How did you pitch the story to legendary director Guillermo del Toro? You must have done an amazing pitch to him.
You would hope. (We both laugh)
I was really nervous and we had all the presentation material ready. We went to his place to pitch and it was a disaster. It was a terrible, terrible pitch.
Really, it was a disaster?
I almost fell into the pool a bunch of times. It was really hot. He was sweating, I was too but at the end of the day, we finished and sat down and he said, “Jorge, that’s a terrible pitch but I know your cartoon “El Tigre” and I know your sense of humor, your artwork, your version of Mexico. Of course I want to work with you.” It was a dream come true to work with Guillermo. He’s been my mentor. I describe him a “militariso” film director because what other film director seeks out first time directors like me and takes them under their wing.
You have a perfect cast of voices in your film: Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Placido Domingo, and Danny Trejo. It seems like you got your favorite friends coming together for a party.
It’s a dream come true literally I say I would say “Wouldn’t be great if Placido Domingo does this character?” All of sudden, everybody’s saying “Yes.” I mean what other movie has Placido Domingo and Ice Cube in the cast? Zoe Saldana, great person to work with. Diego Luna got to sing in the film. Cheech Marin, who I loved ever since I was a kid. It’s all my favorite actors coming together in one movie!
That’s great! I have to admit that when I first heard the soundtrack a couple of months ago, I was blown away. I could not believe that it included Just a Friend by Biz Markie, Creep by Radiohead and Us the Duo’s No Matter Where You Are. The latter I had the chance to interview a few weeks ago. When I first heard that song, it was amazing; it’s moving that I would like to use it for my wedding one day.
Did you see the video? They played it first time in front of their families at their wedding. When I read their story, I thought they would be perfect for this movie. The song encapsulates everything that happens in the film. The stars and planets aligned, it’s all in there. The same thing with the Biz Markie song “Just a Friend.” My son loves it because of Yo Gabba Gabba – he’s five years old. Then, I grew up in the 1990’s, so I love from back then. These songs can connect with people from different generations.
Who were your inspirations growing up?
Ever since I was a kid, I was obsessed with the spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leone.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is my all-time favorite movie. There is a piece from that movie that’s in my film. Only Sergio Leone fans may catch that moment.
If you had to hang out with La Muerte or Xibalba for the day, whom would you spend the day with?
I think I want to hang out with La Muerte. I love that character and I love the way she looks. She personifies death but she’s in love with mankind. She loves life. To me, that dichotomy is Mexico.
When you developed the movie, were there any factors from “The Day of the Dead” that you had to include in your film?
The big one for me for the Day of the Dead was the idea that it was a joyful celebration. It’s a celebration of people’s lives. A lot of people see the skulls and go “Whooooa, this is going to be scary or sad” but it quite the opposite. I really want to convince the audience that “No, no no, the land of the remembered is a land full of happy memories.” That’s what I hope the audience feels when they go down there.
The film has a unique animation style that’s never been seen before. How did you ensure that your distinctive art style carried over from the storyboards to the film itself?
I was very lucky in that my wife designed all the female characters and I designed all the male characters. We worked really hard to make sure that all the shapes stayed the same. As a director, I had enough power to basically not water down this stuff. We got to keep the artwork as unique and quirky as the original inception of it.
Your dad showed you three movies when you were nine years old to grasp good filmmaking. What were those films?
As you can imagine when I was a kid and I was watching kind of trashy, dumb movies. I would go to my dad and say “I just saw this movie with the monster in it…it was the greatest movie I’d ever seen.” My father finally had enough said, “Okay, my son, I will now teach you cinema. He sat me down and showed me Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai,’ Leone’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ I saw all three in one day and my 10-year-old brain went “boom.” It was insane. At that moment, I feel that was the day I knew what I want to do, [be] a film director.
What do you hope the audience will take away from your film?
The biggest thing I hope they would take and sort of the theme and the message of this film is it doesn’t matter where you come from. It’s doesn’t matter who your family is. All those things inform who you are but what will determine how we remember you are your choices and what you do today.
Join in on the celebration as Jorge Gutirrez’s “The Book of Life” opens up in theatres Friday, October 17th by 20th Century Fox.