Tag Archives: Derek Frey

Interview: Derek Frey talks Tim Burton, ‘Miss Peregrine,’ ‘Green Lake’

derek-frey-tim-burton-2Photos: Leah Gallo, courtesy 20th Century Fox

Starting out as Tim Burton’s assistant on the space invasion thriller “Mars Attacks!” in 1996, time has been flying, for the lack of better words, at warp speed for filmmaker Derek Frey.

Having worked on every one of Burton’s films since, Frey quickly rose through the ranks under the iconic film director to the pivotal role of running Tim Burton Productions and serving as the filmmaker’s closest collaborator.

On Burton’s latest, the fantasy adventure “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” Frey once again assumes a key role as one of the film’s executive producers.

“It doesn’t feel like 20 years at all,” Frey said Tuesday in a phone conversation in New York City. “Each project brings a set of new challenges and it’s been great to be near him on this journey through all these wonderful worlds.”

Frey said each year, if not each day, working with Burton brings out a new thing he didn’t know about the director before. In the case of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” opening in theaters nationwide Friday, the biggest revelation was about making the film with more of a back-to-basics approach. There’s a reason the cinematic adventure, based on Ransom Riggs’ best-selling 2011 novel, feels like vintage Burton. Just like the old days, the filmmaker is relying as much as he can on practical special effects.

“It feels so fresh and looks so different. There’s so much of it that’s real and practical,” Frey enthused. “We obviously did some computer stuff, but we actually went to these locations and I think it makes a difference, visually. In this day and age, where everything is created virtually, Tim wanted to go against the grain and I think it was a great decision of his. You can sense that there’s something tactile there and there’s something in the room. The brain can just feel it.”

tim-burton-and-derek-frey-on-the-set-of-miss-peregrine

Frey said that the reason he gets on so well with Burton is that they have the same sort of sensibilities — something that Frey said he knew growing up in Pennsylvania.

“I was a fan of Tim’s well before I started even thinking that working in this industry would be a possibility. Anybody who knew me in high school and college knows that I loved his films and really identified with the characters he created, being a misfit and a little bit of an outsider,” Frey recalled. “I was very fortunate to begin working with him very quickly when I moved to Los Angeles.”

Twenty years later, Frey said he still gets excited by the energy Burton creates, and how quickly the cast and crew of each film pick up on it.

“They see that what he creates is a family, and we’re all energized by his energy,” Frey said. “It’s one of the reasons why I’ve worked with him for so long because he’s maintained that same energy and passion. It’s incredibly inspiring.”

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The great thing is, Frey said, is that Burton’s audiences get to share in the passion, too. His cinematic influence is worldwide, mainly because the films are something audiences can identify with on a personal level. Burton has felt the same emotions of the outsider as his characters have, and “Miss Peregrine” once again projects the feelings that his fans can grasp onto.

“Tim is not really one that follows reviews and critics — he knows it can be mixed bag,” Frey said. “But the people who identify with him, who embrace him films, are the ones who are going to be watching it 10, 20, 30 years from now. They’re going to be the ones dressed up as these character on Halloween, and they’re going to keep it alive.”

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Of course, Frey knows that there are people who don’t identify with Burton’s work, and that’s OK.

“I said to him before, ‘The moment you’re universally accepted, it’s all over.’ He wouldn’t be the outsider anymore,” Frey observed. “As long as he’s the outsider, and he has those people who continue to identify, embrace and value these films, me personally, I’d rather be in that place. Look at pictures of his that didn’t generate a whole lot of interest or box office 20 years ago, yet are now heralded, like ‘Ed Wood.’ I’d take that any day. I would rather watch that film from 1994 than any film that came out within a few years of it.”

Waters of creativity

Admittedly a guy who can’t sit still for too long and is often on the road (fortunately, Frey is married to Leah Gallo, who is Burton’s photographer and author/photographer of “The Art of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”), Frey often engages in projects apart from Burton, most notably short films. His latest, the horror thriller “Green Lake,” has dominated the film festival circuit this year with more than 30 honors, and the accolades are still rolling in.

Frey said the opportunity to do films like “Green Lake” (inspired by the Hawaiian lore of the  Mo’o — a female, shape-shifting-type of lizard that used to protect freshwater-based systems in the islands) affords him the opportunity to enjoy the best of both worlds. During his off-time from Burton’s films, he gets to create his own work.

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“I need to be creative. I need to tell stories. I need to create something,” Frey said. “But at the same time I see the pressures that Tim is under — the pressures of the studio and the system and the deadlines and all the big things that come with releasing a big film — and I want to go the complete opposite direction. I want to do something that I have complete control over. It may be a very, very microbudget, but I have complete control over it. It’s kind of like therapeutic in a way.”

“Would I like to do that on a greater level someday? Sure,” Frey added. “But in the meantime, to be able to help Tim with his films and exercise myself by these microbudget films, I’m very happy with that.”

