Jorge Gutierrez’s passion project ‘The Book of Life’ has been sitting on the development track for quite a few years, never really lifting off the ground until recently. It took a lot of time, effort, and prodding at the movie’s eventual producer Guillermo del Toro, but the end product turned into a fantastic film everybody can enjoy.
‘The Book of Life’ was already released on Digital HD at the beginning of January, but ShockYa got the opportunity to talk to a couple of special people who helped this film become a reality. The first person we spoke to was the film’s creator, Jorge Gutierrez, a jovial first time film director whose drive to bring the Dia de los Muertos-themed story to life eventually landed him the dream pitch meeting with Guillermo del Toro. Unfortunately the big meeting in front of the filmmaker didn’t go as planned, and when Gutierrez thought all hope was lost, del Toro surprised him.
“He goes ‘Jorge, that was the crappiest pitch I ever heard,'” said Gutierrez. “So my heart sank, I got up to shake his hand and say pleasure to meet you, thank you for your time. He goes ‘Sit down gordo,’ and I sit down. He says ‘This is special. There’s something special here, even with that presentation. I know theres something special here, and I know who you are. I’ve seen your cartoon ‘El Tigre.’ I have two daughters, Saturday mornings I would watch your cartoon. I know your version of the culture and I know your version of Mexico, how you draw, your sense of humor. Jorge, of course I want to produce your movie.'”
After that point it was relatively smooth sailing for the production crew behind ‘The Book of Life.’ Another big obstacle Jorge Gutierrez and company had to face wasn’t the animation, but getting the rights to some of the songs they cover within the film. The biggest one they wanted to get their hands on was “I Will Wait” from the band Mumford and Sons, but at first they didn’t want to give Gutierrez permission to use the song.
‘The Book of Life’ composer Gustavo Santaolalla goes into a little more detail about the process of wooing over a major band to let them use that particular song. “Jorge wanted that song,” said Santaolalla. “So there was this whole thing, he send them a video asking them, begging them for the song, and then a mariachi band started playing. They finally said yes and I believe, at least that’s what I’ve been informed, that they love the version that we have now, this ranchera version.”
Accomplished composer Gustavo Santaolalla had worked on various films throughout the span of his career, from ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to ‘On the Road.’ It wasn’t until he signed on to put together the music for ‘The Book of Life’ did he have an incredible amount of free range to really show off his skill on music relating to his ethnicity. “I think that through the rhythms and the timbers of the instruments that I believe to be lead instruments, it helped create something,” said Santaolalla. “But it had no limit of originality that I was interested in. That added with my songs, it all really became a musical map that me, and Jorge especially, envisioned.”
At the same time he had the pleasure of working with the likes of Paul Williams, writing a couple of original songs in the film including “I Love You Too Much.” They were already working together on possibly making a musical off of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ but their collaboration spanned on into ‘The Book of Life.’
“Through Guillermo [del Toro], that’s how I met Paul [Williams],” explained Santaolalla. “We have this idea which we are working on of doing the musical version of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.’ I grew up in Argentina listening to his stuff and I was very aware of the movie ‘Phantom of the Paradise’ that he did. So I met Paul and we immediately connected with each other on a human level, and then right at the same moment, this project came to the table. So it was perfect. Before embarking on something as big as writing a whole music, to test the waters and to see who can write a song together. Then he came up with this beautiful words for this song about forgiveness, the apology song, and that was the first thing that we wrote together. Everybody loved it. Everybody fell in love with the song, so we knew we were on the right track. Then we wrote “I Love You Too Much,” the ballad.”
Once Jorge Gutierrez and everybody involved with this movie was finished creating ‘The Book of Life,’ it was finally time to show it off to the world. The movie was well-received, and one of the best reactions comes from Danny Trejo himself. Trejo did one of the voices in ‘The Book of Life,’ and he loved the film so much he had to share it with his two sons.
“I absolutely love this movie, and I’ve done a lot — I’ve done over 280 movies,” said Trejo. “I think of my sons, two little brothers, one has autism, one has aspergers. So anytime there’s any kid’s movie, I take them to see how they react. Cause if something’s not interesting to them, forget it. And they literally sat through this whole film and watched it. Literally, every time my voice would come up they would be like [motions to him]. But they pointed out stuff that I didn’t really even know, and I think that was my judge of yeah, this is an interesting movie and it’s colorful and holds people’s attentions that have no attention span whatsoever unless it’s something that they absolutely love. So I was really glad I was a part of that film.”
Another highlight about ‘The Book of Life’ is the awareness other countries are beginning to cultivate about the Mexican culture, especially Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). Jorge Gutierrez has even received thanks for bringing the event back to the forefront for many families across the world. “The response we’ve gotten on e-mails and Twitter, all these messages that families where they write to us and they say for the first time, my kids are asking about my grandparents,” explained Gutierrez. “Or my sister passed away and I haven’t wanted to discuss it with anyone and now I’m going to honor her. We didn’t follow Dia de los Muertos anymore, or we never followed it, and now we’re going to do it. Now we’re going to bring that tradition back into our family. Not only have I heard it from people living in the US but even from Mexico. We got messages where Mexican families have told us thank you for reminding us and thank you for making it important to acknowledge our history.”
‘The Book of Life’ is out on Digital HD/DVD/Blu-ray now.