Last year, when Guillermo del Toro was filming his gothic horror story, Crimson Peak, in Toronto, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. Written by del Toro and Matthew Robbins, the film stars Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnam. As the synopsis says, “In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes and remembers.”
While some set visits are so busy you barely get to see the director, what’s great about a del Toro set visit is whenever he isn’t needed on set, he’ll hang out with the visiting journalists. And on Crimson Peak, it also meant getting an amazing personal tour of the incredible three-story practical set and an almost two-hour interview conducted throughout the day. While I’ve been lucky to visit a number of movie sets, my day on the set of Crimson Peak was easily one of the best. Since the movie doesn’t arrive until October 16, 2015, most of what I saw and learned on set is still under embargo, but with Comic-Con next week and Legendary and Universal starting to promote the movie, they’re letting us post our del Toro interview. It’s loaded with awesome information about the film and what he did to bring the story to life. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
If you don’t have the time to read over 10,000 words, you can also click here for some of the highlights. I’ve listed 35 things to know about Crimson Peak from this interview.
NOTE: The following interview with del Toro was done over the course of many hours on the set of Crimson Peak during breaks in filming. I’m not going into many details about the house or other on set interviews since they’re still under embargo.
In two weeks, this building will be gone forever. It’s a fucking shame. I wanted to [build a new house]. But it’s not the cost. It’s the three stories. It was really gigantic. It’s the most beautiful set. I’m buying little parts of it. But very little parts. There’s a machine that I hope I can buy. I pre-bought a bunch of expensive props. I pay 50% of the props and then I keep it. When a prop is, how do you say, controversial with the studio, if it’s too expensive, I go, ‘I’ll pay half, and I’ll keep it.’ And that’s how the castle was built, on splurge. In reality, when they auction them, they auction them for very little.
Del Toro Begins the Tour by Showing Us a Small Model of the House:
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: But what is funny with this one is the first time, normally we do this disguise in the white foam and foam work. And Tom, who’s a fantastic designer, he said we drew everything. And I normally go from the drawings to the foam work to the set. And he said you know it would be great if we can build the model. You know he did that for Braveheart, on Private Ryan and all that. And you know he got me with the fucking resume. So, we built 3D. And you know it’s really quite disturbing how accurate it is. You know? If you look at the house–when you look at the house, you’ll see how accurate it is to this.
[lights up the model]
DEL TORO: That’s the set you’re going to see exactly. [Takes the ceiling out] That’s what you need to get on the frame. Right? You’re 185, you know that if you’re shooting here and the door is here, you’re fucked. So what I always do on set is build that little piece … which is not a correct term in terms of optical, but I call it the camera obscure. And what it does is it gives me enough to if I put another lens here or here where this steps up, I’m able to grab the whole set when I introduce it. We need to build this in order to come into the house. This is basically the view you get when you come in. What we did is determine the color scheme from the get go, the finishings, the patterns — and you see that there are these two eyes [in the windows] and the mouth right around the fireplace. We laid all of the details … can you illuminate the library? You feel that: the eyes and the mouth.
It’s a huge set. But I wanted it to feel even bigger than it is. I wanted it to feel more like a $50 million movie, I wanted it to feel even more gigantic. And what we did is, if you notice this area is so small, this area’s bigger, so it already draws a “Wow.” And the library is bigger than that area by about 25%. And then the corridors, if you run all that length, are bigger than the library. You have the impression that the house is much bigger than it really is. It’s a big set, but the telescoping of the sets [makes it look bigger].
[all the reporters take turns looking through the eye of the house]
DEL TORO: And then we laid out, in a program, different floor patterns until we found one that was thematically good for the movie: butterflies and moths. We have them all over the house. That, immediately, we just laid different patterns till we had the better perspective on all of this. What’s great is seriously, when you look at the house, when we enter, you already saw it — [the model] is obscenely accurate, this thing. Our head set painter painted the models first. He just once ended up painting a larger model than the first one.
Question So, the order of this is it goes idea to paper to a program to maquette to set…
DEL TORO: Well, normally, we did the house on a computer-aided design program. But the interior, Tom wanted to carve it. So he had this carved in architectural foam. It really… he carved it. He went old style and carved it. He’s a really interesting dude. I have a very small group of designers, same as in all of the movies. We basically have four concept guys. And the four concept guys are next to my office. We designed all of the concepts of the core group, about six months. One or two stayed until we started photography, still designing. We designed every prop that was built. We designed all the graphics.
Normally a period movie has a lot of problems with the graphics. They look modern made. I wanted everything to feel authentic. We have a newspaper from a murder that’s done in the style of the lurid newspapers of the 1800s, with an engraved feeling. It has the exact feeling of that Jack the Ripper spread. And the painting in the library that you’re going to see is a painting we commissioned seven months before the movie started. There are a lot of period movies where they say, ‘This is a portrait of Lady Whatever.’ And it’s done in like a 1950s or 60s style. I wanted it to feel like a real Sargent or a Whistler. An old portrait. This guy, if you want that style, it takes six or seven months.
How much is this what was in your mind as you were writing the script and how much evolution took place in the process of talking about it?
DEL TORO: This thing was written in ’06. When we wrote it in ’06 the first reaction was, there was an intention of doing this as a smaller movie on a found building. And I really wanted the house to be a character. And I knew, I said, I’ll produce that one, but if I direct it, I need to build a house. We sort of, the idea of the house was in the script. But the evolution of the design was six months into it. It’s very different from what the screenplay described. We have an operating elevator in the house that gores through the three stories. No green screen. The house is all complete. I didn’t want to use digital. I wanted the movie to feel hand made. Like, you could love the dresses, the props … to make it a handmade film. That influenced the decision to have everything preplanned and carved. Everything in the house is made for the house. We didn’t salvage anything from existing buildings.
Is there any reason that the top floor on the exterior is so different from the bottom?
DEL TORO: The house decays. We needed to have the house feel a little bit like an organism. There’s a line I already cut in the editing room where it says it lays down like an animal and it goes slowly mad. The house in the screenplay and in the movie has certain features that make it seem like a living organism. So, it’s decaying. It’s sitting in the middle of a field, rotting. We knew that the top needed to be sort of the most weathered part of the house. The bottom and the areas where you received visitors are live and slightly more kept. But the top is the head. The people in the movie are insane. So the head is all rotted away. It’s the first adult movie I do in English. You know, because even with the R rating, I can hardly call Blade an adult film. It’s the first time I’ve tried to marry the Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone sensibilities with a larger cast and larger budget.
Do you walk the cast through all the ins and outs of the set and design, or does he let them discover everything for themselves?
DEL TORO: I walk the cast through their rooms. If they’re ready. Edith went through her room in America. I like to talk to them about their character. It’s hard to talk to an actor about what they need or what they’re doing; they don’t respond to that. They need to respond to what feels real in the moment. But they know all the history behind the house. They know that it’s supposed to feel this or that way. When they see it, they react to it. I wanted to make sure they saw the house in a state that was complete than the plywood and steel, so that their first reaction to the house was the house. They’ve been visiting Toronto long enough that they saw it evolve.
