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Gareth Edwards on His New AI Film The Creator

Vital Thrills recently got a chance to attend a press conference with filmmaker Gareth Edwards (Rogue One, Godzilla) to learn more about his new sci-fi action thriller, The Creator.

From 20th Century Studios, New Regency and Entertainment One, The Creator opens in theaters on September 29. The film is rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images and strong language.

Gareth Edwards on His New AI Film The Creator

From director/co-writer Gareth Edwards comes an epic sci-fi action thriller set amidst a future war between the human race and the forces of artificial intelligence.

Joshua (John David Washington), a hardened ex-special forces agent grieving the disappearance of his wife (Gemma Chan), is recruited 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.

Gareth Edwards

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 (Madeleine Yuma Voyles).

The cast of The Creator also includes Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, and Allison Janney.

Gareth Edwards

Edwards was asked how this all came about. He said: “There are lots of ways of trying to explain where the idea came from. The most unique one which I remember very clearly was that I had just finished ‘Star Wars.’ I needed a bit of a break, and we decided, with my girlfriend, that we’re gonna go and see her parents who live in Iowa, which [is] the other side of America.

“And we’re like, okay, we’ll do, like, a four-day road trip. And the great thing about having finished a movie is your brain sort of like deletes, like, formats the hard drive.

Gareth Edwards

“And so, then you’ve got this blank canvas. And I wasn’t expecting to think about the next film or get any ideas. But I’d just put some headphones on, I was looking out the window. And we went through this tall grass, sort of farmland area. And there was this factory that went by and it had what looked like a Japanese logo on it.

“And I thought, just ’cause the way I’m wired, like in science fiction, I was like, I wonder what they’re doing in there? Maybe it’s robots or something cool. I’m like, I doubt it. But and then I was thinking, oh, imagine being a robot built in a factory and you step outside the factory for the first time.

Gareth Edwards

“And all you’ve ever seen is inside this building. And then suddenly you see grass and the trees and the sky. What would that feel like? And I thought, oh, that’s a cool little moment in a film, but I don’t know what that would be. And I threw it away and carried on thinking about other things, but it kept coming back the rest of the trip.

“And I was like, oh, you know what that could be? I started building on the idea and by the time we got to my girlfriend’s parents’ house, I had the basics of the whole movie mapped out, which is really rare. Normally, you sit painfully for, like, a year trying to get a movie sort of in your head… Like, maybe this should be the next film.”

Gareth Edwards spoke about shooting this film all over the world. He explained: “It’s mainly all benefits, I think, in that normally, when you make a film like this, what happens is you design the world. You do all these cool pieces of artwork. You show a studio. They say, ‘You’ll never find anywhere that looks like this. You’re gonna have to build it in a soundstage. It’s gonna cost $2 hundred million, and you’ll shoot it against green screen.’

“And we were like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no.’ Like, forget the literal images. This is just the idea. We’ll design it based on whatever we actually film. So, we’ll do all the design, like, when we finish the movie. Like, we’d sort of make the movie in reverse.

“And so, we ended up saying, ‘Just let us go make the film.’ If you get the crew small enough, the cost of the crew is so little that it’s cheaper to fly them anywhere in the world than it is to build a set. And so, suddenly, the idea of picking every single best location based on the scene became a reality. And so, we cherry picked the volcanoes of Indonesia, Buddhist temples in the Himalayas, ruins of Cambodia and floating villages and all this.

“Went to eight different countries and shot the movie a lot more like an independent film, to some extent. And then when it was all finished, we had a big chunk of the budget for Industrial Light & Magic and some other vendors. Basically, we edited the film, got frames from each shot in the movie, gave them to the production designer and the concept artist.

“And what normally happens a year and a half earlier was then happening during the edit. And they were painting and designing all the sci-fi just on the shots we were actually using. So, you never paint to the left or the right of the frame, so everything’s really efficient. You only use what you see. It was everything that I think that I like about the movie is a result of doing it differently. And so, I just feel like super excited. It feels like I never wanna go back to the other way of making a film, basically.”

Gareth Edwards shot a scene in the Himalayas with himself, John David Washington, and a producer, but that’s it. “Much to the annoyance of the people who wanted to have a holiday in Nepal, we didn’t take the sound crew for that little shoot, ’cause it was so remote,” he said. “Everything in that village has to travel – be carried by hand for four days. We flew in on a helicopter, thankfully. So, we were there for about three days and it was I think over 10 thousand feet. So, you got altitude sickness and things like that, which was a bit surreal.

