Tim Bur­ton is one of the most extrav­a­gant direc­tors in Hol­ly­wood. His films are easy to rec­og­nize in 10 sec­onds by their char­ac­ter­is­tic char­ac­ters, pic­tures, col­ors. This is an exam­ple of a sto­ry where indi­vid­u­al­i­ty allows you to suc­ceed, enter a major film dis­tri­b­u­tion and col­lab­o­rate with great actors.

The lead role in Edward Scis­sorhands can be con­sid­ered one of the mile­stones in the ear­ly career of John­ny Depp. The film itself is a gem in Bur­ton’s film library. That is what we will be talk­ing about today.

Image: neoclassica.ru

This is anoth­er text of a per­ma­nent col­umn in which I ana­lyze the work with col­or, light and fram­ing in cin­e­ma. The pre­vi­ous one can be read here.

For those who care: there may be spoil­ers in the text


The film revolves around the fate of Edward. The char­ac­ter was cre­at­ed by a sci­en­tist who lives in a seclud­ed house on a moun­tain. On oppo­si­tion, Bur­ton builds the entire dra­ma of the plot, includ­ing with the help of col­or.

Stills from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton

Edward is alone, aban­doned, he is inside a huge house as if in exile. Below was a city of bright­ly col­ored hous­es, gos­sip­ing house­wives and chil­dren’s laugh­ter. The direc­tor cre­at­ed a con­trast between these two worlds with the help of col­or.

Edward’s world is dark, gloomy, paint­ed in blue tones. This col­or is often asso­ci­at­ed with lone­ly, renounced char­ac­ters who are opposed to the rest. The mot­ley palette of the antag­o­nist city also works on the arche­type: the city and the char­ac­ters them­selves are bright, but emp­ty inside.

Stills from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton

The fur­ther the sto­ry unfolds, the more obvi­ous the dou­ble bot­tom becomes. Every­one wants some­thing from the hero of John­ny Depp: to make a hair­dress­er, use it for their own pur­pos­es, get it as a lover or as a part­ner in crime. But no one asks what Edward him­self wants. Almost Chekhov’s play.

Stills from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton

Despite the col­or­ful shades in the frame, Bur­ton skill­ful­ly arranges them, play­ing on the field of clas­sic com­bi­na­tions. Includ­ing due to the items and clothes of the heroes: here is green with red, here is turquoise with pink, yel­low with pur­ple, etc. Spe­cial atten­tion deserves a cou­ple of house­wives of the town, who are in the frame in mul­ti-col­ored out­fits. Again con­fir­ma­tion of the hypoth­e­sis above.

Stills from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton

Curi­ous­ly, Peg, who finds Edward, also wears bright clothes at the begin­ning of the film. But the fur­ther the plot goes, the clos­er Dep­p’s char­ac­ter gets to know her fam­i­ly, the more the direc­tor uses the col­ors of the cos­tumes, empha­siz­ing the dif­fer­ence between these peo­ple and the bulk of the towns­peo­ple. See for your­self, in many scenes Peg, her hus­band, chil­dren are all in plain light clothes. No fan­cy col­ors. They even dress Edward him­self in a plain white shirt and plain trousers.

Stills from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton

A few more inter­est­ing scenes are lined up on a palette of the same col­or. They are also a rare excep­tion when Peg is wear­ing bright out­fits: in one scene the frame is tint­ed in a pis­ta­chio shade to match her shirt, in anoth­er the red stretch­es through clothes, Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions and lights, and in the last the red col­or of her dress is in har­mo­ny with the orange fire in the fire­place. . Take note of such a mono­chrome trick with col­or stretch­ing along the plane of the frame: not only exposed light can play with shades, but also char­ac­ters and details in the frame.

