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Guillermo Del Toro Chats with Us about YOUTUBE SPACE’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, CRIMSON PEAK, and Celebrating Day of the Dead

There’s no better person with whom to celebrate Halloween week than Guillermo Del Toro. So we jumped at the chance to chat with the acclaimed director on the sets of YouTube Space House of Horrors: A Legendary Halloween, a project for which he’s partnered with YouTube and Legendary Entertainment that allows young filmmakers the chance to create films on sets constructed at YouTube Space New York and YouTube Space LA — sets (pictured below) inspired by Del Toro’s own Crimson Peak (due out on October 16th of next year). As master of ceremonies, Del Toro is selecting the scariest videos to come out of each region and providing a personal rough-cut creative consultation with the creators, with one creator receiving a development deal to realize the full potential of their idea. Del Toro spoke with us this week — about the experience, about his past influences and future goals, and about his idea of the perfect Day of the Dead celebration — in a conversation held on the set of YouTube Space LA’s seance room, moderated by our very own Jessica Chobot. Read on to find out what he had to say!

On Guillermo’s involvement with Youtube Space LA’s House of Horrors…

Guillermo del Toro: Well, the idea was to have young designers come in and put their own spin on some of the elements. Some of you have visited the set on Crimson Peak. It’s sort of inspired by [that] but at a scale that is affordable and in the time and the space they have. But they are very talented designers. They created a variety of flavors, beautiful controlled palette, beautiful controlled textural samples, and all I did was just give them my opinion, like I would to the short filmmakers, and say ‘Well, maybe this, maybe that.’ But it’s all their doing, and I think they have a bright future ahead. If I was a young filmmaker, and they allowed me to shoot in these sets I would go nuts. They’re just fantastic.

House of Horrors Set

On the artists that have inspired his artwork…

GDT: Well, I’m a big fan of the symbolists you know. Carlos Schwabe, Moreau, Felicien Rops is a symbolist that I adore. The engravings and the paintings of Gustav Dore. My discipline as a kid was… At the same time as movies, I learned voraciously about painters and sculptors, and at the same time I was learning about comic book guys. So in my mind, high brow/low brow are engaged in a mud wrestling contest, because I can say I’m inspired by Moreau or Rops and I’m also inspired by Bernie Wrightson or Richard Corben or John Romita, many of them.

The main thing for me is that you need to train your eye to be able to recognize not only the styles but what makes them unique. That is a really good way of forming your visual vocabulary. I’m influenced by a lot of people from different periods.

On using his knowledge to draw from different periods…

GDT: For example, Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim are lit [and] very much influenced by Mario Bava or Richard Corben both, and the lighting is very extreme. You can have a green edge light here and a purple key light. At the same time, the shapes can be very conservative or academic or very architecturally beautiful.

It helps a lot in the way you interact with your designers. For example, we brought the Arabic language visually and the Hindu sense of design to a normally Celtic world on Hellboy 2. We said at one point that the Celtic knot, if you deconstruct it, it can become a piece of Hindu architecture or a piece of oriental design. We said, “Let’s not go to the celtic language for this thing. Let’s go to another.” You can help guide those things.

Now the other thing is that I always say a good chunk of the storytelling is in the visuals, and it’s not just me saying it. I try to enforce it by the way you design things.

I think it was Wittgenstein that said, “Your language is the limit of your universe,” and the same is true visually. If you only grew up on bubblegum visuals and pop visuals, that’s the limit. You can only express yourself in “awesome” and “dude,” let’s say, but if you force yourself to expand your vocabulary visually into other areas, dissimilar as they may be, when your discussing a piece of design you can bring the point of view or critique of all that baggage into telling the story. You are not limited by a vocabulary that is so constrained.

House of Horrors 2

On why he works in so many different mediums…

GDT: The reality is that I think a lot of people think about what they do in a manner that seems designed or created and they are very carefully tailoring or [creating] an image. I decided to live my life… Around my middle-forties, I decided to live my life like when I was 10 years old. In the morning you are an astronaut, in the afternoon you’re a cowboy, and at night you’re an Indian. I mean, let your life be your life, and enjoy it.

I try to collaborate with people I admire. Hideo Kojima on games, because I want to learn from Hideo Kojima. With Pedro Almodovar, producing, because I want to learn from Pedro when I want to produce. Andy Muschietti or Jorge Gutierrez or Juan Antonio Bayonne, to learn from them. That defines who I am. Working with Chuck Hogan or Carlton Cuse is merely accidental. It comes from a huge appetite for life.

I really love life. And if you give me twelve donuts, I eat twelve donuts. If you give me sixty years of life, I will eat all those sixty years of life to the maximum of my abilities. It’s a decision, but it is not a carefully carefully plotted thing.

