It’s been 13 years since Gareth Edwards has released an original film not based on existing IP. That movie, Monsters (you should check it out if you haven’t seen it) impressed the powers that be enough he was given the keys to make 2014’s Godzilla. Edwards’ experience on his next film, Rogue One, isn’t exactly a secret. Tony Gilroy has openly spoken about coming in late on the movie to rewrite and reshoot some scenes. But what’s changed over the past seven years since Rogue One‘s release is, that whatever experience Edwards may have had, Lucasfilm has announced and canceled too many Star Wars projects from acclaimed filmmakers to even list here. In retrospect, it very much now feels like a Lucasfilm problem. I did ask Edwards if, now, with the upcoming release of his new film, The Creator, he feels at all absolved. With The Creator being a Disney movie, Edwards is a smart guy and isn’t about to get too honest here. (And his pivot of an answer is really a thing of beauty.) But when I mention The Creator feels like an “eff you” movie after past experiences, well that he didn’t dispute.
The Creator is just the kind of movie you don’t see in theaters anymore. First, it’s beautiful to look at as it was shot on location around the globe instead of on a stage filled in by effects. In other words, even though shot on a fairly modest budget, it looks like a real movie instead of a CGI cartoon.
Set in the near future, AI had become a part of daily life, until a revolt that leads to the nuclear destruction of Los Angeles. Artificial intelligence is banned in the West, but in Asia it is not, creating a global war and conflict. John David Washington plays Joshua, an undercover agent assigned to Maya (Gemma Chan), a woman who could lead him to the creator of the AI, ending the war. After a disastrous raid, Joshua’s allegiances are tested when he finds a child AI, which isn’t supposed to exist, and has special abilities. Eventually, Joshua grows a bond with this child as the two set out on a quest of self-preservation.
Ahead, Edwards gives us his “go big or go home” theory, in which Edwards explains, sometimes you do just have to go home. But, yes, with The Creator he did go big and he explains how and why.
I couldn’t help but keep thinking of Monsters while I watched this. You doing something new and unique.
It was certainly on my mind a little bit. It was the first movie I did, which everyone, whenever they make their first film, they usually have no money. And it’s such a liberating experience, we had about five crew members and just ran around Central America making that film and it was one of the most creative experiences I’ve ever had.
I thought it was in Mexico for some reason.
Yeah, yeah. It was Mexico and Guatemala and all that. And then I got teleported into the Super Bowl final and got to do Godzilla and Star Wars.
Yes, you did.
And so I love the scope and scale and the fan base. Playing in that sandbox is just phenomenal. But I also missed the amount of creative freedom you get from an independent film. This was really an experiment and an approach of how to combine the best of both worlds. And it was trying to find a studio that was up for this crazy way we were going to do it, we kind of did it back to front. Instead of designing a world and filming it all against green screen, we went round the actual world.
Well, you can tell. It doesn’t look like a cartoon, which a lot of movies today do. This movie looks beautiful.
Thank you. And a lot of that is because the places we went to are stunning. It’s like you just hold a camera and hit record.
You made this on a modest budget. I wouldn’t call it small, but what $80 million? $85 million? Something like that? And it looks beautiful. Why can’t all movies do this? I don’t understand why more movies can’t look like this.
I mean, you’re preaching to the choir.
Is there an answer though?
Why don’t they?
You seem to be able to pull it off. Why can’t all movies that spend more money look this good?
I mean, they do…
These are compliments by the way, your movie looks amazing.
No, I know. Thank you. But, obviously, I think it’s basically very hard work. We went to eight different countries, 80 different locations. During the pandemic as well. It was tough. And the other thing that you’re doing is you’re not promising anything. We weren’t saying, “We guarantee we will get this scene in this location and it’ll look like this.” We were like, “Just trust us, we’re going to find somewhere really good.”
And there was a lot of faith that the studio had to have, so we were very flexible and we would find things that were beautiful and then incorporate them into the movie. And then when it was finished and edited, that’s when we did all the design work. We did all the concept art in post-production versus at the beginning.
