Q&A with Director Gareth Edwards

I recently had the opportunity to interview writer-director Gareth Edwards on the occasion of the release of The Creator, now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital. We talk about virtual production, next-generation filmmaking technologies and, of course, artificial intelligence.

Full interview with Gareth Edwards and Noah Kadner


Gareth Edwards: Is that really happening behind you?

Noah: When you say really happening, what do you mean? 

Gareth Edwards: Are you in a city with a lightning storm? 

Noah: No, I’m on a little LED stage in my living room, if you can believe it. 

Gareth Edwards: Wow. Okay. There you go. The magic of cinema. Exactly. 

Noah: Yeah! So my main gig is writing for American Cinematographer, and my column is all about virtual production, which I understand in the scenes towards the end in Nomad, there was a little bit done in there. And I read a little bit about that in the article in the magazine. How was that experience? Why was that chosen over just green screening everything or gray screening, is what you did in that sequence? 

Virtual production scene from The Creator. Photo by Glen Milner.

Gareth Edwards: Yeah, the whole premise of our film, to be honest, was to shoot in a real location for every single scene in the movie. Find the equivalent of that place.

Gareth Edwards: And for the longest time, for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, basically, there’s this sequence right at the end where it’s in a, it’s in what I’d call a biosphere, like a crop, a place where they grow crops in a space station. And you get, and it’s a very difficult thing about finding a real Biosphere in the sense of like we looked at places that grew plants in greenhouses, but to shoot in those If you pick the daytime, you get this blue ambiance of the sky, and if you pick the night time and light it with you know lighting, you get you basically. It feels like night.

Gareth Edwards: You don’t get the earth outside, so there’s all these complications, and then you’ve got all the little grass blowing in the wind, and so on paper, it felt like this is going to be really hard to find a real-world equivalent. And at the same time, Stagecraft was appearing like in The Mandalorian.

Gareth Edwards: And we had dabbled with that stuff in Rogue One. We had LED screens in the cockpits of some of the spaceships. And we would play back what we might call previs. Like a sort of more computer game-y version of what was supposed to be there. And it worked really well. And we ended up rotoscoping everybody and recreating it in post a little bit.

Gareth Edwards: But it gave a really good foundation. And then that led to, obviously, downstream to ultimately StageCraft. Which is like the holy grail of that kind of idea. And Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS, who’s the DOP on our film with Oren Soffer. He was obviously part of the first Mandalorian pilot, or whatever you want to call it, episodes, that launched all that technology.

Gareth Edwards: And so StageCraft and ILM were going to be doing the visual effects, StageCraft became like an obvious contender. It’s a very expensive way to do anything as well. And we were trying to approach this film like it was a guerrilla indie film to some extent. And so it was the antithesis of what we were about.

Gareth Edwards: But equally, We were selling the film to the studio, and there were certain things. As much as the studio gets excited about saving money, they also want to have some key things that are really going to sell the movie and make it seem big and special. And so being able to say, we’re going to shoot on this, which back then was a new technology, we’re going to use that stagecraft thing, and industrial light and magic are doing all the visual effects, got everyone very excited, and reassured everyone because it’s like, how are you going to make this epic looking thing?

Gareth Edwards: And just go with this little camera to Thailand or wherever. And so having like strategic little moments like that kind of was reassuring. And also I was, as a filmmaker, I was incredibly interested in doing, using this. Because you’re always like, it felt so I think it’s I have now done it, I, the fastest way to, to explain it is to say it’s a green screen color.

Official Trailer for The Creator.

Gareth Edwards: I don’t think it is necessarily the answer to every single scene in a movie or way to shoot a movie. I think right now, the expense of it, and there’s a lot of things you have to do upfront. But it’s definitely I prefer LEDs rather than green screen ever again if I possibly could.

Gareth Edwards: And as the price points come down and technology gets easier, it’s going to become more and more viable for everybody. But it was a super, super interesting experience. And, it throws you in a massive way in that you stand in this environment, and as they can press a button pretty much, and it changes the whole environment.

Gareth Edwards: And you would shoot, we shot in this biosphere, we used it for two locations. At the end of the film, a biosphere, and this sort of giant escape pod bay and what would happen is you’d shoot one day in the biosphere, or you might go to lunch or whatever, or you’d shoot the next day, and it would be the escape pod bay, and my mind felt like we had gone somewhere else. Like we were now in a different location, and when you would walk out of the set, there was the same door and the same craft services selling, giving you coffee and things.

Gareth Edwards: And it was like, wait a minute, how, and it would throw it. Cause you, and you go, hang on, we’re in, oh yeah, we’re in the same place. They’ve just changed the entire environment in the LED screen, but you can’t. It really felt like a different place every time. It was so convincing to the eye, not just on camera.