Are there things that Mia doesn’t know because her character wouldn’t know them?
DEL TORO: That’s a separate dynamic I have with them. I give each of them biographies and I ask them to keep them secret from each other. I give them a 10-page biography that says everything from what they like to eat to what sign they are and what day they were born — all the story of the characters up to the point of the movie. Then I ask them, sometimes I say don’t share it, some times I say they can share part of it, but each biography has a thing that is their secret — and that one they shouldn’t share with each other. “This is your secret. Don’t share with the others.” They know certain things about them but I don’t give everybody’s biography to everybody. The only guy that wrote his own biography was Charlie because by the time I said, ‘I’m going to send you the biography next week,’ he said he already did it. He said I’ve been doing McMichael for the last four months. He was asking for very precise things. The only thing that didn’t pass muster is that he wanted to smoke a pipe. He brought it for the wardrobe test and I went, ‘No.’ [Laughs] But he tried. He tried.
What is the shooting schedule like?
DEL TORO: It’s tight! It’s 68 days. Pacific Rim was 100. Hellboy 1 was 135. But I really … I went into training mode on The Strain, shooting 76-78 minutes in 20 days. I came out of there saying, 68 days? Fantastic! But it’s a very different exercise. On The Strain, I can do two cameras all the time. The lighting and color schemes are very different. Supersaturaded colors, you light in a very vivid way. In this, you’re cross-lighting everything. You get a key light and a rim and backlight and you cannot — you can maybe now and then shoot two cameras, but most of the time it’s single camera setup.
What’s the percentage of shooting on stage versus on location?
DEL TORO: Location, including interiors, would be 50/50, almost 60/40. But exterior is very little. We have like five days.
Do you find it easier because you’re shooting on sound stage, you can get through the pages you need to get through?
DEL TORO: Not necessarily because, when we’re shooting in location, it’s America. America’s very different from here. In the movie, the way we color it, America is old tobacco: gold and green. It’s lush and literally feels like wealth, like optimism, turn of the century America where everything was blooming. The old world here is all blues and grays, really deep browns. It’s very dark and bleak. When you shoot in America, you have huge beams of sunlight in the windows, very vivid sunlight — it’s faster in a way. Interior here, you’re still lighting a lot from the floor. If you come in during a shot, you see it has more flags than a pirate ship — flag here, flag there, little light here, little light there.
How technical does it have to be with the actors?
DEL TORO: I think we have a really good balance. It’s actually easier and easier to stage with the actors and then adapt with the camera to make the shot beautiful without having to re-add. I’m a movement Nazi. It used to be my way before. Now, in the last three projects. I found a way to let the actors find their comfort and still find the precision in the show. It’s a change in me. I felt like I needed to do it differently, especially in this movie. I felt that I and such a very great group of actors. But we did it in The Strain, we did it in Pacific Rim. In PacRim, the compounds were basically controlled with levers. But they were still, I needed to find the shot with crane. It was very difficult to … something popped. I can do it without making the actor land there and move their hand a little to the left. It’s really rewarding. I like it. I saw the errors of my ways.
Practical effects versus digital effects?
DEL TORO: Mostly practical, brutally so. I mean, seriously.
What’s the percentage of restrictions that you’re putting on yourself because of the way you want to make this versus studio or budget restrictions?
DEL TORO: Once you say this is an R, I want it to be an R, or shoot it like it’s an R. If by some miracle of miracles we get something else, God bless. bUt if I want to shoot it with the freedom [of an R], then the studio says you have to make it for a budget. And your deal is not your deal. You’re going to have to take a cut. Fine, no problem. And then you’re working … to get all the freedom and all the money is A) rare and B) not desirable. I think it leads to a bad mess. I think part of making movies is dealing with restrictions of freedom and budget. I’d rather deal with restrictions of budget. It’s better to feel free within any budget.
Why are you waiting so long to release the movie? If you have so much cut together, is there anything about post that you’re …
DEL TORO: They want it on Halloween. They want the October season. And I cannot make this October season. I simply can’t, no matter how much … I’ll have it in December, or, at latest, January. But they want it close to that.
DEL TORO: [knocks on wood] If everything goes well, I’ll probably do the second season pilot for The Strain. And I’m writing a small movie that I can shoot without anyone financing. So hopefully that’ll happen.
Do you already have an idea for the music?
DEL TORO: It’s Fernando Velázquez, the same guy we did The Orphanage and Mama with. I’ve done three movies with him as a producer and I like him very much. We have my beautiful waltz, an incredibly creepy lullaby that he already wrote in preproduction. The tone of th music is very much sad. We’re using his temp music to temp the cut scenes.
Can you talk about the cast? Were these people the first choices?
DEL TORO: It’s pretty public that Benedict [Cumberbatch] was there. He came out. Then when I sent the screenplay to Jessica, I didn’t send it with any part in mind, but everyone was assuming she was going to read Edith. And then she read the part and said she wanted to play Lucille, which is the antagonist. I thought, smart girl! It’s a surprise. And then Emma [Stone] was in, Emma was out. Then Mia was the first choice after Emma. It’s been a blessing man. It’s like going out to take a spin on a Porsche.
Tom came within 72 hours of Benedict leaving. Benedict called me, Tom was my next choice, and we handed him the screenplay. I think he read it overnight, at least it felt like that for me. I had just sent it and he called back to say all the right things about the script. I needed people that could embrace the very perverse nature and the very humane. It’s a very dark but at the same time very human movie. It’s really beautiful but it’s full of really disturbing stuff. Charlie was on from the beginning, from Pacific Rim, I told him.
How is it for you when people drop out of a film? Is it jarring to reassess that character with another person in that role?
DEL TORO: Yes, of course. You need to recalibrate. But if you recalibrate and you say this is my first choice next, then it’s great. The transition was so smooth. If we had gone six months without somebody … but it was literally within hours of somebody falling out, somebody else had read it that we wanted. It was really, really great. But then you have to rewrite for the actors. And what we did is we have a very … once I gave them the biographies, we had a table work session where we read the screenplay, talked about the biography, listen to him read the part, come back, rewrite, send it back, get their voice in, and you rewrite it for them. We all went to London to see Tom in his play and then work in London with him and Jessica, to rehearse and work on what we had learned from the biographies.
How early did the cast get here before production began to do any rehearsals?
DEL TORO: Again, Charlie was the first one. He went in, and then Mia came, and then Jim, and the last two were Jessica and Tom because Jessica was shooting in New York and Tom was finishing the play in London. Mia and Charlie are playing American characters. The only American is playing an Englishman.
How are you using The Strain as a palate cleanser for Crimson Peak?