On the difference in directing a game versus a film…

GDT: We unfortunately were involved on a game that took about two-and-a-half years [of] pre-production with THQ that was called Insane, and then THQ went under before we could make the game, but I learned a lot there. With Hideo we are still in the early stages, I don’t think the game will come out for another couple of years. So you know, I won’t be able to speak of that experience. But speaking from the experience at THQ, it gave me a lot of tools that I didn’t have that were very useful in planning the projects that I’m doing.

I think five or six years ago, no more than eight years ago, the only thing I did say was “I want to work in all the mediums I can because my belief is that in the next five to ten years everything will be monoplatform,” meaning we will get our storytelling from a single platform. It will meld what we know about cable, what we know about downloading, what we know about analog, digital. It’ll become a single entity. You will always have independent films, and you will always have smaller stories that have the idiosyncrasy of their own medium, but in the larger constructions, which you can see now happening with cross platform entertainment, you’re going to have a thing that you’re going to be able to enjoy — in comic-book form, animated form, continuous storytelling form — in a way that is very, very fluid and malleable.

House of Horrors 3

On the rough cut workshop he offered a lot of up-and-coming directors on House of Horrors…

GDT: All I can do is see their shorts trying to evoke what they are feeling for them, and not judge but be a pal. Alejandro Gonzalez, Alfonso Cuaron, and myself are constantly critiquing each other’s work, and we are constantly being completely sincere. Disarmingly so. [Laughs.] All you can do is be candid with the guys. Treat them like fully formed storytellers. Not “Oh these are kids doing videos.” Tell them what you think, sincerely, for good and bad, but try to give them something constructive in either of the iterations. Say, “Look, I think you can do this.”

Two days ago I was watching Jonas Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron’s son, his first full, live-action, movie, and I was not saying “Oh, you should have done…” I mean, you tell them things that they can use. “I think you can push the sound design here. Put a radio echoing in the rocks and maybe then we understand his idiosyncrasies because we can hear talk show hosts, etc.” You know, things that are concrete. You’re not gonna go, “Well, film is a medium created by multiple subsequent images.” You want to say, “You can push this this way” or “Do you have the material here to do this if you make the scene a little shorter, or you can make it a little longer’” You give them useful things, you know? You hope to help them. I mean I was helped as a young filmmaker by my friends, so you try to be a friend.

On what he saw the filmmakers do that surprised him…

GDT: What surprised me was the variety of flavors. You have some shorts that are to the point and they are incredibly precise visually. Some others are incredibly precise thematically. And some of them are incredibly ambitious. You go “Wow!” Some of them are modest, but incredibly powerful. So you see the same series of sets, the same resources being applied in such a variety of ways.

When I used to teach film language in the university, I used to do something similar. I used to say to them: “What I want you to do is go and shoot this weekend on video somebody making a fried egg. That’s it. You all have frying pans, you all have eggs, you all have oil in your house. Hopefully you have gas. That’s all you need, that’s your production budget. One person, an egg, and a frying pan.” People came in and some of them had done a comedy, some of them had done a film noir — about a fried egg. [Laughs.] Within the limits of our budget and our time, you judge that talent accordingly.

On whether fans or critics have ever inferred something completely different than he intended when he made a film…

GDT: Yeah, it happened earlier more than later. It happened in a very strange way in the Moscow Film Festival with Cronos, where a critic said to me that the movie was about Pushkin burning the idiosyncrasies of the middle class because an actor I had chosen to play the embalmer resembled Pushkin. He said, “But I don’t understand why the man sleeps in a box.” [Laughs.] So you know yes sometimes. But quite often what I find gratifying is the opposite, when people see things that a lot of people didn’t catch. There was a very beautiful review of Pacific Rim that a guy wrote [after] he went with his girlfriend. She was seeing the movie in terms of shapes and colors, and she said Mako Mori has the blue streak because her memory was in blue. It was still haunting her and that was the only time anyone noticed. So I was so happy for that. It’s so nice when you leave an easter egg and somebody finds it.

On his recipe for the perfect Day of the Dead celebration…

GDT: There’s no better chicken soup than your grandma’s chicken soup. The Day of the Dead that lives in my memory are the days when I would wake up early… I had saved money all year, like a kid does for Christmas. I saved it for Day of the Dead. I would go with my grandmother to the cemetery, clean off my grandfather’s grave, talk to him, she would pray, she would put flowers, and then we would go to a market that was called “Todos Los Santos” which means “All Saints.” It’s All Saints’ Day and it was the All Saints Market. What it was, was a marketplace in a concentrated two or three blocks where they sold skulls and skeletons in plastic, rubber, clay, papier-mache. I saved my money to buy skeletons. [Laughs.] So I would come home with a handful of skeletons. nd for whatever surreal reason in Mexico, the All Saints Market also used to sell bootleg Godzillas and bootleg Ultramans, rubber versions of the Gill-man from Creature from the Black Lagoon — in pink, orange, yellow. It was the shopping mall that came out of my id. So that’s my idea of Day of the Dead.

For more on the Youtube Space House of Horrors: A Legendary Hallloween, check out the official Legendary YouTube Channel.

Images: Legendary

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