Guillermo del Toro’s films are not only enjoyable for the the audience but an inspiration to many young aspiring filmmakers today. All his films are filled with dark imagery and a surprising amount of hope. He manages to capture people’s darkest fears and wildest dreams all in one. Guillermo seems to be hellbent on bringing all his creativity and imagination with him to whatever set he works on no matter what. Everyone who works with Del Toro, from his actors to the writers, love and respect him. I could imagine there must be a few wars with the Producers, because Guillermo is always more concerned with his vision than their need to cut the budget or market the film.
From “Pans Labyrinth” to the two “Hellboy’s,” Guillermo has always puts imagination and quality first. It’s not about flaunting what you have it’s about creating a realistic imagery world. Instead reveling in his budget, he simply uses it as his backdrop to help further the story of his characters. It’s no wonder they’re picked him to create the two Hobbit films. Instead of letting things intimidate him, he sees chances and opportunities to create.
“Hellboy II” not only has the stunning visuals that many have come to expect from Guillermo, but also the sense of humor. Guillermo had me laughing so many times in both the film and in person. He has a wonderful sense of humor, that is not PC and the American audience may have some trouble with. No one is tripping over pitchforks here, instead of making pointless/cliched jokes, he goes where many people (and studios) are not comfortable with, and succeeds admirably. He told us before the interview that they tried to make him cut the “baby” scene in the Troll Market of “Hellboy II,” but he refused. Trust me, after you see it, you’ll now. The final shot of the film is proof that this man wants to enjoy making films and not take him or anything too seriously.
So without further ado, LA.CityZine gives you producer, director, writer, dreamer, and creator Guillermo del Torro.
It was interesting you chose not to remind people of the back-story in “0Hellboy I” and just jump into the new film.
We did very briefly in the opening titles. We just say, “1944. A creature was rescued,” but I didn’t want to because actually that title at the beginning I only wanted to put in, or I agreed to put it in, because of the photograph. I love the photograph and I love the sentence where he says, “He loves candy and TV.” I thought that defined the character. When you go see a movie called “Hellboy,” already there is an implicit, assumed, certain sort of sense of goofiness that you have to then say, “Look, you know, we know we’re pulpy, we know we’re this, but we take ourselves both seriously and we want to entertain.” And the opening already summarized that. Mike said it; he’s not the Hellknight or the Hellspawn or the Helllord. He’s the Hellboy. Only because of that we agreed. We said we’re not going to make one of those sequels that tells you, “but you were bitten by a radioactive spider.”
“Hellboy II” you actually a broke away from Mike Mignola’s original graphic novel creation, do you feel like that allowed you to bring a little bit more Guillermo to the film?
I am not sure about that. I think that the first part of the sentence I agree with, but the funny thing is there–accidentally Mignolaesque stuff and purposely Mignolaesque stuff because Mike and I did come up with the basic storyline and that’s the direction he’s taking the magical world in the comics. By coincidence, when I told him he said, “that’s exactly what we are plotting already.” There are moments in the film like the moment “The Golden Army” opens that is completely chiaroscuro, back-lit by the fire. If you freeze-framed it, that would be a Mignola frame. And so–that was in the forefront as technically, but the difference is there was a lot more freedom for me to, I wouldn’t say appropriate because it was not an act of will, it just feel liberating, you know, to do my stuff.
In many of your films you use a lot of folklore, in this film was most of the fantasy based off of something or was it made up?
I have always collected folklore and fairy tales. I think it’s a good section in my library dedicated to that and mythology. As I was preparing for “Pan’s Labyrinth” I realized one thing. There were a lot of rules that repeated themselves. I started making notations and I realized they interacted also with “Hellboy” the second movie. The idea of the underworld, or the world we leave, and the king and the war with humans and the creation of something, all that is somewhere floating in the sagas or in the folktales. And I grab a lot from that.
For example, trolls are afraid of canaries is something I made up but it sounds perfectly reasonable. What I found in life is that if you actually do the research, there are. I’ll give you an example. In 1944, in the first “Hellboy,” I say “Nazi submarines disembarked in Scotland” and I just came up with that and then I did the research, it took me a while, but I found many sightings. Actually, it was a high trafficked area by Nazi submarines in ‘44 in Scotland.
So you know, in “Cronos,” I knew several embalmers when I was young, but I never saw a suit like the one I put in “Cronos,” which is the suit that you close from behind. And it exists, so I put it in the movie and then eventually one of those embalmer friends said, “Oh, there’s a suit like that in real life.” I think that if you are in tune with the material you end up jiving with it.
