Welch and Burton could create what they liked.
“This neighbourhood in Florida also had a particular graphic quality, and interesting skies with its clouds.”
They went down to the neighbourhood and completely stripped it down. Repainted the houses with vibrant colours.
They stripped out the existing plant life and replaced it with the interesting foliage that Edward would craft later in the movie with his unique fingers.
“It clearly represents a suburban neighbourhood of a distinct era, but mainly to Edward it’s exotic and beautiful and beyond words,” Welch explained.
The motivation for this look, said Welch, came from the place Edward previously called home. He lived in a dilapidated castle with his creator (Vincent Price) high on a mountain at the end of the neighbourhood, isolated from the rest of the world.
But Welch admitted, at first he didn’t get it.
“When I first read the script I said to Tim, ‘So, this is how this is going to look? The castle and neighbourhood are going to coexist?’ And he said, ‘Yes,'” Welch recalled.
“That’s the beauty of working with Tim,” Welch continued. “He would lead you to these places that were counter-intuitive. It was mindblowingly gratifying.”
Welch had a similar experience with Butron while looking for the shopping mall that would double as the downtown area in the film.
“I couldn’t find something that would fit into the equation,” said Welch. “One day Tim and I got into a car and were driving around Tampa when we came to this old shopping center you would look and think, ‘Oh God, that’s weird.’ But Tim looked at it and was like, ‘This is it!'”
The location was the Southgate Shopping Center in Lakeland, which sports unusual arches and a tacky strip-mall design.
“That’s where Tim sees things that none of the rest of us can see,” Welch said.
Much of the neighbourhood and downtown scenes were shot on location, except for the interior scenes which were done on a soundstage.
Looking back on it, Welch sees his time on “Edward Scissorhands” as a forgotten era in moviemaking, before computer graphics took over and everything had to be built with real materials by carpenters and set designers.
“I think the closest thing now is a Wes Anderson movie,” said Welch. “Where the production design and the art direction is an integral part of the entertainment experience. Thinking of ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ a nostalgic wave washes over me.”
The 25th Anniversary Blu-ray edition of “Edward Scissorhands” goes on sale Tuesday.
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