To celebrate the release of monster epic PACIFIC RIM, in UK cinemas TODAY, we’ve a whole host of interviews with cast and crew.
The final interview is this video interview with the film’s director Guillermo del Toro, along with a Q + A below with both Guillermo and Pacific Rim’s co-writer, Travis Beacham.
Guillermo, you and Alfonso Cuaron are both making big science fiction films this year. Have you talked about it with him?
GDT: Alfonso saw my movie and I saw Gravity. I had ideas for his and he had a few ideas, some of them great for Pacific Rim, like the final line – that was from Alfonso. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu has been around too. But we don’t talk about cinema that much, we just talk about life and our kids. I wish we had deep conversations about film!
What was your response when you first read the script?
GDT: They sent me the treatment. My agents always send me stuff knowing I’m going to pass. The only time I took a movie I didn’t originate was Blade. I’ve passed on everything else, even gigantic movies. They sent me Pacific Rim, and I already knew Travis from Killing On Carnival Row, which we’d developed. I love Travis and admired the Carnival Row script and I said I’d read this one. I read it and told my agents to get me a meeting immediately.
Travis Beacham: It was the day after I sold it.
GDT: I came in and started pitching the craziest ideas – two pilots, the baby Kaiju etc. Travis liked them and Legendary liked them and that’s where we started.
Travis, what challenges did you face with the screenplay?
TB: There weren’t a lot of challenges, actually. At the end of the day, when you’re writing a movie about giant robots and giant monsters and these characters I was really in love with from the start. It was the dream project – “am I really getting paid for this?” I felt like I was getting away with something.
In terms of Kaiju, how involved were you in creating them?
GDT: Take a wild guess…. (Laughs) I’m obsessive compulsive. Everything in the movie has to go through me. I designed the Kaiju and the robots in my house. In my garage.
TB: That’s the truth.
GDT: I have eight drawing tables in the house and I locked the artists with me and Travis in the next room. Then they’d all come out and we’d have lunch together and I’d look at the art and I’d correct, and change and draw, and then they go back to work and come back an hour later and I look at what they’ve done. Because we were both together, we were able to bounce back and forth on the screenplay the same day. I was writing in the rain room, and you were writing in the prisoners’ room!
TB: Yeah! It was a lot of fun, because you could go into the room where there are all these artists and look at the stuff that they’re designing. There’s really so much back and forth. So the whole design process really happened in tandem with the writing process.
GDT: The difficult thing on a screenplay like that is to organise. There are three levels on a screenplay, no matter what genre you’re doing. It’s plot, information and then characters. And to balance that was the difficult thing. In fact, the last screenplay, the shooting draft, was 135 pages long. Which gave us a result of about 40 minutes more movie. The way you organise it is, you write it, but in the editing room you need modular things that you can move around and in my opinion, you write a movie in the editing room. The rest is the creation of the alphabet. You say, ‘I wish I had a W, I wish I had an X, but I didn’t get it and finally it’s like writing a ransom letter – you have a bunch of elements and you put it together in the edit.
Why did you choose Rinko Kikuchi?
GDT: I like Rinko. I met her on Babel when we were touring with Alejandro with that and Alfonso with Children Of Men and me with Pan’s Labyrinth. I really found her to have a great strength and a centre and I wanted the character of Mako to be fresh. When you say normally, “and there is a young Japanese girl pilot,” you imagine a sexy, skimpily clad girl that has her T-shirt wet every five minutes….
TB: Likes cats…
GDT: I wanted very much to have a character that ended the movie on equal terms with Raleigh and that they didn’t have to have a love story, they could have a colleague love story with respect for each other. And have the capacity to have a moving backstory. Rinko is an extraordinary actor and she’s incredibly intuitive and very brave. For me to take a Japanese speaking part in Japan? It would not happen. For her to take this… We all supported her.
What direction did you give her?
GDT: Here’s an example. When we were doing the scene of the heart, when they talk about Raleigh’s past and she has a moment where she says, “I saw it, I felt it, I’ve never seen Gipsy Danger’s heart,” I wanted for her to really be able to feel for him and sadly it’s out of the movie right now, but he used to tell her a lot of his feelings in Japanese. And he practised a lot. I told Rinko that this scene is of him listening to him, and for an actor it’s not only how many lines and how you start understanding each other after the drift, and I want you to feel for him. And for her to be strong, but be strong from a feminine core. I didn’t want her to be the girl that turns into a sex object or a guy. Which is the normal thing in an action movie. And I wanted the fights to be like a courtship or a dance and I told Rinko that she had to want to win. Not because she’s kick-ass – the worst thing is someone who is not a physical actor trying to pretend that they’re tough – I said, let him irritate you during the martial arts scenes so you really want to go for him.
Do you have plans for a longer cut on DVD?
GDT: DVDs and Blu-Rays are getting more and more difficult to produce because the extra content is less and less pertinent. The studios want to put all the info on the Blu-Ray and the proper picture and sound. So we chose very carefully. There is about 40 minutes of movie we took out and we included maybe 15 minutes on the disc. It’s extending a scene.
There’s a billboard of a Kaiju destroying Sydney Harbour Bridge that is not in the film. Did you work on that?
