Writing the screenplay for Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro

Welcome to Crimson Peak

“This movie is my attempt to harken back to a classic, old-fashioned, grand Hollywood production in the Gothic romance genre,” says master of terror Guillermo del Toro who brings to the screen a dark and imaginative Gothic romance with his masterful Crimson Peak, releasing on October 30, 2015 in South Africa.

“For a while, in the Golden Era of cinema, movies like Dragonwyck, Rebecca, Jane Eyre and Great Expectations were produced but then decayed into oblivion in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.  In fact, it’s been about 30 years since someone has made a Gothic romance on this scale, and I am proud to welcome it back.

“This is a genre that was important at the end of the 18th century as a romantic reaction to the Age of Reason.  It marries things that are seemingly dissimilar: heightened melodrama layered with a lot of darkness and the Gothic atmosphere of a dark fairy tale that is both creepy and eerie.  It combines these elements to produce a unique flavor.

“Crimson Peak is designed to be gorgeous and beautiful, not only as eye candy but as eye protein.  The movie tells you the story of who the characters are through their surroundings and the sets, which are also a reflection of their inner psychology.  As well, the thematic elements of Crimson Peak come alive through the gorgeous wardrobe.  Truly, the painterly beauty of this film makes it one of my favorites I’ve ever created. I hope you enjoy.”

”Humans are the real horror”

Following the success of several action-packed, English-language blockbusters including Hellboy (2004), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) and Pacific Rim (2013), del Toro explains the premise of his latest effort in five simple words: “Humans are the real horror.”

More akin to the writer/director’s The Devil’s Backbone (2001), a spine-chilling, period love story veiled in horror, and the triple-Oscar-winning Spanish language masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), his new film explores the haunting theme that love is indeed a tender trap.  Just as the events of his latter production could be questioned by audiences as the product of a young girl’s limitless fantasy, Crimson Peak plays with our perceptions of what is truth and what is fiction.  As Edith is a burgeoning writer with a vivid imagination, could the terrifying events all be springing forth from her mind?

Crimson Peak is in step with the explorations of del Toro’s acclaimed Spanish-language productions, ones that gained the Mexican filmmaker international recognition.  To that end, producer Callum Greene—who last partnered with del Toro on Pacific Rim—aptly refers to his new work as del Toro’s “first English-language Spanish film.”

Reflecting upon this project’s influences, del Toro shares: “Crimson Peak is the ghost-story equivalent of Pan’s Labyrinth.  It has the combination of several genres, and the fact that we are packing the punch of a traditional ghost story with the class and beauty of a classic.”

Matthew R

Matthew Robbins

For his most powerful and provocative film to date, del Toro wrote the screenplay with longtime fellow scribe Matthew Robbins (Mimic, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark),

Born in New York City, received a BA degree in Romance Languages. He wrote the screenplays for The Sugerland Express, Dragonslayer, and other screenplays written with del Toro include The Count of Monte Cristo for American Zoetrope, The Coffin and Wind in the Willows for Sony.  Robbins wrote the screenplay for Pinocchio based on his collaboration of the story with del Toro, their stop-motion puppet interpretation of the Collodi classic for the Henson Company

As they crafted their screenplay, del Toro and Robbins drew inspiration from such deeply cherished novels as Jane Austen’s “Wuthering Heights,” Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” and Anya Seton’s “Dragonwyck,” all of which conceal horror in their spines.

Del Toro reflects: “In a Gothic romance you get a great love story, you get supernatural elements, you get really spooky scenes…all those things combined make a beautiful, gorgeous-looking movie.”

For del Toro, material exploring this genre can have ghosts and crumbling castles and “it can have the trappings of a horror film” but intricately seeded is a classical love story in which a central “virginal character who is discovering a secret, a treasure, a dark past…emerges somewhat transformed.”  And in spite of the dark turns the love story takes, the budding romance between Thomas and Edith has a lyrical quality.  Still, if love is a form of madness, all of the key players in their story fall victim to it.

Crimson Peak is, according to del Toro, “the darkest of fairytales,” and the classic recipe includes a character on a journey to adulthood.  “You can find it in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or in ‘The Snow Queen,’ in works by Oscar Wilde or Hans Christian Andersen,” he says.  The story involves finding independence; the rite of passage takes the character on a “journey through darkness… through geographical space, across the oceans, into the underworld.”

One of del Toro’s favorite Gothic romance novels is a lesser known read—“Uncle Silas,” by 19th century author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, which encompasses all the wickedness, horror and emotion of the genre.  “This movie is extremely close to ‘Uncle Silas’ in my heart,” he states.

In keeping with personalizing his tale, del Toro filled his story with many of his signature elements.  Some, such as the moths and the butterflies, were inspired by his childhood fascinations and the fact that they come to represent Lucille and Edith.  Others have become staples in his storytelling: the notion of choice, the nature of love, mechanical toys made of gears and wind-up mechanisms, the protagonist’s closeness to her father, and an underground lair or cave-like setting that is used to hide deep secrets or emotions.

