Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro and his longtime director of photography Guillermo Navarro might as well be joined at the hip. “We know each other so well,” says Navarro. “He knows what I need, and I know what he wants.” Instead of saying “I,” both Guillermos more often use “we.” Their teaming—it extends back over a decade and includes phatasmagoric films like Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and Hellboy—goes beyond the usual relationship of a director and his DP. They are not only close friends but also neighbors. The two Mexican filmmakers these days both live in Southern California. And Navarro is often the first person to take in and critique a new script by del Toro, after the director’s wife. His reaction after his first read of Pan’s Labyrinth? “I cried,” Navarro confesses.Pan’s Labyrinth is simultaneously a dark slice of history—Spain in 1944, where Francisco Franco’s fascist forces brutally battle left-wing rebels—and the enchanted, albeit disturbing, fairy-tale world of a young girl who is the film’s protagonist. Acclaimed by critics, the film is simultaneously highly realistic and fairy-tale fantastic. It owes its look to Navarro’s dazzling cinematography along with the virtuoso production design of Eugenio Caballero. The first and final element is the fertile imagination of director del Toro.”During prep, we all three see what will visually become the movie together, and create this palette of colors and shapes,” says the DP. Pan’s Labyrinth is color-coded with grays, blues and blacks for the realistic segments and crimson and gold in the fantasy realm.After the long conceptual process in prep, shooting goes quickly. “When we start to execute, time is pressing, and we are very efficient,” says Navarro, a member of the American Society of Cinematographers. “I have people on my team whom I’ve worked with at least 10 years. They know in a blink what I need. And we have just the tools that we need—not more. We come from Mexico, so we don’t abuse the resources.” Navarro’s essentials are “a Steadicam and a little crane I bought in Los Angeles that allows you to do all these scissor moves with the camera. We can put that on the fly. We both like a camera that is moving, searching and finding.” The most intense aspect of his job, says the cinematographer, “is to capture that moment in the performance, and help make it happen. That’s the most precious part of filmmaking—then you’re really telling the story.”Navarro has many DP credits in addition to his work with del Toro. He is the cinematographer for director Shawn Levy on A Night at the Museum. He’s also been the DP for Quentin Tarantino on Jackie Brown, for Robert Rodriguez on Spy Kids and for Rob Minkoff on Stuart Little. He’s currently signed on for a sequel of Hellboy with del Toro.2007: Nominated, best cinematography, Independent Spirit Awards, Pan’s Labyrinth. 2006: Won, Camerimage Golden Frog for best cinematography, Pan’s Labyrinth.
Written by Jack Egan