Gareth Edwards’ latest sci-fi blockbuster The Creator, co-written by Chris Weitz, is making waves not only due to its timely themes on artificial intelligence but also from its epic visuals. The British filmmaker is known for crafting masterful visuals on a grand scale, from his feature debut Monsters to 2014’s Godzilla to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Edwards’ Star Wars film is still regarded as one of the most beautiful-looking projects to come out of Lucasfilm in recent years. With The Creator, however, the creativity that was put into bringing this original story to life can be seen as game-changing in today’s Hollywood landscape. Of course, little to no sci-fi movies are given a blockbuster budget unless they’re related to IP nowadays. So for The Creator to be both original and visually groundbreaking feels like an even more special occasion.
Taking place in the not-so-distant future amid a war between the West and A.I., The Creator follows ex-special forces agent Joshua (John David Washington) as he’s asked to re-enter the battlefield in search of a new superweapon that could turn the tide of the war in the favor of machines. He must sneak into what’s now known as “New Asia” in the East – the only place in the world where A.I. is still manufactured and robots walk among society – to find and destroy this target. But when he discovers that this supposed weapon is actually a one-of-a-kind simulant (a robot with a human-like appearance) child named Alpha-Omega, his allegiances are tested as he learns what it really means to be human. Joshua soon takes “Alphie” (Madeleine Yuna Voyles) on a dangerous journey across New Asia that can end the war.
The Lighter, the Better
During the global press conference for The Creator, writer-director Gareth Edwards was able to shed light on how he managed to make an $80 million blockbuster look like it cost around $150-200 million. But before we get into that, some more context is needed. Two cinematographers are credited on The Creator; Oscar-winner Greig Fraser (The Batman, Dune) and rising talent Oren Soffer (Allswell, A Nightmare Wakes). Together with Edwards, the three worked extensively during the pre-production process but Fraser could not be present on set due to his packed schedule filming Dune: Part Two. Additionally, Edwards and Soffer shot The Creator using a Sony FX3, which is an affordable camera that can be literally purchased at Best Buy and other retailers.
The fact that an 80 million dollar sci-fi movie backed by a major studio could be shot on a digital camera that costs roughly $4,000 is bold in itself. When you think of how many major studio films with budgets well over $200 million have been released this year and have looked, well, cheap (ahem, The Flash and Indiana Jones), The Creator feels like even more of a rarity. “I hope it becomes an industry standard for cameras to get lighter,” says Gareth Edwards. I don’t think there’s any cameraman in the world that enjoys holding this really heavy brick hours on end.” The filmmaker then jokingly remarks, “I’m a bit of a wimp, so I was looking for a very lightweight, small camera.” For additional context, most of these “heavy bricks” that Edwards jokes about usually cost over $10,000 just to rent for a single day of shooting.
It’s All in the Lighting
In terms of the technical aspects of why the Sony FX3 fit perfectly for Gareth Edwards’ The Creator, it’s all about the light. The director explains; “It just so happened that just as we started filming, about a year before, things got really interesting with camera technology… the way they measured the sensitivity to light, it was like 100 ISO, or 200 ISO. And if you were in an interior space that was a little dark, you’d have an 800 ISO. Well, these new cameras shoot at 12,800 ISO. So, you can basically film in moonlight.” ISO measures the sensitivity to light, meaning that a higher ISO setting is better for darker environments and vice versa. In Edwards’ eyes, this higher ISO meant that fewer lights would be needed on set since the camera’s sensitivity would already be so high.
Edwards further explains how a higher camera ISO benefited his whole production; “So, basically lights now are so bright and the cameras are so sensitive, you don’t need all these giant cranes and lighting. And so, just like you’d have on set, someone holding a pole with a microphone, we thought, let’s have someone with a pole and a light.” In a fascinating ripple effect, this then changed how Gareth Edwards staged and gave direction to the actors on the set of The Creator. “As the actors are given freedom to sort of go any direction they want, I can quickly move with them and the lighting can quickly change in an instant. So, instead of waiting 10 to 20 minutes to change the lighting all the time, we were waiting three seconds,” Edwards states.
A Better Way of Filmmaking
Naturally, when the transition from scene to scene only takes seconds to a few minutes on set, you’re then as a director able to get more time with the actors. Edwards claims that he and his cast and crew would film takes as long as 30 minutes; “We wouldn’t stop for 30 minutes, and got all this material as a result… that’s very naturalistic at times, very organic, and doesn’t feel like your average blockbuster, which I think really helps all the science fiction of it all.” In a year when so many blockbusters with bloated budgets have failed to impress audiences, The Creator certainly points to a truth many moviegoers already know: sometimes less is more. In the case of this movie, Edwards proves that “less” can still look as visually stunning and epic.
Gareth Edwards’ The Creator will surely be looked back upon in the same vein as Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 or Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion for its sheer innovation and originality. For now, though, Edwards makes it clear that blockbusters on a grand scale can still be successfully made with much cheaper budgets than the current overblown standard. Hopefully, The Creator won’t be the last of its kind and in the near future, we’ll see more studios taking risks on genre pieces given that they don’t have to spend as much as they think. Effortless blends of clean CGI (via ILM), practical effects, and gorgeous on-location backdrops make The Creator one of the best-looking films of the year. When you include clear inspirations from Ridley Scott, George Lucas, and more, sci-fi fans won’t want to miss out on this magnificent gem in theaters.