During the Comic-Con@Home panel for the upcoming Searchlight movie Antlers, two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro shared some of the seismic COVID-19 safety protocols impacting his next Searchlight movie Nightmare Alley, which is readying for a restart after Disney’s mid-March pause.
Nightmare Alley, based on William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and follows a corrupt con man who teams with a female psychiatrist to trick people into giving them money. Mara plays Molly, the closest thing to Stan’s true love. He meets her early on and they take the act they learned from the circus to Chicago.
In regards to getting the actors back to set, a dilemma is balancing busy schedule as other commitments pop up. Del Toro told moderator Steve “Frosty” Weintraub: “We’ve been going through more schedules than ever…the blessing of having this cast is amazing. But the difficulties of rescheduling is enormous because everyone is in demand and you have to work around everybody’s schedule. I like to think for every problem in every movie, there’s a graceful solution. Sometimes you don’t see it. I think we’ve found the silver bullet, but it’s not easy.”
The filmmaker added, “It’s not easy to anticipate how the set is going to move because we’re taking every precaution.”
“You’re operating a surgical theater. You have to be sterile, have everybody in a condition that’s clinical, but at the same time you have to reenact the carnival. The way you approach it is different. The way you stage it with extras, the way you stack them, the way you hire them. For example, they’re hired by the day, but now you’re going to buy them out for many weeks. A lot of time, they’re going to be down, but you want them exclusively,” del Toro added. The reason being: You can’t have extras coming and going from different film productions; they need to be contained to one production for a specific period.
“You’re buying them for a period, you want them to be monogamous with our movie. We’re taking dozens and dozens of pages of precaution. My feeling is that this [pandemic] will go on for another few months and that shooting is going to be interesting,” he said.
As far as what’s next for Antlers director Scott Cooper, who was also on today’s panel, he’s hopeful about a couple of projects with his longtime collaborator Christian Bale going forward, as well as a piece he has for Elisabeth Moss to headline.
Cooper and del Toro’s Antlers was immediately impacted by the nationwide shutdown of movie theaters due to coronavirus safety, initially moving off its April 17 date and most recently redated for February 19, 2021. The feature is set in an isolated Oregon town, and follows a middle-school teacher and her sheriff-brother who become embroiled with an enigmatic student whose dark secrets lead to terrifying encounters with a Native American spiritual creature who came before them known as Wendigo.
“The more it eats, the more hungry it gets, and the more it eats, the weaker it gets,” said del Toro about the Wendigo.
“This is my first immersion into the supernatural,” said Cooper. “With each movie, I want to be on unfamiliar ground because I think risk is one of the great pleasures of making art, of making films. I wouldn’t have made this if Guillermo wasn’t producing.”
Cooper said he’s “not a fan of messages movies” but some of the subtlety involved with Antlers involves “America today” and “to show the world as it really is. You see this in the trailer: a boy is in a great deal of pain and familial issues. A murderous sprite that is summoned by nature to seek vengeance on a callous mankind that has abused it.”
“We’re abusing mother earth, we’re abusing Native Americans, and drugs and the opioid crisis,” expounded Cooper on the significance of the Wendigo.
During the panel, the two shared their dream projects if they could get them financed right now. Del Toro spoke about doing Frankenstein over various installments to show the changing points of view in the book as well as At the Mountains of Madness, which was last stalled at Universal. That story follows an expedition to the Antarctic continent in 1930 where a group of explorers discovered ancient ruins and a very dark and dangerous secret linked to them.
Meanwhile, Cooper has a screenplay in his drawer about a young Edgar Allen Poe during his time at West Point in 1830 when a series of murders are committed.
At the end of March, Cooper issued an open letter, applauding the U.S. Senate’s passage of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, saying it brings “much-need positive news to an industry I cherish, and, one, along with so many other industries and citizens, that is suﬀering.”