EXCLUSIVE: As Deadline first revealed Monday, Guillermo del Toro’s plans to next direct Tom Cruise in the R-rated At the Mountains of Madness imploded, and he will instead direct Pacific Rim, a Travis Beacham-scripted monster movie that is fast coming together at Legendary Pictures with a PG-13 rating. The town and media have been buzzing since about the business implication of a rising star filmmaker being denied the chance to swing for the fences on his dream project at his home studio, even when it is god-fathered by 3D guru James Cameron. Here, Del Toro confirms he will next direct Pacific Rim for Legendary Pictures’ Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni, and what prevented At The Mountains Of Madness from becoming reality for a June start at Universal.
DEADLINE: When I first wrote Monday about Universal suddenly balking at Mountains, studio insiders said they weren’t sure Tom Cruise was definitively in, and they couldn’t stomach a $150 million R rated film because few of those have grossed the $500 million or so needed for Universal to make money. What do you think of that?
DEL TORO: Definitely, closing Tom’s deal was in their hands. He was without a doubt, absolutely in favor of being in the movie. We met extensively, both in Canada and the U.S., dozens of times. Final polishes of the screenplay met with his approval. Closing the deal is not something that was in my hands. They needed to close it corporately. As far as the movie grossing that much, obviously I’m not impartial, but I have to believe that with 3D, Tom Cruise, Jim Cameron, the scope of Lovecraft’s novel that is one his best regarded and most widely known works, I would venture that it could absolutely have been done. I think the R should be worn like a badge of merit in promoting the movie. To say, this is not a gory movie, not a movie full of profanity or violence, but it’s a really intense movie. It’s all what you do with what you’re given. I had to believe right along that they were betting as much as I was. I was betting essentially everything I had, in terms of leverage, betting nine months of development when I was on The Hobbit. This was for me a do or die movie.
DEADLINE: You were supposed to have an answer from Donna Langley and Adam Fogelson by the end of last year. What caused the process to drag out and what changed at a studio that once seemed so excited about making Mountains?
DEL TORO: You may think I’m being glib, but I don’t know. Since the day of the decision, I haven’t had a face to face with them. We’ve exchanged a few phone calls. I my mind, we were given the parameters of a budget and screenplay, and I was given the chance by the studio to create a visual presentation. They were blown away by the visual presentation, they openly admitted to loving the screenplay, saying it was dead on. And we hit the target on the budget they gave us, not a figure I arrived at. This came after months and months of story boarding, haggling with VFX companies, and bringing down the budget number. The week before the decision, I was scouting in the border of Canada and Alaska. We were a week away from opening offices in Toronto. We were crewed up, and frankly, I am as puzzled as most people are. One of the biggest, biggest points for me with this movie was the scope and the R, going hand in hand.
DEADLINE: How hard did the studio try to get you to budge off the R rating?
DEL TORO: It was the subject of multiple conversations all the way through December. The definitive answer was known in December after a big meeting, when we were given the new parameters of budget and rewrites. We proceeded over the next few months to hit those parameters.
DEL TORO: That is not a quick process. We would have needed first to get the formal terms of turnaround from Universal before we could formally get an answer from another studio. We were gauging interest and there was interest, very serious interest, but nothing that could happen before Universal names the terms in which they would allow us to try and set it up somewhere else. That is my hope right now that they just allow us to seek a home for this. It will remain a timely premise for years to come, so I don’t have to do it next month. I know it’s not an easy proposition. It is, if you have faith. I think a studio needs to fully believe in that. Certainly, in the last year, you can find movies of that scope or bigger that have been green lit on a wing and a prayer. We are part of show business, and it seems the business side takes more and more command of things, and the show part of the business seems to be dwindling. It’s a sign of the times, in a way.
DEADLINE: What does this blow do to your relationship with the studio and plans to godfather or direct several of their monster movie franchises?
DEL TORO: That’s still unknown. We have active projects where I’m a producer there and I’m still going to pursue my year and a half or two years I have left in my time with Universal. As disappointed and heartbroken as I am, for the studio, this is a business decision.
DEL TORO: I can only say I was very happy to be able to develop it under the radar in many ways. People got it confused with the Godzilla movie a few months ago but we cleared that up. I can say the scope and imagination that have been outlined in it are absolutely appealing to me. I cannot say more, it’s not the time.
DEADLINE: After you spent so much time co-writing to direct The Hobbit and now going so far down the road on this project, how anxious are you to get back behind the camera and when will that happen?
DEL TORO: The idea is unequivocally to start shooting in September. The terms of that will become public very soon, but the idea is to get behind the camera this year. I miss it terribly. Unfortunately for me, I have passed discreetly on a number of high profile projects last year in order to save myself for a project that I’ve been shepherding. That was Mountains, and now it seems like it’s going to be Pacific Rim. In both instances, these are projects I am generating.
DEADLINE: I’m disappointed by this because how great is it to watch a filmmaker testing himself on all fronts with an ambitious dream project. Has it just become too hard to make a film this large without a branded tie-in, or one that isn’t a sequel, and what is this brand fixation doing to the quality of films?
DEL TORO: Even if you go back to the golden days of monster movies at Universal, some of the best ones were sequels. To me, Bride of Frankenstein is in many ways superior to Frankenstein. I don’t think that in principle, a sequel or a spinoff or a movie that comes something, or a remake, should be shunned. What is really dramatic to me is that most decisions are now being taken by comps, and charts, and target quadrants. All these marketing things we inherited from a completely different system, in the 80s, it has taken hold of the entire industry. Marketers and accountants seem to be running things and less and less of the decisions are in the hands of filmmakers. There are still some filmmakers that can push through. I will say though, I count my blessings. In my time, I’ve been able to make impossible things like a big superhero movie starring Ron Perlman. Frankly, I think we’ve come so close with Mountains that to me it’s an indicator of the great possibility we will get to make it, as soon as possible. As long as the idea stays fresh and no one beats me to it, in terms of the origins of the monsters, the scope and the aspect of Antarctica where these creatures are discovered, I will continue to press forward. I’m knocking on wood. I have great partners in Jim Cameron and Lightstorm, and Don Murphy and Susan Montford, great partners in this adventure who are not giving up and not letting me give up.
DEL TORO: I have learned in the last few years that God laughs as we make plans. The beauty of it is, in the last few days, I spoke to Tom, who has been incredibly supportive and who said, ‘Let’s keep going, let’s make this movie down the road.’ He’s definitely that interested and that happy where we were creatively. So we have good legs to travel on, if the time and the opportunity present itself. But we’re going to fight for that to happen. I’ve been offered four or five times at different studios the chance to make this movie in what I think was the wrong way. With $20 million or $30 million less than what I need, with a contractual PG-13, and I don’t want to do it that way.
DEADLINE: Why is that such a deal breaker for you?
DEL TORO: Ultimately, I think the MPAA could rule the movie PG-13 because the movie and the book are not gory. If that is the outcome, fine. But I don’t want to put the PG-13 on paper, for one reason. We created Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, thinking we would be safe looking for PG-13 because we had no profanity, no sex, no gore, but we made a very intense movie in a very classical mold. And the MPAA gave it an R. They said the movie was too intense for a PG-13. The only think I know about Mountains is, I do not want it to be bloody, I do not want it to be crass, but I want it to be as intense as possible. And those discussions were had in the open. Everyone knew this was my position, that I knew I was asking the chance for the movie to be what it needs to be. I don’t think it’s a good idea to relinquish that on paper.