DEL TORO: It’s exactly that. I’m still supervising the VFX shots on The Strain every day, to this day. It’s Mr. X, so it’s not that difficult. But I react to the dailies. I watch the dailies every day. It’s so much fun because it’s somebody else’s problem. [Laughs] I look at the dailies and I go, ‘Hmmm, they should have covered from here … oh, but they covered from there.’ And then I react to the cut. I talk to [showrunner] Carlton [Cuse]. I’ve shot a couple of times Saturday unit where I shoot additional pieces for them. If the director’s not available I got and shoot that or with the second unit director and walk the set with him in the morning. I go as far as to put blood on — there’s a scene with a bunch of bloody handprints, and it’s mine. I walk the scene and all that. It’s like you take a vacation for a few hours every day. It’s an exhalation. It doesn’t make it more complicated. It makes it more fun. Then you go back to what you’re doing and you see it differently. With The Strain, we see the cut episodes, and Carlton and I get on the phone. I come up with one sick set piece for that episode. ‘Why don’t we do this?’ And really quickly, they build a set in, what, three days? Three days later they’re shooting it.
Do you ever sleep?
DEL TORO: Very little. Four hours. The other day I slept eight. And you know what? I like it. I understand it now. I understand why people do that. It’s really good.
On the set of PacRim you said you were excited to make a movie that we like “FUCK YEAH,” just being excited again. What is this giving you?
DEL TORO: It’s landing literally in my wheelhouse. It flows incredibly easy. I have, for those that know me a little better or have visited Bleak House, I’m a Victorian nut about gothic romance. I haven’t had a chance to do that at all. So it’s in the same way that I was and am a robot film and I hadn’t done that. It’s really pretty cool to fulfill the things you wanted to do.
Does the rotting house have anything to do with the way that people of that period, that whole aristocracy fell apart?
DEL TORO: Yes. This is not Downton Abbey. This is … I don’t like what I call “class porn,” where everybody’s all gooey over, “If only the aristocracy was still in charge, life would be so civilized.” Fuck that. It’s not true. It was never true. And this is the opposite. This is a movie about a very American trait on Edith, and a very incredibly decadent trait of the aristocracy, rotting away in a mansion on a hill. It’s anti-class porn in a way. When I tackle things like Pac Rim or Mecca or when I tackle a vampire movie, I’m very, very aware of the tenets of the genre. And then it’s up to me to both hit them and try to do them in a way that is not the normal way.
Del Toro then had to leave. When he came back the conversation continued:
DEL TORO: It’s a family that wants to keep the house alive, and the name and what they inherited, alive regardless of the cost.
Because it looks like there is a hole and snow is just falling through the front entryway.
DEL TORO: Yeah, they haven’t been able to repair the top. The bottom is repaired but the top is not. The house is full of little quirks, but some of them are spoilery to reveal. The house breathes. When it’s hit by a certain wind the chimney – you saw it on the shot, the chimney goes so it’s really creepy. The other thing is because they mine red clay at the bottom, the house kind of bleeds. The floors bleed red and the walls bleed red.
When are you adding that to your bleak house?
DEL TORO: The blood thing? I’m working on it.
Doesn’t mean you have to install from the ground up.
DEL TORO: I need Bleak 3 for that.
I’m curious what you can say about the ghosts. Did you use people to do them?
DEL TORO: Yeah, I wanted to do it on camera. I didn’t want ghosts that felt translucent. I wanted ghosts that were there. But they’re very very special and peculiar and nice, I think that the references that we use were completely off kilter, [the effects house] DDT was a little taken aback at first when I said we were going to go this way. They were like, ” Are you sure?” But that’s always nice for me because we’re trying to do them differently than normal. They are physically there. There’s basically two or three forms they have and they are there with the actors. The actors turn around and there’s the motherfucker.
You say you’re doing them differently, but ghosts are kind of big again now, for a while ghosts had been kind of out, but now ghost movies are doing well. What sets this apart from other ghost movies we’ve been seeing?
DEL TORO: You know, it’s completely the way this movie is approached. First of all it’s a really personal movie. For me that’s the start. It’s not a project that I’m doing because somebody else did something else. I’m not like let’s do this movie because these other two-
“Well The Conjuring did well, so we can do ghosts.”
DEL TORO: Yeah, and I think that most of those other movies are circulating in the same area, which is a very very rich and worthy area, which is either found footage or middle America, middle class homes invaded. They also have a slant that is impossible for me to take, which is a religious slant. I can’t subscribe under any religion and go, “Look if you do this the ghosts go away.” I don’t subscribe to, “Look, if you’re good, they’ll go away.” Those things I don’t believe in. And it’s done with a very very profound reverence for the gothic romance all the way to its literary roots. It’s a completely different beast. It’s not about – it’s the same with vampires, ghosts, robots, whatever it is, there’s frequencies in which you can move that can go from one end of the spectrum to the other. So this one is its own little beast.
When I think about gothic romance I don’t necessarily think about an R-rated film, so how are you going to marry those? How is this getting an R rating?
DEL TORO: Oh, I wouldn’t guarantee it, but I think it is. It’s kinky and violent, [laughs] so that most of the times that combination is-
It’s not 50 Shades of Crimson is it?
DEL TORO: No, no. No, but it has some kink in it and it has a few scenes of violence that are pretty shocking.
You keep saying Gothic Romance, what is the romance at the heart of this film?
DEL TORO: It’s very Jane Eyre, Rebecca, I Walked with a Zombie. I Walked with a Zombie is Jane Eyre with zombies. It’s ultimately someone falling for this tragic figure. That’s one of the love stories in the film and another suitor, which is Charlie [Hunnam]. It always helps the suitors when they look like Charlie (laughs). If the other suitor was me it wouldn’t be as interesting. “Hey, I’m Michael Moore.”
We all love Doug Jones, can you tease what he might be doing in this?
DEL TORO: He plays a couple of the ghosts.
And Javier Botet?
DEL TORO: Javier plays a couple of the ghosts.
DEL TORO: Yeah, they are the two best ghost guys I know.
What’s it like getting those two together?
DEL TORO: It’s like half of The Beatles of ghosts. And their skills are so different. Literally the way they perform the characters is so different, one from the other. For me or those that like Doug, there’s Dougie moves that you immediately go, “That’s a Dougie move.” It’s like ice skaters, like figure skaters, “Oh he did a triple”. You identify certain moves. Javier is the same once you know his style. There are certain Javier moves. So what we did is we started designing the ghosts, I have a guy called Dave Meng that I met in New Zealand at Weta, and we worked together on The Strain and we worked together on this one. I gave Dave the first concept even before DDT arrived and when DDT arrived we had a maquette of the first ghost and I said, “We’re going to go this route.” That one took a while to develop. They are sculpturally very hard to do. It’s hard for me to describe, but they are sculpturally very challenging.
Del Toro then had to deal with some stuff on set. When he came back he continued while giving us a tour of the amazing set.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: We’re standing on the butterfly/moth pattern. Let’s go over here.
