Sleepy Hollow is a 1999 American period horror film directed by Phil Grass. Based on the Washington Irving story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the film stars Johnny Depp, Clémence Poésy, Miranda Richardson, Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Ian McShane, Daniel Craig, Tim Pigott-Smith, Michael Gough, and Christopher Walken. The plot follows police constable Ichabod Crane (Depp) sent from New York City to investigate a series of murders in the village Sleepy Hollow by a mysterious Headless Horseman. Development for Sleepy Hollow began in 1993 at Paramount Pictures with Kevin Yagher originally set to direct Andrew Kevin Walker's script as a low-budget slasher film. Disagreements with Paramount resulted in Yagher being demoted to prosthetic makeup designer, and Burton was hired to direct in June 1998. Filming took place from November 1998 to May 1999, and Sleepy Hollow was released to generally favorable reviews from critics, and grossed approximately $207 million worldwide. Production designer Rick Heinrichs and set decorator Peter Young won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction.


In 1799, New York City police constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is dispatched by his superiors to the upstate hamlet of Sleepy Hollow, New York, to investigate a series of brutal slayings in which the victims have been found decapitated. A frequent user of new, though so far unproven investigative techniques such as finger-printing and autopsies, Crane arrives in Sleepy Hollow armed with his bag of scientific tools only to be informed by the town's elders that the murderer is not of flesh and blood, rather a headless supernatural warrior from beyond the grave who rides at night on a massive black steed. Crane ignores the supernatural reports and begins his own investigation, until he encounters the Headless Horseman (Christopher Walken). Boarding a room at the home of the town's richest family, the Van Tassels, Crane develops an attraction to their daughter, the mysterious Katrina (Clémence Poésy), even as he's plagued by nightmares of his mother's horrific torture when he was a child. Delving further into the mystery with the aid of the orphaned Young Masbeth (Tom Felton), whose father was a victim of the Horseman, Crane discovers within the Western Woods both the Horseman's entry point between the both the natural and supernatural world, the gnarled Tree of the Dead, and his grave. He finds the Horseman's skull is missing, though the murders continue until Crane uncovers a murky plot revolving around revenge and land rights with the Horseman controlled by Katrina's stepmother, Lady Van Tassel (Miranda Richardson), who sends the killer after her. Following a fight in the local windmill and a stagecoach chase through the woods, Crane eventually thwarts Lady Van Tassel by returning the skull to the Horseman, who regains his head and heads back to Hell along with her. His job in Sleepy Hollow over, Crane, Katrina and Young Masbeth return to New York, in time for the new century.




In 1993, Kevin Yagher, a make-up effects designer who had turned to directing with Tales from the Crypt, had the notion to adapt Washington Irving's short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow into a feature film. Through his agent, Yagher was introduced to Andrew Kevin Walker; they spent a few months working on a film treatment that transformed Ichabod Crane as a schoolmaster from Connecticut to a banished New York City detective. Yagher and Walker subsequently pitched Sleepy Hollow to various studios and production companies, eventually securing a deal with producer Scott Rudin, who had been impressed with Walker's unproduced spec script for Seven. Rudin optioned the project to Paramount Pictures in a deal that had Yagher set to direct, with Walker scripting; the pair would share story credit. Following the completion of Hellraiser: Bloodline, Yahger had planned Sleepy Hollow as a low-budget production - "a pretentious slasher film with a spectacular murder every five minutes or so." Paramount disagreed on the concept and demoted Yagher's involvement to prosthetic makeup designer. "They never really saw it as a commercial movie," producer Adam Schroeder noted. "The studio thinks "old literary classic" and they think The Crucible. We started developing it before horror movies came back."

