After directing some of the biggest franchise films, Gareth Edwards is heading back to telling original stories through the sci-fi lens. “The Creator” follows Joshua (John David Washington) a harden soldier, grieving the disappearance of his wife Maya (Gemma Chan), who is recruited to a special forces unit ecruited to hunt down and kill the Creator, the elusive architect of advanced AI who has developed a mysterious weapon with the power to end the war… and mankind itself. Joshua and his team of elite operatives journey across enemy lines, into the dark heart of AI-occupied territory only to discover the world-ending weapon he’s been instructed to destroy is an AI in the form of a young child.
“The Creator” will explore themes of what does it mean to be human and what does it mean to be alive? And can love transcend those divides? All of that through the sci-fi lens. And for Edwards, he hopes that his upcoming sci-fi epic can teach us the value of empathy.
ThatsItLA, their fellow journalists joined fans at an exclusive screening of the “The Creator” where we saw three scenes that were shot exclusively for IMAX. After that, Edwards participated in a nationwide Q&A where he talked about some of the cinematic inspirations for the film, having AI as a timely antagonist, the casting, and filming process.
5 – Inspiration for the film
Edwards found his inspiration for the film while driving out in the Midwest to visit his girlfriend’s family in Iowa. “I was just looking out the window and had my headphones on. I wasn’t trying to think of an idea for a film. But I was getting a little bit inspired. And I just saw this factory in the middle of this tall grass. And I remember it having a Japanese logo on it. And I was thinking, I wonder what they’re making in there.”
The sight of that factory in the tall grass would later spark the question of what a robot would think and feel if it were to step out of the factory and see the world, sky, and grass for the first time. “I thought that would be a really felt like a really good moment in a movie, but I didn’t know what that movie was,” Edwards said. “And then suddenly just kind of tapped me on the shoulder and went, Oh, it could be this. And these ideas started coming. As we carried on the journey, and by the time we drove up to the house, I had the whole movie mapped out in my head, which had never happened to me. And so, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a good sign. So maybe this might be my next thing.”
Some of the cinematic inspirations that influenced the film include Ron Finke’s “Baraka,” “Lone Wolf and Club,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Blade Runner,” and “Rain Man.”
Edwards sees his work as different genres blending into sci-fi. Monsters, his first, was a romance mixed with sci-fi. With “Godzilla,” it was a disaster film mixed with sci-fi. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was a war movie mixed with Sci-Fi.
4 – Shooting locations
Edwards went to over 80 different locations to film “The Creator.” The goal was to use as little green screen as possible. “If you do the maths, if you keep the crew small enough, the theory was that the cost of building a set, which is typically like 200 grand, apparently you can fly everyone to anywhere in the world for that kind of money,” he said. “And so it was like, ‘let’s keep the crew small. And let’s go into these amazing locations.’”
Locations included Nepal, the Himalayas, Thailand, active volcanoes in Indonesia, like temples in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. They also filmed in Tokyo for the mega city stuff. Other shooting locations included Pinewood Studios, where they utilized Stage Craft – the set that The Mandalorian uses to bring some of the more epic settings to life.
But to capture some of the look of a factory, Edwards wanted that to be as real and tangible as possible. “We really went to real exterior locations. Everything in this movie is the closest thing we could find to what the sort of artwork suggested it should be,” Edwards said. “We were in Thailand. It was like we needed to find a really technologically advanced kind of factory. We looked everywhere.”
Edwards and his location scouting crew eventually landed on a particle accelerator. The only thing was he had to convince the scientists to film there. And it had everything the director wanted in a location, including the circular structure. “It’s one of the most it’s the most brands kind of thing, probably in the whole of Thailand,” he said. And, of course, there were some concerns regarding filming and having explosions on the premises.
Eventually, the scientists had to ask who was making the film in the facility. And when they answered it was the director of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” they immediately said yes, while also asking if they could be in it. They obliged. And much to their credit, Edwards said they were amazing.
