Guillermo del Toro on Filming During the Pandemic: ‘You’re Operating a Large, Surgical Theater’

Guillermo del Toro
Jason Madara for Variety

Antlers” producer Guillermo del Toro and director Scott Cooper took the virtual stage at Comic-Con@Home to debut new footage from their new horror pic, “Antlers,” and talk about how they’re attempting to film during the time of coronavirus.

“Antlers,” starring Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons, centers around the Native American folklore creature the wendigo.

“The film looks into the horrors of what it means to be an individual of America today and all of the crises we’re facing, quite frankly,” Cooper explains. “Climate crisis, drug addicted populace, our treatment of Native Americans, abject poverty — all of those sort of things without hopefully feeling like a message film. But wrapped into a monster film.”

The filmmakers revealed that the monster represents greed and colonialism “The wendigo, the more it eats, the more hungry it gets, and the more it eats, the weaker it gets,” del Toro says. “It’s a metaphor for the insatiability that exists right now.”

That being said, Cooper was frank that he’s not a fan of “message movies.” His goals for “Antlers” was to make an intense and terrifying horror movie.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the release date for the horror film was recently pushed back to Feb. 19, 2021. Looking forward, shooting new movies during a pandemic has provided a unique challenge to del Toro. His next film, “Nightmare Alley,” a carnival-set feature film starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Toni Collette, is currently under flux as del Toro scrambles to accommodate the rapidly changing schedules of the cast and crew, and update their entire filming process

“We’ve been going through more schedules than ever,” says del Toro. “The blessing of having this cast is amazing, but the difficulties of rescheduling with all this are enormous. Because everybody is on the mend, everybody is going everywhere. You have to work around everybody’s schedule. One of the things I like to think is that for every problem in every movie, there is one simple and graceful solution. Sometimes you don’t see it right away, but I think we’ve found the silver bullet, so to speak, knock on wood, to make it work. But it is not easy.”

As for the actual act of filming, everything has changed. The director reveals he’s spent a lot of time anticipating how the set will move safely from scene to scene. Especially cumbersome are the larger shoots with extras, specifically under the big top.

“You’re operating a large, surgical theater,” del Toro says. “You have to be sterile, you have to have everybody in conditions that are almost clinical, but you have to reenact the carnival with the extras and everything. The way you approach it is different. The way you stage with the extras, the way you stack them, the way you hire them, for example. Extras are hired by the day normally; now you’re gonna buy them out for many, many weeks. A lot of the time they’re going to be down. But you want them exclusively because you don’t want them to go from your set to a comedy in space, and then they come back and they didn’t quarantine. So you’re basically buying them for a period and saying, ‘You’re going to be monogamous with our movie. You’re not going to go on shoot three and come back on Wednesday.’ There’s dozens and dozens of pages of caution that we had to really consider. I’ll tell you on the other end.”

All in all, del Toro is optimistic about the future of filmmaking, despite the difficulties he’s currently facing: “I find that filmmaking is the art of extracting beauty from adversity.”