The Shape of Water, the monster romance movie opening in theaters this weekend, is pure Guillermo del Toro. It features a creature that harkens back to 1950s Universal monster movies, lavish art direction, and an underlying theme about the universal power of cinema.
Watching the movie, you get the sense that this is exactly the movie that del Toro wanted to make. And that’s true… mostly.
Speaking with EW for a feature in our latest issue, production designer Paul Austerberry recalled early discussions with del Toro about the movie’s look. At the time, the director shared one idea he wanted that ultimate didn’t make the final cut.
The project was always going to have a relatively low budget, somewhere between $10 million and $20 million depending on one detail: whether del Toro shot the movie in black and white, as he told Fox Searchlight he wanted.
“When it was in black and white, the budget was $12 million,” Austerberry said. (Del Toro put the hypothetical black-and-white budget at $16.5.) “And then Fox Searchlight said, ‘You know, if you make it color, we’ll make it $19.6 million.’ We were struggling at even $19.6 million to get it all down, so thankfully it went that way.”
The shift to color brought in an extra dimension to the storytelling, which the crew used to tell the story on another level. All the red in the film represents love, and green signifies the future. “I was a bit nervous about the black and white, because color is such a strong element that you can play with in a story or movie to help shape the mood,” Austerberry said. “When people see the movie, they comment a lot on the color, so I’m glad we went that way.”
When EW spoke with del Toro a few days later, he told a slightly different version of the story.
“To be disarmingly and horribly honest,” he said, “it was a pawn sacrifice. It was one of those things that I knew I was not really interested in, but I knew I needed to appear reasonable. ‘Oh, Guillermo. He’s such a nice guy. He gave up black and white.'”