5 Filmmaking Tips from Guillermo Del Toro

Friday 5 April 2019

Today's post is brought by my awesome assistant Laila, who is equally as excited to share with you 5 Filmmaking Tips from Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Mama, Crimson Peak, Hellboy) as well as share some super exciting news! 

So, if you'd like to find out what the legendary filmmaker has to teach us fellow writers and filmmakers, as well as hear about  an incredible project that I'm currently serving as Co-Executive Producer on - starring a regular muse of Del Toro's, Javier Botet - then make sure to read on till the end. 

Let's hand over to Laila and find out the key 5 Filmmaking Tips and HOW we can utilise and apply them to our own projects...

“What is a ghost?

A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again?
A moment of pain, perhaps.

Something dead which still seems to be alive.

An emotion suspended in time.

Like a blurred photograph.

Like an insect trapped in amber.

A ghost.

That's what I am.” - Devil’s Backbone

Ghosts and monsters can be beautifully horrific and deliver the greatest characters that perfectly shape human nature. The mastermind of gothic horror/fantasy films, Guillermo del Toro has brilliantly added fantastic visuals to movies as a way of telling the truth about the world we live in.

Del toro is a screenwriter, producer, novelist, and 2-time Academy Award winning director.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, he showed an interest in filmmaking during his early teens. He has been drawn to monsters ever since his youth, thanks to their unique way of reproducing emotional truth. To him, monsters are here to allow us to understand the darkest parts of our existence.

“Where others saw horror, I saw beauty. And where other people saw normalcy, I saw horror. I realized that the true monsters are in the human hearts. It was not their appearance”.

Lucky for all of us, his mindset has brought to life some of the most intriguing, dark and wonderful films we’ve ever seen. Some of the outstanding examples include Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, and The Shape of Water.

His extensive history carries precious filmmaking lessons—from the very beginning of creation to production. Here are some words of wisdom we can take from the director’s quotes and interviews:

1) Leave Room for Questioning

In a 2018 interview, Guillermo del Toro went in-depth about The Shape of Water, and the details that made the project a reality.

“The creature in The Shape of Water, for the first half of the movie, is blank and people project what they want to project onto him. The last third, he comes into his own.”

The movie received mixed opinions. Some people claimed it was disturbing, while others found it brilliant—and it all has to do with the twisted beauty of the Amphibian Man.

Whether the audience chooses to interpret the film and link it to human emotions, it’s their choice. Whatever image they chose to project onto the monster, it came from their built-in beliefs.

Because it’s hideous, does it mean it’s evil? Well, some do believe so…for a reason.

The magical thing about del Toro’s movies is that they are open to interpretation—take Crimson Peak as an example! Was it plain confusing, or did it have a twist we didn’t catch? Think about that.

Allowing people to come up with multiple conclusions about a single scene has the power to make a film extraordinary. It’s an opportunity to connect with your audience, regardless of who they are and the problems they endure.

2) Creativity Should Surpass Budget—No Matter What It Is

I know, I know…when it comes to the budget of a Guillermo del Toro film, we’re talking millions. But surprisingly, his advice applies to any filmmaker, even those who work on tight budgets.

In an interview for Indiewire Toolkit Podcast, the director states that “budget is a state of mind”, which he frequently quotes.

“I feel your ambitions should always exceed the budget”.

Del Toro has given up his director’s salary in order to meet budget needs—either partially or entirely, as he did in Pan’s Labyrinth. He partly owes this mentality to James Cameron, who encouraged him to think beyond budget early in his career.

“There are people who make 10-million dollar movies and they look like 30. And then you give them 80-million dollars, and it looks like 30. The key is, how big can you go?” — Cameron’s advice to del Toro

It doesn’t matter whether you have millions or a hundred dollars—it’s possible to make an extremely low-budget film look excellent. You could spend thousands in equipment and production, but how innovative would you be? How would your story make a difference?

Good quality is a must, but it does enhance poorly developed content.  

3) Life is Our Biggest Source of Inspiration

No matter how foreign del Toro’s visuals may seem to you, they all have nothing but reality behind them—not only his, but ours. In fact, iconic scenes and characters stem from his experiences and thought-provoking dreams.

