Director Gareth Edwards is behind 2016’s ‘Rogue One’, the first instalment of the ‘Star Wars’ anthology series, honouring the franchise’s legacy while adding a fresh perspective. He also took on the immense task of rebooting Toho’s legendary ‘Godzilla’ monster-verse franchise.
Following the huge success of ‘Rogue One’, Edwards’ filmmaking skills were in demand; he was offered numerous different big-budget films, but inspiration struck for his own project, ‘The Creator’, which he spent the last seven years developing for his next big screen outing.
Co-written with ‘About A Boy’ scribe Chris Weitz, ‘The Creator’ shows a future impacted by a war between the human race and artificial intelligence forces. It follows an ex-special forces agent (John David Washington) who is recruited to hunt down and kill the Creator, the mysterious title character, the architect of advanced AI, who has developed a weapon with the power to end the war by destroying all humankind.
The film’s plot dealing with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its potential dangers is one of today’s most hotly debated topics. Speaking about the timely release, Edwards said, “The timing of this film is surreal. Even though we’ve been developing this movie for years, it’s opening at a fascinating time when our world is wrestling with a lot of the issues and questions we wanted to address with the film—what it means to be human, whether AI can be conscious, questions of good and evil among AI and among people. I really think that exploring these questions is what sci-fi does best.”
While the idea was mulling in Edwards’ mind for quite some time, inspiration for much of the film struck in the most unexpected place – on a road trip in the American heartland.
“We went through farmland, and we went by a factory that looked like it had a Japanese logo on it. I’m wired in science fiction and wondered what they were doing there. Maybe it’s robots or something cool. I imagined being a robot built in a factory, and you step outside the factory for the first time; all you’ve ever seen is inside this building, and then suddenly you see grass, trees and the sky. What would that feel like? I thought, oh, that’s a cool little moment in a film, but I didn’t know what.”
Edwards says the image of the robot in the field kept coming back to him, and by the end of the road trip, he had mapped out the basics of the film.
While green screen and CGI have become the go-to method for making big action films, some directors prefer to use built sets on sound stages. These are all costly filmmaking methods, and Edwards decides to go old school to make his futuristic film. He chose to shoot on location, which involved travelling to eight countries. Edwards explains why.
“We designed it based on whatever we actually filmed. We made a movie in reverse. It was cheaper to fly a small crew anywhere in the world than to build a set. The idea of picking every single best location based on the scene became a reality. We cherry-picked the volcanoes of Indonesia, Buddhist temples in the Himalayas, ruins in Cambodia, went to eight different countries and shot the movie, which is much more like an independent film.”
“When it was all finished, we had a big chunk of the budget for production design. We edited the film, got frames from each shot in the movie and gave them to the production designer and the concept artists, which normally happens a year and a half earlier. During the edit, they painted and designed all the Sci-Fi elements just on the shots we were using, so you never paint to the left or the right of the frame. Everything is really efficient. You only use what you see.”
There is a scene in the film set in the Himalayas, and Edwards says the location was so remote they couldn’t bring a sound crew or much equipment. Instead, he fly in with John David Washington and the film’s producer.
“Everything in that village has to be carried in by hand, and it takes four days. We flew in on a helicopter, thankfully. We were there for about three days; it was 10,000 feet, and we got altitude sickness. Everyone in the movie are [locals] from a little village near the Buddhist temple. Some of the kids agreed to shave their heads; it was surreal.”
Although John David Washington is the film’s lead, a much younger actor steals the show. Madeleine Yuna Voyles, who was just seven at the time of filming, plays a young girl who Washington’s character encounters. Her performance is remarkable, and Edwards worried she was too good to be true.
“We did an open casting call; hundreds of kids around the world sent in tapes. We selected the top 10. I knew this was going to be a crazy situation. We were going to the jungles of Thailand. It was going to be really hot. It was going to test whichever family agreed to do this film. We met at Universal Studios to go around the theme park and see the family dynamic. Madeleine came in and did the scene, and we were trying not to cry; she was so brilliant. I got paranoid that it was a one-off thing and it would never happen again. At the end, I asked, “Hey, do you mind playing around and making something up?” So, I invented this other scene, and she did something even more heart-grabbing. And I was like, okay, this is it. This is our kid.”
To help market the film and further blur the lines between AI and reality, filmmakers recently sent actors dressed as highly convincing “AI robots” out to American football games, where the AI robots sat in the crowd next to some very confused spectators. Some hilarious videos have appeared on social media showing sports fans interacting with the AI. Many online were terrified of sharing their space with the chilling AI machines, which is precisely what Edwards originally tried to examine with his script.
“Originally, I thought of AI in this film as a metaphor for other people, unlike us, whom we often view as the enemy.” The director said, “Then, as I got into the writing, all these philosophical dilemmas started bubbling up to the surface. Like, if there were AI that felt 100% real to interact with, what would happen if you didn’t like what it was doing? Can you turn it off? Is it wrong to turn it off? What would happen if it didn’t want to be turned off? At the time, it seemed a little far-fetched, like something we might be dealing with 30 years from now.”
He continues, “But weirdly, as we were making the film, there were all these news stories about whistle-blowers at big tech companies warning us about how advanced the AI had become and how it was being developed for commercial purposes, and how it could replace human labour. And it feels like we’re at that tipping point now where it’s here; That Pandora’s box has been opened. And this movie, by sheer fluke, is completely about that issue. And is it real? Does it matter? Should we embrace it? Should we destroy it? Those ideas are at the heart of this film. So, it’s really timely in that sense.”