Still flushed with the success of his summer blockbuster film Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and the past acclaim he received with his dark fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth, director Guillermo Del Toro is preparing for a production of epic proportions. Yet he still sees his job at the helm of two upcoming Hobbit movies as independent filmmaking.
Del Toro will direct his two Hobbit movies back-to-back, working with executive producer Peter Jackson, who was the producer/director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, also based on the J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic books.
The Hobbit productions will be free from Hollywood mainstream influences, since home base for the project is Wellington, New Zealand. That’s where Jackson has his Weta Digital and Weta Workshop visual-effects studios.
Del Toro and Jackson are of like minds as far as forging their own paths as filmmakers in the movie industry, and both have had experience with the smaller studios. New Line Cinema was the studio behind The Lord of the Rings.
With pre-production commencing on the Hobbit films, Del Toro says he’s dealing with conception plans and designs, research and development in New Zealand. “All my energies will be dedicated to The Hobbit. I have cleared my schedule, and now the work begins,” the filmmaker says. Actual filming is scheduled to begin in 2010, with the first Hobbit film due for release in December 2011, and the second in December 2012. And Del Toro insists that both will be shot on film.
When Del Toro takes on a production, the first thing he does is sit down to discuss concepts and ideas. “And then my job is to bring the team together to develop these ideas,” he explains. “From costume and makeup, to stunts and set designs, every detail of everything that happens begins with bouncing off ideas that will make the film come to life.”
The Mexican-born Del Toro will be involved with the epic dual production for the next four years, and he will move to New Zealand for the duration. He doesn’t find it daunting to take the reins, despite being reminded of the millions of Lord of the Rings fans all over the world. “I know they have very high expectations, but I’m completely happy about doing it,” he says. “I’m crazy about the novel, and that’s the only thing that prevailed in my judgment. I thought about it for a long time, and I had discussions with Peter Jackson about it. I feel comfortable that he knew that I respected and loved his movies. The Hobbit will be faithful to the source.” He points out that the second feature will be a bridge between where the first Hobbit leaves off and The Lord of the Rings trilogy begins.
Del Toro is even thinking about The Hobbit’s DVD extras this far in advance, because he likes encouraging young independent filmmakers to learn a lot about the filmmaking process. “I know the casual fan will never dwell into the DVD extras, but I like it to be a very generous landscape for really dedicated fans,” he says. “They are the kids who have no money to go to film school, but maybe they want to do short films and be part of this world and make movies. They can browse the DVD like I browsed the Famous Monsters of Filmland, as I did as a kid, and learn some of the craft.”
Prior to working in New Zealand, Del Toro is helping some first-time filmmakers to produce a couple of independent movies. “I have to do that, to help others. I like to sponsor first-time filmmakers who I know can do the work and need the chance. But it’s harder to raise the money. That’s why unproven directors aren’t given a chance to prove themselves,” he laments. “I feel it’s better to be on something like that on faith, like [when I produced] the film Orphanage. Also, I have to turn in a couple of screenplays and storylines for projects I’ve been developing.”
Del Toro points out that The Lord of the Rings was a family film. As for The Hobbit: “It will be intense, but I hope The Hobbit will be a movie that can be enjoyed by fathers and sons, mothers and daughters,” he says. “Very often, when you use the words ‘family film,’ you conjure that there might be some sort of watering down. But I believe Tolkien has in the last third of the book, sort of an edge or a somber tone that would not conjure the word ‘family.’ But I will be faithful to his work.”
Overall, Del Toro sees himself as an experimental filmmaker. “I am experimental, as I was with Pan’s Labyrinth,” he says. “I am a painter, so I tend to be very visual when I do films. I like to color-coat it, texture-coat it, in order to create the images and sounds that are not just on film for adornment, not just eye candy. But the images and sounds are there to carry the weight of the storytelling. That is my goal when I create a picture.”
Del Toro featured impressive DVD extras for Hellboy II: The Golden Army that included over two hours of an in-depth look at the film’s creation, his personal “Director’s Notebook,” and an educational tour of the production workshop puppet theater. He’s thinking about doing the same for The Hobbit DVD. “As filmmakers going through the process, we always prepare everything, document everything meticulously. So I will have a lot to offer when we are finished,” he says.
A respected visual artist, Del Toro does sketches of everything, which he keeps in his notebooks. “Recording the process of the creation of a movie in an obsessive-compulsive, sometimes horrifying way is my way of providing behind-the-scenes content that is very thorough, and also very candid and shameful to witness sometimes,” he explains. Del Toro believes the DVD releases are an archival definitive form of a film, and the way most people will ever re-experience the movie. “It’s also a great testimonial to the hard work done by our team, and a really beautiful way to expand the universe of the movie,” he says.
For the Blu-ray edition, Del Toro notes that he takes great pains to scale down the theatrical experience sound-wise, so people can get an accurate surround experience at home. “And visually we spend as much time as we did in color timing and finishing the image theatrically when we do the Blu-ray and DVD transfers. So you get an incredibly beautiful experience,” he says.
Also on Del Toro’s schedule is the publishing of his first novel, which he is co-writing and hopes to have out sometime in 2009. “I have been writing it for about a year,” he explains. “There is a lot of stuff I was planning in the long-term, but now I have to wrap it up.”
During Hollywood’s awards season, Del Toro has been recognized for his extraordinary work and the craftsmanship that was used in Hellboy II. He also took time out from his busy schedule to be honored at the Saturn Awards. With Cronos, Mimic and Blade II alongside his Hellboy, Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth credits, Del Toro received the George Pal Memorial Award for all of his imaginative work on the big screen.
And after he journeys to “Middle-Earth,” the Hobbits will take their place among Del Toro’s visual masterpieces.