UPDATED with video: Guillermo del Toro, whose movie The Shape of Water earned a leading four Oscars tonight, including Best Picture and Director, said that when he was a kid “growing up in Mexico, I thought this could never happen. It happens. And I want to tell you, everyone who is dreaming of a parable of using genre fantasy to tell the things that are real in the world today, you can do this. This is a door. Kick it open and come in.”
The Shape of Water is about a compassionate mute woman (nominee Sally Hawkins) who falls in love with a sea creature imprisoned and tortured in the lab she cleans. The film, which came into the night with a leading 13 Oscar nominations, also took home stuatuettes for Production Design and Original Score at the 90th Academy Awards.
“Growing up in Mexico as a kid,” del Toro said, “I was a big admirer of foreign films like E.T., William Wyler, Douglas Sirk, Frank Capra. And a few weeks ago, Steven Spielberg said, ‘If you find yourself there, find yourself at the podium, remember that you are part of a legacy. You are part of a world of filmmakers, and be proud of it.’ I’m very, very proud. I want to dedicate this to every young filmmaker, the youth that is showing us how things are done. Really they are, in every country in the world.”
This is not del Toro’s first time at the Oscars. In 2006, Pan’s Labyrinth was Mexico’s submission for that year’s Best Foreign Language prize and it won three Oscars (Cinematography, Makeup and Art Direction; his original screenplay also was nominated). But the Director and Picture nods are his first individual Academy Awards.
On Shape of Water, the filmmaker worked with many of his collaborators from the past, including editor Sidney Wolinsky, production designer Paul Austerberry, and DP Dan Lautsen (who he’s known since Mimic in 1997) and a host of crew out of Toronto. The modestly budgeted fantasy love story was produced by J. Miles Dale and del Toro, who co-wrote the script with Vanessa Taylor (Divergent and episodes of Game of Thrones and Alias).
He noted his immigrant status again earlier when accepting his award for Best Direction, saying, “the greatest thing around us in our industry is to erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that.”
The film won at the PGA Awards, which has been a precursor of sorts for the Best Picture Academy Award, as eight of the past 10 have ended up winning the coveted top prize.
Deadline’s Joe Utichi spoke at length to del Toro earlier this year when his film premiered at the Venice film festival, where it ended up winning the festival’s highest honor, the Golden Lion.
Del Toro has been fascinated by monsters since he was a child, and in his filmmaking years the idea of an amphibian creature who changes the life of whoever rescues it, in a magical way, just wouldn’t let go of him.” It was loosely inspired by a favorite fairy tale collected by the Grimm brothers—about a flounder that grants wishes for a fisherman and his wife—with a touch of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid,” del Toro said at the time.
It was while he was prepping Pacific Rim that coincidence clicked when he was sitting with Daniel Kraus, the author with whom he was co-writing Trollhunters. Kraus had come up with the idea of “freaks” locked in a lab and a janitor that tried to break him out when he was 15, and told del Toro he was writing it. Del Toro told Kraus that that he, too, had an idea for a story about an aquatic creature and optioned Kraus’ idea outright. Kraus would go on to write a novel separate and apart from del Toro, who began writing a script.
It took five years to complete the shooting script. Del Toro penned 30 pages before writer’s block set in. When he showed the pages to Taylor, she suggested introducing the Russian spy element.
Del Toro wrote the key characters with specific actors in mind – Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins. When he called Hawkins, there was another coincidence: She told him that she was already at work writing a story about a woman who didn’t know she was a mermaid. They quickly joined hands and she graciously allowed del Toro to incorporate two of Hawkins’ ideas into the script –that the scars on her neck turned out to be gills and that the character used a lot of salt to make the water in the bathtub habitable.
It took him three years to design the creature (played by Doug Jones) to be able to get the seven-foot monster exactly right, expressive but still an amphibian. He also knew that he would put a certain body type of man inside the creature’s body.
The budget was tight (it came in at $19.3M) and so was the shooting schedule, but in the end, del Toro was very content with the story, the movie, the characters and the emotions he created about a love story between two outcasts, one human and the other not.
The film has grossed $114.29M to date worldwide but could see anywhere from a 7% to 10% jump in box office from the Oscar win.
The films were voted on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has 8,400 members.