What attracts del Toro to bring terror into his work is “using ghosts to eliminate human antidotes, to illuminate the story in a human way.”  He took the classic Gothic romance and infused it further with his imaginative approach by building a unique haunted mansion that became the mortar of the mystery.  Here, fear lives within the walls.

This mixture of psychological and physical horror greatly appealed to Legendary, with whom del Toro has had a relationship since early discussions on Pacific Rim.  The studio felt his latest work would dovetail with its mission to create credible, mythic universes.  Legendary’s Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni would join del Toro and Greene to produce Crimson Peak.  For Legendary CEO Tull, the opportunity to work with del Toro once again was one he eagerly approached.  He offers: “Regardless of the genre, Guillermo brings a level of intelligence and sophistication to every one of his films.  When he described to us what he hoped to accomplish with Crimson Peak, we could fully envision the journey he was taking us on.  That said, the result of that vision far surpassed even our wildest dreams.”

Jashni has long been moved by how del Toro is able to communicate to global audiences through his themes.  “Whether it is creating a Spanish-language classic with Pan’s Labyrinth or, say, speaking to Chinese audiences through Pacific Rim, Guillermo understands the language of film,” he says.  “Moviegoers feel the passion he has for his characters and stories, and they respond to his work on a deeply personal level.”

For executive producer Jillian Share, it was the story’s juxtaposition of the end of the Victorian era with the dawn of a new century that offered such narrative possibilities.  “Guillermo sets these events in such exquisite period settings, while simultaneously exploring a very contemporary theme of women finding their place and their voice in this world,” she notes.  “And although their motives are quite different, Lucille is just as brilliant and determined as Edith; they’re both headstrong and forward thinkers.”

Director and writer Guillermo del Toro explains how he brought the Gothic back to the big screen and why ‘horror’ isn’t quite the right way to describe it.

Del Toro shares a few thoughts with Jessica Chastain

Del Toro shares a few thoughts with Jessica Chastain

 Working with the actors

As Lady Sharpe is shrouded in mystery to the audience, del Toro provided Jessica Chastain with an in-depth character biography, which Chastain used in preparing herself.  Having del Toro craft the character gave the performer and the director a shared history.  She says: “When I made choices on set, he saw why I was making the choice because he knows Lucille’s history.”

They shared an understanding of the character’s actions and influences, and Lucille’s greatest motivation was love.  Says Chastain: “Hate and anger come from love; every emotion has its equal parts magnified.  Guillermo creates that balance so you never feel like you’re playing an empty emotion.  You never feel like you’re just in a ghost story.  You feel like you’re telling a story about real people.”

Mia Wasikowska recalls the director referencing Frankenstein in the early stages of filming: “Fear is how we learn about who we are.”  Just as he did for Chastain as Lucille, del Toro crafted an eight-page biography for Wasikowska.  She offers: “It was incredibly in-depth.  There were things about her Edith’s upbringing, her relationship to her parents and different smells that she liked.”

To her credit, Wasikowska doesn’t see Edith as a heroine, nor that there is a definitive “good guy or bad guy” in the film.  “All the characters are relatively ambiguous, enough that you could see them in either way…all of them doing what’s necessary to survive,” she muses.  Survival for Edith entailed a fall in the mansion set, the most terrifying and exhilarating stunt that Wasikowska has ever performed.  “It goes against all your instincts,” she laughs.  But after a few rehearsals, the actress couldn’t wait to do it again.

Tom Hiddleston was seduced by the sophistication of the writing and admits that he loved the “moral ambiguity” of his character.  In addition, Hiddleston was thrilled at the opportunity to work alongside his longtime friend Chastain.  And considering that he had previously worked with Wasikowska on Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, the performer felt the project would be a great fit.

Hiddleston had long been a fan of del Toro as well.  The actor states: “Guillermo is probably, if not definitely, the primary interpreter of Gothic romance in contemporary cinema.  He has the capacity to make stories about the supernatural intensely emotional and accessible.”

Hiddleston wanted his character to feel “hugely emotional and redemptive” for the audience to feel his emotional journey so that the film would unfold from a horror to a drama and a romance, undoubtedly del Toro’s own intent.  As he did with Chastain and Wasikowska, del Toro provided Hiddleston with a character biography that gave the actor “authentic flavor” for the character he was playing.  The director even shared some of Sharpe’s secrets, which he instructed the actor not to share with the other cast.  In admiration, Hiddleston affectionately refers to del Toro as “a great Mexican bear,” noting his extraordinary passion having the capacity to “light a spark which goes around the entire crew.  We’d follow him everywhere because he believes in it so deeply.”

There are not just humans in this Gothic romance.  The ghosts of Allerdale Hall were as real as the film’s main characters; they were actors in intricately designed costumes mirroring the crimson clay of the mining pits.  “They were incredible with their movements and simply beautiful,” says Chastain.

