The more we learn about how Gareth Edwards’ The Creator was made (our interview with Edwards is here), the more unorthodox and unusual it sounds. He’s an original sci-fi film about a war between humans and artificial intelligence coming into theaters this coming weekend, shot on a modest budget in the $80 million range, but looks absolutely stunning and gorgeous.
Here’s something else unusual: the film has two cinematographers. One is veteran Greg Fraser, who shot Rogue One with Edwards, as well as projects like the two Dune films and The Batman. Fraser, as he says, had some overlap with Dune, so Oren Soffer was brought in. With this being his first big project, he had to quickly learn the unusual dynamic between Edwards and Fraser. A big part of that dynamic is that Gareth Edwards shoots on location and is his own camera operator. This creates a situation where the cinematographer is telling the director where the lighting is set up on a shot. But Edwards has his own way of doing things and doesn’t always care where the lighting is if something else catches his eye.
Fraser admits working with Edwards would not be every cinematographer’s cup of tea, but he and Soffer personally find it exciting. And ahead, the pair explain what it’s like to shoot a Gareth Edwards movie.
First of all, there are two cinematographers on this movie. That’s unusual.
Greig Fraser: It is. And it’s highly unusual the way that we worked. And I think what’s super interesting about it is that it worked so well. It was a very interesting experiment where basically the entire film is unorthodox. If you look deeply into the production process, it’s a very unorthodox film in the way that we approached it and the way that we shot it and the way that Gareth finished it. So at every stage of the process, it was a level of unorthodox-ness, if that’s even a word. That was quite exciting. So I won’t bore you and break down exactly where Oren and I started and stopped…
Well, I’d like to know some of that.
Greig Fraser: Let’s talk broadly then. Now I’ll talk broadly. So, I’ve been working with Gareth now since Rogue One – fortunate enough to do Rogue One with him. And the whole time we were talking about, “What’s next?” how to make a film next. And we tested cameras and lenses for the years leading up to the shoot for this. As he was writing, we were testing different configurations and talking about how we would make the film and how we would scout it and shoot it. And so we came up with all these different ideas. Now, unfortunately, this film pushed a little bit because of COVID – and there was a bit of an overlap for me and Dune.
So that was the reality of why I couldn’t, sort of, end up… I wouldn’t say finishing the movie, because I definitely did. But what happened was that Oren and I had a great overlap. And it wasn’t dissimilar to the overlap that I had say on The Mandalorian with Baz Idoine. He shot some episodes, I shot some episodes, but there was a very strong hand-in-glove overlap between us as cinematographers. And it was a very much thinking outside-the-box situation where even though I wasn’t able to be in Thailand with the team, I was helping support Oren and the team back in Los Angeles looking at footage, talking about setups, working on the volume loads with ILM. And then Oren and the team were sort of on the shoot there in Thailand. So it was very much an overlap and kind of a crossover. Almost a new role, creating new roles.
So how do you match each other’s styles? These aren’t different episodes, this is one movie.
Oren Soffer: I don’t think we cinematographers really think about what we do as having a “style.” Like a unique style that changes from person to person. We do have a taste, like every cinematographer has taste, and we have things that we like, and we have images that we’re drawn to. And I think the biggest advantage to start this whole process off was that Greig and Gareth already had a very extensive taste alignment process on Rogue One and in the subsequent years. So their tastes are similar. And I think my taste was sort of similar to them as well.
Gareth, he thinks about everything and he’s been thinking about this project for well over four or five years at this point. And so for us, it was really about stepping into Gareth’s world. And Greig and I both finding our role and using the prep time and the planning to figure out how we can support that vision. And how we can make sure that Gareth is going to be able to make the film in the way that he wanted to make it. And, of course, Gareth is operating the camera. So that’s another unorthodox aspect to the whole thing – having your director also be your camera operator.
So are you telling him what to do?