I’m sure she’s not super pleased about everything you want, so if she wants something you got to make sure it happens.
DEL TORO: Yeah, right. This is the library. That’s a gothic window which is right now turned off. That’s the mother’s portrait.
That’s the one that took six months?
DEL TORO: Yeah, if it needs to look the part, it needs to take that long. If you come over here you get a better look at the library. Second to the corridor, this is widest and largest room in the house. This is a family of clay miners, so in the bedroom when we had the master bedroom, the motifs above the chimney were tunnels and mine cars and things like that.
Did you want the clay mining because of that thing you mentioned earlier where the walls bleed?
DEL TORO: Yeah, I wanted the seepage. But I also liked the idea of them draining the blood of the earth, you know the rich family draining the land and leeching it out. It may not be subtle, but I like it (laughs). For example, this chandelier is hand made for the library.
How long did that take?
DEL TORO: That took about three or four months. It was a huge time to design it, to make it work, and then building was about three or four months.
Is that a practical?
DEL TORO: It’s a practical. I mean, it works.
Now that I would take. That’s really cool.
DEL TORO: That I cannot have dibs on, because it weighs too much. It’s perfect for the entrance of Bleak House, but it’s too heavy.
You could just leave it on the ground and be like Phantom of the Opera.
DEL TORO: I thought so too.
Who has dibs on the painting.
DEL TORO: I paid half, so it’s mine. That was one of the controversial props. They said, “Seven months and how much?” I said, “I’ll pay half.”
Can you tell us more about the painting?
DEL TORO: Yeah, sure. This is a very typical pose of a land owner portrait in Victorian portraiture. The cameo on her neck is the cameo that was my grandmothers (laughs), and it is the cameo that is on The Devil’s Backbone on the character of Marissa Paredes and it is the cameo that Jessica wears. The ring on her finger, the ring that Thomas gives Mia as an engangement ring. This was really really difficult to create this sort of pastoral fence with a very turbulent sky.
So this is the matriarch of the Sharpe house?
DEL TORO: This is the guilty party of everything that happens. And the father is guilty, but you’ll see. The father is in absence. The father is in the house in a negative space, I’ll show it to you. But it is an absent father and the mother – I love family, you know? (laughs) You see my movies and you realize that. The family I like is the family you make. The family that you were born with, I find it at the same time great and terrifying.
Is there a chance we might see this lady in the flesh?
DEL TORO: No. Oh, no no no. We made casting- the photo of the lady was taken by David Cronenberg’s daughter and that’s what we based the light on. It’s quite an illustrious little deal, but she’s a local actress. She just had this super friendly look (laughs) that chilled.
Is this on screen or is it just atmosphere?
DEL TORO: There’s a scene in front of it, they talk about it briefly and then it’s there.
Are we going to be rooting for the brother and the sister to fall?
DEL TORO: I don’t know. I honestly root for everyone. I love the bad guys in my movies as much as I love the good guys. There are parts of who I am obliquely, you know? So I’m never going I hate this character, I love this character. I really like them all in a way. For different reasons, I don’t agree with them as much as I agree with other characters, but it is.
Do we see the space change much over the progression of the story? You were mentioning that part of the house decays, does the story last long enough to see it?
DEL TORO: No, what it is is the house becomes more and more alive, and the more we stay in the house – I’m very careful when I introduce the house to introduce it as a single space, but the more we stay in the house the more I encroach the characters and the architecture. I’m careful mot to enter the rooms the first time they come in so I can then – one thing we were joking about at the beginning of the movie with wardrobe and set design, I said, “Let’s tailor the sets and build the wardrobe.” You see why I mean that, but the sets were built not only to fit in 1:85, which is what you normally do, but to oppress the characters a little bit. So I am careful that that is a progression in the house. The way that the house starts breathing or sounding, with Randy Thom our sound designer, and the way the house sounds is more and more human as the movie progresses. We didn’t have the time to go out and come back with a different paint job or anything like that.
In a way did you want that sense of oppression to weigh upon the actors themselves? If they’re sending a month on the same send and it’s dark.
DEL TORO: You know what happens, that happens to me more than the actors. You know, when you’re in a set for three weeks, you’ve shot every angle, you feel like you’re doing the same angle and it’s hard to stay fresh. What I do, if it’s a new set I show up one hour before call every day. This is something I learned in the wrong way. Because when you finish a movie – in the past I used to look at the still photographer’s angles and I would go, “He got a better angle than me.” That doesn’t happen any more. I literally spend a lot of time in the rooms alone – which is creepy.
The kitchen was a composite of several Victorian kitchens that we saw. This is the elevator shaft, it goes up three stories. Each of the levels have a different feel. I refuse to do greenscreen on the elevator, I wanted the actors to really go from the top to the bottom. It was famous that our painter is a great guy and they’re very proud of what they did, but I did torture every single piece of decay in the house. He really nailed the fact that we have now calcium deposit, water drippage deposits, we have a different black for mildew, a different black for the stains from the chimney. I was really hoping that we would paint it and it would not feel like a set, but a house. It is something that when you talk to the craftsmen and you make them really tackle it with pride it comes through, because they are tired of doing futuristic sets. They want something that involves their skill.
Are there any fun classic haunted house moments that you wanted to play with? Like the eyes moving in the portrait?
DEL TORO: Yeah, yeah! Well that’s more like The Cat and The Canary, which I love. My favorite haunted house movie in the fun sense is probably James Whale’s Old Dark House. Its really creepy in a way that no one else has replicated, because he had such a wicked sense of humor. But I think that what is great is that at the end of the day in the movie you’re scared of the ghosts and all that, I think that you come up with the same idea that the living are the scariest thing. That’s what we really need to fear. Let’s see some stills if you guys want.
With the elevator, when you build something like this and you’ve built a real house here, is there a point where you say, “Boy, I wish I had made this fly away so we could go up with them”?
DEL TORO: It’s flyaway.
DEL TORO: You see the butterfly there, and on the elevator there’s another one, and on this side you see we didn’t replicate that motif because if you notice there is a trap, and there is a trap door beneath your feet, and there’s a trap door above that. So we actually have a shot where I’m trying for you not to notice that you’re entering the elevator. Edith runs, picks up the dog, and then she turns and the door closes and starts going down and you realized you entered the elevator.
How reliable has the elevator actually been?
DEL TORO: As long as I don’t ride it, very much. (Laughs) Literally we weighed the camera man, the steady cam, the heaviest lens, the focus puller, the actress and the dog – and that’s the permit. Because to ride with four or five people you really need to be able to – differently, We didn’t want to risk it, so one of the rules is nobody rides the elevator for fun. Which made this a fucking Victorian stairmaster for me (laughs).
Can we make this a ranch style one story house?
DEL TORO: I want to just shoot just enough in the attic. Ok, so these are some stills. They’re Mario Bava-esque. Once you see the film – this is the Technicolor look we were talking about.
