Aug 20, 2011

Panel: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Live in NYC, 8 August 2011)

While we were in NYC recently, we were lucky enough to attend not only the US Premiere of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, but also the Q&A session with writer and producer Guillermo del Toro, director Troy Nixey, and stars Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison. 

What quickly became apparent was this: the road Guillermo travelled to get this film made was extremely long and more than a little trying. He had been pursuing the rights for 14 years before he could move on his dream, finally purchasing the rights in 1998 and beginning development at Miramax. However, the studio wanted him to Hollywood up the script and sanitise it, which because of his previous experience making Mimic (1997), del Toro wasn't willing to do.

Film Comment Editor Gavin Smith, Guillermo del Toro, Katie Holmes, Bailee Madison, and Troy Nixey.
The crux of the idea for him was to remake the film but really draw out the elements from the original 1973 John Newland film that he loved, including pagan fairy-lore and the maxim that the creatures did not exist in the realm of 'cute'. The filmmakers wanted to respect the creature designs of the 1973 original. Guillermo commented to a rapturuous crowd of about 200 and mock-offended star, 11-year-old Bailee Madison: 'Fairies in pagan mythology are not blinky shiny little fuckers'. This was not the last time during the panel she told the wiley Mexican film extraordinnaire to keep it clean, but trust us, it was hilariously sassy every time.

Del Toro admitted that while all of his protagonists are children, audiences should also take note of his tendency towards writing strong, female characters. In the original, Sally is a grown woman (as opposed to del Toro's 11-year-old incarnation) and very submissive. To counteract what he obviously felt was a flaw in the script, he wrote Sally as a strong, resourceful young girl and Kim (Katie Holmes) as the slightly awkward, well-meaning stepmother who comes into her own as the stakes are raised. 

First-time feature director, Troy Nixey, appears to have landed a dream gig. Nixey drew comic books professionally for 17 years, before throwing himself into short film (including writing, producing and directing the short Latchkey's Lament). If we're not mistaken, Nixey sent some early concept drawings of the fairies through Guillermo's website upon hearing that Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was in development. Guillermo saw them, watched Nixey's short film, then soon after asked Nixey to clime aboard as director. Del Toro felt, at least at a superficial level, that Pan's Labyrinth shared some similarities with Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and because of this, had no desire to helm the movie himself.

Nixey then set to work 'mapping out the gameplan for the characters' and according to Katie Holmes, spent a lot of time working with her on her character's backstory and making it all as real as possible. Holmes said she was attracted to the film for a number of reasons, but actually got scared reading the script and felt that was a good sign for a horror film; surely, it's also the mark of a talented writer. 

One of the elements alluded to in the film is Kim's (Holmes) crappy childhood, but Nixey felt very strongly that he wanted to avoid the female leads (Holmes and Madison) interacting in a way that explicitly said that. Nixey and del Toro both felt strongly about the fact that Alex (Guy Pearce and in the film, Sally's father) should play the role of the fairly useless, absentee father-figure in order to show a stark contrast between the men and women, which we felt was achieved in a successful manner.

Young gun (and we think she deserves the title of Scream Queen) Bailee Madison, who is absolutely convincing in the film, was really excited for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark to be shot in Melbourne, Australia. Well thank you, Bailee. We're certain Australia was over the moon to have Guillermo & Co. on our shores and would gladly welcome them back at any time. The actress really got into her character and was simultaneously intelligent, bubbly, and thoughtful throughout the panel.

Unfortunately, after over an hour of this riveting discussion, the panel had to wrap. Del Toro ended proceedings by talking about the film's (R) rating in the United States and thanking the MPAA for making that decision, rather than asking the filmmakers to cut and distort the film from their original vision: 'We need to make like the scary pride parade.' We got a handshake and an autograph from the talented Mr. del Toro and alas, had to wash our hand eventually; it's a bastard riding the subway in NYC, for realsies.

That's all from the red carpet for now, but be sure to check out Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, opening in theatres around Australia on 25 August, 2011 and tell us what you think!

Guillermo del Toro signing autographs afterwards.
Also, a sincere thank you to The Film Society at The Lincoln Center in NYC for putting on this wonderful event.

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