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How Vanessa Taylor Perfected The Shape of Water‘s Fairy Tale Script

Guillermo del Toro has, rightly, received heaps of praise for The Shape of Water, his Cold War fairytale which he called “my favorite movie that I’ve done.” He’s won both the BAFTA and the Golden Globe for Best Director for the film, and he’s been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards.

However, films are ultimately the product of many talented creatives, and one of del Toro’s many crucial collaborators here was Vanessa Taylor, who co-wrote the script with him. That script has also received an Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay. In this interview with Deadline, del Toro highlighted Taylor’s unique contributions to the story. After Fox Searchlight greenlit the movie, he requested a co-writer, because he felt there were still some “missing pieces.”

“I met with about four writers,” del Toro said, “and I think [we needed] the skills Vanessa has, for anyone that has seen her episodes on Game of Thrones, which are beautiful precision writing, incredible structure.”

“Basically, we were missing one of the engines,” he explained. “The beginning, the middle, [and] the end were the same, and the relationships were all there, but then Vanessa identified the biggest missing piece. She said, ‘I think the subplot with the Russians should have its own momentum, you know? Its own story.’ And I thought, ‘Aaah!’ That was completely against my instincts. And then I thought (A) she’s absolutely right, and (B) I would never have seen it, so that’s the perfect collaboration.”

As a child, Taylor had written fairy tales herself, and that helped her tap into the story. “It was when I realized that it was a fairy tale that I sort of got how it was all going to fit together. There were all these different pieces, right? It’s period, and it has all these different elements to it. But when I realized it was a fairy tale, I saw how it could all tonally work together, and that, I thought, was really exciting. It just made me see how it would all be so believable. I thought, ‘Oh, I totally get this. This makes complete sense to me that she’s in love with a fish.'”

We constantly have to point out that women and people of color have been doing the work in genre fiction forever – we just haven’t been getting the credit. People are still arguing that Star Wars is a “guy thing,” even though Leigh Brackett co-wrote Empire Strikes Back and Marcia Lucas co-edited A New Hope. So I’m happy that del Toro took the time to highlight Taylor’s genius here, and explain the specific ideas and innovations that she brought to the final product.

(via Deadline; image: James Jean and Fox Searchlight)

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