And that’s captured in camera?
DEL TORO: In camera, yeah. So we look like a Mario Bava Technicolor movie.
Yeah, just like they used to do it.
DEL TORO: Yeah we even have a magenta there. For example these two pieces of furniture were made in different sizes so that when the character goes weak the furniture grows, and when the character gets strong the furniture shrinks. Oh look at that!
That’s some beautiful Technicolor right there.
DEL TORO: (Laughs) Beautiful. You see how this room seems to be – it’s almost like an Indiana Jones trap (laughs). It’s mean to fit in 185, but it’s also pressing the characters and this is based on real Victorian architecture, of course. It’s not a folly. This existed.
So is this Edith and Thomas’s?
DEL TORO: Yes, this is the bunking room. It gives you a lot of mileage. So for example, here the sofa is a little bigger and it is, again, in the shape of a butterfly and there’s a moth in the center.
Those costumes, oh lord.
DEL TORO: So Edith is the only thing that is like a drop of gold, from America, in the house the only golden thing. He of course fabricates automatons. How could he not? This is hardcore gothic romance. And my idea is that – and we’ve talked about and it’s in the prologue of the Penguin horror book that I edited last year, I really believe that the consequence of fairy tales is horror tales, so there’s a lot of fairy tale elements in the movie visually.
DEL TORO: Charlie did one scene in the beginning and he just started last week. There’s Michael Moore, the director (laughs).
This is Bowling for Columbine.
DEL TORO: (Laugh) “Bowling for Gothic”. There’s Charlie.
DEL TORO: This is the kind of thing that is old school James Whale, Robert Wise. When the set is not digital, which confines it to this angle or that angle, you get that opportunity.
You can’t tear this down. I’m going to start a petition.
DEL TORO: They’re going to destroy it. We’re going to keep six rooms.
What happens if you have to do a little bit of additional photography down the road?
DEL TORO: It doesn’t happen (laughs). It doesn’t happen. I use that a couple of times in this movie for that family because I think they feel they are entitled
Again, del Toro had to leave and came back to continue the tour
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: It’s good to have the continuity to be able to, for example, look out this balcony and see someone down there or look out of another balcony and see someone down there.
So there is a shot though coming from the kitchen up here?
DEL TORO: There’s a shot [unintelligible] and we’re coming down here and we get [unintelligible] and then I keep coming back, the door’s closed. And then she realizes, ‘Oh, he went into the elevator.’ There’s one thing we shoot next week that goes from the attic to here to the kitchen and out.
To show that you built this and it’s real?
DEL TORO: Of course, yeah! But you do it only if it makes sense in the storyline, and it makes sense at that precise moment because she’s trying to escape from the attic. You show, literally, how many beats you are ahead of the person chasing her. So you [go] down and the other person is at the elevator at the top. You go down the steps, you cut to the person running down the steps and now it’s telling you she’s ahead four seconds, ten seconds.
Can you talk about the American setting? Is there a reason why you switched from Boston to Buffalo?
DEL TORO: Yeah, I felt that, you know, the more we read, I wanted a community that was less driven by names and family. Like Boston, there are some names that are ancient and there’s a lineage, and I didn’t want an American lineage against the British lineage. I wanted a family that has made themselves, like a self-made man that was into steel and buildings, sort of the man who built America, you know? (Laughs)
DEL TORO: A guy that has been, as he says in the beginning of the movie, he says, ‘Before owning buildings, I built them. Before doing this, I was a steel worker,’ and I wanted that guy to go against the entitlement of the brother and sister. So, for me, Buffalo and New York, sounded a lot more blue collar in a way.
Now it’s a ghost town almost compared to 1901.
DEL TORO: I hope it’s on my phone. It was nice in the writing. [Laughs] Let’s go to the attic because we’re gonna start putting cables and all that stuff. And then you should take them to the [unintelligible].
Yeah, I will. [We make the move upstairs.]
DEL TORO: This is a nursery with young Thomas and young Lucille. Playing with a stick bug, the fantasy of every child. [Laughs] If I only can read. And let me show you the eye of the house because that’s pretty creepy.
DEL TORO: We’re in the eye of the house. So what we did was, something I came up with on the day because I needed to light it, and a couple of niches in the house needed light, so I came with the idea that, I don’t know if [it’s] accurate or not on an architectural level, to put gold leaf inside of the walls so it illuminates almost like a sunset. It really looks quite fantastic. We cannot all [unintelligible]. We wanted 10, 12 people, but …
[Moving through the house.]
There are lots of angels in this house, but no references to religion?
DEL TORO: The family has a very recurring relationship with guilt and religion and sex, and other Victorian things. (Laughs) So I wanted the [house] to tell the story of the family without talking about, ‘Oh, my father was a religious man,’ you know? You see the signs everywhere. The father was a proud man, but he was very religious and, you know, you get sort of a construct of who the characters were. Like, when we’re visiting locations here in Toronto, there’s a house we visited where I took a look at the portrait of the owner and I said he was an asshole. (Laughs) And I saw the decoration, I said, ‘Definitely an asshole.’ It’s just the house shows who they are; proud, proper, very dry, silver Victorian building with Latin virtues in Latin in gold in every one of the doorframes, you know? And I’ll show you one thing but it’s on the bottom floor.
I’m assuming you’re keeping the desk?
DEL TORO: Yeah!
[Laughter] Oh, so what are the things that you’re keeping from the house?
DEL TORO: I’m keeping the portrait, probably the balcony. (Laughs) I’m still trying to resist. The crest, the automaton, the model of the machine of Thomas, there’s a steam engine, a couple of pieces of furniture and four books that I found. I found four books in the library that I like. [Laughs] I write libraries also in order to explore what books come in. Like out of Hellboy 1, I got a collection of The Strand magazine. You know, I don’t know. It saved a lot of time. Let’s go sit in the library! Would you like some port? (Laughs)
[Moving into the library.]
Charlie was talking about how he sort of viewed this more as psychologically suspenseful and disturbing. How do you balance, I guess the inevitable audience expectations regarding the shock value?
DEL TORO: What it is is, look, the reason I was attracted to this thing is that, when one story ends, the other one flows, you know? Like, you have, I think, a really good love story and when that ebbs, the ghost story kicks in, and then the complete psycho story picks up, you know? So my hope is, I don’t want to do a straight gothic romance. I want to do it hardcore, which is different. But I don’t want to do it exactly the way it has been done. I want to bring different stuff.
Has there been any talk about releasing it as a 3D movie? Is it something you’ve even thought about?
DEL TORO: No. I would love to convert it. I had a great time converting Pac Rim, but I literally asked, ‘Are we going to convert this so I can shoot it without the elements that were difficult in Pac Rim, like steam and rain. I would leave that for post.’ And I was told, no, not really. So, if they want 3D, we are, from when I finish, when I deliver, there’s a year, so I can absolutely post convert it carefully because to convert it properly, you need more than 400 days.