Oren Soffer: It’s impossible to delineate it in that way because, ultimately, Gareth is going to go where he’s going to go. And he’s going to point the camera and he’s going to react to things that are happening in real time. I mean, a lot of it isn’t premeditated. The whole point of the way that we set up the film was in order for Gareth to be able to react spontaneously to things that were unfolding in real-time, on real locations with real people. And so part of our job then becomes creating an environment in which he’s able to do that. And so sometimes I’m adjusting the lighting on the fly while he’s kind of turning the camera to look in a different direction. But Gareth’s a great operator. He has good taste. It was never as simple as just one decision being made and then that being delegated down, which is how it sort of typically works. But that was part of the fun.
Greig Fraser: What’s exciting, Mike, about our job on this movie or in other movies is that we always have to sort of meld ourselves to what the project needs. If it’s a big film where we’ve got three or four operators and the director doesn’t really care about the visuals? We’re the shape-shifters on every project to basically fill all the gaps that the director doesn’t have. And on this one? It was very much like we were shape-shifting to fill the gaps that Gareth needed, as Oren just said. Gareth didn’t need us to tell him where to point the camera. That wasn’t necessarily, that’s not what he needed. What he needed was support. That when he wanted to point the camera, that we had his back. That there was no trucks, no crew. It was all lit properly.
But can that be frustrating?
Greig Fraser: There are so many frustrating things on set. But ultimately, again, part of the job is to just go with the flow. I’ll tell you a little story. On Rogue One Gareth was operating a shot. He was in a spaceship. I was outside. I was lighting at the lighting desk. And I said, “So, Gareth, who are you going to look at first, which direction? Just give me a starting point. Just show me the shot.” And I think he pointed it at Felicity Jones, let’s say. And I was like, great, perfect. I lit it. I was like, great, ready to go.
So standby, roll camera… he turned around. Now, he didn’t turn around to be a douche about it. He turned around because he found something behind him. The actor was doing something. So that’s Gareth in a nutshell. He’s instinctual. He responds to how he feels. He’s very much kind of a… I wouldn’t say a loose cannon, because that’s a negative connotation. He’s like a genie out of a bottle. You let him out of the bottle and he’s finding these great things. So it’s super exciting.
A lot of loose cannons have made some very interesting things. To be fair.
Greig Fraser: I mean, loose cannons, I wouldn’t be using that as a quote, but I’ll tell you what I’d be using is something like he’s highly instinctual. And he very much uses that instinct for the betterment of the film.
Oren Soffer: I had the advantage of stepping into the Greig and Gareth dynamic that already existed. So Greig was able to, for example, tell me that story and other stories from Rogue One. So when I started working on the project, I sort of had an idea of what Gareth is like, and then I spent four months on the road with Gareth location scouting. And so that time was just really valuable for myself and Gareth to start to learn each other’s taste, and especially for me to learn Gareth’s taste. By the time we were shooting, it wasn’t frustrating because you know what you’re going to get. And like Greig said, there’s a million other frustrations on set, but that one was just the thing you had to let go of right away and just embrace it and just jump in the river and have it take you down.
Greig Fraser: If you embrace it the right way, it’s actually fun.
Oren Soffer: It is.
Let me word it this way. It does sound like there are cinematographers out there who wouldn’t love this process, even though you two both found it very exciting and different. Is that an accurate way to put it?
Greig Fraser: I think that’s a very good way to put it. And you’re correct, you’re correct. Because, again, talking about my job starts here and ends there, some people like to work that way. And that’s more power to them. And I don’t think it’s good or bad, I just think that that’s the way it is. But yes, you’re right. You go into a film with Gareth and you need to know what you’re in for. As in you need to know how to best support him. Which I think it’s the more accurate way of describing the situation because, ultimately. we are all in there of support of Gareth. And if Gareth needs you to be 100 miles away and not talking to him, that’s what you need. If he needs you to be there adjusting the light or moving things around, that’s what you need. And I think that, from my perspective, and I think Oren’s the same way, you don’t get experiences like that very often.
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