Believe it or not, as a child Guillermo del Toro decided to block his shower door openings with towels, and allowed the water to reach his chin. His family didn’t own a bathtub, so he decided to improvise his own. That’s how the idea for the famous lovemaking scene of Eliza (Sally Hawkings) and the amphibian creature (Doug Jones) was born in The Shape of Water.

What’s more, the Faun from Pan’s Labyrinth was the product of a persistent dream he used to have as a kid. He didn’t let it scare him, but inspire him instead.

As writers and filmmakers, we know full well how inspiration is tucked in every corner. A person, situation, or even a sentence can spark us with unforeseen ideas. Always remember to listen, observe, and take note. Stories are all around you, and inside of you, as well.

4) Practical Effects vs Special Effects

In an interview at Youtube Space LA, a member from the audience asked the director about the digital effects of Crimson Peak.

Kindly, del Toro answered that except for a few green screen details, it was all real. In every single one of his films, even what looks computer-generated are practical effects.

The member was astonished to find out that the Angel of Death’s wings (from Hellboy II) were real. I bet you are, too.

See, the director is all about human connection and work. “I want you to feel like you’re watching an installation”, he states.

The handcrafted items and the skillful SFX makeovers are so professional and well done that they’re easily mistaken by digital effects. In the interview, the director proudly announces that his films have little to no CGI, and rightfully so.

Every inch of wood is painted and all the arduous job is done by people…including the actors.

Two of the most renowned Hollywood actors are gentlemen whose faces you may not recognize. I’m talking about Javier Botet and Doug Jones—the creature actors behind the horrifying monsters in some of Guillermo del Toro’s films, such as MAMA, Crimson Peak, and The Shape of Water.

They’re not digitally elongated—that’s their real height. They’re not just actors in costumes—they’re talented professionals who can bring nightmarish creatures to life. That’s what del Toro takes into account—how perfectly the job can be done under layers of makeup.

Both actors have a successful history as horror characters. FYI, Doug Jones is the Bye-Bye Man, and Javier Botet is The Crooked Man from The Conjuring 2.

Botet will also be starring in the upcoming short horror film My Friend the Demon, directed by Matt Sears and produced by Brandon Waites. The short also stars Isabelle Allen (Les Miserables).

5) Plan Ahead, and Protect Your Dream Projects at All Costs

Though Pan’s Labyrinth release was in 2006, Guillermo del Toro had been developing the idea since 1993.

The director is known to be keen on detailed planning, and for years he stuck with a notebook filled with character sketches and important notes on the project—which he almost lost during a trip, but thankfully got it back.

He was so passionate about Pan’s that he refused profitable offers to get the film made in English. He could have easily accepted the offers for a bigger budget, but he preferred to chase his initial idea.

Del toro even translated the subtitles to english himself, so as to avoid any wrongful translations. He made sure his message was delivered, exactly as it should.

You know, mainstream trends will try to make you deviate from your purpose, but you shouldn’t listen to them. Had filmmaking masterminds given into this kind of pressure, the aforementioned award-winning films would’ve never made it to the big screen.

Creating a project you’re passionate about makes the whole process delightful, even when it gets tough—it will. But believe in your story and love it enough to see it outside of the pages. Start with a battered notebook and scribbles, knowing it’ll be more than that soon enough.

One more thing...

***JAVIER BOTET IS IN OUR FILM ' MY FRIEND THE DEMON' - Both Laila and I are currently involved as Associate Producer and Co- Executive Producer with a team of Oscar-winning filmmakers (Including Javier Botet & David Marti - both of whom regularly collaborate with Guillermo Del Toro!) on a short horror feature 'My Friend The Demon'.

(Javier Botet will playing the Demon)

If you'd like to help bring this incredible project to life - please checkout our Indiegogo campaign HERE. Any contribution is appreciated. ***

Laila Resende: I'm a 20-year-old freelance copywriter and a Feature Writer and Social Media Assistant at Into The Script. My insatiable passion for movies and blogging got me here. I share all of Into The Script's news on my Instagram page (@lailarsnde) and Facebook.

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