Guillermo Del Toro on creativity

Last night I went to a screening of this wonderful movie:

Due to an interesting quirk of people from the movie business generally going to one particular LA cinema (the Arclight in Hollywood. The sound and picture are always brilliant) they’ve started having Q&A screenings so that Academy voters and their friends can see the stars/directors and ask them about the movie (a couple of weeks ago we went to see Murder on the Orient Express, topped off by an interview with the very affable Kenneth Branagh; Al Gore showed up for the Inconvenient Truth sequel; Margot Robbie, Justin Timberlake and Kate Winslet have also popped by).

So this showing of The Shape of Water ended with an interview with the director, Guillermo Del Toro, and two of the stars: Octavia Spencer and Doug Jones.

(I love GDT. He makes horror films with heart and humour, as well as blockbusters that have more brains than most. And he’s had an interesting life – for example, his dad was kidnapped and James Cameron gave him the money to pay the ransom.)

Here are three things Señor Del Toro said that could be applied to stuff you’re working on:

  1. The relationship with an audience is like a game of tennis: you express part of the story, but for that to work, you need the audience’s response, so they hit it back, you reach that expectation and hit it over the net again. But the real trick is not to hit the ball straight at them. You need to give it something interesting and unexpected so they have to stretch a little to make the return. If you see TSOW you’ll notice yourself constantly reappraising the situation and how you’re responding to it. That’s the fun.
  2. Along similar lines, you have to give the audience what they’re expecting, but not in the way they’re expecting it. So this film has a beast that’s a hero, a damsel who’s in charge rather than in distress, a leading man who’s an arsehole and a villain who’s a good guy. That helps the ball spin over the net in very satisfying ways.
  3. When he was six, GDT saw The Creature from the Black Lagoon but he was disappointed that the creature and the girl didn’t get together. So he spent ages drawing them as a couple, going on bike rides together etc. Cut to 52 years later and he finally made the version of the movie he really wanted to. So never, never give up on your dream, even if it takes 52 years.