If I am not mistaken, you’re shooting on the Alexa. Was there any conversation of shooting it on film or can you not really even do it anymore?
DEL TORO: You can have a conversation when you have no other budget problems, because we’re going too low budget or you’re too high budget. Anything in the middle is a conversation that dies in the budgeting stages because whether it’s real or false conception that now the labs are more expensive on the reel or it takes time. I would have loved to shoot them, but that’s a conversation that, when you’re fighting other budgetary things, that’s the first thing that comes in. And I learned on Pac Rim to enjoy pushing the color. Like I can push the color on set and get a look on camera that is very extreme in color, and then my color timing is really, really fast and breezy and fun. So I like digital. If this movie was going to be muted colors or very subtle, just dusk light, I would say maybe not, but we’re going very, very rich color.
Aesthetically it’s always interesting to watch a period piece that’s shot digital because there is an expectation of film grain being how we associate period. How do you take that into account?
DEL TORO: Well, you know, the aesthetic models we’re choosing, which are, amongst others, Hammer films, they’re pretty saturated. They’re both really rich in texture and color, and I don’t feel it’s a counter pointing now, you know? If this was Jane Eyre straight, I would be having concerns because then you do have to take an account of that or test, you know? I would be worried.
But the heightened nature of your look makes the digital work?
DEL TORO: And I have a house that bleeds and breathes. (Laughs) It can be extreme.
Talk a little bit about from when you first started developing this to what people are going to see on screen. Were there any radical changes that you came up with or was it just little tweaks?
DEL TORO: No, it was a shitload of little tweaks and some radical changes, all of that. I mean, I think I’ve written, myself, between 11 and 12 versions of the movie, drafts, and solid, solid, amongst many other revisions, and it’s because it’s been a really great process of discovery, you know? Many things have changed for me, like the way I’m directing is a little different. Normally, in my Spanish movies, I have a clamshell and I’m there in the set with my actors. In the American movies, I have grown accustomed to becoming a little technical and I was on the monitors and then I enter the set and then back to the monitors. Here I am in my clamshell right next to the camera again, so it’s different because you want to go from the clamshell to the face of the actor to know what you’re doing, you know? And it’s technically a little looser for me. Like, to come to this movie after Pacific Rim, it’s like a technical vacation. I worry about the basics, you know? The camera, the actor, this and that, and I think the same happened with the screenplay. With the screenplay, it was a huge process of discovery because a lot has changed in the last few years for me. You know, like doing The Strain here and if it’s a pilot, it’s so fast, but with a lot of freedom. Like, [John] Landgraf called me from FX and his note was, ‘Do whatever you want.’ I never had that note in English. (Laughs) It was really, really liberating and this screenplay, I felt the same freedoms here. Like, I would get together with the actors, discuss character and constantly I’m coming to them and saying, ‘I came up with another thing,’ and they go, ‘What?’ Yesterday morning we didn’t have a sequence that we shot yesterday night. And Jessica came to me like two weeks ago. She said, ‘Would you like a moment with her that …,’ and I go, ‘It goes there!’ I’ve never worked like this is English.
We talked a lot about the kink factor. Would you say that this is your most sexual movie?
DEL TORO: Well, the bar is very low there. (Laughs)
Blade was the previous one. (Laughter)
DEL TORO: Only in Germany. Like Pedro Almodóvar said to me in Yugoslavia, you can kill people, but you can’t have two people fuck.
So what has it been like getting in touch with that side of yourself as a filmmaker?
DEL TORO: Well, it’s fun. It’s kind of like a little sheepish, but, you know? (Laughs) I’m not like a fish in the water, you know? I’m more like, ‘Yeah man! Get it on!’ I don’t know how to not sound like a dirty old man. But it’s fun. I mean, because I think this is the only movie where that aspect is explored in any form is Devil’s Backbone when the hump happens between the caretaker and the lady, the head mistress. I really think this is a little different. It’s not by any means a Nymphomaniac with ghosts. (Laughs) There’s very tame content for anyone’s standards, but for me, it’s a big deal. (Laughs)
The name is Crimson Peak, but I see a lack of the actual color crimson.
DEL TORO: It’s completely because of that. And I will say a little more, but not much, but you’ll see a shitload of crimson in the movie. (Laughs)
How are you handling that as an aesthetic?
DEL TORO: Well, I thought about it very long and hard, and I think the movie has very, very warm aesthetic choices. Again, I didn’t want to do a gothic that looked like any normal gothic, so part of that choice is the last third of the movie, how you deal with white, how you deal with red, how you deal with colors that are very, very strong, like the snow or this and that. And I’m doing very, very strong visual choices on the movie that I hope will pay off.
How would you classify the horror in this? Are we going to see gore and jump scares? The Shining is a haunted house story, but it’s got some gory imagery in there.
DEL TORO: There’s some strong moments. There’s a couple of strong moments that are very, very graphic, but they are done just to punctuate, you know? I remember when I showed Pan’s Labyrinth in the beginning, somebody said to me, ‘You know, the movie would make much more money without the bottles scene.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but it wouldn’t be the same movie,’ so this is punctuated a little like that. Like, there are about three or four moments that’ll have you go, ‘Ooh! That’s nice. That’s brutally nice.’ (Laughs)
Can you talk about the scenes that we’re seeing today, with Mia running out of the house and back in? What’s the context of that?
DEL TORO: Well, in that balcony, she discovered horrible information about Thomas and she says, ‘I’m gonna get out of here.’ She opens the doors and there’s three feet of snow outside, and there’s a huge storm and she can’t leave.
How much are you putting Mia through in this?
DEL TORO: You know, honestly, some days are rough. But, you know, having seen or produced movies, I know that these movies require that from some of the actors. She’s nice, so shy and so young, and I go, ‘Aw, fuck. I’m a bastard,’ because she does go through a lot, the character. When you’re suffering every day for three weeks, it’s difficult, but, you know, I martial law and keep being a bastard.
Does she seem to be bouncing back at the end of the day?
DEL TORO: She seems to be, yeah, but some days are tough, you know? I think it’s a nature in the gothic romance, it’s the nature of the main character to be compressed, compressed, compressed until – it’s basically like walking tall with nice dresses. (Laughs)
How much did you guys talk prior to the shoot with you saying to her, ‘This is really going to beat you up?’
DEL TORO: Oh, I warned them. I mean, I do. I warned everyone. I say, ‘To be scared or in a tense situation for weeks in a row, it takes a toll.’ I think it’s important to know because in order to feel it, the audience needs to know it’s real, you know, the person is scared. Having done Mama with Jessica helps a lot, but she was on the other side of the equation.
Can you talk about casting Charlie in this? He was talking about how this is not really the type of role he’s usually looked at for and that you saw his ability to play this type of character.
DEL TORO: I thought about the movie like colors, but the characters, and Charlie was exactly the color I was seeing.
He is gold.
