As promised, here is my account of the San Francisco Film Society event I went to, An Evening with Guillermo del Toro.
The first thing I want to say about this is that I really didn’t know what to expect. Prior to moving to the Bay Area, I had been living in what was essentially a cultural wasteland, and I had never really gone to an event like this before. I wasn’t sure what the mood would be like or if I was supposed to dress up or what. As usual, I really shouldn’t have worried; as soon as I walked into the theater, I noticed that everyone was dressed casually, talking loudly, and eating popcorn; it was like waiting for any other movie, although this obviously had the bonus of having the director on hand.
The event started off rather dryly with an introductory speech from some official from the film society (I never did catch his name), and then he played a greatest hits type of video of GDT’s movies. After the video played, he finally brought del Toro out on stage and to a standing ovation, might I add. GDT and the film society official sat together on stage facing the audience, and there was a big screen above them for people sitting farther away.
I don’t remember everything that was asked and said word for word (my memory’s not that good, plus GDT has a noticeable accent that made it hard to understand what he was saying at times), but here are some gems as I recall them:
— He talked a lot about monsters, which duh, because it’s him. He said some of the monsters he’s created are more real to him than some of his own family members.
— He mentioned seeing a dead body for the first time when he was four years old, and that had a huge impact on his imagination.
— He’s also apparently heard a ghost twice in his life and seen a UFO exactly once. I want to believe, Guillermo.
— He said he has a personal library of something like 7,000 movies and 11,000 books at his home/complex in L.A. He said his plan for after he dies is for a foundation to be set up and for there to be an artist in residence program so someone can enjoy his library and use it for inspiration rather than have all of his belongings “sold on ebay or whatever.”
— He kept talking about some screenplay based on the Count of Monte Cristo, and I swear to god, he said his adaptation would place the story in the American West and the count would have a mechanical hand.
— He talked a lot about fairy tales and mentioned as a child he read one so morbid it led to his grandmother burning some of his books.
— He said he’s co-writing something with one of his daughters, although when asked he said neither of his kids are particularly interested in going into film.
After the formal questions with the film society official, they opened up the floor to questions from the audience.
— Someone asked if he would ever shoot a movie in San Francisco, and he let slip that Pacific Rim 2 is going to involve San Francisco somehow. I heard someone quip (I can’t remember if it was the film society official or someone sitting near me) well, we have two bridges; note, the Golden Gate Bridge was destroyed in like the first five minutes of the first Pacific Rim movie.
— Someone asked a rather long-winded question that brought up constant reboots and jaded movie audiences and if/how GDT considers such audience attitudes when making something like Pacific Rim, and he flat out said figuring out marketing isn’t his problem. This comment clearly struck a nerve with the audience, but I think this is one of the reasons I love him so much — if he wants to make a movie, then by god he’s going to make one regardless of if he thinks people will watch the crazy shit he comes up with, although clearly there are weirdos like me who eat this up.
— Someone asked about metaphors in his movies and What It All Means, and he said how you interpret the symbology says more about you than it does about him and went on about sometimes he puts insects in his movies just because he likes insects, and he put giant robots in Pacific Rim because he likes giant robots (and also because he wanted robot toys, he really said that).
Following the audience Q&A, the official said there was a treat for us, and it was a new, exclusive trailer for Crimson Peak (GDT’s next movie), and supposedly it was the first time it had been shown in public. People went nuts, and for good reason. I had seen the initial trailer that had been released, but this one made it really clear the movie is going to balls to the wall insane and spooky and everything you could want in a Gothic romance horror story.
By this time in the evening, it was almost 10 o’clock and there was still going to be a showing of The Devil’s Backbone. A part of me wanted to stay for the movie because it’s one of the few of his I haven’t seen, but my girlfriend and I decided to skip the showing because we had a long drive home and we were getting pretty tired. But that worked out in our favor because WE GOT TO MEET DEL TORO HIMSELF.
As we were walking out of the theater, I overheard someone say that he was signing autographs, and I thought to myself, oh I bet he’s hidden somewhere, it’s just for film society members (members got primo seats in the theater, so I figured meeting GDT was one of the perks or something). But then we walked out and I noticed there was a crowd off to the side, and there he was. I grabbed my girlfriend, and we walked right up to the crowd, although it was small enough that I was never more than like 5-6 feet away from him. He sure was signing things, and as I waited my turn to get closer to him, I kept asking my girlfriend if this was really happening and if he was really just standing right there.
I finally got up close to him, and I had him sign my ticket stub since I hadn’t thought to bring any memorabilia with me (which is unfortunate because I have quite a bit of his). While I was waiting, I had noticed he was nice enough to answer questions, and I worked up the nerve to ask him if he was familiar with the painter Remedios Varo (my user name is the name of a real woman who was a surrealist artist who lived in Mexico for most of her life). He said yes, of course, he was familiar with her. I then asked if she had influenced him at all, and he straight up said no, because her paintings are too beautiful and he likes things that are gritty. I didn’t know what to say after that, so I moved away from him so my girlfriend could get her ticket signed. As we walked away I had to hold on to my girlfriend because my knees were about to buckle from sheer nerves. I STILL can’t believe I not only got to get up close to him, but also talk to him, however so briefly. I’ve been replaying our conversation in my head all morning.
What a night.