Guillermo del Toro’s Golden Army: A Q&A With His Team Of DGC Ontario Creatives

Director Guillermo del Toro’s luminary career includes a long history with Ontario, beginning with 1997’s Mimic and culminating in his latest visually lush feature Nightmare Alley, hitting theatres tomorrow, December 17th.  Join us on a tour of del Toro’s Toronto, featuring the golden army of DGC Ontario Members built by Guillermo since he began calling Toronto home 25 years ago!

Join us on a tour of del Toro’s Toronto, featuring the golden army of DGC Ontario Members assembled by Guillermo over the past 25 years!

Director Guillermo del Toro’s luminary career includes a long history with Ontario, beginning with 1997’s Mimic and culminating in his latest visually lush feature, Nightmare Alley, hitting theatres tomorrow, December 17th.

GDT has spoken extensively of his love of the GTA, for not only our diverse and robust film community, but also for the immense wealth of talent found in Canadian crews and creative keys. In a 2017 ET Canada interview on The Shape of Water, del Toro enthused, “A lot of productions go to Toronto; they use the crew but bring all the heads of department from America or England. I wanted to show the world that the heads of departments in this movie were all Canadian, all in Toronto, and you can make an A-class film with a Canadian crew. And not just a Canadian crew, but with Canadian heads of departments.

Nightmare Alley features the creative and logistical contributions of over 100 DGC Ontario Members, many of whom have worked with del Toro on executing his unique and lavish vision on multiple productions.

Tamara Deverell

Production Designer Nightmare Alley, The Strain
Art Director Mimic

Production Designer Tamara Deverell on the set of Nightmare Alley. Photo credit: April Fox
Production Designer Tamara Deverell on the set of Nightmare Alley. Photo credit: April Fox

Along with Nightmare Alley, you designed all four seasons of The Strain and will be working with GDT on his upcoming Cabinet of Curiosities anthology series. What similar aesthetic and visual sense do you share with GDT?

Tamara: I started working with Guillermo as the Art Director on Mimic around 1996, some 25 years ago. Through that early film experience, I came to understand Guillermo’s visual sensibility and design aesthetics.

My process with Guillermo starts with a great deal of visual research in terms of film references and art history, particularly relating to colour palette and composition. For Nightmare Alley, we studied the images of Andrew Wyeth and the Danish painter Hammershøi for composition and framing structure in the sets. We looked to American painters Edward Hopper and George Bellows for the colour palette and Fauvist Matisse for the rich carnival tones. 

Our working methodology consists of sketching over the preliminary plans and models that I provide, as a quick way to start the design process together. We speak in visuals, surrounded by research and references that evoke the look we intuitively know is something we want to pursue. Guillermo’s inclination towards repeated geometric forms (circles and arches that frame the characters), as well as specific colour codes (red becomes a signal for life and for death, for example), are aesthetics to which I have become attuned.

I understand and share his vision, colour sense, and attention to detail. Having a working relationship with a Director who has a deep understanding of design, composition, and such a detailed visual sense is a gift to me as a Designer.


CAM MCLAUCHLIN

Picture Editor Nightmare Alley
Assistant Picture Editor Crimson Peak, The Strain, Pacific Rim, The Shape of Water

Nightmare Alley Saks Fifth Avenue Party. From L to R: Composer Nathan Johnson, Picture Editor Cam McLauchlin, Production Designer Tamara Deverell, Director/Co-Writer Guillermo del Toro, Co-Writer Kimberley Morgan, Costume Designer Luis Sequeira, Producing partner J. Miles Dale. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

You worked your way up through the editing department via GDT’s films, beginning as Assistant Picture Editor on Pacific Rim and have since worked on nearly every GDT project. Now, on Nightmare Alley, you are the Picture Editor. How has working on GDT’s films impacted your craft?

Cam: Guillermo is a master storyteller.  His work ethic and instinct are something that, as a filmmaker, you feed off.

As his Editor, I feel as if I am the drummer in his band, constantly keeping the tempo and rhythm while we craft the performances, shape and tone of the story. Guillermo is as generous as they come, giving you the space and opportunity to explore your craft and voice as an artist and collaborator, all the while, constantly challenging you and the material.

As an Editor working with any Director, you enter a sacred space, where the only ego that exists is that of the film itself.  Having gone from page to shoot to edit, we are searching for the moment where the sum of the film’s parts takes the audience to a heightened place. With Guillermo, this is the north star, and nothing will rest until we arrive there.


Jill Purdy

Supervising Sound Editor Nightmare Alley
Sound Editor The Shape of Water, The Strain

Nightmare Alley Supervising Sound Editor Jill Purdy

Both yourself and Nathan Robitaille (and Sound Dogs as a whole) have had a long history of working with GDT. What is it like working with a filmmaker with such a precise aesthetic, and how has that impacted how you work?

