"If you get bored with nothing to do, you are not a writer": Guillermo del Toro's words to live by

"I'm going to sit, because I'm fat. I hope you're drinking stuff," Guillermo del Toro said as he took the stage at Portland's Baghdad Theater & Pub. Ostensibly he was there to read from his new book... but he digressed.

What really happened was this: del Toro talked about his book for like 10 minutes, then opened it up to questions for the next hour or two, talking about everything from the book (conceived "before vampires were teenybopper dreams"), to how the Hellboy comics saved his life while he was shooting Mimic, to Hitchcock (did you know he wrote a book on Hitchcock? Me neither).

I took notes. In no particular order:

  • The bloody, pulpy Strain Trilogy was originally going to be TV series on FOX, until studio executives asked del Toro a question: "Yeah, but can we have it as a comedy?" Del Toro asked for his script back.


  • When asked about he assembled his filmmaking team: "I draw and sculpt, but I'm not a great sculptor, I'm not a great draftsman. So you hire people who are better than you, and you are loyal to those people... The rule is to work only with people you admire or you love. Or both."


  • "When you tackle a 'B' premise, you need to tackle it like an 'A' premise," he said, noting this is the case regardless of what you're working on, even if it's something like Blade II, which some people (incorrectly) assumed was a "paycheck movie." "I'm not postmodern," he said later. "I absolutely hate being smarter than my material." He's excited beyond belief to do The Haunted Mansion for Disney, a ride he's been collecting ephemera from for years. "The flavor of that ride is unlike anything else in the world."

  • On adapting other peoples' work: "Once the material is out, it belongs to all of us." And: "Adapting material is like marrying a widow. You have to be very respectful of the late husband's memory, but at some point you've gotta fuck."


  • The Science of Fairy Tales: An Inquiry into Fairy Mythology by Edwin Sidney Hartland, published in 1891, is the book that most influenced the Strain Trilogy (though it sounds like it's influenced a lot of del Toro's other stuff, too; it's available online for free.) "I needed to make Pan's Labyrinth feel like a real fairy tale... like it was ancient," del Toro said. "I think everything I write is a fairy tale, to a degree." Chapters of The Science of Fairy Tales include "Changelings," "Swan-Maidens," "Robberies form Fairyland," no fewer than three chapters on "The Supernatural Lapse of Time in Fairyland," "Fairy Births and Human Midwives," and, naturally, "Fairy Births and Human Midwives (Continued)." The first line from the book's preface:

    The chief object of this volume is to exhibit, in a manner acceptable to readers who are not specialists, the application of the principles and methods which guide investigations into popular traditions to a few of the most remarkable stories embodying the Fairy superstitions of the Celtic and Teutonic peoples.



  • On writing: "If you get bored with nothing to do, you are not a writer." "We are in the business of reproducing reality from nothing. We are the biggest liars in the world, seeking truth." There will be a collection of his short fiction published, at some point, by Harper Collins.


  • He thanks people for listening to his DVD commentaries. He prepares his DVD and Blu-ray special features "very carefully" so that they're "as educational as possible." "DVDs are the most democratic way to teach film."


  • He's been wanting to make At the Mountains of Madness for 30 years; it was the first film he ever wanted to make. Lovecraft, he says, writes about "the existential insignificance of man in the universe."


  • "We fear the dark. Make no mistake about it: You can drive your Prius and and type on your iPad, but if we leave you in the dark, you will shit your pants."


  • At one point, a guy gets up to give del Toro some concept art he's drawn. He wants a job working on At the Mountains of Madness. Del Toro takes it, flips through it, says he likes it, asks if the guy's contact info is inside. Later, a kid asks how he can audition to be in At the Mountains of Madness. Del Toro says they'll probably shoot in Vancouver, "so it's not too far," tells the kid to email him at his personal address, and says he'll write back and let him know when auditions start. Later, an exceedingly nervous girl tells del Toro that his elaborate notebooks inspired her to start documenting her dreams. She's made a copy of these drawings for del Toro, she says, and would like to give it to him. He gladly accepts, thanking her and noting, "I show my dreams to everyone."


  • At the Mountains of Madness will be in 3D. So will his pal Alfonso Cuarón's next movie. 3D is no longer a gimmick.


  • "If you're not operating on an instinctive level, you're not an artist." Later: "Reason over emotion is bullshit, absolute bullshit." And: "We suffocate ourselves in rules. I find fantasy liberating."


  • "We live in a world that creates impossible standards... I say to all of that, 'Screw you and die.' We should celebrate imperfection, because that's the one thing all of us can achieve."

  • He is, unsurprisingly, a big book nerd — fine, the word he uses is "bibliophile" — loving them both for what they contain and what they are as objects. "We are animalistic creatures," he said. "We need talismans." He said he went into debt so that he could have an entire house that serves only as a place for his books, with seven libraries in seven rooms. ("I"m a very, very organized hoarder.") He's currently building an eighth room, the "Rain Room," where it will rain 24 hours a day — rain and lighting will always be lashing against this room's windows, so that he can always write in a thunderstorm.


  • "Do whatever the fuck you want, even if it's wrong, and then tell about it with honesty. That is filmmaking to me." And: "Success is fucking up on your own terms."


  • The way he made the little kid in The Devil's Backbone tremble during a key scene? He dumped a bucket of ice down the kid's pants. "I should be in jail!"

  • The last question of the night was about videogames. Del Toro, a dedicated gamer — his children serve as his "wingmen" when he plays Left 4 Dead — is moving into making games, stating matter-of-factly that they're as legitimate of a medium as film and literature. "I expect and hope to create what I would like to see in a videogame," he says, after rattling off some of his favorite videogames at near-incomprehensible speed, just as he did when someone asked him his favorite authors: Shadow of the Colossus, Ico, Gadget: Invention, Travel, & Adventure, Marathon, Halo, Gears of War, Call of Duty, Katamari, Left 4 Dead, Red Dead Redemption, Prototype, Bioshock, Uncharted 2. He plays a ton of games, though he doesn't finish anything he doesn't like — and this holds true for books, film, whatever. "If it doesn't engage me, I leave it," he said. "I do not do homework with my life."


  • Last thing: There are more videos from del Toro's reading. You can find 'em here.

This post by Erik Henriksen originally appeared at the Portland Mercury. Erik Henriksen is a senior editor at the Mercury. He also writes comic books. He can be found here and here.