On Set For ‘The Shape Of Water’: Guillermo Del Toro

Dan Doperalski for Deadline

                                                                       Image Courtesy of Deadline

Guillermo del Toro is taking a breath. It probably feels like his first in 12 months. It is a hot summer’s day on the Lido in Venice, and his latest film, The Shape of Water, is tonight’s film festival premiere. From the outside, this past year for the Mexican writer and director has looked pretty good. The animated kids series he produced, Trollhunters, has become an unbridled hit for Netflix; Season 2 is already on order. And few directors, even visionary ones like del Toro, get to claim sold-out exhibition runs at LACMA, yet del Toro’s “At Home With Monsters” has been doing gangbuster business all year. A curated selection of all the trinkets and artwork del Toro has collected over a lifetime dedicated to the macabre, the exhibition is readying for a tour that will take it to Minneapolis, Toronto and Mexico City. Then he’ll bring it all home. “I want my shit back,” he joked on Twitter.

On the set of The Shape of Water, del Toro is in his element, presiding over the filming of a script that demanded and defines every ounce of himself. When a crewmember passes by in a Universal Monsters t-shirt, del Toro stops him to enthuse about it. After the exchange, I idly ask the director what it is with him and monsters. Del Toro says nothing; he simply whistles as he raises his index finger skyward, erect.

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In the week I spend on set, I am witness to the ingenuity and frustration of keeping a production this ambitious on track. The studio space del Toro is working on is also home to his FX series The Strain (Shape is shooting in its off-season). Producer J. Miles Dale—also an EP on The Strain—tours me around the various sets, pointing out how del Toro’s movie has even reconfigured several of the stage builds from the show for its own purposes.

And yet, every blown take and unwanted interruption engenders a spirit of disappointment in a crew fighting to make each shot count. When a PA opens a door into the middle of a scene between Michaels Shannon and Stuhlbarg, believing he heard “cut”, del Toro sinks in his seat. The PA is forgiven, of course, but it’s another quarter hour lost to a production skirting on the edge of the red.

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“That was a difficult movie, man,” is the first thing del Toro says to me, a year later in Venice, as he thinks back on the production. “The days are running under you like a sandstorm. It’s a high-pressure situation because it’s a movie delivered under a very tight budget and a very tight schedule, with a margin for error that is almost zero.”

When the lights go down in the Sala Grande later that same evening, del Toro is sat with his cast to watch the film play to an outside audience for the very first time. When they come back up, two hours later, the room explodes with shouts of “bravo”, and an ovation begins that will not cease until del Toro leaves the theater, 10 minutes later. As he first rises to take his applause, tears well in his eyes. He turns to Hawkins, hugs her warmly, and then lifts her up into the air. He is elated.

Read more at Deadline. 

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