Jill: Working with Guillermo is entirely immersive. Every sound-related detail is designed with character and story in mind, down to the tonality of every breath and each syllable uttered. This makes collaboration with Guillermo as a Director very unique and requires an innate familiarity with the material recorded during production and post production in order to achieve his intention for every moment of screen time.

Working with Guillermo is akin to riding a creative train through a metaphorical tornado – where an entire village supports one another to assemble the pieces of the restructured landscape into something more beautiful than its previous incarnation.


Nathan Robitaille

Supervising Sound Editor Nightmare Alley, The Shape of Water
Sound Editor The Strain

Nightmare Alley and The Shape of Water Supervising Sound Editor Nathan Robitaille
Nightmare Alley and The Shape of Water Supervising Sound Editor Nathan Robitaille

You’ve been a Sound Editor on many GDT productions over the years and were nominated with Nelson Ferreira for an Oscar for Best Sound Editing on The Shape of Water. How has working with GDT impacted how you approach your craft?

Nathan: Guillermo is a man of discriminating tastes, and he cares deeply about sound. Nightmare Alley is my fourth project with him, and it’s flattering to be invited back each time. There are a lot of brilliant sound designers attached to his credits, and it’s pretty cool to have a spot on that list.

GDT works really fast, and sometimes big changes occur in short periods of time, so it’s a frequent necessity to step back and assess our work in the context of evolving picture changes. If I can, I like to get involved in those early stages while the story is still being discovered in the Avid. I think “temp love” is pretty natural, and it can be really useful when I’m able to introduce good sounds for the Editor to fall in love with early on. It saves a lot of creative trial and error down the road, and it allows me to focus on the craft rather than the to-do list. I also find that on Guillermo’s projects, we get more collaborative access to other departments while they’re still shooting, and that always bears fruit. Getting involved in a project as much as possible before they wrap has become a part of my process, and I’m certain Guillermo has had a lot of influence there.


Nelson Ferreira

Sound Editor Nightmare Alley, Shape of Water, The Strain

The Post Production Team of The Shape of Water. L-R: Supervising Sound Editor Nathan Robitaille, Producing partner J. Miles Dale, Re-Recording Mixer Brad Zoern, Director Guillermo del Toro, Re-Recording Mixer Christian Cooke, Sound Editor Nelson Ferreira, Filip Hosek, 1st Assistant Picture Editor Cam McLauchlin, Picture Editor Sidney Wolinsky, Sound Editor Rob Hegedus, Post Production Supervisor Doug Wilkinson.
The Post Production Team of The Shape of Water. L-R: Supervising Sound Editor Nathan Robitaille, Producing partner J. Miles Dale, Re-Recording Mixer Brad Zoern, Director Guillermo del Toro, Re-Recording Mixer Christian Cooke, Sound Editor Nelson Ferreira, Filip Hosek, 1st Assistant Picture Editor Cam McLauchlin, Picture Editor Sidney Wolinsky, Sound Editor Rob Hegedus, Post Production Supervisor Doug Wilkinson.

You’ve been a Sound Editor on many GDT productions over the years and were nominated with Nathan Robitaille for an Oscar for Best Sound Editing on The Shape of Water. How did you first come aboard as one of GDT’s frequent Canadian collaborators, and what keeps you coming back to GDT’s productions?

Nelson: I initially entered Guillermo’s orbit doing some gun-for-hire ADR work on Pacific Rim and later on Crimson Peak.

Nathan Robitaille and I came on board full-time on the FX series The Strain, which Guillermo produced and which I think raised our game to a new level.  We were eventually engaged via Producer Miles Dale and Post Production Supervisor Doug Wilkinson on The Shape of Water, which is still a high-water mark for us.  

Guillermo is a Director who loves sound and what can be achieved with it, so he naturally asks a lot creatively and, therefore, sometimes pulls you out of your comfort zone.  When one is challenged like this, the result is often that you end up doing some of your best work and expanding your sonic vocabulary in the process. GDT is a tireless and untethered creator who knows how to give direction, which, for me, is exhilarating to watch, even as a fly on the wall sometimes. 

That is what keeps me coming back.


Doug Wilkinson

Post Production Supervisor Nightmare Alley, The Shape of Water, Crimson Peak

Post Production Supervising Doug Wilkinson and Director Guillermo del Toro at the 2018 Academy Awards
Post Production Supervising Doug Wilkinson and Director Guillermo del Toro at the 2018 Academy Awards

You’ve been the Post Production Supervisor on almost every Del Toro film shot in Toronto. What is your creative collaboration with Guillermo like after all these years, and what makes it work?

Doug: I’ve worked with Guillermo on his last three films, which were all posted at least partly here in Toronto. The first, Crimson Peak, was a big learning experience, as I discovered that Guillermo constantly tries lots of different ideas during the post process. I learned to be very flexible, say “yes” first, and then try to figure out how to get what he wants.

