Having delivered critically and commercially successful new installments in some of cinema’s best-loved franchises for his last two projects – 2014’s Godzilla reboot, the 30th movie in Toho Studios’ monster-heavy Japanese series, and 2016’s Star Wars prequel Rogue One – you could forgive British director Gareth Edwards for sitting back and waiting for the next mega-blockbuster to come knocking.
However, there are no such easy options for Edwards, who with The Creator, has delivered that growing rarity on Hollywood release schedules – an original story; in this case, one about a future war for survival between humans and AI, which he co-wrote from his own idea.
If that was not daring enough in an era of sequels, franchises and spin-offs dominating the global box office, Edwards also claims to have made his film “in reverse”.
“Normally when you make a film like this, what happens is you design the world," he says. "You do all these cool pieces of artwork. You show a studio. They say, ‘You'll never find anywhere that looks like this. You'll have to build it on a sound stage. It'll cost $200 million, and you'll shoot against green screen.'
“We were like ‘No, 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 when we finish the movie.’ We'd sort of make the movie in reverse.”
Edwards assembled a small crew and shot footage in “seven or eight” countries around the world – also using apparent composited archive footage of Beirut’s devastating 2020 port explosion, which sparked outrage when the trailer was released last month. Disney and the production team have so far declined to confirm the source of the footage.
Edward says the process of designing the film was so effective that he does not want to return to traditional methods. “When it was all finished, we’d edited the film, got frames from each shot in the movie, then we gave them to the production designer and the concept artist,” he says.
“What normally happens a year-and-a-half earlier happened during the edit. They were painting and designing all the sci-fi on the shots we were actually using. Everything's really efficient as you only use what you see. It feels like I never want to go back to the other way of making a film.”
Edwards’s approach to making the film may have been something of a break from the everyday, but its subject matter is one that is rarely outside the headlines in 2023 – the growing threat to humanity posed by AI.
The topicality of the film hasn’t escaped the director’s notice – his cast isn’t joining him in promoting the movie due to the Hollywood strikes, in which the use of AI has become a key battleground for actors and writers alike.
Edwards told the audience at July’s ComicCon that, as a director, he was “contractually obliged” to promote his film despite many of his colleagues being on strike, and at the movie’s LA premiere last week he joined the audience to film a message of support on his phone for his striking cast.
Nonetheless, the director insists he was not trying to be topical, much less controversial, when he began developing the movie: “I started writing this in 2018, when AI was up there with flying cars and living on the moon,” he insists. “It was something maybe you would see in your lifetime, probably not.”
Despite the continuing debate over AI, and the existential war against it depicted in his movie, Edwards is positive about the technology overall: “Every major technological breakthrough that's happened in the last century or so – electricity, computers, the internet – they always have seismic changes on industries and there's a bump in the road that we have to get over,” he reasons. “But when the dust settles, I think we all look back and go ‘I'm glad we have electricity. I'm glad we have computers.’ I think this will be another one. The next few years will probably be tricky, but I think the positives will outweigh the negatives.”
Edwards’s optimism is comforting, until he hedges his bets: “I say that because when the robot apocalypse happens, they'll have this recording and they'll know,” he laughs. “So I'll be left. I won't be enslaved like you.”
The Creator is in UAE cinemas from September 28