Interaction with a real human being allowed the actors to elevate their performance as they often felt genuinely terrified in their surroundings.  “I’ve never seen ghosts like this before; I love that you can see their human form,” says Wasikowska.  “I think the more human the image of a ghost, the scarier it is because we can relate to it as something that we are, or were.”

As del Toro is known to tinker with his script until he achieves perfection, Greene recalls reading a version of the screenplay for the first time several years ago.  The core of it remains the same, but the producer advises that “what changed was del Toro’s attention to the female characters.”  In fact, on day 52 of principal photography, the filmmaker was still adding new pages to the script, minute corrections that evolved daily based on his interactions with the actors and their interactions with one another about the characters’ evolution.  This custom tailoring of a project is the filmmaker’s modus operandi; he guides, he listens, he absorbs, “and by that trust, they give it back,” says Greene.  “It’s a little known fact, but Guillermo is a magician.”

920_guillermo-del-toro-compares-crimson-peak-to-pan-s-labyrinth-5757Guillermo Del Toro

Guillermo Del Toro  is among the most creative and visionary artists of his generation, whose distinctive style is showcased through his work as a filmmaker, screenwriter, producer and author.  Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, del Toro first gained worldwide recognition for the 1993 Mexican-American co-production Cronos, a supernatural horror film, which he directed from his own screenplay, after beginning his career working as a special effects makeup artist.  The film premiered at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Mercedes-Benz Award.  It also won more than 20 international awards, including eight Ariel Awards from the Mexican Academy of Film, including Best Director, Best Screenplay and the Golden Ariel.

Del Toro then directed and co-wrote the supernatural thriller The Devil’s Backbone, which along with Cronos has appeared repeatedly in Top 10 lists of the best genre films of all time.

In 2004, del Toro directed and co-wrote the action-adventure sci-fi thriller Hellboy, which starred Ron Perlman in the title role.  Four years later, he wrote and directed the hit sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

Del Toro earned international acclaim as the director, writer and producer of the 2006 fantasy drama Pan’s Labyrinth.  He was honored with an Oscar® nomination for his original screenplay for the film, which received five additional Oscar® nominations, including Best Foreign Language Film, and won for Art Direction, Cinematography and Makeup.  In all, the film garnered more than 40 international awards and appeared on more than 35 critics’ lists of the year’s best films.

In 2013, del Toro wrote and directed the epic sci-fi action-adventure Pacific Rim, which starred Charlie Hunnam and Idris Elba, and has grossed more than $400 million worldwide.  He also created the Couch Gag for the 24th annual “Treehouse of Horror XXIV” Halloween episode of The Simpsons, which aired in October 2013 and garnered more than 20 million views on YouTube.

Del Toro executive produced the worldwide horror hit Mama, which starred Jessica Chastain.  Among his other film credits, del Toro produced the supernatural thriller The Orphanage, which became the highest-grossing local language film in Spain’s history.  In addition, he partnered with fellow Mexican directors Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu to produce Carlos Cuarón Rudo y Cursi and Biutiful, which was written and directed by Iñárritu.  Del Toro is the co-screenwriter, with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, of the three Hobbit films for New Line Cinema.

On the animation front, del Toro, through his overall deal with DreamWorks Animation, has been an executive producer on the films Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots and Rise of the Guardians.  Among his upcoming animation projects are Puss in Boots 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3.  In 2014, he produced The Book of Life for Fox Animation and Reel FX.  Del Toro is also developing and will co-direct an adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, as a 3D, stop-motion feature, which he will also co-produce with The Henson Company.

Del Toro has also turned his attention to publishing.  With novelist Chuck Hogan, he co-authored the vampire-horror novel “The Strain,” which was published in June 2009 by William Morrow.  They have since collaborated on “The Fall” and “The Night Eternal,” which make up “The Strain Trilogy.”  All three books debuted as The New York Times top-10 bestsellers.  Recently, Hyperion Press published “Trollhunters,” a fantasy-adventure novel co-written by Del Toro and Daniel Kraus.  The book will be the basis for a Del Toro-produced animated television series for DreamWorks Animation.

Del Toro and Hogan are also the creators of FX Networks’ hit series The Strain, based on the novels.  Del Toro directed the opening episode of the first season and also serves as an executive producer on the series, which is about to air its final episode of the second season.  Dark Horse Comics is currently issuing a graphic novel series adapted from the trilogy.

In 2013, Harper Design published “Guillermo del Toro Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions,” a lavishly illustrated book containing notes, drawings and untold creatures from del Toro’s private journals and filmmaking diaries, with never-before-seen characters, art and ideas of things to come.

In addition, Del Toro is currently developing a television series based on Naoki Urasawa’s acclaimed manga series Monster, with producers Don Murphy, Susan Montford, Gary Ungar and HBO.

Del Toro is represented by Exile Entertainment and WME.

Crimson Peak is written by Guillermo del Toro & Matthew Robbins and directed by Guillermo del Toro.

©2015 Legendary Pictures.