According to “The Shape of Water” producer J. Miles Dale, the journey for Guillermo del Toro‘s passion project began when the director was a child in Guadalajara, Mexico, watching a rerun of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) on television. Unlike most viewers, the future filmmaker was hoping that the prehistoric beast and the bathing beauty (Julie Adams) would run off together. “He was obviously heartbroken when that didn’t happen,” Dale believes, “because it stuck with him for about 40 years until he was able to right the cinematic wrong by writing this movie.” From his childhood discontentment sprung this love story about a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) who falls for a fish man during the Cold War. Watch our exclusive video interview with Dale above.
Del Toro’s reputation for visually stylish, eccentric fantasies such as “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) made this unusual concept an easier pitch to studios than it normally would have been. “With anybody else, they’d probably look at you like you were crazy,” Dale explains. “But with Guillermo, you can see it. He works in allegory and metaphor, and he tends to live in that world.” So when the duo brought the project to Fox Searchlight, “they were very taken, and they were interested right away.”
But while it was no struggle getting the green light, actually making it on a budget of less than $20 million was a different story. “We were resource-challenged,” Dale admits. “Guillermo is very ambitious in terms of scope, especially on such a personal project that he saw so clearly.” Luckily, they had a few tricks up their sleeves. For instance, they used the sound stages and sets from their FX series “The Strain,” which were conveniently located on the Fox lot, in-between seasons of that show. As well, some crew members agreed to work for less than their usual salaries for the opportunity to collaborate with del Toro. “I feel like people really understood that this was Guillermo putting his heart on his sleeve,” Dale says, “and there was a high degree of commitment to the project.”
Their passion paid off with 13 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay (del Toro and Vanessa Taylor). Among Dale and del Toro’s laurels for the film thus far have been victories at the PGA and Critics’ Choice Awards. Will the Oscars be next?
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