Guillermo del Toro on Gaining Trust and Respect

His portfolio includes action blockbusters, thoughtful masterpieces, and hardcore horror. While famed Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro may not not see eye-to-eye with most people in his creative visions – he was asked to direct The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but turned it down because he refused to resurrect a lion – it’s his craft and construction with magical creatures that has set him apart from any other director.

Del Toro may be most well-known for his 2006 dark fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth. The six Academy Award-nominated film (three won) is rich with strange monsters and elaborate symbolism. Before that, he had directed The Devil’s Backbone, a gothic horror film which is also swirling in parables and themes of innocence, childhood fantasy, nightmares, and supernatural creatures.

This fantastical artistry signature to his films can be stemmed from his first jobs in film making working as an assistant on set and helping with make-up effects at 16. As a child, he dreamt of becoming a marine biologist, but as he grew older, he shifted to creating his own creatures instead, and went on to study special effects make-up design.

But his interest in fantasy started in his childhood, when his devoutly religious grandmother would perform exorcism on him twice to protect his soul from all the monster movies and fantasy stories he would enjoy. But to bring his imagination to life, he needs the help of a crew, where Del Toro works hard to understand their work in order to effectively direct them.

“When young directors ask me, ‘What do I do?’ I say the only thing I can tell you is you have to know a little about everything, enough to know when something’s wrong. If I have a good relationship with a DP (director of photography), it is because it is proven or because I know that the light looks right. You know enough about sound to say the mic is off axis. But you also need to know at least one thing as well or better than anyone in your crew.

If you have to choose one, choose the one that is the closest to the essence of your craft, and the essence of my craft is monsters or creatures. I’m very happy to say that I can go into a shop and I talk about separating agents for the molds, or types of silicone. I can shoot the shit and come up with solutions. I can say, ‘The pull-line in the cable is too tight,’ or ‘It’s too close to the puppet.’ And that’s going to help them. I also come from a background that was heavily based on optical effects, so I can discuss matte lines, integration of the blacks in a plate, a lot of compositing language.”

While it’s a bit unrealistic to always shoulder the entire burden of a project for everything that you do, being a leader means having a team trust both your decisions and your vision. Respecting their individual expertise while being able to give your input allows you to delegate when needed while still being able to do things your way.

As a side benefit, it also means that your team members will work harder, because they know you’ll notice if something is half-done.

Our editor really liked Pan’s Labyrinth, despite being a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror movies. We promise our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have better taste than him.

Book Excerpt: Guillermo del Toro Talks About the Best Film You’ve Never Seen

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons