How The Creator Became Gareth Edwards’ Love Letter to Sci-Fi Movies

How The Creator Became Gareth Edwards’ Love Letter to Sci-Fi Movies

Gareth Edwards’ new film, The Creator, is filled with nods and winks to all of your favourite sci-fi movies: Star Wars, 2001, Aliens, Blade Runner, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, you name it. Some filmmakers might be coy about that fact, but Edwards is 100% unapologetic about it.

“I thought this might be the last film I ever get to make,” Edwards told io9. “So I just threw in everything I loved about sci-fi movies and then tried to stir the pot enough, pull out something, and combine it in a way that felt like its own movie.”

That movie, which opens Friday, is set in a future where artificial intelligence and humanity are at war in some places in the world, and at peace in others. In the middle of that a soldier (John David Washington) is sent on a mission to find and destroy the AI’s ultimate weapon, only to discover that weapon is a small child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles). It’s an original story steeped in the type of sci-fi tropes we know and love. “These kinds of movies were out every week when I was a kid, and they’re few and far between now and it upsets me,” Edwards said. “So I just wanted to put one back in the theatre and see if people enjoyed it.”

Speaking over video chat, io9 spoke with Edwards how putting this movie in theatres was different from his last two films, Godzilla and Rogue One. We also spoke about the very different role AI plays in this film as opposed to others in the genre, how two Star Wars collaborators (Chris Weitz and Kiri Hart) helped the film, and the design of the film’s main ship, Nomad. Read about all that and more below.

Filming The Creator

Germain Lussier, io9: So your previous two movies, Godzilla and Rogue One, were big IP and under a microscope from day one. But this one, I think there was a placeholder title and that was all we knew about it until we saw a trailer. I’m wondering how did you pull that off? Was that on purpose? And how was the experience different making this free from that type of scrutiny?

Gareth Edwards: It wasn’t on purpose. I think the problem is you have just the opposite problem when you’re doing an original film. When you do a franchise, you have to keep everyone away. You have to constantly push people back. And when you do an original film, you have to like, pull everyone in. Try and get people interested.

So the way we shot this movie was I wanted real people to be part of this film, like villagers and all sorts. I wanted it to feel as realistic as possible so we had rules, like no closing roads. [At one point] we filmed on a beach. You can see it in the trailer where Gemma Chan runs along the beach and there’s a battle going on. And we couldn’t close that beach. Covid had just ended in Thailand and because of the tourism, we weren’t allowed to close it. So I thought, “Oh no, this is going to be a nightmare. People are just going to be coming up to us the whole time.” And no one did. Not one person came up to Ken Watanabe, Gemma Chan, John David, or anything. Ask for a selfie, ask for anything.

[That’s probably because another] way we shot this film, we hid the crew. I wanted to have a 360 degree freedom to shoot anything in any direction. So around the camera, there was just about four people. And then hidden out of view somewhere—always hidden to me, I would never know where exactly it was —but around the corner behind the building, down the road, there was like 100 crew members watching what we were doing on a monitor. So as a result, I kept waiting for something to go online going “I think I’ve just seen Gareth Edwards’ new film with John David Washington!”—and I kept waiting and it never, ever happened. And we weren’t stopping it. It was just we were really incognito. Also we were really at the ends of the Earth. We were like on the eighth highest mountain in the world in the Himalayas. And you would really have to go out of your way to find us.

Washington in The Creator.

io9: I remember first seeing the trailer at CinemaCon and telling everyone how amazing it looked. Then when the trailer came out online, everyone agreed. How did things change then once people saw what you guys had worked on and instantly everybody got very excited about it?

Edwards: It’s a nice feeling to suddenly have something out there, because for the longest time, no one has seen anything. I mean, that’s nothing compared to what’s about to happen. We are about to release the movie itself. And so, I can’t lie, there’s this very anxious feeling of, we’re all really proud of the movie and we just want everyone that would possibly be interested in this film to get it in front of their eyes, so they know it exists and hopefully comes to see it.

io9: These days, AI is the bad guy in basically everything. From reality in your world, reality in my world, even new movies like Mission: Impossible 7. But that’s not the case in The Creator. In The Creator, it’s a much more objective, almost optimistic point of view. Is that a reflection of your views on AI and why was it important to show AI in that light?

Edwards: I think it came out of like… I think any character in a movie, whenever you have a character in a film, if you’re doing the character justice, you need to show all angles of that character. Even a baddie. The classic thing with a baddie is, in my favorite movies, the baddie is the most interesting character, right? Like, pick a movie. Taxi Driver, The Godfather, Reservoir Dogs, whatever. When you’re experiencing from the bad guy’s point of view, you start to like them. Then my favorite thing is when you start to feel a bit torn because you start to side with their point of view. And it gets very uncomfortable. I kind of wanted the audience to go on a journey. When you get to tell a story on a big cinema screen, one of the great things you can do is show lots of different perspectives on the same event. And so it’s not because I had an agenda about AI, I just really enjoy that kind of storytelling of when there’s gray and nothing is black and white and there’s no easy answers. And you’re kind of torn when you’re in the cinema seat. You’re not quite sure what’s right and wrong anymore.