Every Director works a little differently, but my job is to try to get them what they want while staying as close to the budget and schedule as possible. It can be challenging. Having previously worked mostly on smaller indie movies, it did take a while to get used to the scope of these films. Having bigger budgets allows for more creative refinement, as you are able to work through temp mixes and test screenings which make the final movie better.

Guillermo’s standards are very high, so even a temp version needs to feel like a finished movie.  I am very proud that each of Guillermo’s films has used more of Toronto post production talent than the film before it. On The Shape of Water, Guillermo had never done his movie’s sound here, and I was able to recommend the Sound Editors and mixers who worked on the film and then went on to be nominated for at the Oscars!

For Nightmare Alley, Guillermo hired Cam McLauchlin, a great Toronto Editor who had been an Assistant Editor on Guillermo’s previous three movies. Cam is now added to the list of Toronto’s Post professionals who have shown they can do work as well as anyone in the world. It’s nice to be part of that team!


Penny Charter

2nd Assistant Director Nightmare Alley, Crimson Peak, Pacific Rim, Mimic

You’ve worked with GDT on Nightmare Alley as well as Crimson Peak, Pacific Rim, and even his first feature shot in Toronto, Mimic. As someone with such a longstanding working relationship with GDT, what have you learned from his filmmaking process over the years? 

Penny: It’s been my experience that working as an Assistant Director with GDT means you always have to be thinking ahead. He is very much an auteur, which means things often evolve and change once the shooting process begins; it is not always what you have prepped for. It has kept me on my toes as a 2nd AD, and I learned to constantly double-check with him closer to the shoot date in case things have changed in his mind. Directors don’t always remember to update you about how their vision is changing, as they are obviously focused on the job at hand!

Guillermo is a Director who likes to tell the story through actual photography and not just with the acting, sets and script. He puts in the time to design the shots. So, I have learned the power of even a slight movement in his shots – it’s sometimes barely perceptible, but it brings more life to them. 

I have also seen him speak at screenings at TIFF, and he is interesting, articulate and able to communicate his enthusiasm. I have always enjoyed hearing him tell stories or talk about films, and he can be very funny.


J. Miles Dale

Producer Nightmare Alley, The Shape of Water
Director & 2nd Unit Director The Strain

Producer J. Miles Dale and Director Guillermo del Toro
Producer J. Miles Dale and Director Guillermo del Toro

You worked with Guillermo through all four seasons of The Strain, and now, you two are producing partners. What makes your producing relationship with GDT click?

Miles: Beginning with Mama, it was important for me to understand Guillermo’s sensibilities and approach to the material so that I could impart that to the film, especially with a first time-Director in Andy Muschietti. Then through four seasons of The Strain, The Shape of Water, and the other films we’ve produced together, we just refined that collaboration and developed a great shorthand together. He came to increasingly trust my input and approach, and I could generally predict how he’d want something handled. And of course, it’s always good to have a yin to your partner’s yang, so from time to time, I was able to temper his very lofty ambitions with a still ambitious dose of reality – financial or otherwise. We also share a similar sense of humour, which is necessary for sanity retention in our business.


Paul Austerberry

Production Designer The Shape of Water

Production Designer Paul Austerberry. Photo credit: Hamin Lee
Production Designer Paul Austerberry. Photo credit: Hamin Lee

You won an Academy Award for designing GDT’s film The Shape of Water. How has working with GDT changed the trajectory of your career? 

Paul: Working with Guillermo was a great experience and put an upward slope to my career as a Production Designer. Just before I won the Oscar, I had accepted an offer to design the film It: Chapter 2 directed by Andy Muschietti, whom I was introduced to by Guillermo while we were still shooting The Shape of Water.  However, it seemed like the mythical post-Oscar curse had set in because after that film wrapped, it was 15 months before I started on another film that made it past the early development stage.  

I know that the type and quality of the scripts I was sent after working with GDT got more interesting, no matter the scale. Guillermo’s films are always a visual treat, and to have been a part of one certainly added to my abilities as a Designer.


Sidney Wolinsky

Picture Editor The Shape of Water

Picture Editor Cam McLauchlin, Director Guillermo del Toro, and Picture Editor Sidney Wolinsky
Picture Editor Cam McLauchlin, Director Guillermo del Toro, and Picture Editor Sidney Wolinsky

You were nominated for an Academy Award for editing GDT’s film The Shape of Water.
How has working with GDT changed the trajectory of your career?  

Sidney: I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to have worked with Guillermo. I am proud of the two projects I worked with him on, the pilot for The Strain and The Shape of Water. I feel I learned a lot from working with Guillermo, who is a masterful filmmaker. Working in Toronto was also a homecoming of sorts as I began my Editing career working in Toronto, syncing dailies in the “rushes room” at the CBC.

Nightmare Alley will be released in theatres nationwide on December 17th.

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