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Interview: Tim Burton finds happy haunt with ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’

20th Century FoxIconic director Tim Burton has invited us to all sorts of fantastical cinematic settings throughout his illustrious, 31-year feature film career, and quite often we get a point-of-view look at those distinct landscapes through his eyes as his characters virtually take on his peculiar persona.

That’s why fans of the famed filmmaker are certain embrace his new cinematic wonder “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” adapted from the international best-seller by author Ransom Riggs. Set in the present with leaps in time back to 1943, the film finds the caring Miss Peregrine protecting from evil a group of children with different sorts of supernatural abilities. One can see monsters, while another can bring inanimate objects to life. There’s also a child who has the gift to project visions in his mind out of his right eye, and another who has a body inhabited by bees.

Burton said in a phone conversation from New York City Tuesday that he can deeply relate to the isolation and indifference felt by all of Miss Peregrine’s children, and while he’s heartily proven over the years that he can see monsters, create them on a set and project them on a big screen, he’d just as soon leave the insects out of it.

“The peculiarity I’d least like to have is bees living inside of me — I have enough buzzing around in my head and I don’t need that,” Burton said, laughing. “I tried to find myself in all of these characters. That was the fun of it. Each of the characters has a slight symbolic meaning to them that I always tried to relate to.”

eva-green-and-asa-butterfield-in-miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-childrenEva Green and Asa Butterfield in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” (Photo: Jay Maidment)

The great thing is, that symbolic meaning isn’t exclusive to Burton. Much like the characters that populate the director’s other films, the children in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” are also bound to resonate with audiences. True, the children have fantastical abilities that you and I could only dream of, yet they’re multi-dimensional people who are relatable on an emotional level because Burton is the filmmaker serving as the story’s creative conduit.

“One of the things that I loved about the story is that I think a lot of us are deemed as weird or peculiar,” Burton said. “The fact is, while all these kids have their peculiarities, if you didn’t know what those peculiarities were, they’d just be viewed as normal kids. That’s something I really felt close to and was an interesting dynamic in the story.”

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Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” stars Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, along Asa Butterfield as Jacob Portman. Jacob is a shy and sensitive Florida teenager who is perceived as troubled because of his claims that he can see monsters — villainous creatures that turn out to be real and are threatening him, Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children tucked away in a mystical time loop halfway across the world.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” also stars Ella Purnell as a teen peculiar who has the power to levitate; Kim Dickens and Chris O’Dowd as Jacob’s parents; Terrance Stamp as Jacob’s grandfather, Abe; Allison Janney as Jacob’s therapist; Samuel L. Jackson as villainous former peculiar and Judi Dench who has a peculiarity akin to Miss Peregrine.

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Among the crew on the film is executive producer Derek Frey, who began his career as the director’s assistant on “Mars Attacks!” in 1996. In a separate phone conversation, Frey said that Burton maintained the same level of bursting enthusiasm for “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” as he’s had during their 20 years of collaboration.

“Whether an idea is generated by him or exists in a book previously, regardless of where it comes from,  Tim remains completely committed and gives his all to every single project … he’s putting his mark on it and putting as much energy into as everything else,” Frey said. “That’s what inspires me, to see that energy. Tim’s an artist. He’s truly unique and that’s why he’s one of the few remaining distinct filmmakers out there.”

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Photorealistic

While “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” seems like it was tailor-made for Burton, the truth is that the whole project came together by happenstance. Riggs, fresh out of film school in California, originally conceived the idea of “Miss Peregrine” as a picture book made up of unidentified vintage photographs of people he picked up at flea markets and antique shops in what began as a personal hobby.

The air of mystery about some of the photographs that featured children compelled Riggs to construct a narrative around the snapshots, and before too long, the proposal to adapt Riggs’ then-newly published “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” found its way to Burton’s office in 2011.

derek-frey-and-tim-burtonDerek Frey and Tim Burton on the set of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” (Photo: Leah Gallo)

“It was the first time I looked at a book and loved it before I read it, and it was because of the old photographs,” Burton said. “I like photographs — especially old ones — because they give you such a strange feeling. There’s something quite mysterious, haunting and poetic about old photographs. The way he constructed a story around these photographs was quite clever — that idea was inspiring, just on its own. When I read it and saw all the other layers that went into it, it just felt very close to me.”

20th Century FoxRansom Riggs and Tim Burton. (Photo: Leah Gallo)

Reading a book, of course, is one thing, and adapting it into a film is another, which is why Burton and screenwriter Jane Goldman took great care in maintaining the core of Riggs’ novel.

“It was weird. We were doing a movie, which is based on moving imagery, and obviously that’s different from still photographs,” Burton observed. “That was always in the back of our minds. We wondered, ‘How do you do a moving image yet keep the spirit of the book, the poetry, the discovery and the feeling of a weird children’s bedtime story like the way Abe tells things to Jacob?’ We wanted to keep the spirit of the book and have Ransom’s blessing, because you don’t want to piss the writer off if you can help it, right? Luckily, between Ransom, Jane and I, we found a good mix.”

Top two photos by Leah Gallo.