Edwards on set.

io9: So are you personally not as afraid of AI as everybody else is?

Edwards: Well, I’m going to be spared because I made The Creator.

io9: [Laughs]

Edwards: Come the Robopocalypse, they’re going to be like “He gets this. He understands. I believe him.” I think I’m allowed a plus one.

io9: Oh, there you go.

Edwards: And with the right amount of money, it could be you.

io9: Oh good, I can sell some of the [posters on the wall] behind me. Speaking of the stuff behind me, I’m obviously a huge Star Wars fan. And I noticed with this movie, not only did you co-write it with Chris Weitz, but Kiri Hart produced it, both of whom you worked with Rogue One. Tell me a little bit about those relationships and what they each brought to the film to make it better.

Image: Fox

Edwards: Yeah, well, Kiri was a producer on Rogue One, and kind of the reason I got into the Star Wars world. She was the first person I ever met with and I kind of have to thank her for making that happen. When we finished Rogue One, we always talked about working together again. We had a really good experience together. She’s great. It’s kind of like you have a story in your head and it’s really hard and painful to get it out sometimes. It’s a very long process and you don’t know all the answers all the time and you kind of need a therapist. And Kiri’s one of these story therapists where she can talk to you in a very encouraging way that just pulls at this string and draws the movie out of you. And I think I would have probably never have written it if it wasn’t for Kiri making me say it all out loud at some point.

And Chris Weitz, I mean, he was an absolute joy to work with on Rogue One. He’s crazy smart, but equally [he’s] got a really dark sense of humor and has a spiritual side to him. He’s one of these people that when you chat to him, you can have a very profound conversation and then it’ll flip on a dime into a really dark joke. And I feel like that’s how I like to talk, so I just get on with him so well. Also, I hate writing. Like it’s the worst homework in the world. And so I basically wrote a draft of the screenplay and Hossein Amini, who also worked on Kenobi, he came in, did a draft, did amazing work and then he had to work on other projects. So Chris came in and did more drafts and essentially they made me look good. Chris has a very spiritual side to him that he brought to the movie. Like Chris came up with “I’m one with the Force and the Force is with me” and things like that. And he’s got this quite Buddhist outlook that was really appropriate to this film. And so it was just a natural fit.

The Nomad you’re about to read about.

io9: That’s really cool. Now, I love everything about the design and look of this and I wish I could talk all about that. But the thing I really want to call out is so much of the movie focuses on the Nomad, which is just so beautiful and so cool. So I’m curious, how long did it take you to reach that design and how deep did you go down the rabbit hole of its logistics? Like if it actually existed, how big it is, how it would work, that kind of stuff?

Edwards: I don’t like logic whatsoever. Like when it comes to design, some people start talking about the logic of something—I just don’t care. I’d much prefer “Let’s make it look good.” And when something looks good and you have an emotional response to it, or you just go, “Ooh!” and you get excited, then all the logic comes. Then you start going, “Oh, I think that’s this. And then that’s that.” If you let logic steer you to come up with the design, it would be rubbish. If you let feelings steer you hopefully you will get a good design and then it will make sense because subconsciously you arrive to that shape for a reason.

And Nomad, in this movie, we have the pandemic to thank. Because we had an extra year and a half of designing that thing—and so, poor James Clyne, along with Alex [Senechal]. All great designs, I think, are a combination of different things all kind of fused together. And for this, it was a bird of prey and then also a giant eye in the sky watching over you. We were trying to get those two things in one object. But then obviously, this kind of like 2001, Star Wars-y, space station-looking thing.

Image: Fox

io9: I’m glad you mentioned that because my last thing is this movie is obviously a love letter to sci-fi. I mean, as a fan myself, I saw Aliens, Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, Akira. Do you do that on purpose? Is the homage on purpose or is it just a natural part of your language?

Edwards: I was conscious of it happening and I felt like on this one, I’m just not going to fight it. I also thought this might be the last film I ever get to make. So who knows what’s happening? And so I just threw in everything I loved about sci-fi movies and then tried to, like, stir the pot enough, pull out something and combine it in a way that felt like it’s own movie.

Aesthetic-wise, you can’t escape the shadow of Syd Mead and Ralph McQuarrie. They’re hanging over us in every single sci-fi design. And Akira. It’s really hard to do a film like this and not [reference them.] You can either pretend they didn’t inspire you or you just put it out on the table straight away and say, “Yes, of course, we’ve seen these films and they’re masterpieces. And we’re standing on the shoulders of giants making this movie.” So, I kind of made this for myself. I hope there are enough [people like] me out there that grew up on those movies, too. I feel like this has been missing from the cinema. These kind of movies were out every week when I was a kid, and they’re few and far between now and it upsets me. So I just wanted to put one back in the theater and see if people enjoyed it.

If you’re reading this, we think you’ll enjoy The Creator. It’s out now.

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