Why Does Tim Burton Get Credit for Someone Else’s Work?

Who directed 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'?
'The Nightmare Before Christmas'Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick finds it “a little unfair” that Tim Burton gets all the credit. 

If I were to ask you who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, then you would probably say Tim Burton. I mean, the movie is also known as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, yet Burton only wrote the story, co-produced the film, and came up with the character designs. 

Burton was not the person behind the camera, and Henry Selick is getting tired of this misconception. 

​​“That was a little unfair because it wasn’t called ‘Tim Burton’s Nightmare’ until three weeks before the film came out. And I would have been fine with that, if that’s what I signed up for,” Selick recently told AV Club.

Who directed 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'?
'The Nightmare Before Christmas'Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

During the three and half years it took Selick to direct Nightmare, Burton was in LA making two other features. But Selick does not discredit the work that Burton put into the film. 

 “...I mean, Tim is a genius—or he certainly was in his most creative years. I always thought his story was perfect, and he designed the main characters,” Selick said. “But it was really me and my team of people who brought that to life.”

Selick then joked, saying that if you asked Danny Elfman who gets credit for Nightmare’s success, Elfman would say it is his movie.  

“When we finished the film, it was so funny because he came up to me and shook my hand. ‘Henry, you’ve done a wonderful job illustrating my songs!’ And he was serious, and I loved it! Fine,” Selick said. “But my thing was I’m going to hang in there long enough to where people actually say, ‘Oh, that guy Henry, he does stuff.'”

In a 2012 interview with IGN, Selick revealed that Disney was afraid that their core audience would hate the film and not come. To distance themselves, Disney chose to rename the film with Burton’s name attached to the title to draw in a wider audience and attract those who were already fans of Burton’s previous gothic works. 

Burton, however, explained in Burton on Burton that, “it turned more into more of a brand-name thing, it turned into something else, which I’m not quite sure about.”

Burton was aware that he did not make the movie and did not have time to handle the painstakingly slow process of stop motion, so he passed the project onto Selick, who brought the iconic film to life. 

While Burton has directed two stop-motion features, Corpse Bride and Frakenweenie, Selick is a true master at the technique with his biggest films to date including The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, and Netflix’s latest feature Wendell & Wild. 

Henry Selick on directing 'Wendell & Wild'
'Wendell & Wild'Credit: Netflix

“I mean, Coraline is based on a really good book by Neil Gaiman. That didn’t hurt,” Selick said. “On [Wendell & Wild], my collaborator is Jordan Peele—and that is the reason we were able to set this up. So I really, truly like to collaborate. But I’m the one leading the team to make the movie.”

Selick truly does not get enough credit for one of his biggest movies to date, and it's time we recognize that he is the genius behind the success of Nightmare. Without his understanding of movement and the power of well-done stop-motion, then there is a huge chance that we would not celebrate Nightmare like we do today. 

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