Gareth Edwards: It looks good just walking into the room. It looks. You have to go close to the screen to go, Oh shit, that’s not there. Like it, it can really throw you. It’s a fascinating thing. 

Director Gareth Edwards on the set of The Creator.

Noah: And so, as someone who’s embraced those sorts of technologies and looked for innovative ways to leverage them to shoot stuff that would have been done a completely different way in the past, what do you see on the horizon as far as new tech that you want to yeah, ooh, that would be cool to throw that into a movie.

Gareth Edwards: I’m not supposed to say this, but the answer to that is very easily AI-related. What is happening, just looking online, is mind-blowing and scary and exciting and everything all at once. If I was a young filmmaker right now. I would think, oh my God, I’ve been born in exactly the right era.

Gareth Edwards: Here we go. It’s no longer going to take 10 million, a hundred million dollars to make what’s in my head. I might be able to do it in my bedroom, with me and my friends or whatever. And I don’t know how you can not be happy for those young filmmakers, And as an older filmmaker now, I feel like it’s my job, and I really want to learn this stuff and figure it out.

Gareth Edwards: And what’s tricky is just knowing the timelines. With CGI, it came in whatever, whichever movie you want to say, that was the beginning of CGI, but let’s just pick Jurassic Park, right? And there’s a before and after feeling to blockbusters. With AI, it’s really hard to know is six months away?

Gareth Edwards: Is this ten years away? At what point is this going to be able to create a film, to some extent? That is photoreal, as good as something you would pick up a camera and shoot. As good as something you could do VFX on. It’s coming. Last year, I think I got sent the link. To MidJourney or something and someone going, this is really interesting, you should check it out, and you type something, and you got this sort of weird image that felt a bit funky like a psychedelic oil painting, and you’re like, yeah, it’s interesting, and now it’s totally photo-real, and that’s just in a year and now there’s you can make it move, or you can use other software to make things move, and they and some of it is like so naturalistic, it’s just impossible to dismiss it and say this is not the future.

Gareth Edwards: And so I’m personally excited about it. Genuinely I used to joke a long time ago about making films and how hard it is and stressful and expensive. And that, oh god, I wish you could just plug a cable into your brain and picture the movie and press record. That would be so much easier.

Gareth Edwards: And it’s like the closest thing to that’s coming. How do you feel about it? 

Edwards’ practical approach on the beach. Photo by Glen Milner.

Noah: It seems like it’s just another filmmaking tool. I personally can’t imagine it will replace filmmaking as we know it, but it seems like an interesting corollary. Or maybe it will replace filmmaking as we know it. Who knows? 

Gareth Edwards: It’s very hard to think definitely what it will do I mean, it’s hard, I mean, there’s lots of things about these tools at the moment, the way I wish I could talk to the people that make them and go, Could you do this? Could you have it do this as well? And how about this? It’s not quite there in a really useful way at the moment, but I do think you get to a point where you go, okay, if AI can generate a film that is a hundred percent for a real, and then at some point it can even come up with the film, obviously based on models of other films, like having watched great movies and going, the idea that it would never ever be able to make something that’s on a par with anything a human has ever made.

Gareth Edwards: I don’t know. I think it, at some point, it probably will, um, it will shock us and do something which we would consider art. And I don’t mind that because who cares where it came from? I don’t agree with the idea that in order for something to be beautiful and cause an emotional reaction in you, it has to be created by a person.

Gareth Edwards: I look out onto a valley at sunset and a lake, and it’s stunning, and no one made that. There wasn’t a person. It was just, just evolved and was there. And it gives me an emotional response. And if I said to you, that music tends to come before film or audio, these innovations digitally tend to affect audio before they affect video because of the amount of data.

Gareth Edwards: If I said to you, okay, AI. Has made, as understand now, why we love music, or these particular tracks, or why you love those particular tracks, and it, and over there in that room, can you see those people with headphones on crying? They’re listening to what they have said is the greatest song or piece of music they’ve ever heard in their entire lives.

Gareth Edwards: It was made by AI. Do you want to listen to it? Are you curious? Or do you want to carry on as you are? I’d be like the first one over there, putting those headphones on. Going, what the hell? And if it made me cry, and I thought, oh my god, this is in, amazing. I think we would get over it pretty quickly. And there are lots of examples of, I think, journalism, I don’t know if it was in the UK, but there was the Union of Journalists that said when word processing started, they basically banned it.

Gareth Edwards: That you should not; no one in the Union should use a word processor to write a news article. And that lasted all of two seconds, and it’s going to be one of those where, and I think the only question that’s left, everyone knows it’s going to be this amazing tool, it’s going to really help everybody.

Gareth Edwards: I think the only question that remains is, um, will it generate, without a human involved, will it create a story or a work of art that is as good as anything we’ve ever made, or better? It’s struggling with the jokes. If you try and get AI to write a joke, it’s, they’re terrible usually. Maybe comedians are safe for the longest, but yeah, it’s exciting times yeah. 

