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Disney-fied: Jon Favreau Talks ‘Magic Kingdom’ & Guillermo Del Toro Discusses ‘Haunted Mansion’

Disney-fied: Jon Favreau Talks 'Magic Kingdom' & Guillermo Del Toro Discusses 'Haunted Mansion'

Comic-Con ’11: Del Toro Says He “Wishes” He Was Making Marvel’s ‘Dr. Strange,’ Plus Talk On ‘Pinocchio,’ ‘Pacific Rim’ & More

After a long day of panels from a variety of studios and filmmakers, Jon Favreau and Guillermo del Toro took the stage in Hall H for Entertainment Weekly’s annual “Visionaries” panel, where the two filmmakers talked about their upcoming projects, traded insights and endlessly complimented one another. Like other honorees from past years, such as J.J. Abrams, Peter Jackson and Joss Whedon, Favreau and del Toro tapped into their personal fandom as they talked about their professional futures, offering a fun and insightful portrait of their working methods.Del Toro was suffering from back problems, but made light of his discomfort as the two of them sat down in front of the crowd. Talking about his bulging disc, he quipped, “Having anything bulging after 40 is a good thing, so I’m happy.” Favreau said he was relieved that del Toro made it: “part of the fun of being here, doing this, is sitting next to this guy, because he has been an inspiration and a mentor and a friend and a person to commiserate with, for years. And we never look thinner than when we’re next to each other.”

Discussing how they met, Favreau said that what he loves about del Toro is his enthusiasm for sharing all parts of the creative process – with everyone. “Some filmmakers like to keep it mysterious, which I respect, and other filmmakers decide to share as much as they possibly can. Fortunately, Guillermo is one of the few directors who goes out of his way to let you behind the curtain. And he’s of the mindset that the more you know, the more you’ll enjoy, so he’s not afraid of revealing his secrets.”

Revealing that it was a meal at Frank Darabont’s house where the two first met in person, del Toro remembered the other folks in attendance, saying that such experiences are half the point of having a filmmaking career. “It was [American comic-book horror illustrator]Bernie Wrightson, [celebrated poster artist] Drew Struzan, you and Frank,” del Toro remembered. “I’m in this business to make movies and all that, but also to hang out with people that I fucking adore. We have a craft that can be very jealous; often directors don’t hang together, because A, most of us are assholes, but B, because we’re jealous assholes. And I don’t know how many years I’ll be able to direct or produce, but the one thing I can finance is that I’ll be a fan my whole fucking life.”

Del Toro suggested that the two of them had more similarities than one might expect. “We both come from a filmically blue collar background – he as an actor, and me as a special effects, optical effects [creator],” he observed. “They say if you want to learn to command, then learn to obey. You’ve suffered the long hours, short lunches, waking up at 4 a.m., et cetera. So we come from that nuts and bolts blue collar working background.”

Favreau lightly chided del Toro after he accidentally called “Swingers,” “Singles,” then made a mistake himself when talking about how the two share in common Walt Disney as an influence. “I’m developing ‘Magic Kingdom‘ at Disney while he’s developing ‘Haunted House,’ ” Favreau said. “Haunted Mansion,” del Toro corrected, adding, “the Mexican wins!” Favreau laughed, continuing, “We’re both looking at that resource of intellectual property, and fortunately the people over at Disney are saying a lot of incredible things, like we want to engage filmmakers like you and bring your vision to it. But we’re both incredible fans of Walt Disney and his sensibility and all of the innovations he brought about, both technically and in storytelling.”

“People forget he was highly experimental,” del Toro added. “Talk about a risk taker – he didn’t do anything safe.”

Favreau admitted that the process of getting “Magic Kingdom” going was labyrinthine, but said he looked forward to taking advantage of all of the resources that Disney made available to him. “With ‘Magic Kingdom’ we’re talking about combining all of those things, whether it’s stop motion, whether it’s 2D or 3D, we’re going to figure that out. We’re using different techniques to give a nostalgic feel to something I think will satisfy families, but I think it’s through the technical innovation, and inspiration, that it’s going to appeal to all audiences.”

