‘Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio’ co-director Mark Gustafson on persevering through COVID [Exclusive Video Interview]

Mark Gustafson was all set to get working on the new adaptation of “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” with the titular director but then the pandemic hit in early 2020. “We all just left work but what we did was many of the artists were able to work at home, like in their basements because they had all the kit, a lot of them, so they were able to continue making props and armatures,” he tells Gold Derby during our Meet the Experts: Film Animation panel (watch the exclusive video interview above).

He gives a lot of credit to Netflix in keeping the production alive during a very trying period. “Netflix was an incredible partner in this thing and they said we’re going to keep funding you and we’re going to keep everybody on board. So we had this beautiful continuity across the pandemic and we were able to then just ramp up again.”

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“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” which will be available December 9 on Netflix, is the Oscar winner’s adaptation of the classic tale of a father’s wish that brings a wooden boy to life. The movie was made using stop-motion animation and stars Gregory Mann, Ron Perlman, Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Tim Blake Nelson, John Turturro and Cate Blanchett. This was Gustafson’s feature debut as a director. He previously had worked in short films and television which included an Emmy win in 1992 for Best Animated Program for “Claymation Easter.”

Assembling the cast wasn’t too hard due to del Toro’s involvement with the project. Blanchett ended up in the movie in a very funny way. After finishing the filming of “Nightmare Alley” she asked if she could work with him again. “He said, ‘I’m doing this animated film but all the parts are already cast. She said, ‘Are you sure,’ and he said, ‘Well, there’s a monkey that doesn’t have any lines.’ And she said, ‘Sign me up!’” McGregor also turned out to be a key strength for the film. “He turned out to be an amazing asset for the film. I mean, his performance is one of the best ones and he’s very very warm and his voice just exudes this charm.”

Working as co-directors could have been a challenge for Gustafson and del Toro but Gustafson found the working relationship to be quite amicable. “We fortunately found that we had very similar sensibilities, so it was ultimately quite easy. We thought about seams, story and character in very much the same way.” The experience ended up being incredibly rewarding and a bit of a learning one too. “I learn from him every day and I’m sure that he learned something from me as well. That’s a joke. But he’s so passionate about this character and we all just were caught up in it and wanted to give our best work.”

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