Frame from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton

One of the final scenes deserves spe­cial atten­tion. Bur­ton framed Winona Ryder’s char­ac­ter in radi­ant white. It seems that not only did she not belong to this world of Chekhov’s car­i­ca­tured char­ac­ters, but she was the only one who real­ly felt Dep­p’s hero and fell in love with him. The white col­or of her dress is almost like a ray of light in the scene of the dark house on the hill.


Tim Bur­ton is a non-con­formist film­mak­er. You should not expect from him the con­stant film­ing of the dia­logue of the eight, which can be found in main­stream cin­e­ma. He also does not have a con­trast­ing light in a close-up to empha­size the emo­tion of the char­ac­ter. In a word, there is not every­thing that can be seen in mass films. But there is a lot to learn in Edward Scis­sorhands: the direc­tor uses a cou­ple of inter­est­ing visu­al tricks that are def­i­nite­ly worth pay­ing atten­tion to. Per­haps again with a dou­ble bot­tom clause?

Stills from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton

Bur­ton plays on the oppo­si­tion “col­or­ful city — Edward’s lone­ly house on the moun­tain” not only at the expense of col­ors. Pay atten­tion to the plans that appear in the frame when the view­er sees the town. A min­i­mum of details, mono­chrome, dif­fer­ent shades and shapes. It can be assumed that this is an East­er egg, strength­en­ing the image of the inhab­i­tants of the town. They are mul­ti-col­ored, col­or­ful, but all emp­ty, with a min­i­mum of detail inside. And Edward’s house is much more diverse, and all the intri­cate fig­ures of plants or ice are his work.

Pho­tos: matthias-heiderich.de
Pho­to: matthias-heiderich.de

Spe­cif­ic frames were cho­sen not only to con­firm this hypoth­e­sis. From a visu­al point of view, such a pic­ture would ide­al­ly fit into a selec­tion of shoot­ings of archi­tec­tur­al min­i­mal­ism. There is a whole line of pho­tog­ra­phers who work in this style. Suf­fice it to recall Mat­tias Hadris. His works are an indi­ca­tor that such forms can be found not only in the scenery of the film.

Frame from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton
Paint­ings by Edward Hop­per. Source: Losko.ru

And from the cat­e­go­ry of hypothe­ses. The evening scene on the street of the town may well be an homage (a trib­ute in art) to the paint­ings of Edward Hop­per. And even if the direc­tor him­self did not mean this, then what is not proof that it is pos­si­ble to com­pe­tent­ly shoot in the style of the work of this or that artist, with­out repeat­ing spe­cif­ic pic­tures.

Frame from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton
Scenes from the films of Quentin Taran­ti­no. Source: virtudesvirtuais.wordpress.com

Anoth­er East­er homage lies in the scene at the bank. The oper­a­tor does not take the most typ­i­cal angle from the bot­tom up, and above the heads of the heroes, the sign “Bank” sym­bol­i­cal­ly flaunts. Almost a joke about Bon­nie and Clyde or some typ­i­cal scene with a sim­i­lar angle from Taran­ti­no’s crime films.

Frame from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton

Among Bur­ton’s tech­niques in the film there are also well-known light­ing schemes. So, for exam­ple, back­light from the head­lights of a car, which is direct­ed at the hero. It is not very easy to work with the light in the lens, but it is with its help that you can beau­ti­ful­ly out­line the pro­file of a per­son and catch beau­ti­ful glare in the lens. Keep it in mind for future shoots! And if your shoot­ing in this style is also on an anamor­phic lens, then you will get the most cin­e­mat­ic pic­ture.

Stills from the movie “Edward Scis­sorhands”, 1990. Direc­tor: Tim Bur­ton

Anoth­er mas­sive tech­nique that can be found in the film is the game of plans. A well-con­struct­ed shot looks much stronger if you have worked out both the fore­ground and the back­ground. It is not nec­es­sary that the heroes of the shoot­ing or peo­ple in gen­er­al are on the plans. You can play with any details in the frame, includ­ing them in a visu­al game. Sign­boards, inscrip­tions, archi­tec­tur­al forms or top­i­ary trees.