GDT: The Sydney battle was always about showing that the Australian Jaeger being able to take care of business in four seconds and come out and kill the monster, then they go home and put the flip-flops on…
TB: The whole idea from the beginning is that there’s a world outside the movie. The story’s in the world.
GDT: People want us to come and destroy their city!
TB: They’re asking if there’s an Australian Jaeger, a Peruvian Jaeger and there is, in the world.
GDT: The Peruvian Jaeger, the Puma Royale, is destroyed in the opening attack. But I wanted the Sydney Opera House in the foreground, but not for the Kaiju to destroy it. We chose the Kaiju that looked like the Opera House, but would go past, and the joke for me is for it to just go past. They’re going for cities, not landmarks.
Guillermo this is the first time you’ve directed in five years. Can you talk about what’s been going on?
GDT: Let’s be quick about what is coming up, because I want to talk about the real things, not just the inventory of stuff that has been reported. I’m doing The Strain on TV for Fox in September, and then I’m doing Crimson Peak in January for Legendary, a gothic romance love story. And The Hobbit? I have not seen it, I have no reaction to report. Why? I was doing a movie. And I’ve gone to the cinema three times, all with my daughters and all movies they choose. Trust me, I saw Les Mis. And I didn’t want to see The Hobbit on Blu-Ray, and Peter offered to show it to me when I’m ready in 48FPS. As far as Mountains Of Madness, it’s the hardest experience I’ve ever had in my 20 years of career when that movie collapsed. I was crushed but I had been working on Pacific Rim, which we were developing in parallel, so the deal with Legendary was, when Mountains finished or it didn’t happen, I would do Pacific Rim. On a Friday, Mountains collapsed, on Monday I was on Pacific Rim.
Will we ever see Mountains of Madness?
I hope one day.
Travis, what were your considerations when you were writing this? Were you worried about going too big?
TB: I didn’t really think about that, because with the state of special effects these days, they can do basically anything.
GDT: How cavalier of you!
TB: Yeah, right? (Laughs) But if somebody likes it enough, they’re going to try to do it. I tried not to think of scale. I tried to be as practical as possible, though.
Tell us about the special effects…
GDT: We did a lot of crazy stuff on the practical side, like the Tokyo street for the Kaiju attack, we rigged it with hydraulic rams so the cars, the sidewalk, the walls, everything moved when the Kaiju took a step, it all bounced. We filled it with puddles so we had the Jurassic Park effect, but times 20, the whole street. And the girl reacted to each step because the whole set would shake. And I thought that would give it dimension.
It has been publicised how brutal the machine with the pilots was. We had two of those compartments, one on each stage and they were really, really – they did two types of brutalisation – one was able to drop fast or go forward or go back, the other one was going side to side. So depending on the type of attack, we put the pilots in one or the other.
We built and destroyed several blocks of Hong Kong on the set and the VFX went to ILM and all I can say is we engaged their hearts and minds. We really came in and offered to fulfil the things they love to do – they love robots, they love monsters and they love Cheetos. We gave them two of them wholeheartedly.
Do you feel the pressure of this being different from other summer movies?
All I can do is deliver what I believe in – whatever career I’ve had, good, bad, indifferent, I don’t care – I had it on my own terms. I didn’t make a movie thinking ‘I hope they nominate it for the Oscar this year!’ I don’t hope for big box office, I never know. The Devil’s Backbone, my third movie or so, was released in 12 cinemas in the United States. I think that my responsibility can only be fiscal, meaning they give me money, I try to make it look like twice what they give me and I deliver it on budget and on schedule. From that moment on, all I can think of is on myself, and say, ‘I’ve got to do what I’m doing.’ It’s like sex, you can’t f**k without a boner. Know what I’m saying? You’re giving it your life, saying, ‘take three years, I’m ready,’ Was it worth it? The answer for me? Absolutely yes. You cannot be responsible for anything else.
You dedicated this movie to Ishiro Honda, the god of special effects from Japan. What scenes from Japanese Kaiju scenes influenced you and what scenes do you want Japanese fans to look at?
Everybody I invited to the design team, and Travis, all of us, we were fans of the genre. I wanted to make a movie made by fans but not a fan movie. I wanted very much to do certain staples, like the move of the Kaiju throwing something or the Kaiju at the end of the street destroying something while people were running. But I didn’t want to make it a movie that was a best of, a collection of moments, I wanted to push things you had never seen before. Two creatures going through buildings, a fight in the stratosphere, a fight at the bottom of the ocean and to play constantly with scale. I wanted to be juxtaposing things. People are going to see things that are honouring the Kaiju tradition, and a lot of stuff that is my own take on that tradition. The uniqueness of Honda is that he was very well versed in the fantastic. One of my favourite movies of his is Matango, based on an obscure short story called The Voice In The Night by William Hope Hodgson, who is a great author of strange fiction that influenced Lovecraft. And a guy that I was fascinated by as a kid. When I saw Honda did Matango, I felt the kinship that I felt with somebody like Harryhausen. Somebody that is a connoisseur of the genre and it would have been an honour to meet him and geek out.