Can you talk about a little about the creation of the troll market?
The idea was we would create a whole back-story for the characters but we would never verbalize it because in the same way we would move the camera around as if we were in any other location a shopping mall, a bazaar in the far east. We would not do the thing that is done so often in these things where you do a close-up of each monster that you spend some money on and you give them each a little vignette. We are going to keep them in the background as if we had wandered into a real place and we are just shooting a real place. Instead of detracting–because we did get some notes and concerns. They were saying why don’t you shoot each creature, we spent a $100,000 on this creature and it is just in the background. I said, “Because that’s where you are flaunting it. When you flaunt it is really when you don’t care. Yes, there is a 20 ft. monster lurking in the background but I am never going to see it again.”
We have some things we designed called the striders, which were creatures only seen in the opening shot. They are like headless elephants. I based them on Dali drawing, the long-legged elephants, and we never see them again, never again. And we spent 100 and something thousand dollars on modeling them and we were fighting about the budget and each thing counted, and I said no. They said “but this is only one shot.” I said “yes, but you need it.” It’s like when you are on the first date with the girl, you leave a big tip on the table and that’s what impresses her. They go, “Hmm, a 40 per cent tip. He’s a nice guy.”
A lot of your creations are very old school in that you decided to build them instead of using CGI? What lead you to make that choice? Do you feel something is lost with CGI?
There was a company George Harrison had, a film company called Handmade Films, and I think films should be handmade. I have this idea that, it’s a notion that is perhaps the same thing that leads me to keep the props from my films. I find a way to buy them or to get them from the studio and I give them back a piece of salary whatever because I love that there’s a tangible things. I think the eye–we say, well, the audience doesn’t care, but they do. The fact is the average eye of a just a regular Joe, although they cannot verbalize things, is trained by thousands of TV, thousands of hours of visual effects, media hitting you all the time and your eye knows. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes my daughters who are pretty savvy at the age of 7 and 12, they look at the movies and say, “that monster is computer generated” and I say, “No, it’s real.”
But what is nice is that they are confounded and I know if I am fooling a 12-year-old eye, that plays more video games than anyone and watches more TV, I am happy because I think the eye–I will tell you one effect that I bet you didn’t notice. The Ireland landscape, the Irish landscape, it was shot next to a freeway in split up the sea and the cliffs we had the most horrible freeway with red trucks passing. What we did was we shot high definition plates in Ireland and we composited them together and that’s invisible. So if you know when to go digital and when not to you end up having the eye fooled and I have learned this by screwing up many times in my life.
Does it also helps the actors have something to work off of?
Yes, absolutely, I think that the, actors are great sports and they–especially in junkets they will say, “Oh, it was great because I was reacting to a mark on a green screen,” but it’s fucked up. If you come from theatre, if you know the very essence of the craft, an actor only acts in reaction. A real actor doesn’t throw; he catches. Now the guy is about the look in the eye of the other actor, not waiting for the other line, but being surprised by it, and in the same way, when you, by the second day you are fed up with any set, but when you walk the first day and the Golden Army chamber is the size of a football stadium because we built it in a stadium and you receive the first impression, it’s an imprint that is going to inform the rest of your acting. Even by the second say, it’s a stinky set and you are tired of it.
You seem to have a lot of heartfelt moments in this “Hellboy,” between Hellboy seems to be having relationship worries and Abe has his first love interest, there are a lot of tender moments.
“Hellboy” is for me, the two movies for me are autobiographical. My wife recognizes a lot of details, including the moment when you get asked, “Do you need everyone to love you or am I enough?” which has never been verbalized but you have those moments when you a filmmaker, when you are a storyteller. You have to at some point in your life you say, “Okay, who matters in my life” and you have to make a decision. I think Hellboy, the way he has evolved and the way he is irresponsible knucklehead, but adorable. It’s empathy for me. I just love the way. There’s a great moment, which I have gone through, when he is asked “Why are you with me?” and he goes (gasping sound). He can’t. That’s a male conversation, that’s a male idea of conversation. When guys are together, you have the beer you go, “Yeah, yeah.” That’s an idea of a shared afternoon. And I love that’s he unable to verbalize things, but then it takes a spear in the heart for him to say, “No, no, no. Wait. Let me tell you I understand.” I like that. I write the characters from things I do know and are close to my heart
How much when you’re adapting someone else’s material like Mike Mignola, the comic series, is it a struggle or a pleasure or to find ways to make it yours?