3 – Casting
Edwards had started the casting process during the pandemic. So, meeting someone in person wasn’t exactly easy. Luckily, Washington lived in LA then and was eager to meet Edwards. And when they did meet, it was a little bit awkward because Washington was wearing a Star Wars mask. “I initially thought, ‘Oh no, he’s doing this because of “Rogue One.’” He sat down and admitted he’s a massive Star Wars fan,” Edwards said. “And he’s like, ‘I’ve been wearing this mask every single day for like a year. I thought about not wearing it at this meeting, but then it felt false. You know, so I thought it’d be like a good icebreaker.’ And so we hit it off straight away.”
And Ken Watanabe is the only actor Edwards has worked with twice. “I always want to do something new, and so for the longest time, I sort of didn’t think of Ken for this role,” he said. “And then the second he turned up on set, you feel like such an idiot, [because] it was obviously supposed to be Ken. What was beautiful is I love Kurosawa films. And every time you hold the camera and Ken is in the shot, it feels like this strange hybrid like Kurosawa meets Star Wars.”
“It was like it gives you goosebumps. There’s something about that guy,” Edwards added about his performance. “He’s just got this face that I think the reason he’s so successful internationally is it’s not really about what he says. He conveys so much with just looks.”
As for casting Madeleine Yuna Voyles as Madeline, that was more of an extensive process but one that proved to benefit the film. While he had received over 100s of audition tapes, Edwards didn’t have time to see them all, so he was sent a top 70. Eventually, that number was reduced to ten, and Voyles was the first one he met out of that ten. “She came in, she was seen, we were all nearly in tears at the end,” he said. “And I thought to myself, this is weird and phenomenal.”
Edwards had thought Voyles’ mom had done a great job prepping her. To see if the audition was a one-off, the director tested the child actor with another scene, and her next performance proved as heartbreaking as the first. So Edwards was grateful to have met and cast her in the film. And this was something that could have gone south so fast.
“I hate movies about little kids because they can tend to be so annoying. And that was my biggest fear is that we’re gonna get one of these really annoying kid movies,” Edwards said. “So it was the biggest relief when she’s beyond her years. It’s like she’s reincarnated or something.”
2 – AI as a Timely Antagonist.
When Edwards was developing this during the pandemic, he admitted he didn’t foresee the timeliness of having A.I. as an antagonist. “The trick with AI is that there’s a sweet spot window before the robo-apocalypse and not after, which is in November or maybe December,” he said. “I tried to avoid putting a date. I didn’t want to write a date for the movie because even [Stanley] Kubrick gets it wrong. At some point, you have to pick a date, so I did some math and I picked 2070. Now, I feel like an idiot because I should have gone for 2023, with everything that’s unfolded in the last few months, or year. It’s scarily weird.”
1 – Naturalism vs Realism
Since “The Creator” is a sci-fi film there are going to be slight touches of CGI in it. However, since camera and lighting technology has come a long way, Edwards was able to come up with a technique that allowed the film to feel as realistic as possible so that he could give himself and the actors total freedom on set and the ability to shoot and move in 360 degrees. “The biggest thing working against you when you try to do that in a film is that you have lights, and the second you want to move the camera, you can suddenly see the lights and you spend 20 minutes moving them, so it takes forever to shoot a scene,” Edwards said. “way we worked was with really sensitive camera equipment. We could use the LED lights that are very lightweight. You have a boom operator holding a pole with the microphone on it, so why can’t you have a person holding a pole with the lights on it. So, we had a best boy running around holding the light by hand. If the actor suddenly got up and did something and went over here, and then suddenly there was a better shot, I could move and the lighting could be readjusted.”
So what would normally take 10 minutes to readjust could now take 10 seconds. This allowed for longer takes where the scene could be played out multiple times. “There was an atmosphere of naturalism and realism that I really wanted to get, where it isn’t so prescribed, and you’re not putting marks on the ground and telling actors to stand there,” Edwards said. “It wasn’t that kind of movie.”
“The Creator” is scheduled to be released in theaters on September 29, 2023.