3 Things You Can Learn About Directing from Guillermo del Toro

'Hellboy II: The Golden Army'Credit: Universal Pictures
Learn from one of the greats. 

Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro is one of the most unique directors of the century. He is best known for the Academy Award-winning fantasy films Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and more recently, The Shape of Water (2017), winning the Oscars for both best director and best picture. 

However, his path to success wasn’t quite a smooth journey, and he shares some incredible insights that he learned along the way for young filmmakers and aspiring directors. 

Watch this video for all of his detailed advice on becoming a better director. 

Be extremely resilient, yet fragile at the same time

He says that being a director is an incredibly strange position where you need to be both tough as nails and fragile at the same time. He says that you need to separate the two because you cannot be completely fragile as you need the will to be able to fight for what you want from producers and production companies.

You need to constantly say the word “no,” so that you’ll do the project the way you envisioned it. It’s a constant and neverending battle of protecting the image that you believe in. 

But at the same time, he says that you also need to be extremely fragile and open to your actors.

“You have to fight and be able to defend what the movie needs to be defended on, and at the same time, you need to be incredibly, incredibly permeable and fragile. For example, you can be screaming at your producer one moment about the crane not being ready, and then you have to be completely open with your actor to watch the actor perform.” 

Make movies that you believe in that make you feel like you MUST make it 

Del Toro says that he had complete, unwavering certainty about the movies that he had filmed and that you should only pursue stories that make you feel the same way. For example, when he was having breakfast with Daniel Kraus (co-author of the novelization of The Shape of Water), Kraus had mentioned the synopsis of The Shape of Water (before it was written). Del Toro felt an immediate connection with the story and he bought the idea and wrote the screenplay. He says that he felt absolutely certain about telling this story right from that breakfast table, a screenplay that turned out to be an Oscar-winning movie. 

When you find a story that you feel strongly about, he says that at first, you should feel the certainty that makes you say “I MUST make this movie”. It’s not about ego or wanting the movie to be liked or accepted, it all starts with the pure, utter, unwavering belief in that story that makes you feel like you just NEED to make it. He says that it’s a very different sensation from the stories that you don’t feel the same way about and that it’s a very clear and distinct feeling. Sort of like listening to a song that you enjoy, it comes to you immediately.

'The Shape of Water'
'The Shape of Water'Credit: Fox Searchlight

It’s not about creating something completely new, it’s about letting your voice be heard. 

A lot of young filmmakers, writers, and directors may frequently have roadblocks when trying to create something completely new. Del Toro says that it’s not about writing or constructing stories that have never been done before because everything has already been done. It’s about using your uniqueness, qualities and defects, and cultural background, to synthesize and combine what has already been done into something new. 

“You are what you are, and that’s what you bring to the movies you make. All we can do as artists is the synthesis of something that has been done before. We’re at least 2000 years into civilization. Every song has been sung, every story has been told, but your voice hasn’t been heard. Your voice is yet to be heard. In that, I package two things that are one and the same, your qualities and your defects.”    

It’s about letting your unique voice be heard. Only you can organize and synthesize the stories in your own unique way. So next time you have a roadblock, embrace the characteristics, the very uniqueness of what makes you you. Don’t be afraid of telling stories that have already been done before. 

Have any tips for directing? Let us know in the comments below.          

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