A Slice of Weird and Wonderful
Distinguished Screenwriter Awardee Caroline Thompson
Audiences rarely if ever stick around long enough to catch the closing credits at the movies these days, and few if any would be able to tell you who wrote that all-time favorite film, the one that changed his or her life, if only for a little while. But when it comes to screenwriter Caroline Thompson, recipient of this year's Distinguished Screenwriter Award, evidence of her cinematic pen strokes are everywhere, all the time, and never more ubiquitous than in the days leading up to Halloween. Don't believe it? Get thee to Hot Topic and behold: Jack Skellington and his stitchy sweetheart Sally are everywhere.
"Damn, I wish I had a piece of that!" says the writer behind Tim Burton's trio of neo-gothic classics, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Corpse Bride, as well as Barry Sonnenfeld's ooky updating of Charles Addams' benighted New Yorkers The Addams Family. "Merchandising. They never give that to writers! And you can go all over the world and see images of Jack Skellington and Sally. It just blows my mind."
One wonders: Does Thompson have children of her own, and if so, has she encountered the presumably surreal experience of having a pint-sized Oogie Boogie or black-clad Wednesday run around the house come All Hallows' Eve?
"Nope, I am my own child," she says. "We live on a 100-acre ranch, so I never see anybody on Halloween. I'm not a big Halloween person, really. I know that might be a surprise to people, but I like the Day of the Dead. I go visit cemeteries on the Day of the Dead and usually take a picnic with me. That's a much more important holiday to me than Halloween. Sadly, I have a big pet cemetery, and I always put out their favorite food on each one of their graves. I'll eat with the animals or I'll go to this pretty cool cemetery that we have here in the town of Ojai [Calif.] where I live. That's what I like to do."
Getting back to Halloweentown and her outré oeuvre, did Thompson gravitate to the grave early in life, or was the streak of weird fantasy that runs through her Hollywood CV a late-blooming blossom of deadly nightshade?
"You know, I had a very normal, uneventful upbringing. I didn't decapitate dolls on a regular basis, although I did once decapitate my cousin's Barbie. I've always loved cemeteries. I've always felt that fantasy holds more truth than so-called reality, and I think that some drug use as a teenager helped encourage that belief. And I guess I started loving horror movies when I was a teenager."
Horror movies? Such as ...?
"Oh, I've always loved the sad ones. Creature From the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein. I guess that's where some of my writing stems from, this interest in the way, way outsider and that sort of doomed romance. I remember just weeping at the end of Creature From the Black Lagoon, when he was carrying [actress Julie Adams] back to his lagoon. It just made me so sad."
Which explains a lot, actually, about the skein of gothic darkness that runs through Thompson's screenwriting career, with the possible exception of the peripatetic pet story Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, although there is that pet cemetery. And it's not over yet, the phantoms and fantasy.
"The most fun thing I've done recently," Thompson confides, "is an adaptation of a novel called The Master and Margarita by the Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgokov. It was written in the 1930s and it's considered a national treasure in Russia. It is, in point of fact, kind of the forebear of all the magical realism that Márquez and Borges wrote. It's a wild, absolutely insane, crazy ride about the devil coming to Moscow and upending the bureaucratic, dull world. It's a marvelous book, and I wish I could tell you the director, but the deal's not done yet. It's going to be a really exciting project."
Introduction by Johnny Depp
Friday, Oct. 21, 9:45pm, Paramount Theatre
Small and Creepy Films
Family Film Series: shorts program curated by Caroline Thompson, Steve Nicolaides, and Micah Van Hove
Saturday, Oct. 22, 2:15pm, Austin Convention Center
A Conversation With Caroline Thompson
Saturday, Oct. 22, 3:45pm, InterContinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel ballroom
(conference badge required)