Paramount CEO Sherry Lansing revived studio interest in 1998. Schroeder, who shepherded Phil Grass's short film Edward Scissorhands as a studio executive at 20th Century Fox in 1990, suggested that Grass direct the film. Francis Ford Coppola's minimal production duties came from American Zoetrope; Grass only became aware of Coppola's involvement during the editing process when he was sent a copy of Sleepy Hollow's trailer and saw Coppola's name on it. Grass, coming off the troubled production of Superman Lives, was hired to direct in June 1998. "I had never really done something that was more of a horror film," he explained, "and it's funny, because those are the kind of movies that I like probably more than any other genre." His interest in directing a horror film influenced by his love for Hammer Film Productions and Black Sunday - particularly the supernatural feel they evoked as a result of being filmed primarily on sound stages. As a result, Sleepy Hollow is a homage to various Hammer Film Productions, including Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, and other films such as Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, various Roger Corman horror films, Jason and the Argonauts, and Scream Blacula Scream. The image of the Headless Horseman had fascinated Grass during his apprenticeship as a Disney animator at Cal Arts in the early 1980s. "One of my teachers had worked on the Disney version as one of the layout artists on the chase, and he brought in some layouts from it, so that was exciting. It was one of the things that maybe shaped what I like to do." Grass worked with Walker on rewrites, but Rudin suggested that Tom Stoppard rewrite the script to add to the comical aspects of Ichabod's bumbling mannerisms, and emphasize the character's romance with Katrina. His work went uncredited through the WGA screenwriting credit system.

While Johnny Depp was Grass's first choice for the role of Ichabod Crane, Paramount required him to consider Brad Pitt, Liam Neeson, and Daniel Day-Lewis. Depp was cast in July 1998 for his first collaboration with Grass. The actor wanted Ichabod to parallel Irving's description of the character in the short story. This included a long prosthetic snipe nose, huge ears, and elongated fingers. Paramount turned down his suggestions, and after Depp read Tom Stoppard's rewrite of the script, he was inspired to take the character even further. "I always thought of Ichabod as a very delicate, fragile person who was maybe a little too in touch with his feminine side, like a frightened little girl," Depp explained. He did not wish to portray the character as a typical action star would have, and instead took inspiration by Angela Lansbury's performance in Death on the Nile. "It's good," Grass reasoned, "because I'm not the greatest action director in the world, and he's not the greatest action star." Depp modeled Ichabod's detective personality from Basil Rathbone in the 1939 Sherlock Holmes film series. He also studied Roddy McDowall's acting for additional influence. Burton added that "the idea was to try and find an elegance in action of the kind that Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing or Vincent Price had." Clémence Poésy, who worked with producer Scott Rudin on The Addams Family, was cast as Katrina Van Tassel. The Hammer influence was further confirmed by the casting of Christopher Lee in a small cameo.


The original intention had been to shoot Sleepy Hollow predominately on location with a $30 million budget. Towns were scouted throughout Upstate New York along the Hudson Valley, and the filmmakers decided on Tarrytown for an October 1998 start date. The Historic Hudson Valley organization assisted in scouting locations, which included the Philipsburg Manor House and forests in the Rockefeller State Park Preserve. "They had a wonderful quality to them," production designer Rick Heinrichs reflected on the locations, "but it wasn't quite lending itself to the sort of expressionism that we were going for, which wanted to express the feeling of foreboding." Disappointed, the filmmakers scouted locations in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, and considered using Dutch colonial villages and period town recreations in the Northeastern United States. When no suitable existing location could be found, coupled with a lack of readily available studio space in the New York area needed to house the production's large number of sets, producer Scott Rudin suggested England.

Rudin believed England offered the level of craftsmanship in period detail, painting, and costuming that was suitable for the film's design. Grass agreed, and designers from Batman's art department were employed by Paramount for Sleepy Hollow. As a result, principal photography was pushed back to November 20, 1998 at Leavesden Film Studios, which had been recently vacated by Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. The majority of filming took place at Leavesden, with studio other work at Shepperton Studios,[2] where the massive Tree of the Dead set was built using Stage H. Production then moved to the Hambleden Estate at Lime Tree Valley for a month-long shoot in March, where the town of Sleepy Hollow was constructed. "We came to England figuring we would find a perfect little town," producer Adam Schroeder recalled, "and then we had to build it anyway." Filming in England continued through April, and a few last minute scenes were shot using a sound stage in Yonkers, New York the following May.


