Guillermo del Toro sacrificed his salary to finance The Shape of Water

Sally Hawkins in Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ (credit: Fox Searchlight)
Sally Hawkins in Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ (credit: Fox Searchlight)

Early word on director Guillermo del Toro’s latest movie ‘The Shape of Water’ is very positive indeed – and it seems the offbeat fantasy drama was a bona fide labour of love for the esteemed filmmaker.

Del Toro – who also co-wrote ‘The Shape of Water’ with Vanessa Taylor – gave up his own salary to get the film made, and as such essentially did the job for free.

As the director tells Variety, problems with the marketing on his last feature, 2015’s ‘Crimson Peak’ – an unconventional (by modern standards) Gothic romance, misrepresented as a more straightforward horror film – convinced him that ‘The Shape of Water’ would need to be a smaller-scale, lower budget production.

“I understood ‘The Shape of Water’ needed to cost under $20 million, because that allows them to market it for what it is… I said, except for taxes and guild dues, my entire salary goes back into the movie — to buy time, sets, whatever — and it did.”

Guillermo del Toro and Sally Hawkins at the 2017 Venice Film Festival
Guillermo del Toro and Sally Hawkins at the 2017 Venice Film Festival

‘The Shape of Water’ stars Sally Hawkins as a mute janitor working in a science lab, who forges an emotional bond with a mysterious amphibian man, played by seasoned creature actor and del Toro regular Doug Jones.

The themes explored evoke several projects del Toro has been previously attached to, including ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and a remake of Universal’s ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon.’ However, it seems that, much like del Toro’s most acclaimed films ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ the film combines an otherworldly, fairy tale sensibility with an unflinching eye for the harshness of reality.

Indeed, del Toro says that ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ was produced under similar conditions, with the director giving up his salary to get it made (although he was ultimately paid this back when the 2006 film received Oscar nominations).

It seems that, after making such large-scale blockbusters as ‘Pacific Rim’ and the ‘Hellboy’ films, and spending several years developing ‘The Hobbit,’ del Toro is now happy to forgo a payday to make a film that matters to him personally: “You don’t make these movies to buy a ranch in Santa Fe; you make these movies to tell a story.

“It’s not that I came out flat on this movie; I invested. And I invested in a story that I think of as an antidote to the times we’re living in. Everything is so sordid and horrible right now, but this movie is not shy about talking about love and beauty and the good things in life.”

‘The Shape of Water’ will have its UK premiere at the London Film Festival on 10 October, then goes on wide release from 16 February 2018.

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