Guillermo Del Toro was recently in New York City as part of the New Yorker Festival and our good pal Anthony Moody from Indalo Productions caught up with him to talk all things Hobbit!
In this second part of the interview, Guillermo gives us a few more details about his writing methods, he discusses major themes he sees in The Hobbit, and talks a little bit about casting!
Read part one of the interview where talks about his writing duties with PJ, Tom Bombadil and the possibility of a THIRD Hobbit movie(?!). More follow later this week!
Transcription for theOneRing.net by Elven – Deleece C
Anthony: Can you talk a little bit about the process of working as one of four writers, and maybe it’s a navigation that’s still being borne out, but what is the process literally?
Guillermo: Well the strange thing – as we got to the most – I mean I work in collaboration a lot. I normally write alone in the Spanish Language films, or I – I have even written Hellboys as a screenplay writer alone, but I’m used to collaboration. Sometimes with one, or sometimes with two writers, like in Devils Backbone. I mean it’s not as a cumbersome project as one might think, because in reality Peter, Fran and Philippa are a single person. You know they really are like born out of Catholic dogma – its Father Son and Holy Spirit, [Anthony quietly laughs] – you cannot distinguish them. I mean I can tell you where each of them brings something different to the process – Philippa is kind of the Oracle of the Law – and she knows. But so is Fran! She doesn’t think that she is – she claims “well I don’t remember much but” that preface is always followed by a scholarly citation about the Dwarves mining or whatever subject you want. And Peter, Peter and I come to it always from the intuitive film making audience engaging and so forth. The more I read of Tolkien, analogue Tolkien, and so forth, the more I feel that the task is going to be perfectly balanced because basically what you do is a ping pong. One of the groups finishes one part of the task and then bounces it off the other part of the group. And in this case it’s not four groups, it’s one – its two groups, and eventually it will be completely fused. I mean, that’s happened to me with the other writers, it’s happening here.
Anthony: Fantastic. I hear from Gary that you were writing today, I assume [Guillermo answers “yeah”] it was on The Hobbit.
Guillermo: Yeah I was. I was. I am translating the set of cards into a final draft document and sort of an outline. Because I do like laying out physical Sharpie written 3 x 5’s, because it gives everything a tactile sense. So although that set of cards – which travel with me with super secret black little boxes of 3 x 5’s numbered from 1 to 4 [Anthony laughs “wow’]. It’s not that many if you sync with the way I work. I don’t do cards for scenes, I do cards for beats – meaning for example: Gandalf explains why Bilbo is the perfect thief – or, you know, part one of the legend of the Lonely Mountain – you know, they are beats. They are not full scenes. So you end up laying anything from 300 to 900 cards for an interpret like this.
Anthony: WOW. You mentioned six to seven months hopefully will you be then be able to go out and budget – is that also the time frame to go out officially …
Guillermo: Budgeting will start earlier. [Anthony remarks: “Fair”] What I’m saying we’ll be hitting the real accurate stuff in about six months.
Anthony: … And do you go out to cast officially as well…
Guillermo: We may need to go out to cast a little earlier than that because of err [Anthony: “to lock availability] .. Well, to lock in availability, for some practicality, you know either wardrobe or make-up or needs.
Anthony: Ah Interesting. And in terms of that process Sir Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, are probably the two most public who have, in some way, shape or form, confirmed their involvement or certainly their serious interest. I assume at this time there’s nobody else who you can ..
Guillermo: No, we have really made an effort to let the world know that we hope that there will be people back. But I think until the document exists it is toying with expectation. [Anthony agrees] If you say a name and then you find out there is no room for him or her in the narrative, that’ll be disappointing. It is really, and it should be, unqualified – how you go on in the screenplay [Anthony: “sure”] You should not have to feel there is a compromised position to ‘oh we have to go to so-and-so because we said so’ you know, it is really such a monumental task, you don’t want to be burdened by those things.
Anthony: And, which makes perfect sense. And in terms of sequencing, do you see it as a sequential event? Meaning, do you feel like you need to set Bilbo and cast around him, or is the ensemble unique and interesting enough that you can pick among any of them and go simultaneously?
Guillermo: Ah, certainly between Bilbo and the Dwarves, and certainly between Bilbo and Thorin. It’s your casting, according to chemistry. You know, you’re first step is casting Bilbo – that’s the cornerstone – because to me a lot is hanging in the narrative in the relationship between Bilbo and Thorin – obviously because out of the Dwarf group the transformation that Thorin goes through, and the way Bilbo’s character reaffirms itself in light of greed and the desire of ownership that Thorin experiences once they find the treasure trove, you know, as they recuperate their claim to their kingdom and their origins there’s a transformation. And I think that you have to have Bilbo and him have a lot of chemistry. Because there are few events, there are a couple of events in the Hobbit and, at least grammatically feel climactic. One is obviously the face-to-face between Smaug and Bilbo – even more so than the subsequent destruction of the town and the destruction of Smaug – even more so. Because Bilbo and Smaug, in essence, in the narrative represent opposites. And another decisive moment is the delivery of the Arkenstone. Because ultimately there is character fortitude or a character resolution that is so strong – the fact that there is a choice and Bilbo takes it. And those events are enormous. And so everything revolves around Bilbo. I dare say not only about these two movies, but about it really resonating with the five movies, all together. So you know, I think that ideally that you don’t want to do is just – you want to cast that part for the character that ends up emerging from these pages, which you can deduct, kind of, from the book, but you have to construct through the screenplay writing process which is a very different process. And you don’t want to just tie yourself to anybody else until you have it.