Noah: As someone who, it, it seems like in looking at the way you like to shoot your movies, you’re all about reducing friction as much as possible and just keeping the spontaneity going. So is that, like something, that leads to a better result that if it’s less about the mechanics of filmmaking, less about all the things you have to overcome and more about like just reducing it down to the most minimal, easy to accomplish thing, does that get you to new ideas and stories that you wouldn’t have been able to tell otherwise? And is this another way to do that? 

Gareth Edwards: Yeah. I feel like this is like DNA where a film or a piece of art or whatever you want to call this stuff is like an organism and there’s, it’s got DNA. And if you literally copy what inspired you, like literally copy it, you’re just doing asexual reproduction, right?

Gareth Edwards: You’re just cloning it, and that’s all you’re really doing. And when something amazing happens, there’s like a breakthrough. It evolves to the next level of something that wasn’t there before. And that’s typically combining two bits of DNA or having a mutation in the DNA. And so when you’re making anything, you’re trying to combine it with something that, that creates a curve ball that sort of knocks it for six and is not part of.

Gareth Edwards: Wasn’t part of the expectations of what was supposed to happen. And sometimes that fails. It creates an organism that dies very quickly. And sometimes, it creates something that evolves beyond what it was. And in the process of making a film, you go, Okay, it’s this shot, or it’s this scene, with these, and they do this, and then this happens.

Gareth Edwards: And if you literally get that, it’s asexual reproduction, and you go, that was alright. When you’re filming, and suddenly the weather does something Or an actor does something, or a dog comes into the set, or whatever happens. Something you didn’t control starts mutating, the DNA of what you’re doing.

Gareth Edwards: And it gets really exciting because suddenly it’s like what you wanted, but better or different. And you can later cherry-pick whether, which things get to live and die amongst all this material you’re gathering. And so I’m always really excited about things that fuck with what I’m doing.

Gareth Edwards: And the problem with computers for the longest time is they never, ever do that. Like you, a computer only does what you put into it, and you get back exactly what you put in. It’s a very one-way relationship. And I used to do a lot of visual effects. And the thing that I learned from. Things that I had seen that in, I was like, how come that’s so good?

Gareth Edwards: And what I do is rubbish. And I would, if you watch those people work, what they do as they work is they try to destroy what they’re doing. So they make an image, or they make an edit or whatever they’re doing, and then they start shattering it, and they start flopping it and flip, flipping it and moving things around and whacking something on top, no something else on top.

Gareth Edwards: And they try to do something to fight. And they go, oh. I’ve never thought of that as interesting. And everyone’s trying to truffle pigs, trying to find what’s the new thing, what’s the thing I would never have thought of, that when we find it, everyone’s gonna praise you because, oh my god, how’d you think of that?

Gareth Edwards: And it sheer fucking messing around is how I thought of it, but I’ll let you think that I’m a genius, but it was just a complete mistake, and I think AI is one of those things that you can hopefully go even now, just playing with MidJourney, you type something in and something, some batshit crazy thing comes back sometimes and you go, I never thought of that.

Gareth Edwards: And even though it’s weird and you can’t use this idea or this shape or whatever that is, actually, it’s quite interesting. And we could maybe, and so it’s like having someone on your team who did a lot of drugs and too many drugs in the seventies, and you can’t really bring them into meetings because they’re mental, but they do often have the curveball, super interesting thing that, that, that sends you on a new tangent. Yeah, and it’s, and I think that’s true of, like being able to fail, privately, is how you make something succeed when, with filmmaking, what’s so difficult is because it’s a hundred million dollar enterprise quite often.

Gareth Edwards: Is you’re not allowed to fail in the process, as you’re going, you have to constantly look like everything’s working great, else it scares people, and so that, that causes a lack of success, because you can’t truly shatter or risk something going wrong, which usually leads you down a path that no one’s gone down before because everyone’s too scared to go, and so it’s, I don’t know, it’s this eternal, you Dilemma of filmmaking of going to the edge, but not falling down the cliff.

Concept art of NOMAD from The Creator.

Noah: Thanks. Total sense. All right. I’m told we’re out of time. This has been absolutely awesome. And I look forward to seeing what you do with these toys next. Because that movie was pretty mind-blowing. 

Gareth Edwards: No, we’ll see. Probably get killed by them. 

Noah: No, they’re going to see you as a friend. That was like a pro-AI movie. Come on, they’ll love you! 

Gareth Edwards: Yeah, I’m going to get saved. 

Noah: Exactly. You’re the guy. All right. Thanks. Thanks. 

Gareth Edwards: Thank you, Noah. Appreciate it. Have a good day.

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