Del Toro, Guillermo: What Makes Him Run?

Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro told interviewer-actor Alec Baldwin: “As a director, it is your duty to always responsibly exceed the scope and exceed the budget.  If you have enough time and enough money, you’re f—ing up.”

The chat took place at the Tribeca Film Festival for its Directors Series Thursday night, when he engaged in a lively conversation about his approach to filmmaking, the studio system, and what inspired his Oscar-winning The Shape of Water.

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, and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll add an action scene’… and we still ended up under-budget.”

Del Toro said 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 revealed that he thrives on the unpredictably of the job: “To direct is a hostage negotiation with reality.”

“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.

Del Toro said that 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.”

“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.”

As for The Shape of Water, Del Toro said that 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.”