“Everyone in the movie is actually villagers from the little village by the Buddhist temple. And some of the kids agreed to shave their heads and play some of the robot monks in AI and stuff. It was kinda surreal. Like, you think there’s gonna be a problem, but they all get really excited about being in a Hollywood blockbuster.”

Of the appeal of sci-fi stories, Edwards said, “I think it’s probably two main reasons. I’m not sure. One of them is growing up with ‘Star Wars’ and being promised this amazing world with spaceships and robots. And then you kind of realize it’s not true and that’s not gonna happen. And so, the second-best thing is I’ll become a liar, like George Lucas, and I’ll create these stories for kids to grow up with.

“But then the other main reason is my favorite TV show growing up was ‘The Twilight Zone,’ the Rod Serling in black and white TV show. And what’s so good about those stories is they change one aspect of real life. Basically, you can live your whole life and have certain set beliefs. They never really get challenged because nothing really happens out of the ordinary. And so, you think everything you believe about the world is correct.

“And you can live and die and have the same views the entire time. But when you change some aspect of the world to be an extreme, like one element just gets flipped on its head, whatever it may be, you suddenly realize a lot of the things you thought were true start to not work and be wrong. And it makes you question what your beliefs are. And I think that’s the best kind of science fiction. And so, in this we were using AI as a kind of metaphor for people who are different to yourself. And that’s how it started. But then obviously in the last year or so, it’s become quite a reality. And it’s gotten very surreal.”

Edwards was asked about the heart of the film and why emotional stories like this resonate with him. He explained: “I think essentially, the film that probably had one of the biggest impacts on me as a kid was Steven Spielberg’s ‘ET. ‘And as a kid, I went in, all I was interested in is I wanted to see an alien and a spaceship and BMX’es. And then I got absolutely moved to tears on this emotional journey with the two of them.

“And I feel like that’s the goal, every movie you make, you don’t say this out loud because you set yourself up for failure. But if you don’t make, you know, some people well up or cry, then you’re not really abusing the power of cinema. And so it’s always the secret goal when you write a film, is to do something that affects people emotionally. But yeah, it’s up for other people to say if you are successful or not, I guess.”

Madeleine Yuna Voyles, who plays the AI in the body of a little girl, was incredible. Gareth Edwards talked about her audition: “It was very, very simple, ’cause she was as strong in the audition as she was in the movie. But essentially, we did an open casting call for hundreds of kids around the world who sent in tapes. It was during the pandemic. And then they got it down to show me like a hundred or two hundred videos of kids.

“It took a while, but we got to a top 10. Then I met with them. And I was sort of paranoid, ’cause I knew this was gonna be a crazy situation. We were going to the jungles of Thailand. It was gonna be really hot. It was gonna test whichever family naively agreed to do this film. And so, we actually met at Universal Studios so we could go around the theme park a little bit and see what the family dynamic was like, just to check everyone was okay. And the first person I met with happened to be Madeleine. And she came in. She did the scene.

“And we were just like, trying not to cry. It was so emotional and brilliant. And I just thought, okay, this is too good to be true. Maybe the mom has played a trick on her. Maybe she told her something just before she came in. And I got paranoid that it was a one-off thing and it would never happen again.

And so a bit cheekily at the end, I was like, ‘Hey, do you mind playing around and we just make something up?’ So, I invented this other scene and she did something even more heart-grabbing. And I was just like, okay, this is it. This is our kid. You know?”

Gareth Edwards was asked about a possible sequel or if The Creator is a standalone story. He said, “Whenever I get a bit of free time and you sort of think you wanna sit and watch something, I always end up in arguments with my girlfriend. She wants to watch TV shows – binge watch something on streaming, and I want to watch films. And we can never agree. And she’s like, ‘Why don’t you wanna watch TV? You never watch TV shows? What is it?’

And I had to think about it ’cause I was like, what is my problem? And then I sort of realized I really like endings. My favorite part of a story is how it ends. And it’s this mic drop moment. It’s like the best part of a joke is the punchline. And so, when I’m trying to figure out a story, I’m always working backwards from the end to try and get it to be this climax as much as possible.

Gareth Edwards

“And everything sort of leads to that moment. And so, this is self-contained. You know, as much as I love the world that it all exists in and it was amazing to sort of design and build everything and shoot it all over in these beautiful countries.

“But it’d be a high-class problem to have the studio come up and tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, Gareth, you gotta think of something. You know, we need a sequel,’ or something. But that’s not on my agenda. I’m not really interested in doing that. It’s a one-off movie. You know, so fingers crossed.”