“We also get to spend a shitload of time at the park and call it research,” del Toro said proudly. “The opened the Haunted Mansion for me at 5 a.m. when the park was empty and I walked for three hours the entire mansion by foot. Holy crap. And it was research, ha ha ha!”

Favreau talked about how del Toro’s fandom is actually so consuming that there’s a book coming out documenting his various acquisitions. “There’s a book coming, out a coffee table book, of Bleak House, a whole separate house for all of his shit. He converted every room into a different library with a different theme. There’s everything from original Bernie Wrightson etchings to sketches from ‘Fantasia‘ to original poster art. It’s all like one big haunted house, and it’s got the Haunted Mansion emblem when you go up to the door.” Del Toro admitted that his interests were unique, if not a little excessive. “I’m a weird, fat motherfucker. Essentially [the book] is going to be a peek inside the right brain, and I think it certainly will sell two or three copies.”

Favreau observed that Comic-Con attendees are comfortable with high-concept films, but said that fandom has been augmented by social media, where filmmakers can see reactions to their work almost immediately, and in much greater detail than before. “With ‘Cowboys & Aliens,’ you only hear two things. One is ‘that’s awesome,’ and the other is, ‘I can’t believe they’re doing that! This is offensive to me!’ But alien robots turn into trucks, and that’s okay.” Meanwhile, Favreau said that he approaches all of the films from the same point of view, as a viewer much less as a filmmaker. “I feel like all high-concept movies are intrinsically ridiculous,” he said. “The trick with the filmmakers is you’ve got to make that an emotionally accessible experience and that something that has a character arc and you feel something.”

Del Toro briefly updated the audience on the status of a few of his projects, which he said he’s no less passionate about but has to find time to prioritize. “Every one of those projects is in a huge state of development,” he confessed. “ ‘Pinocchio‘ is storyboarded, designed, we’ve created the puppets, we did the screenplay, and we did the budget, but it’s very hard to raise the financing. ‘Haunted Mansion’ is on the second draft of the screenplay, or third draft. But a lot of [others I’ve been attached to] are thing I haven’t really been up to. People say, ‘oh – you’re doing ‘Dr. Strange‘?’ I’m like ‘I wish,’ but I’m not.”

Del Toro declined to discuss details about “Pacific Rim” because he wanted to save that conversation for Friday’s panel dedicated to that project, but he did confess it’s “the most fun I’ve had in a Hollywood movie, ever.” But when asked by an audience member about his “At the Mountains of Madness,” he said honestly, “I hope so. I’ve been trying to do it for so many years, and the incarnation we were going to do was so great. So I don’t want to give up. But what I do is if I can control a project I never give it up. ‘Mountains,’ fortunately, we control, so we can keep trying to keep it alive. I hope I make it. It is one of those movies that a holy grail for me.”

Favreau meanwhile explained how Michael Chabon ended up working on ‘Magic Kingdom’ with him. “Chabon a great author, and I got to call him up on the phone after reading a few of his novels, and say I think we’re kindred spirits. He said ‘Magic Kingdom’ is a project I felt a real affinity for, so I said, ‘let’s make this happen.’ He is the writer, and we’re working together; and as soon as [‘Cowboys & Aliens’] is out we’re going to start breaking that script even further.”

As the panel drew to a close, an audience member asked both of them how becoming household names changed the way that they worked. Neither seemed comfortable with the compliment. “I really don’t think I’m a household name,” del Toro demurred. “I’m an acquired taste. I think it’s fantastic when I come here but I think it’s an illusion. People that like the stuff I do are great, but I’m really a freak in every place I go. I don’t quite fit in the independent scene, in the art scene, in the Hollywood scene. I’m a big, fat, weird motherfucker.”

Favreau more or less agreed, but exited on a complimentary note for del Toro. “I don’t know if we’re household names, but Guillermo’s the top tier of people I look to when I want to learn things. I’m more of a guy who dives and tries to find it with a group of people.” He added that both of them have learned an important lesson which is really what has allowed them to continue working in Hollywood. “Once you’re comfortable with failure there’s nothing more than can be done to you.” — Todd Gilchrist

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