Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan – Live at the Brattle Theater 9/23/10
A review of a public interview and Q&A session by L.L. Soares
I went to see filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and crime fiction novelist Chuck Hogan being interviewed by the Brattle Theater’s Creative Director Ned Hinkle last Thursday. The Brattle is a venerable arthouse theater that has been showing movies in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Mass., since 1953. Del Toro and Hogan were there to promote their new book THE FALL, the second book in their STRAIN trilogy, three books about modern-day vampires. They were interviewed for about half an hour, then took questions from the audience, and then there was a screening of del Toro’s 2001 modern classic film, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. The event was co-sponsored by the Brattle Theater and the Harvard Book Store (founded in 1932).
Here are just some of the highlights of the interview and Q&A session:
- They really aren’t writing the series with a movie version in mind. There’s a freedom in writing novels that they wouldn’t have in a movie or TV series. Although, before writing the books, del Toro did pitch a three-season television version that was rejected. They wanted him to make it a comedy!
- Even though they do not write the books with a film version in mind, they do have characters who are sort of already cast to match certain actors. Exterminator Vasily Fet would clearly be a good match for Ron Perlman (a regular in del Toro’s films) and the Master Vampire would be perfect for del Toro stalwart Doug Jones.
- del Toro became aware of Hogan after reading his novel THE BLOOD ARTIST. He then read Hogan’s PRINCE OF THIEVES and realized they would work well together to flesh out ideas del Toro has been working on since childhood about particularly vicious vampires.
- Hogan’s novel PRINCE OF THIEVES was the basis for the new Ben Affleck movie THE TOWN (reviewed here yesterday by John Harvey). Hogan said the movie takes liberties with his novel, which is to be expected, but that he was very pleased with it. He said he had seen it five or six times and was excited that it was the number one movie in the country (in box office receipts) during its first week of release.
- If del Toro had to use one word to describe himself, it would be “voracity.” He lives life voraciously and isn’t happy to work in just one medium. He loves doing other things besides movies, like writing novels, writing comic books, and he’s working on a video game script as well.
- Del Toro has been a gamer most of his life and thinks some video games are more impressive than most movies. In particular, he mentioned SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS as influencing some of the imagery in his movies.
- When asked about the genre of “magical realism” that has been applied to several Mexican authors over the years, del Toro said the label was a “slippery thing.” He said, growing up in Mexico, that every day was “magical realism.” Even his father, a very pragmatic man, is convinced that he has seen UFOs, for example.
- The germ of the idea of the STRAIN series was in del Toro’s head since he was eight or nine years old. As far back as that, he had planned for various kinds of vampires, like one that had a stinger under its tongue. When he approached Hogan about collaborating, he had already outlined the series from beginning to end in a 12-page synopsis. It was going to run just three books, and each would be self-contained, with its own beginning , middle and end. Readers do not have to read previous books to figure out what is going on. del Toro and Hogan said they were in the middle of working on the third and final book now.
- When asked about his close friend and fellow director Alejandro González Iñárritu, del Toro became quite animated, imitating the intense way his friend speaks. He also pointed out that Inarritu was able to cut out 15 minutes from his masterpiece PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006) and actually make the movie tighter before its release. Also, when they first met (through mutual friends), del Toro had been able to eliminate 17 minutes of Inarritu’s film AMORES PERROS (2000), even though Inarritu now claims it was just seven minutes. Aside from being friends, they are also each other’s harshest editors.
- Del Toro said he has many “fetishes”, from the colors amber and cobalt blue, to the clockwork gears that appear as imagery in many of his films, and insects.
- Del Toro’s first film, the offbeat vampire movie CHRONOS (1993) will be released soon as a Criterion edition with lots of extras.
- Talking about their collaboration process, Hogan and del Toro said they usually start out by getting together and spending several days together, plotting the book and outlining the chapters. Then they do the rest via emails back and forth. They each take which chapters they want to do (and, in turn, which characters they want to work with) and write those. Then they give the chapters they wrote to the other person to rewrite for continuity. del Toro said the collaboration process is actually quite amiable. They have never had an argument and the writing goes quite smoothly.
- Hogan said before he started work on the first STRAIN novel, his agent called to tell him that del Toro was interested in doing this project with him. This is about four months before PAN’S LABYRINTH was released in the United States. Hogan’s agent had seen the movie early on and said it was amazing. When Hogan finally saw it, he was suitably impressed and maybe a little intimidated at first. He said he definitely felt the need to bring his “A-Game” to the collaboration. In turn, del Toro said he was very impressed with Hogan’s novels, especially THE BLOOD ARTIST (which combines several genres), and knew immediately that this was someone he wanted to work with. Hogan is very good at writing police procedural fiction, and del Toro wanted to bring that to the STRAIN books.
- Answering an aspiring writer’s question about advice, del Toro said he has avoided most “How To Write” books and doesn’t recommend them. Except for Elmore Leonard’s 10 RULES OF WRITING, which he says is brilliant. Hogan and del Toro also agreed that reading constantly is very important to the craft of actually writing well.
- Del Toro said he is surprised by what he likes and doesn’t like within the horror genre. He said he was not a fan of the original 1931 DRACULA with Bela Lugosi (it’s like “an uncle in a cape”), and he wasn’t all that impressed with the Spanish version that was done at the same time with a different cast (although he thought the camera angles and acting were more interesting in the Spanish version). As far as vampire fiction, he said there were three novels that affected him the most. The first was Richard Matheson’s seminal novel, I AM LEGEND (which has been filmed at least three times), Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT, and the Jeff Rice novel that was the basis for the television movie THE NIGHT STALKER (1972).
- He also said that he didn’t like Francis Ford Coppola’s version of DRACULA(1992) the first time he saw it (he left the theater “scratching his head.”) But that he has grown to love it and has seen it multiple times since. He even owns some props from the movie.
- Del Toro said that he has tried to watch the show THE X-FILES on DVD several times but cannot get into it. He says it reminds him too much of the earlier series KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER (1974). KOLCHAK is very dear to his heart, especially the first TV movie, which featured vampire Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater), who was attacking women in Las Vegas. He also mentioned how well the newsroom scenes worked between reporter Carl Kolchack (Darren McGavin) and his editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland).
© Copyright 2010 by L.L. Soares