When Sidney Wolkinsky first read the screenplay of Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape Of Water his intial reaction was wondering how it was going to work. A love story between a mute girl played by Sally Hawkins and a creature from the unknown (Doug Jones). It’s a fairy tale, a fantasy, and there’s a lot of water because the creature is a fish-like person who’s kept in water tanks at the government agency building where Hawkins’ character works.
It was high risk on many levels, but The Shape of Water is ravishing in its production design and divine in its direction — elements that combine to makes you believe the story. For two hours, Del Toro captivates and lures you into Eliza’s world as she and the creature form a bond that becomes a relationship. Wolinsky who has worked on Ray Donovan, House of Cards, and The Strain talks about how working with Del Toro on The Strain prepared him for working on The Shape of Water and talks about the art of the cut in our brief chat below:
The Shape of Water is one of those films where nothing we see in the trailer or read about in advance can ever quite prepare us for what the experience.
I know. If you hear the subject matter, you can’t expect anything good. You wonder how is this going to work?
Was that your first reaction when Guillermo told you about the film?
I read the script. I did think that. I did wonder how they’d make it work as I was reading it.
I think he’s one of the few people who could have done this and pulled it off.
It’s a testament to him that he can take an unlikely subject matter and turn it into a beautiful movie.
You worked with him on the pilot of The Strain. Did that help you coming into The Shape of Water?
I learned how he likes to work. He likes coming in on a daily basis and he likes to look at the cut footage. It’s unusual and it took me a little time to get over being nervous about what he’d think about what I had to show him. When you’re working with someone for the first time, there’s that job anxiety. I realized he understood the process really well. He would understand if it was the first pass or if it wasn’t complete. He has enough faith to let you say, “It will look better tomorrow.” I learned to be very open with him and it gave me a lot of confidence.
On The Shape Of Water, he worked with me a lot closer than on The Strain and it made me comfortable.
Was that the process here too, would he come in?
You get the dailies, you look at the scene, you’d cut it. Guillermo would come in and give you notes and you cut on a daily basis. The process is the same.
There’s a wavy immersive experience.
Guillermo created that language and he moves the camera. You can see where the transitions are planned. We’ll go from Michael Shannon in the car, cut to the water on the windshield and dissolve to the bathtub. It’s the same on the bus.
Other scenes, we could find transitions and make them work on their own level. I didn’t do a watery cut to it because that’s all Guillermo.
What’s in your editing tool box?
Avid is my main tool. I usually have two 30″ monitors that I work on side by side. We have a 65″ screen too where I could look at cuts when Guillermo was in the room. My assistant would be in another room with his own Avid.
How long does a film like this take you to work on?
We started early August and it was a 50-day shooting schedule. We finished around November, but we didn’t lock the film until April. It was a long process.
Editing is granular, you’re always working on specific things but we never talked about the flow in particular.
You talk about Guillermo coming into the editing room, so were you down there on set in Toronto?
A lot was shot in Cinespace in Toronto and my cutting room was in the studio and we were all in the same building. So, he was very close to me. I rarely went to the set. If they were doing local shoots, I’d sometimes also go down with a Macbook and show him what I had done with the scenes that had been shot that day and he could give me notes.
What was your biggest takeaway from working with him this time around?
He had a very bold approach to editing and I learned to expand my imagination with the cuts that could work.
Where did you see it for the first time?
I think my cutting room. You get so close to it that sometimes it’s so hard to experience it as a fresh viewer. Mostly, I look at the cutting and wonder about if things work. I have a hard time looking at it as a viewer.
You wanted to make sure you were telling the story and being true to Guillermo Del Toro’s vision.