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How FX's The Strain Helped The Shape Of Water Get Made

The Shape of Water Michael Shannon Michael Stuhlbarg having a conversation in the control room

A little over $19 million isn't a huge amount of money when you're making a film, especially one that's as gorgeous as Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water. But if you're a director who can be good at stretching a budget, and who also happens to be one of the driving forces behind a cable TV show like The Strain, you can get pretty resourceful. Which is exactly what del Toro did with his latest passion project, when he realized he could stretch the budget further if The Shape of Water used sets from The Strain. He said:

J. Miles [Dale] came up with a brilliant idea, because the budget was so tight all through the movie. We were doing The Strain, and one of the ideas was to time the movie to shoot in between seasons and utilize the same stages that The Strain has and some of the metal structures of the sets of The Strain. And keep continuity with the entire crew of The Strain, wardrobe designer, production designer, set decorators. That was brilliant, because that way we were getting all of the momentum of The Strain, and we would keep the sets for them, keep an eye on them by doing a movie, and since it was Fox and FX, that was doable. But we got easily a couple of million dollars' worth of studio space.

This surprising fact came from a Q&A that Guillermo del Toro gave held by Film Independent (via io9) in support of The Shape of Water's eventual rollout nationwide. If you're a fan of FX's The Strain, you probably recognized some of the sets that were showcased throughout the film. Mainly, the OCCAM laboratory control room looks severely close to the layout of the New York Office of Emergency Management set that the Safe Streets Initiative used to hunt the Strigoi menace. For reference, take a look at the following shot from The Shape of Water:

The Shape of Water Michael Shannon Sally Hawkins Octavia Spencer discussion in the fishbowl

Now take a look at this shot from The Strain:

The Strain Corey Stoll Samantha Mathis having a discussion in the office

While not confirmed, when I was watching, I thought the build of the "fishbowl" that Michael Shannon lords over his OCCAM underlings from looks to be the same office that various cast members from The Strain share some particularly tense meetings during season 3. So seeing as the set was scheduled for some downtime between, presumably, Seasons 3 and 4 of The Strain, what better way to keep everything nice and clean than to make a major motion picture? Then again, this sort of aesthetic shouldn't be a surprise, as The Shape of Water's director has always had a smaller budget mindset.

Even as recently as when he was putting together Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro has seen that the best way to make a passion project like this is to produce a film that can be made with a lower, more manageable budget. In addition to the assist that The Strain sets and crews lent to the proceedings, del Toro also reused extras throughout the film, as KCRW's The Business reported during their interview with the director. So in one scene, a cast member could be wearing something that looks like it comes out of a Setrakian flashback, and the next they could be wearing a lab coat that looks like it comes directly from a shady medical lab that serves the Strigoi their precious blood supply.

All of this clever repurposing of assets looks to have worked out, as The Shape of Water's modest weeks of debut have almost completely recouped the budget. But more importantly, Guillermo del Toro's film looks to be an awards season frontrunner, with a surprising amount of accolades in its tank. And all it cost was $19.3 million, which by the way, was after del Toro returned $200k to Fox Searchlight, as he came in short of the original $19.5 million funding level. Gotta love a smart shopper!

You can see every penny on the screen, and then some, when you see The Shape of Water, which is currently in theaters nationwide.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.