Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has begun work in Buffalo on his latest project, Nightmare Alley, a film based on the 1940s novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham. Just before he set to work on a scene inside Buffalo's City Hall, he was honored by local leaders for bringing the latest major film production to town.
Nightmare Alley, as del Toro explained, is about truth and lies and set in the secretive world of 1930s traveling carnival culture.
"It's about a man that pretends to speak with the dead, and the choices he makes coming from a carnival and rising through society by using his 'gift,'" he said.
Film crews were already setting up for shots inside City Hall, where Mayor Byron Brown joined Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to proclaim "Guillermo del Toro Week." After he was presented with a print copy of the proclamation and a small bison statue honoring him as an honorary resident, del Toro headed upstairs to begin filming a scene.
"As you can all see, work is already underway on the set of Nightmare Alley," said Mayor Brown. "And we are very pleased that City Hall is providing one of the backdrops for this movie that is being filmed."
Outside, crews had placed large sheets of white felt over the grass of Niagara Square and, in some spots, shoveled snow that needed to be trucked in. Yes, this was February in Buffalo and the production needed to get its snow elsewhere. Even del Toro appreciated the irony.
"Yes, that's like bringing tacos to Mexico," he said, causing laughter in the City Hall lobby. "I really didn't expect that."
But del Toro, who won two Academy Awards for his 2017 film The Shape of Water, has come to expect his own enjoyment of Buffalo. This is his second film shoot in Buffalo, following his 2015 film, Crimson Peak. He credits Buffalo for a depth and quality of its local film crew, its hospitality, history and architecture, its food and its bookstores.
Buffalo Niagara Film Commission officials say this project will generate an economic impact "in the millions." del Toro has already done some shopping, much to the delight of Poloncarz.
"I want to thank you, Guillermo, because I'm a comic book buff, so is he. He's actually bought some books already in Buffalo he was telling about earlier. So thank you for increasing the spending and the sales tax associated with the money that is brought in," he said. "And I know you're going to enjoy those books because we got great teams here in the comic book industry, just like we do in the film industry to ensure that you're buying and reading the right materials that you enjoy."
del Toro was asked if, upon his further discovery of Buffalo's sights, he has spotted anything that might inspire a future project here.
"The great thing about it is, and this is unprompted, I've always been fascinated by the city. And it is true that every day that I'm here I fall in love more and more with it," he replied. "I would hope so. I would hope so and I would make it so very much so.
"Because you know, filmmakers, we talk to each other. It's a little like high school with much heavier people, you know, but we know each other, we talk about it and this city has a pristine reputation as a place to shoot."
There will be some road closures to accommodate shooting. Thursday from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m., Niagara Square and streets immediately surrounding it will be closed. Mayor Brown says del Toro's production company is picking up the cost for any police overtime.