James Cameron and Guillermo del Toro are not just good buddies. They’re great buddies. In 1997, Guillermo del Toro had seemingly run out of options when a harrowing ordeal involving his family had sent the director into a tailspin of despair and confusion. What he didn’t know, is that Cameron — whose films often depict a heroic figure of larger than life stature — would himself become a real-life hero, more realized and selfless than anyone could have imagined.
After growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico — and experimenting with Super 8 films — Guillermo del Toro immersed himself in creature and makeup creation, learning his trade from famed The Exorcist SFX artist Dick Smith. He would go on to to shoot several short films and TV episodes in his native Mexico, before beginning work on what would become one of the greatest fantasy-vampire films of all-time, Cronos, in 1993.
During pre-production on the film, in the early 90s, del Toro would meet James Cameron at a Fourth of July party. Cameron had just finished one of the most important films in his catalog, T2: Judgment Day, and the two filmmakers found kindred spirits in one another. Cameron would even let del Toro stay in his guest home for “extended periods of time”.
Jim and I have been best friends for the last couple of decades. We met in 1990 or 1991, and he has been one of my best friends through all those years. We have been through his life and my life making sure if we ever co-operated it would be on the right project.
As del Toro continued production on Cronos, Cameron even lent his expertise in helping him frame some of the narrative elements in the film.
In Cronos he suggested a couple of cuts and said we should add a line where Angel, played by Ron Perlman, says, ‘Not my nose again!’
Cronos was a huge success for del Toro, winning awards at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the Ariel Awards, the Mexican equivalent of the Academy Awards.
For del Toro’s follow up, he would get his first crack at writing and directing an American feature film, Mimic. But, the film was plagued with micro-managing from production companies, and to this day it remains del Toro’s least favorite film.
Something else troubling was happening, though, as del Toro was shooting the sci-fi horror film. His father, Federico del Toro, was kidnapped off of the streets of his Mexican hometown, Guadalajara, and held for ransom. del Toro had sunk all of his money into Mimic, and had no idea how he would get his father back home.
del Toro and his two brothers began receiving ransom notes. The three brothers would take turns speaking with the kidnappers, with del Toro taking control over the last leg of the negotiations.
We would get ransom notes with many syntax and spelling errors. It effects you.
Mexico is plagued with kidnapping; it has become an epidemic. In fact, The nonprofit Citizens’ Institute for Crime Studies estimates that there are 500 kidnappings reported per month, and that doesn’t include the ones that go unreported.
The kidnappers were asking for $1 million in order to return the elder del Toro home, unharmed. Guillermo and his family had nowhere near that kind of money, and they seemingly were running out of options. As the days in the negotiation process dragged on, the del Toro family would run through at least three negotiators, most of them specialists from England.
During the ordeal, to help Guillermo escape the visual of his father being held against his will in the hands of kidnappers, one of the negotiators told him to write everyday — Guillermo did; it helped him cope with the terror befalling his family, but it didn’t erase the reality of the situation.