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In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or two, there’s a new sci-fi blockbuster making big waves in the film industry. The Creator is Gareth Edwards’ latest offering on the big screen and thanks to his intuitive, unique approach which included shooting the whole film with a Sony FX3, everyone is rightly talking about it as a bit of a game changer.
So, what makes The Creator film so special? What can we as budding filmmakers and cinematographers learn from this, and how does this change the future of filmmaking?
The Creator movie
The film is set in the year 2070, where a war between humans and AI is raging. We pick up the story as an ex-soldier (played by John David Washington) is tasked with hunting down and killing a super-weapon that’s currently under development by the elusive AI architect known as Nirmata. It’s a classic all-or-nothing setup. If the super-weapon is killed, the humans will win the war. If not, it’ll be the end of humanity.
Of course, there are plenty of twists and thrills that take us on an exhilarating adventure through a futuristic, war-torn South East Asia. It’s a visually stunning piece of cinema and one that you absolutely have to see on the big screen.
Who is Gareth Edwards?
Gareth Edwards is a British director who first gained widespread recognition for his independent film Monsters (2010), in which he was the writer, director, cinematographer and VFX artist. He’s since gone on to make a name for himself within the sci-fi genre, shooting the 2014 reboot of Godzilla, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). With that kind of work on his CV, you always had a feeling and a hope that The Creator might prove to be something special.
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How The Creator changes filmmaking
A big part of the PR and marketing in the lead-up to and release of this film has been centered around how The Creator was made, and rightly so. This is a film that bucks trends and sets new precedents and standards for the industry. It’s a film that can inspire a whole new generation of filmmakers and creators to go out there and make the film they’ve always wanted to make. Below, we break down some of the key factors that contributed to The Creator film success.
The Sony FX3
If you’d told established filmmakers even five years ago that a huge Hollywood blockbuster could be shot exclusively on a digital prosumer camera, they probably would have scoffed. But that’s exactly what Gareth and his team have done. The Creator movie 2023 was all shot on the tiny-yet-powerful Sony FX3. Speaking across multiple interviews, Gareth shed light on why they went for this particular camera:
- The camera has great color science, allowing it to be graded and easily emulate a Kodak film stock, which is what Gareth and the team were aiming for.
- It can shoot at 12,800 ISO, enabling it to shoot in really dark scenarios, sometimes just with moonlight.
- It’s really small and lightweight, making it easier to work with.
“I feel like the prosumer market camera technology, because it’s so desperate to win the professional market, they’re trying so hard to be innovative that they’re doing really interesting things the top end isn’t doing”, Edwards told the Behind the Screen podcast.
This choice of videography equipment directly influenced how they approached the making of the film.
A different type of production
With the various interviews he’s done, it’s easy to get inside Gareth’s head. Talking on Behind the Screen, he recalls being on a tour of a studio and spotting a poster on the wall which was a huge venn diagram laying out how to make a film. It was 100 years old.
“You sort of realize we haven’t changed the way a film is made in 100 years which is absurd to me…there’s all these new tools and all this new technology” Gareth explains. “It’s kind of like trying to forget what you’re told…and sort of going “okay, forget it existed, what makes most sense, what’s the most logical approach””
For The Creator, it’s clear that Gareth and the team adopted this “most logical approach”. With the Sony FX3’s incredible low-light capabilities, they realized they no longer needed all these complicated, cumbersome lighting setups. Instead, they were using lightweight pro-sumer LED lights that could be attached to the end of a boom and move around with the camera at ease.
Previously, when shooting various camera angles, there might be pauses of 10 or 20 minutes as the lighting equipment had to be dismantled and reset. Now, it was all seamless, with the DP Oren Soffer making use of the latest tech, fading the LED lights up and down using an iPad.
This extremely nimble, low-key approach fed into everything. Gareth realized that if your team and footprint is small enough, it becomes cost-effective to actually go to locations and shoot there, as opposed to constructing huge studio sets. While shooting The Creator film 2023, they visited over 80 locations across Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, covering 10,000 miles.
In behind-the-scenes footage, you can see that Gareth Edwards is operating the gimbal and camera in many cases, allowing for intuitive, instinctual filmmaking.
A new way forward for VFX
This way of shooting represented a challenge to the VFX team. Typically, if you were creating a sci-fi world with this much VFX, you’d build and create it from scratch. A lot of the time, green screens and studios would be used, costing a lot of money in the process.
Because The Creator shot in real locations, they first edited the footage into the story they were happy with, and then sent it over to ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) effectively as a blank canvas. It was up to ILM to “paint over” these frames and add in the sci-fi aspects afterwards. In this respect, it was a little like SFX, where a lot of the sound effects are created and applied afterwards.
“The story was always established, [Gareth] knew that there was going to be a tank or a robot, we always knew there were plates gathered for these beats,” ILM production VFX supervisor Jay Cooper told IndieWire. “The components that were different were, we didn’t know the size of the tank, we addressed that based on the footage that he came back with. We didn’t know exactly on set sort of where things were going to go, but we knew they were out there.”
What it all means
The result of this new, innovative style of filmmaking is a visually stunning film that feels very much grounded in the real world with beautiful, cinematic lighting and color. This was a clear goal for Gareth Edwards and DP Oren Soffer, who from the outset had identified a clear vision that took heavy influences from iconic films such as Apocalypse Now (1979), Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). This sci-fi film feels real and immersive and looking at it, you’d estimate that the budget must have been at least $150m to $200m.
This is why The Creator is a game changer for the industry. Astonishingly, it cost just $80m to make. This is essentially an indie budget production on steroids. Using the FX3, staying nimble and embracing new technology has enabled Gareth Edwards to blend the grand, cinematic worlds of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg with a more run-and-gun, documentary-style approach.
In recent years, it’s no secret that the big film studios have been shy and risk-averse, unwilling to take a bet on more niche, original ideas like The Creator in the fear that they’d flop at the box office and not make the investment worthwhile. However, Gareth has proven there is a way forward here, creating something on an epic scale with a fairly modest budget, ensuring that the chances of making a profit at the box office are significantly higher.
There isn’t necessarily a need to build huge studio sets with enormous teams and you don’t have to spend millions and millions of dollars on VFX. This will change how many movies are going to be made going forward.
And it’s also inspiring for us – the budding filmmakers who are looking to make our mark. This gorgeous piece of cinema was shot on an affordable prosumer camera that can be purchased by any of us online. It was lit with LED lights and the team was relatively small. Suddenly, Hollywood feels well within reach…