Guillermo del Toro has some advice for directors that would leave most studios shaking.
“As a director, it is your duty to always responsibly exceed the scope and exceed the budget,” he said. “If you have enough time and enough money, you’re f—ing up.”
Del Toro dropped that bit of wisdom during a chat with Alec Baldwin at the Tribeca Film Festival for its Directors Series Thursday night, engaging in a lively conversation about his approach to filmmaking, the studio system and what inspired his Oscar-winning “The Shape of Water.”
To be sure, del Toro isn’t actually running away with the studios’ money on his projects. He added that while he takes an ambitious approach to his films, he typically comes in under-budget.
“I remember on the first ‘Hellboy,’ they came in… and they said, ‘You have to cut seven million,’” he told Baldwin. “And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll add an action scene’… and we still ended up under-budget.”
Del Toro, at least, is willing to put his money where his mouth is. Baldwin shared an anecdote in which he was on the set of a low-budget film, and when he complained that the crew didn’t have video playback for an important scene, he was told that the reason was that the movie’s budget was all going to him. Now, Baldwin said, his attitude is, “Pay me less, so we have at least a chance to make a good movie.”
Del Toro agreed, noting that he sacrificed his salary for “The Shape of Water” and that he recently told a studio that “my salary is contingency that I can execute at will.”
“I collect art and I want that on my wall, so I’m going to pay for it,” he said. “I pay for a painting, so why don’t I pay for an extra day? Why don’t I pay for an extra little piece of set? I want it! And I think I always find that the rewards are bigger, emotionally and existentially, when you do that.”
Del Toro and Baldwin went in-depth on the director’s approach to filmmaking, with del Toro revealing that he thrives on the unpredictably of the job. “To direct is a hostage negotiation with reality,” he said.
“The day I go out and say, ‘I have an extra day,’ something’s wrong,” he said. “You have to not have enough. I think that real art and real freedom exists under the boundaries. Because it’s not boundaries, it’s structure.”
He also imparted his most important advice to the aspiring directors in the room: Never rush. The director’s job, he said, is to create an atmosphere for the cast and crew where it’s their moment and there’s no hurry, even when they only have a limited amount of time to get the shot right.
In discussing his love of monsters, del Toro offered a brief rant on the pursuit of perfection, and said he’s drawn to monsters because they “embody the other in a way that nothing else does.” Noting that the world often sees people in terms of black and white, he said, “We have the right to be polychrome and be any color we need.” (He would later answer a phone call from Baldwin’s wife, Hilaria, on stage, in which Baldwin paid him to tell her, “Alec is polychrome.”)
“We live right now in a way that media tells us to be perfect in so many ways,” he said. “The traditional ones – you have to have perfect hair, perfect teeth. Never let them see you sweat. No no no no no! Let me sweat, motherf—er. Let me have crooked teeth. Let me have imperfect hair. I don’t give a f—. I wanna be a good human being. There’s no commercials for that. Monsters allow imperfection.”
That philosophy, in part, inspired “The Shape of Water.” Del Toro wanted to make a movie that showed that love is not about change, but rather, accepting someone for who they are, flaws and all.
“I find this fable of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ so terrifying and it’s so tortuous because it means you meet somebody and they have to transform once you love them? F— that. The key is that you identify imperfection, or identify an essence, and you connect with that essence.”
Among the other topics the two touched on: Baldwin asked del Toro if he would ever consider a remake, to which del Toro replied that “The Shape of Water” was originally meant to be directly tied to “Creature From the Black Lagoon.” He mentioned that he had ideas for “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein,” but noted that those probably won’t pan out.