DEL TORO: He is gold. He literally is. Him and Mia are gold for the characters in the movie. The brother and sister, they’re gold literally, but they’re like drops of sunshine in the movie, you know? And Charlie is like that. He’s a really good kid and it’s his nature, but as an actor, we were very, very interested in trying things that I haven’t seen him do. We did the most difficult scene, I think, in the movie, the second time he showed up, and he absolutely passed with flying colors. I love that.
DEL TORO: I think they will like him no matter what he does. (Laughs) My daughters could see him grinding poppies, they’d be like, ‘Ohhh, he’s so sweet! He grinds them so carefully.’ My daughters are first in line. He goes by them, they go, ‘Awww.’ There is the thing they said more than any other. (Laughs)
Did they say to you, ‘He would be good?’ Or was it you saying to them at the dinner table.
DEL TORO: No, no, no. My daughters are a vital part of the way I function with the world. Without them, I wouldn’t have discovered Adventure Time, for example, which is vital for me. When I said Mia, they went, ‘Yes! Absolutely!’ Or when I said, Tom, they went, [snaps] ‘In!’ They’re completely connected to the world in a way that they keep my playlist younger. It’s not just Barry Manilow anymore. I gotta get a little hipper. (Laughs) It is now Phil Collins, and the music the young ones like. They keep me connected to the world.
How much did you lose your mind when Alfonso won for Gravity?
DEL TORO: Completely. My first call, Alejandro [González Iñárritu]. Second call, my mother. (Laughs) She was like, ‘We won!’ I go, ‘I know!’ Absolutely beautiful, man. I mean, it was like, the purest – I mean, he went through so much making that movie. And, you know, one day it’s up to him to tell all the adventures. It was a trek of five years. It was like going [up] Mount Everest. Really, he’s incredible. He’s the best. About three years ago or more, when I had been meeting with Jim Cameron to talk about the technology and Jim said to him, ‘It’s five years away. There’s no technology to do that.’ And, you know, him doing that is like, he’s never been that happy. And now, Oscar ceremony! I don’t watch them completely. I watch pieces and my wife likes to watch the dresses, and I go, ‘Ehhh.’ We watched it from beginning to end.
So you watched the whole thing?
DEL TORO: Beginning to end.
You called it Alfonso’s Everest. Do you feel like you’ve had your Everest? Is Frankenstein your Everest?
DEL TORO: I mean, I don’t think Alfonso thought about it as his Mount Everest. You know, you can’t calculate those things. It’s like, you go into the things not knowing if it’s gonna be great or not, you know? You go and you do your best, and then, fate has such a huge hand. I mean, literally, Gravity, the exact same movie, could have a different fate. Had not 50 factors aligned to make it pop, you know? Every year you watch movies that you go, ‘What happened to this? What happened to The Assassination of Jesse James? What happened to All Is Lost? Many, many movies you go, ‘They’re not here, they’re not there,’ and no one controls that. Hundreds of people that think there is a guy with a cigar somewhere saying, ‘This one. This one.’ It doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist. When I see things like Entourage, that doesn’t exist. It’s a fiction of a fiction. They don’t happen exactly like that. I mean, when I did Devil’s Backbone I thought, ‘This is so beautiful. It’s gonna have a beautiful life in the world,’ and then it was unleashed in 11 theatres in America. So you never know, man.
Going back to Pac Rim for a second, I’m curious, how’d the toy sales on that end up doing? Are you aware of that stuff?
DEL TORO: Yes, we were. The first series sold I think in a day and a half. I mean, went immediately to second printing. Now the first printing is like super collectable. We’re on our forth series, and they’re still selling really fast. So the toys are gigantic, and the graphic novel, the one we put out, sold out super fast, made the top ten. I’m still very, very happy to be playing in that universe.
Does the fact that it was so big overseas impact the way you’ll develop Pac Rim 2?
DEL TORO: It was always like that. I mean, like Hellboy 1 domestic was – but international was good, and then, back then it was DVD. The DVD is what gives you the license to do it. I think that now, international is like that. Like, you can have movie that opens super big in domestic and then doesn’t play internationally. Ultimately what makes a movie is not perception; it’s box office. No one goes, ‘Oh, we lost a little, but let’s try again.’ It needs to be a business that made money and established something and then they try again.
But does the fact that it was big overseas, when you’re developing Pac Rim 2, does that mean you go, ‘Let’s lean it more towards our overseas audience?’
DEL TORO: Well, we were doing that anyway because it was an international movie. We have Mako, we have Pentecost, we had the Chinese brothers, we have the Australians, so, you know, all you do is bring different countries in different ways. I have two Mexicans now. [Laughs] So I like that. I’m writing two Mexicans. But, you know, you have fun.
On most of your sets, you have this great relationship with the monsters in your movie. I know you have a monster shop on The Strain, but there’s no monster shop here?
DEL TORO: There is. It’s super hidden.
Del Toro’s assistant tells us: “Honestly, he hasn’t let anybody into the shop. Nobody. Rick Baker’s been here and he hasn’t seen it.”
Is it somewhere here?
DEL TORO: There’s a secret switch. No, there is, and my relationship with the monster shops is to go everyday. Everyday I check them. If it’s The Strain, I check the skull. Every day I come in, before anything, we do the tour. Then I go to, in this case, to the other shop. Same thing. What is great about this studio is that I can come to the office, I have the art department around me and I have Tom over there, wardrobe there, and makeup. I can do everything everyday.
You said earlier, the house is like an animal that laid down and died, which says a lot.
DEL TORO: That went away, unfortunately. I already cut it out.
How do you feel about the house?
DEL TORO: I may bring it back. I have an idea. I have an idea. I’ll have to bring it back.
But I don’t know whether this house is good or bad. I don’t know what to think about it. It’s very intimidating and scary, but what’s your relationship with the character of the house?
DEL TORO: Oh, I love everything creepy, so I love the house. I love it. I mean, I really, really would like to live here. I would like to, but that’s different. I’m twisted. I showed my wife a brutal fucking scene and I go, ‘Isn’t it nice?’ She said, ‘Nice?’ So it’s different for me. I love the house. And we designed every single bit with such love. I mean, literally. And now you see what I was telling you when you saw the model; that’s the house. And before the model there was countless hours of 2D drawing, drawing, drawing, and we’re still not doing it on the computer. We draw straight on a piece of paper with pen and pencil because it brings something, you know?
How do you compare the satisfaction of checking out this in its final form versus, say, looking at The Master in full makeup in The Strain?
DEL TORO: It’s pretty different. The thing that I love was, for example, seeing the Jaegers move on Pac Rim, and then seeing the water, the rain hitting the plates and moving like a building. That’s similar to the house because it’s something that the scale is so beyond you. It’s something bigger, like something on your mantle. One character, like the ghost or The Master, I am little more attune with, but something like the house – it’s like, the air goes through the house and you go, ‘[Gasp]. We did this.’
