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Annecy: 8 Takeaways From Guillermo del Toro’s MIFA Campus Talk

Variety logo Variety 6/14/2017 Jamie Lang
© Provided by Variety

ANNECY, France –From the minute Variety’s Peter Debruge handed him the microphone at Tuesday’s talk, Mexico’s Guillermo del Toro was off to the races with an avalanche of cuss-filled anecdotes and sage wisdom. This was the second year in a row that the self-deprecating director talked at Annecy, and with each opinion shared he made it clear that his convictions as a creator are, and always have been, unwavering. Strikingly honest, always dramatic, and wholly charming, the director talked for an hour-and-a-half to a captivated audience of industry professionals and students.

The room was packed to the rafters and it was apparent almost immediately that the air conditioning had given up under the strain required to try and cool the space. A fact which the larger than life director brought up a number of times throughout the hour-and-a-half.

Here are 8 takeaways from the session

1. WHERE IT ALL STARTED

At 8 years old Del Toro made his first ever movie, a stop-motion piece shot on his father’s super-8 camera about a killer potato. Years later, In an attempt to sooth the fears of his future father-in-law, he said he would make a stop motion feature, as cinema was not deemed to be an honest job. He and his animating partner at the time spent 3 years building 150 character models until one night after dinner at his parents house, the two returned home to find, “somebody had broken into the house, they had stolen all the cameras, destroyed the models and taken a sh-.” That was apparently all it took for the director to move back to live action.

2. CHRONICLE VS. FABLE

The theme of the ever-present dichotomy in storytelling came up more than once on the day. Early in the conversation with Debruge, the director explained what animation can do that other mediums perhaps cannot. “When narrative started at the beginning of time it divided into two strands: Chronicle, and fable. Chronicle is: we hunt the damned mammoth and draw it in the cave. Then we are gonna thank the gods, so we draw them, and that’s fable… I think animation is particularly well suited for fable.”

3. LOST OPPORTUNITIES

There is no use pining over failed projects according to Del Toro. He noted that twice he has tried to make video games, in an effort to complete his list of mediums from which he has told stories, and twice he failed. He went so far as team up with the legendary Hideo Kojima from who he says he learned that “in video games you don’t have act one, act two, you create a mandala. It is multi-branching.” He said the experience makes a director nimble. Finally, in the Q&A, he assured the audience that aside from “Harry Potter,” he has no regrets of projects that didn’t get made.

4. INEVITABILITY VS PREDICTABILITY

According to Del Toro, knowing what is going to happen in a story before it does isn’t always a problem. Sometimes, for a story to be believable it has to be inevitable. Using a colorful, if brief, re-telling of the Oedipus story, the director made clear the differences between inevitability and predictability, “Of course we know he is gonna to F- his mother and kill his father, but that is inevitable, not predictable.”

5. GETTING A FILM MADE

After being asked about the best way to promote a script, Del Toro responded: “My statistics are very bad. I have written 24 screenplays. I’ve made 10 movies. It’s like asking me for dieting advice.” After going through most the 12 of scripts that he had written which have never seen the light of day, he explained the difference between those and the films which did get made. “Every movie I have made was made because I would die to have it made.”

6. DON’T BELIEVE THE BULLSH-

“The DVD commentaries create a narrative,” he said, “Guillermo presented his storyboards and immediately everybody knew!” [that it would be a hit], the lines delivered in a well rehearsed producer voice. Del Toro called shenanigans on the notion of an easy sell, warning that there is a long period where only the filmmaker will believe in the project, and that maybe one or two out of 100 filmmakers will hold on to that belief long enough for anything to come of it. “The obstacle is the path,” he insisted, encouraging the assembled students to be the exception rather than the rule.

7. MAKING CONTENT FOR A NEW GENERATION

According to Del Toro, the speed at which the medium is moving is such that now an animator in their 20s is old. “We are all old, everyone in this room is old now. Kids two-to-three, they have access to everything,” he noted. “Kids only know access flow, and they want universes they can access most of the day.” He pointed out that the narrative needs of the kids today who don’t know what a VHS is, who never dubbed a cassette tape, is far different than anything anyone in the room could relate to.

8. MEDIUMS AND TECHNOLOGY ARE CHANGING FAST, SO KEEP UP

The pace of change was a recurring theme in the talk and Del Toro assured everyone that it wasn’t going to slow down anytime soon. Noting that nearly all formats are getting shorter as attention spans shrink, Del Toro warned the assembled students that if they had any hope of keeping up with the wave of content for the new generation they had better give “110% in everything you do. It’s the only way you will learn.”

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