My simple metaphor for it would be, normally when you make a big blockbuster, you draw a target on the wall and then you step back. You try and get a bullseye and it’s really hard to get. Whereas we just fired the arrow into the wall anywhere – and wherever it landed we then painted around it to make it look like we’d got really lucky and hit a bullseye. And so all the design is based on all the happy accidents that we just got when we were filming and that takes a lot of faith and a lot of guts from the studio.
Well, you’ve mentioned faith from the studio a few times. But honestly, though, how do you get someone to make this? Because this is the kind of movie that doesn’t really get financed anymore for theaters: original sci-fi, not IP, just something new and original and cool. It can’t just be “faith,” how did you convince them to make this?
Yeah, we did a little trick. Which is… so when we pitched the movie and they were like, “Okay, we like this, this could be great. We’re really on board, but there’s no way you can do it for this money. How are you going to do it?” And so we said, “Can we have a little bit of money, just a tiny bit to go location scouting?” And they’re like, “Okay, of course, that’s normal.”
And they gave us some money to go to these countries, our favorite countries in the world, to look at locations. And we didn’t tell anybody, but I took a camera with me and it had a 1970s anamorphic cinema lens and everything. And we didn’t want any pressure on ourselves, but basically I shot everywhere we went and cut a little 10 minutes short together. And then went to Industrial Light and Magic, who do the visual effects for Marvel and Star Wars and said, “Look, I want to do this approach.” I didn’t have any of those tracking markers, those silver balls or any of the stuff you’re supposed to have when you make a film. And I said, “Can we just figure out how to put the science fiction on top of these shots?”
They took a deep breath and they pulled it off. And things that normally would take a month, they did in just a few days. And so we then showed that to the studio and they’re like, “Wait a minute, you did that for the money we gave you?’ And we were like, “Kind of.” They’re like, “Oh, well, if you can do this as a feature film we’re in.” We got green lit after we showed them that.
Did you really say, “Kind of”?
[Laughs] A little bit, yeah.
I’ve tried to get in your head a little bit. This feels like an eff you movie a little bit. Because your experience on Rogue One is not a secret and this feels like a, “Hey, look what I can do here,” type movie.
I think every movie you start you’re trying to make a statement about what you can do. You know what I mean? If you don’t think you’re going to do something better than what you’ve done before, I don’t do anything. That phrase, go big or go home? Sometimes it means you have to go home. And so there’s a reason it took seven years for me to do another movie. I was just trying to get the right situation so I could make a film the way I felt a film should be made.
While we were researching the movie, I went to one of those virtual studios where they do everything with motion capture and they had this poster on the wall and it basically described the process of making films and every department and what they do. And I was looking at it like, why do they have this on the wall? This is really obvious stuff. And the guy goes, “Oh, you spot the poster?” And he goes, “That’s over a hundred years old.”
And then it made me realize, holy cow, that’s the problem. We haven’t changed anything in a hundred years. There are all these amazing new technologies and so many different ways you can make a movie. And I think we pushed really far in this film and did things very differently, but I think there’s even more that can be done. And with all this other stuff, AI and everything, it’s going to change it all again. And so the future is, I think, quite exciting. I think if you’re a young filmmaker, it might turn out that you’re living in one of the best times you could.
I don’t want to re-litigate anything that happened on Rogue One. But at the same time, I remember the way the press kind of handled that at the time was like, “What’s going on here?” But now, all these years later, Lucasfilm has time after time, filmmakers and movies are falling through. And it just seems like their problem, not a you problem. And I’m wondering if you feel absolved at all.
I have to respectfully disagree. I do think there’s a lot of conversation about Rogue One and me and everything. And I honestly feel when I watch Rogue One, the person who doesn’t get enough credit is … George Lucas. Everything that’s great about that movie, you can pretty much trace back to George. And even the Darth Vader scene that lots of people talk about? I can’t take credit for it. Because it’s all George. You know what I mean? And if you see, it’s not a character from my film, it’s Star Wars. And we got to play in that sandbox for a bit and so I wouldn’t complain about any of it. I’d do it again if I had a time machine.
‘The Creator’ opens Friday, Sept. 29th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.