Anthony: Interesting. And are those climactic moments which you spoke of, Are those the biggest challenges in the things you’re most – I don’t want to characterize these things as being worried about – but is there anything in the annotation that makes you nervous or particularly keyed – you know I’m nervous about we’re going to do that, How that’s going to look …
Guillermo: From the script writing or the Directing?
Anthony: … Both.
Guillermo: On the screenplay writing I think up until we have the goal, I think everything is pushing claim. So every single moment is difficult. You know whether you’re dealing with (how you deal with) inclusion or exclusion of something that relates to The Hobbit but may seem like an appendix itself, or how you decide to omit in certain passages or certain trait of the book, because it goes against the narrative of the movie. So everything is challenging on that because as I said because it’s pushing claim for breathing life into the volume. And the film making, I think that I believe that every single second of that movie is a challenge. The biggest of them all, the most obvious of them all would be Smaug – but that is stating the obvious. Smaug has the great advantage of having been written like – in my memory and in my view of anti-drama – it is the best Dragon ever written, so that’s a great foundation already. You know the fact that he is ‘The Magnificent’; he is absolutely so well fleshed out. But in terms of the design, because ‘form is function’ and function and form ultimately dictate conflict (to an audience). When you’re watching a Dragon it’s not just how cool it looks, which is obviously the first order if you want to reversed, its the way he looks telling you exactly who he is, you know its first impression. Silhouette! Ah, not cluttering the silhouette, having a really clean arena – at the same time making him mysterious. Understanding that designing Smaug you have to design Lonely Mountains, not Lonely Mountains, inside and out, because it will tell you who he is in a way that – to use a majority example – in the way that the first time you go inside: Tony Montana in a white suit walking in a marble palace – you know exactly who he is- the gold chains…
Anthony: Says it all…
Guillermo: It says it all! But people think it’s not true for monsters, and it is! The way I design monsters is that way. I design them so that if you can, in the best of circumstances, at first glimpse you know how they live. The moment you see the Faun in Pans Labyrinth and he has a flute tucked in a little err, by his side and he has a little wooden container full of faeries and is full of moss and earth, and he has runes carved into his own bodies and roots are growing out of him – you understand how he lives, where he lives, how ancient he is before he even says ‘My name is something so old that only the trees and the wind can pronounce it’. So the same way with Smaug there is already a breath of life from the book and you have to fulfil it. So that’s huge, but everything is. Everything is. The book demands that you make them believable, and that you make at least the name of the thirteen dwarves, the one’s that will have fully speaking parts as memorable, but officially you have a story of all of them, and not treat them as secondary characters. You have to treat them as, because that’s the delicate thing with the thirteen dwarves. The idea is you’re watching ‘The Magnificent Seven’ in the middle of the movie – they were recruited for a reason. So if all thirteen look kind of alike, and all thirteen – or worse even, if they all look too much unlike each other, you know, so you can almost differentiate them with tag, then that’s almost worse. So you have to strike a real balance so that when that group comes in those are the ‘Seven Samurai’ and you know by the way they interact with each other that he was chosen because he keeps vigil, he’s in command, this one is loyal, these two are fighting all the time but they’re willing to die for each other, blah, blah, blah – you have to make all that all on the run. Everything is a challenge. This is the hardest movie I’ll probably ever do. [pause] Movies!
Anthony: Movies – right. And umm…
Guillermo: … And frankly, I almost feel like saying ‘movie’. Because in my mind the narrative should still be the following [Anthony: “of ‘a’ piece”]…Of ‘a’ piece.
Anthony: As the trilogy is often referred to as a single…
Guillermo: If you ask me, the Trilogy is a movie.
Anthony: Shifting a little bit, although getting back to the emphasis on, and the importance of Smaug, I assume you’ve seen the Dark Knight and the way they mixed Imax footage in. There’s also been some chatter that you’re considering 3D for The Hobbit, it was mentioned alongside Avatar as one – Is that anything you can speak to, or?
Guillermo: I can say with absolute conviction, none of the above has been officially discussed, beyond like ‘coffee chat’. Really, and I think that it’s incredibly so, but way too early to talk about both. And we have so much to talk about which is more important than that. But if it has been discussed, it has been discussed in passing. I did discuss it with Jim Cameron [Guillermo laughs] [Anthony: “sure”]…But not within the group and we haven’t discussed it as a salient possibility in a way.