Guillermo del Toro has lived with one foot in the mainstream and one foot in the world of independent cinema for decades. He’s achieved great critical acclaim with low-budget creepers like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, and some financial success with big budget films like Hellboy, Blade 2 and Pacific Rim. And he knows those two worlds are very different. That’s why he gave up his own salary to make sure his latest monster movie – The Shape of Water, about a woman and a sea monster who fall in love – wouldn’t need to marketed as anything other than what it was in order to make a profit.
“I understood ‘The Shape of Water’ needed to cost under $20 million, because that allows them to market it for what it is,” Guillermo del Toro told Variety, referring to his experience making the 2015 supernatural romance Crimson Peak. (That film’s $55 million budget led to the studio marketing the film as more of a conventional horror movie than it was, which may have contributed to poor word of mouth after audiences found out that the movie they paid good money to see was a gloomy costume drama with a few scary parts.)
Guillermo del Toro did his part for the movie by donating his salary to the rest of the production. “I said, except for taxes and guild dues, my entire salary goes back into the movie — to buy time, sets, whatever — and it did,“ the director explained. He made a similar arrangement to help make his Oscar-winning masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, although del Toro points out that the studio eventually returned his salary, before the Oscars ceremony (and after the film grossed over 400% of its budget internationally).
“The way I see money at 52,” Guillermo del Toro went on. “My kids are adults basically, I dress like s—, I drive a four-year-old car, I have all the rubber monsters that I need. 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.”
And indeed, Guillermo del Toro did invest in The Shape of Water. He invested hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to make develop film’s aquatic monster.
We’ll see if the director’s labor of love paid off when The Shape of Water arrives in theaters on December 8, 2017. In the meantime, the film is receiving rave reviews out of the Venice Film Festival, where it debuted today.
Top Photo: Fox Searchlight
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.