I said in the past that obviously no matter how respectful you are for the material there is a moment–an analogy is like marrying a widow. You have to be very respectful about the late husband, but at some point you are going to get in bed. The late husband isn’t going to matter anymore, or he better not. And I think it’s the same with material. There’s a point where you go, “I only have my instinct to guide me through this section, but it’s co-exploring.” In the case of “Hellboy,” I have been blessed with a guy like Mike who is the most generous landlord of the “Hellboy” real estate. He says essentially, “Move in, decorate as you want, and make it yours,” and he has done that.
I have directed with him on the animated series, which is a very different entity from the movies and the video game. And the video game which is a very different entity from the video game–the comics or the animated movies and the movies. Each of them has something in common but each of them has something that is different and he says make it yours because the worse thing that can happen for it to try and look like me.
I am friends with a lot of chefs and we always end up eating in slums. We go and eat in markets or I tell them they come when they visit L.A., I take them to eat at Iberia stand and they say it’s better for us because when we go to a posh restaurant that is trying to do the same thing we do, I can tell when it’s when this is not right, but if you hit me with a tortilla and some beans I love it.
So “Hellboy II” is tortilla cinema?
It’s tortilla at it’s best.
For the “Hobbit” there has been a lot of speculation about the second movie what material will be used because there’s copyright issues?
What we’re talking is, obviously, utilizing the materials that are available to us, and the discipline has been to try and know, for my part, know everything else — not to know it and use it, but to know it and not step on those things. There is enough sort of narrative abridgment in some of the pieces of the narrative, and suggestions, and appendix notes and this and that to guide and create something that will not infringe anything else, but it’s too early for me to swear by it; I think that that’s the real creative endeavor in the second film. In the first film, the real creative endeavor is to be faithful to the feel and drive of the book, and the spirit of the book; I think a lot of people say “It’s a children’s book.” and I say, “Therefore, it should be taken seriously.”
The challenge’ stepping into Jackson’s universe?
If I thought in those terms, I would actually be more daunted .. but the way I see it is, I see the whole, the five films — provided that we do everything right — as a symphony. And I believe what I’m doing is an overture. Therefore it can be a different color and a different energy and lead you into something that’s already part of film’s legacy — all we gotta do is create an almost free-standing piece that can then, if viewed together, make sense as a symphonic work. If the two first pieces are crafted with their independent merits, but also the second film does lead seamlessly into the first film in the trilogy, we will have created, perhaps, one of the most beautiful symphonies, filmically, that have been done. And the level of craftsmanship that we’re talking about — that I like to bring, that I like to do — is obsessively detailed, and really the ideal that I’m going to have the tools that exist in WETA, that exist in New Zeland, to create those — I’m ready to create the pyramids! I’m ready to create the temple of Ra!
The movie is actually beautiful and of the things I noticed while watching it is, I am just curious, this is somewhat of a technical question, why don’t you go wide?
Because I believe, first off, “The Hobbit” will be 2.35:1. The idea for me is that should be left for movies that are horizontal based. The landscapes, the westerns, landscape movies, epics, exploration of the Antarctic, that which has a horizontal line and a sense of composition in that regard. In the strictest sense of the classical compositional frame 1.85 is closer to the Greek idea of the Golden Measure. It is actually easier to compose, to do the composition and the other form, which is gorgeous now, was actually invented by producers and the studios because they were competing with TV. There was no legitimate there was not a filmmaker saying, “We have–let’s give them more picture than TV.” And they changed the format. Now we have a love for it because we grew up with it and it became a mark of prestige. I use it compositionally. I use a lot of arches, which is vertical information in order to do the composition to the arches, and I am very obsessed with composition, and I prefer 1.85.
Do you think you’ll ever do a “Hellboy 3″?
I would love that. There was a gap of four years between the first “Hellboy” and the second “Hellboy.” Provided Ron takes his medicine and he can stay healthy, we can have a Hellboy 3 on the other end. The thing is every time you take one movie you are obviously postponing others like “Mountains of Madness” another small movie. One I am trying to write “Saturn and the End of Days” which is the apocalypse seen from from the point of view of a boy, a kid, a seven-year-old. Every choice–every day you drive on the freeway you are not climbing Mount Everest.
Do you still have your sketch book?
Yes I do. I just started a new one, and it’s kind of pathetic, it’s two pages long. I don’t carry it around because it’s not exactly like “Ta da!”
Thank you very much for your time!