Annecy: Guillermo del Toro Talks Creative Freedom With Netflix, the Future of 'Hellboy'

Guillermo del Toro - Getty - H 2017
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The director also talked possible 'Pinocchio' plans and giving up his salary for the upcoming 'Shape of Water' during a master class at the animation festival.

Guillermo del Toro is still interested in Pinocchio, hasn’t had his heart broken by Hellboy and has found the perfect partner in Netflix. In a wide-ranging nearly two-hour talk at the Annecy Animation Festival, The Shape of Water director discussed his upcoming projects and Hollywood’s creative stagnation.

Working with Netflix has been creatively freeing, the Trollhunters creator said, noting that his experience with the SVOD has been much more fulfilling than working with studios.

“We’ve had absolute freedom in creating the series and from the beginning they believed in it,” he said. “When you have a partner that believes in you any co-production — even your dentist uncle — it’s amazing. And what I can say is that in our experience, it has been absolutely great creatively." 

While Netflix famously doesn’t release ratings information, del Toro said Trollhunters is the most-watched animated show on the platform. It took eight years for the series to get made after being originally pitched to Jeffrey Katzenberg as a feature, he added. The streamer has also promoted the show honestly, he said, criticizing many studio projects he abandoned because of creative differences, without giving names. “They put out the show we made. I’ve made movies that are sold as exactly the opposite of what they were. The show was sold beautifully as what it was and that’s fantastic.”

His next film, The Shape of Water, set for a December 2017 release, came at a personal cost — and benefit — as the director sacrificed his own salary and additional personal funds for the production. “Bigger budgets come bigger discussions about things,” he said of the studio system. “Freedom has no price.”

Del Toro also said that he is still interested in a Pinocchio film project. “I’m still looking at it. If you have $45 million I’ll do it tomorrow,” he joked. The Pacific Rim director said his next goal is to direct an animated feature project.

Despite years of trying to complete his Hellboy trilogy, only for the reboot to be announced without him earlier this year, he says he has no hard feelings.

“I don’t own Hellboy, Mike [Mignola] does. So, you know, he is the father of the character and if he wants to reboot it, it’s perfectly fine. I got to make two — that’s two more than I thought I would get to make … So you know, as far as I’m concerned god speed and god bless.”

In contrast, he has passed on many projects over creative vision, he said. “I’ve had the most incredible opportunities to say no to big movies,” he said, with nothing keeping him awake at night. Except Harry Potter, he added later. Being part of the boy wizard franchise is one chance he does regret missing out on.

As for his propensity to announce projects that don’t move forward, del Toro said he's similar to J.J. Abrams in keeping more than one ball in the air, but says his prolific project list has garnered outsized press attention. “I was like the James Brown of fantasy movies for a while,” he joked. “But what an announced project means is that you are temporarily unemployed and working hard, because every project you read about, I’m doing the screenplay, the storyboards, and it’s heartbreaking.”

Del Toro said the inspiration for his longstanding collaboration with Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg — or, as he calls it “apprenticeship” — is his vision of film “mutating” in the near future. “Movies as we know them are going to disappear,” he predicted. “And very soon assets — video games, and storytelling — is going to start melding. One of the keys to opening the cell to freedom is animation,” he said. Younger generations want constant access to content, what he termed “flow.”

He also predicts features will become shorter. “Attention span is going dramatically down. Younger generations will want their adventure in and out in one hour 10 minutes at the most,” he predicted. We’re in the “golden age of television” less because of storytelling but more due to viewers’ control over their access. “It’s changed in a way that is more profound than the adjective ‘binge watching’ can define,” he said.

Studios’ sensibilities are not insulating them from pricey failures. “As narrators we should take a look and see what is not being fulfilled,” he said. “The sense of safety in storytelling is completely fake. It does not exist unless you’re a brand.”

Del Toro added that we’re on the cusp of a “gold rush” with VR, adding: “It’s a very interesting time for the bold.”