So you can still get that childlike …
DEL TORO: Unfortunately, I get it too much. I’m there for you, how you’re open to a heart-breaking. You know, like, it’s a difficult profession. If you love it the way I do it’s because you are meant to keep your heart that vulnerable to be able to do what you do, and at the same time, it’s tough when things go the wrong way. It’s tough when you’ve got mountains cancel on a Friday or when you’re in this or that. But I get it. That’s my work in this.
There’s the portrait and you mentioned there are other nods to your other films. Is there anything in this room that you can point out that’s like a nod to Pan’s Labyrinth?
DEL TORO: Well, the color of the house is completely in the old house of Pan’s Labyrinth, for example. But there is autobiographical. There’s so much, that the actors joke. They say, ‘Oh, you killed the man with …’ I go, ‘No.’ But there is and so much, and when we do the explanation on the table, they hear me peddle the stories and they go, ‘No.’ ‘Yeah!’ (Laughs) It’s very, very personal. I don’t have a sister that helped me murder people out of entitlement, you know? But it’s really, really – it’s a lot of autobiography in there. But the objects, that is a factious thing. The cameo, you know? It’s like a relic for me. It’s important for me.
You have the paint pattern on the stairs.
DEL TORO: The paint pattern on the stairs and the kitchen is also very, very close to the color palette, if you watch The Devil’s Backbone, it’s almost the same kitchen on a smaller budget, and on a much more discreet design.
What’s it like to tell Rick Baker he can’t see the makeup shop?DEL TORO: He went to the makeup shop, but we hid everything. (Laughs)
He was here for The Strain?
DEL TORO: He was here for The Strain. He did a cameo. He plays Brooklyn Guy #2. (Laughs)
Does he get speaking lines?
DEL TORO: You know, I don’t know if they’re gonna survive. (Laughs)
Or if he’s gonna survive.
DEL TORO: I can’t say that. It’s an episode they shot two weeks ago.
You are shooting here at Pinewood in Toronto. Was there ever any talk about shooting somewhere else, or was it always going to be here?
DEL TORO: You know, I think that I really love the idea of people I know. Like the crew, I know perfectly. I mean, a lot of the crew is crew that I had on Mimic. Dan Laustsen, the cinematographer, is my cinematographer from Mimic. I’ve known Gilles [Corbeil], the steadicam man, the first camera operator since 1996, and we’ve done now four projects together. And, you know, there’s a shorthand and very, very light sense of spirit on the set. When you go to a new country, which I’ve done a lot, you need to restart all that. For example, all the painters, the plasterers, the set builders, to make them know that you notice what they do, to make them take pride in that. Or the costume designer, the seamstresses, some of which were with us on Pac Rim. It’s to restart all that. And I think it’s comfortable for me to say, I can make the budget look much bigger in a place where I know the crew and I can stimulate them into knowing, not feeling, but knowing that they are important, you know? So it was important for me to be in Toronto.
Is the no cellphone policy going to be specific to this movie, or do you like it enough to keep it?
DEL TORO: No, no. I like it without cellphones because when you’re looking at a normal set nowadays, everybody is doing this. I literally see them miss a cue or a spot or not paying attention. And it starts with me. I don’t turn on the cell phone. I actually forget to charge it. I forget to charge it for days. So it’s not very good, but ultimately, I literally don’t use it here. I think it’s better.
What happens if someone smuggles one onto set or starts using one? Is there a fine?
DEL TORO: The charge is $5. Now if you see someone with a cellphone, they know it’s $5. Today is $5 Friday, so we raffle. The crew puts $5 and their name, and then I put $500 to beef the pot up and then the second prize for those who lose is the cellphone money. The second name we pull out of the raffle …
Is this hands down the best set, you’ve ever worked on?
DEL TORO: I think it is. The second favorite set is also the train station in Mimic. It was amazing. It really was the house of pain. [Laughs] It was a great fucking set. But this, by a big leap, my favorite set.
How is it for you knowing this is gone in two weeks?
DEL TORO: I mean, look, it happens. Like in Devil’s Backbone, we built the whole pantheon, we built the kitchen and I knew that it was going to be gone, but it was not the amount of hours people put into this. I mean, to carve everything, to carve the wood. Each of this is plaster pressing made to match, each of these is painted, the way they join is painted one way and then the transparencies. It’s horrible, but my model in life is William Beckford who wrote Bathic, built a place called Fonthill Abbey. He was a multi-millionaire. I think he had a tobacco and coffee plantation his family gave him. He built towers that collapsed, all the time. He was building gigantic towers from all over the world, the Abbey that was destroyed. For me, that Abbey that is impossible to see is like the thing I would like to see the most. So this thing is like, I wanted you guys to see it because it’s not gonna be here.
It’s interesting because it will be. It’s going to be on film.
DEL TORO: Yeah, yeah. But it’s not the same.
How do you balance making sure that you’re getting the detail you want on film, but also telling the story and making sure it doesn’t overwhelm?
DEL TORO: Well, the way I photograph sets, literally, not only in the macket stage, we plan it, but I also walk it, as I said, everyday, and I look for the best angle, as if it were an actor. You know how an actor has a good angle and a bad angle? The set is the same. Like, I make sure I shoot this way for X and I shoot this way for Z. I have not yet built a set where I build this and I shoot this. I find that fucking obscene. I have to make it all organic to the story, but to photograph every worthy corner that you can.
Does editing while you shoot help with that in case you miss something?
DEL TORO: That came from Mimic. And back in Mimic it was survival. You know, like, literally I needed to be up to date. In my mind I will learn to escape with the tapes [laughs], in case it was needed, but it stayed with me since Mimic and what is weird is I get the cast and every morning I ask Jessica, Tom, Mia, Charlie, I say, ‘Do you wanna see what we did last night?’ And I play it for them in the morning. And they know and they calibrate a little bit. They go, ‘Oh, I did this. I didn’t do that.’ If they find a take that I used that they don’t like, I say, ‘Come to the editing room and tell me which take you prefer.’ And we try it out and if it works – so it’s a really great dynamic. It creates a great dynamic and it also allows me to go, ‘I don’t need to shoot this scene anymore because I got it here,’ you know? It’s really useful.
Do you have flexibility in the schedule that if you see something and no one’s happy with any of the takes, you can come back and re-do it?
DEL TORO: No. [Laughs] But if I need to do it, I will do it. Like, if I need to do it, I’ll take that fight. I am completely fiscally responsible of any overage in the movie, as producer. So it comes straight from my pocket. And if I need to do it, that’s what my pocket is there for [laughs], you know what I am saying? It’s like, of course we do it. But I don’t have the leeway of doing it without telling anyone. I have to tell the one company, I have to tell the studio, but I would force. I would say, ‘We have to do it again.’ Yesterday we shot something that was not in the schedule. We had a good idea and then we did it at the end of the day. They can call me – except my cell phone’s turned off.