Walk into a cinema today and you’ll find franchise movies, sequels, and known IPs flooding showtimes. Where Hollywood has imminently moved towards favouring movies that have shown past success, or even films inspired by previous projects, director Gareth Edwards brings something that’s somewhat of a current rarity in Tinseltown – an original idea that is fresh, thought-provoking, and most importantly, a movie that delivers in a visually epic way.
Come 28 September, Edwards, of Godzilla (2014) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) fame, will premiere his original sci-fi action thriller, The Creator, touching upon a subject matter that, while not new, has had recent impact in society – the imminent rise of AI (artificial intelligence) and its place in our daily lives.
Starring John David Washington (Tenet, 2020) as former soldier Joshua, Gemma Chan (Eternals, 2021) as Maya and newcomer Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Alfie, the film is set to make audiences question if humans and artificial intelligence can live in harmony, and what that might mean for the evolution of both species. And while humans and AI engage in a devastating war in the film, Edwards’ personal battle was trying to get a studio to take a chance on him.
“The hardest thing is not making the movie, the hardest thing is getting a studio to give you the money to make the movie. Like, as we all know, franchises and sequels and IP and whatever name you want to give it, has kind of taken over cinema at the moment. And I grew up, obviously, in the ’80s and early ’90s, where every movie, it felt like every week was a new sci-fi or fantasy blockbuster,” shared the 48-year-old director in an exclusive interview with Geek Culture.
“And so I was trying to recreate that feeling. I was trying to go back to those movies that I loved growing up, where then put them all into a pot and stir it and pull out something hopefully that felt a bit, you know, unique and new.”
Edwards is no stranger to making big sci-fi movies, as he is the man behind one of the best Star Wars spin-off movies to ever exist – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Even though The Creator is set on future Earth and Rogue One, in a galaxy far, far away, the lessons the director learned from his Star Wars experience, of shooting at real locations for a realistic impact, proved helpful in making his original movie.
In fact, it taught him many times over as The Creator aws filmed across 80 locations, including countries within the Asia region, where most of the movie is set.
“There’s lots of lessons you can learn from any filmmaking process. I think things that we felt were successful [about Rogue One] was [that] we shot in the Maldives, we shot in real beaches. Obviously, it was horrific to have to go to the Maldives for a film shoot, but we took one for the team, and so the whole end sequence on Scarif at the end of the movie, some of that was shot on the real beaches in the Indian Ocean. We went to Wadi Rum, you know, in Jordan, and we even shot in train stations and then digitally changed them afterwards. That’s what really excited me and what kept the film grounded to some extent,” said Edwards about making Rogue One.
“And so I wanted to do a whole movie that way. So with The Creator, I didn’t want to film in the studios, I don’t wanna build sets. We want to go to real locations so we went to eight different countries around the world. We shot in 80 locations, we travelled 10,000 miles to the Himalayas, to volcanoes, temple ruins in Cambodia and floating villages of all sorts, and then added the science fiction on top. So we have this really rich canvas as a starting point, which I think makes the film feel very different to a normal blockbuster.”
Filming in Asia was a special experience for Edwards, who always shared an affinity for the region since he was a boy. At 12, the director visited the region while on holiday with his parents and filmed the trip with a video camera. His fascination with Asian cultures and art started from that trip and now, 36 years later, he is able to return back to Asia to make The Creator.
“When I was about 12, my parents wanted to go on a really nice holiday. Like, they saved up and were like, we really want to go somewhere really special, and we ended up going to Hong Kong and Thailand. We sort of went to Chiang Mai, the jungles and Bangkok and the beaches and stuff and you know, I was at that perfect age, I was reading science fiction and something about that holiday, that experience got really embedded in my mind,” shared Edwards.
“My dad had a video camera, he bought me that camera, I just took it the entire holiday. I filmed the whole trip and so I was filming it all through this lens and, and I think it just got burned into my retina, those visuals, it was so fascinating. It was like the closest thing I could have had as a kid, to go into another planet,” he explained.
“Like I didn’t understand anything I was seeing and then as an adult, I’ve just always – I can’t help it – I always go back and there’s something beautiful about taking Asian art and kind of blending it with Western art and vice versa. When you go around places like Japan, you see English and American and Western influences on their pop culture, but not fully – just a little bit and they’ve done their own twist on it and I kind of really enjoy it. I know that must be what it looks like to them when they come here, and so there’s this, bouncing back and forth of ideas, that little different spin each time that I think is really healthy.”
The locations were not the only thing that Edwards wanted to capture in The Creator, as he also focused on the people and the livelihoods of people from the region. While Asia is undoubtedly a popular tourist destination for many Western tourists, The Creator was shot during the pandemic, which meant that Edwards was able to capture the countries and its people in its most authentic state, unaffected by tourism.
“We shot during the pandemic, or just the tail end of the pandemic. I think one of the most important things in the movie were people’s faces and seeing kids running around in the streets, and just the realism of being in these amazing locations and then add the pandemic, with everyone wearing a mask, I was really paranoid that we weren’t going to get that on screen,” said Edwards.
“And we came just at the right time when everyone was allowed to take their masks off but yet there were no tourists there properly. And so we sort of had the freedom, it kind of worked totally in our favour where we went around, and for a long time didn’t see any other Westerners. And we were just shooting all these villages that were really happy to see us because we were like the first tourists back in and so everyone was very welcoming. It was a beautiful thing. Everyone wanted to be in the movie. It was surreal.”
In the movie, Joshua and Alphie start off as two individuals on opposite sides of the war but later form a close, heartwarming relationship. Their relationship off-set somewhat mimics what viewers will see on screen.
“They’re amazing actors. I know John David, he’s not a method actor but I think he was quite determined to have the kind of experience that Joshua in the movie has, the character he was playing, and have this sort of transformative journey. Every time we weren’t filming, he was off wandering around, just having his own little moment and what’s funny is Madeline became his best friend. She would run after him and interrupt these beautiful things he was experiencing, and talk to him about some toys she just got or something. It was really hilarious to watch in a weird way.”
The Creator runs for 133 minutes, a runtime Edwards cut down to after a five-hour first cut. Choosing what to keep or what to cut out of the movie was a six months long journey for the director, who at the end of the day, wants to tell a motivating and emotional story.
“The way I probably worked is I grabbed everything so I shot loads and loads and loads, and the first cut of our movie was five hours, nearly five hours. Then it becomes a game of removing things. Obviously, the most important thing is that you care about the characters, you feel what they’re going through and so that becomes less about what I think and a lot more about what the audience thinks,” confessed Edwards.
“You show people and they tell you what’s working, what isn’t working, and you tinker a bit more, you show the people again, and that’s kind of what post-production is for about six months. You keep showing people and keep tweaking it until I think we’re there, I think we’ve got it just the right level of everything. You never get it right the first time but based on feedback, you kind of get there in the end, hopefully.”
The Creator releases on 28 September 2023.