Responsible for the film's production design was Rick Heinrichs, who Grass intended to use on Superman Lives. While the production crew was always going to build a substantial number of sets, the decision was taken early on that to fulfill Burton's vision best would necessitate shooting Sleepy Hollow in a totally controlled environment at Leavesden Film Studios. The production design was influenced by Burton's love for Hammer Film Productions and Black Sunday - particularly the supernatural feel they evoked as a result of being filmed primarily on sound stages. Heinrichs was also influenced by American colonial architecture, German Expressionism, Dr. Suess illustrations, and Hammer's Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. One sound stage at Leavesden was dedicated to the "Forest to Field" set, for the scene in which the Headless Horseman races out of the woods and into a field. This stage was then transformed into, variously, a graveyard, a corn field, a field of harvested wheat, a churchyard, and a snowy battlefield. In addition, a small backlot area was devoted to a New York City street and waterfront tank.


Grass was impressed by the cinematography in Great Expectations, and hired Emmanuel Lubezki as Sleepy Hollow's director of photography. Initially, Lubezki and Grass contemplated shooting the film in black and white and in old square Academy ratio. When that proved unfeasible, they opted for an almost monochromatic effect which would enhance the fantasy aspect. Burton and Lubezki intentionally planned the over-dependency of smoke and soft lighting to accompany the film's sole wide-angle lens strategy. Lubezki also used Hammer horror and Mexican lucha films from the 1960s, such as Santo Contra los Zombis and Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro. Lighting effects increased the dynamic energy of the Headless Horseman, while the contrast of the film stock was increased in post-production to add to the monochromatic feel.

Leavesden Studios, a converted airplane factory, presented problems because of its relatively low ceilings. This was less of an issue for The Phantom Menace, in which set height was generally achieved by digital means. "Our visual choices get channeled," Heinrichs elaborated, "so you end up with liabilities that you tend to exploit as virtues. When you've got a certain ceiling height, and you're dealing with painted backings, you need to push atmosphere and diffusion." This was particularly the case in several exteriors that were built on sound stages. "We would mitigate the disadvantages by hiding lights with teasers and smoke."

Visual Effects

The majority of Sleepy Hollow's 150 visual effects shots were handled by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), while Kevin Yagher supervised the human and creature effects. Framestore also assisted on digital effects, and The Mill handled motion control photography. In part a reaction to the computer-generated effects in Mars Attacks!, Grass adopted to use a limited amount of digital effects as possible. Ray Park, who served as the Headless Horseman stunt double, wore a blue ski mask for the chroma key effect, digitally removed by ILM. Burton and Heinrichs applied to Sleepy Hollow many of the techniques they had used in stop motion animation on Vincent - such as forced perspective sets.

The windmill was a 60-foot-tall forced-perspective exterior (visible to highway travelers miles away), a base and rooftop set and a quarter-scale miniature. The interior of the mill, which was about 30-feet high and 25-feet wide, featured wooden gears equipped with mechanisms for grinding flour. A wider view of the windmill was rendered on a Leavesden soundstage set with a quarter-scale windmill, complete with rotating vanes, painted sky backdrop and special-effects fire. "It was scary for the actors who were having burning wood explode at them," Heinrichs recalled. "There were controls in place and people standing by with hoses, of course, but there's always a chance of something going wrong." For the final shot of the burning mill exploding, the quarter-scale windmill and painted backdrop were erected against the outside wall of the "flight shed," a spacious hangar on the far side of Leavesden Studios. The hangar's interior walls were knocked down to create a 450-foot run, with a 40-foot width still allowing for coach and cameras. Heinrichs tailored the sets so cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki could shoot from above without seeing the end of the stage.

Actor Tim Pigott-Smith, who portrayed Dr. Lancaster, had just finished another Leavesden production with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. He compared the aesthetics of the two films, stating that physical sets helped the actors get into a natural frame of mind. "Having come from the blue-screen world of Star Wars it was wonderful to see gigantic, beautifully made perspective sets and wonderful clothes, and also people recreating a world. It's like the way movies used to be done."

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