With Christmas approaching, Tim Burton fans may well be watching Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. What they may not know, however, is that the person behind the screenplays for both of these films is our SWAN of the Day: Caroline Thompson.
Caroline is an author, screenwriter, and director, who may be best known for her collaborations with Tim Burton, however, her career expands before and after Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas; Caroline has decades of fantastic storytelling under her belt.
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Caroline attended Radcliffe College before eventually graduating from Amherst College in 1978. At Amherst, she honed her skills in writing, receiving her degree in English and classic literature. After college, Caroline moved to Los Angeles where she worked as a freelance writer and book reviewer.
In 1983, Caroline published her debut novel, First Born. The novel centers around Claire, the wife of a young lawyer, who is launched into a nightmare after becoming pregnant. The content of the novel was an early marker of Caroline’s ability to blend the supernatural with the everyday. Tim Burton read the novel and felt that it captured the same psychological themes he was looking for in his new film Edward Scissorhands, so he enlisted Caroline as his co-screenwriter.
Edward Scissorhands was released in 1990. The story revolves around a young “man” named Edward whose creator – an inventor – died before completing him. Living alone in a Gothic mansion, Edward is discovered by Peg Boggs (a kind-hearted Avon saleswoman), who brings him into her suburban community. Edward’s unique abilities make him a sensation, but he struggles to fit into society and navigate the complexities of the human experience.
Edward Scissorhands showcased Caroline’s ability to infuse dark fantasy with poignant human emotion. Edward Scissorhands has since become a cult favorite, in large part due to the emotional resonance and unique tone of her screenwriting. It also launched a relatively unknown actor named Johnny Depp into the top ranks when his performance as “Edward” garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical – in 1991.
In keeping with her strengths, Caroline continued her collaboration with Tim Burton by writing the screenplay for The Nightmare Before Christmas. A stop-motion animated musical, the film follows Jack Skellington (the “Pumpkin King of Halloween Town”), who becomes bored with the annual Halloween routine. Accidentally stumbling into Christmas Town, Jack decides to take over Christmas and spread his own spooky version of holiday cheer. Though the aesthetics and central concept of the film are rooted in fantasy, it is Caroline’s writing that grounds the film in an emotional reality, making the central characters of the film quite loveable and empathetic, and their journeys quite relatable and human. Though on the surface, The Nightmare Before Christmas is about a skeleton, it’s really a universal tale of self-discovery and the true meaning of Christmas.
Later in the nineties, Caroline began directing, working on two films she also wrote. The first was Black Beauty (1994), an adaptation of Anna Sewell’s classic novel of the same name. The movie tells the story from the perspective of a beautiful and spirited horse named Black Beauty. Narrated by Alan Cumming, Black Beauty recounts his life journey, the various owners he encounters, and the bonds he forms along the way. The second was Buddy, about an eccentric New York socialite, and her close relationship with a gorilla.
Most recently, Caroline wrote the screenplay for Welcome to Marwen, the true story of Mark Hogancamp (portrayed by Steve Carell), who creates a miniature World War II village in his backyard as a form of therapy after a traumatic assault. The miniature town reflects his own experiences and relationships, offering a unique and imaginative way for him to cope with his emotional struggles. The film is beloved for its creativity, fantastical elements, and most of all Mark’s touching character and story. As FF2 contributor Sophia Jin puts it in her review: “Caroline Thompson’s screenplay creates an emotional recovery story that people resonate with.”
Though Caroline’s directorial pursuits veer away from the gothic elements of her previous writing, their empathetic depictions of animals and their experiences follow the central theme of her storytelling: that emotional resonance and heart can be found in the stories of every type of being. Caroline possesses an acute sense of life’s most important feelings and experiences. It is no wonder that The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands are two of Tim Burton’s most beloved films; keep Caroline in mind as you enjoy these holiday favorites. In everything that Caroline creates, she leads with her heart.
© Julia Lasker (12/21/23) Special for FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Admire all the credits on Caroline’s IMDb page!
Survey the streaming options for Edward Scissorhands here.
Survey the streaming options for The Nightmare Before Christmas here.
Survey the streaming options for Welcome to Marwen here.
Learn more about Caroline on Wikipedia.
Click here to read Sophia Jin’s review of Welcome to Marwen.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo: Film still from THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993), screenplay by Caroline Thompson. Photo Credit: AJ Pics / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2JD8D15
Middle photo: Film still from EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990) featuring Johnny Depp (as Edward) & Diane Weist (as Peg Boggs). Screenplay co-written by Caroline Thompson. Photo Credit: © Twentieth Century Fox. Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2APAD3Y
Bottom photo: Screenwriter Caroline Thompson at the WELCOME TO MARWEN (2018) film premiere at the ArcLight Hollywood on December 10, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA. Photo Credit: Kay Blake / ZUMA Wire / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: R92FRH