Godzilla - Gareth Edwards interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale and Matthew Turner
GARETH Edwards talks about some of the challenges of making Godzilla and stepping up from his micro-budgeted debut, Monsters, to a blockbuster of this size.
He also talks about the importance of taking the film seriously and grounding it in a reality, the nuclear message at its heart and why Steven Spielberg proved a big influence. He was speaking at a UK press confernece.
Q. We’ve heard that even before you’d signed on to do the film, that you had a really clear idea in your head about what you wanted to do and achieve. Is that true?
Gareth Edwards: Yeah, I think that’s one of the reasons why Godzilla has stood the test of time. There’s just so many different ways that we could have gone with this film. There’s kind of an infinite canvas. It took us a year and a half of playing around to land on the story that we wanted to tell. I think, for me, I grew up with those ’70s and ’80s movies, those early Spielberg-type things, and it was before the era of digital technology, and because they couldn’t always show the creature constantly, the first half of the movie would just be these little glimpses. So, your sense of anticipation, with films like Alien by Ridley Scott… you just get so many chills and goose bumps. I felt like in modern cinema it’s so easy to just throw everything at the screen constantly and we’ve missed that style of storytelling. So, from day one, our constant references were things like Jaws and Close Encounters and sort of harking back to that era of filmmaking, even though we have these amazing tools to do Godzilla justice for the first time.
Q. When filming Monsters, you famously created a lot of the special effects shots on your bedroom computer. This time around did you have a chance at any of that DIY input, and if not, did you miss that?
Gareth Edwards: Yeah, when we first started, I said: “Can I do just one of the shots?” I wanted to do one just for old time’s sake because it would be fun. And they were like: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever Gareth.” But after the first week, it was really clear that there was no way that was going to happen. I mean, you don’t even get a spare five minutes making a film. But the beauty of it is that I was surrounded by the best of the best. The visual effects supervisor, Jim Rygiel, who did Lord of the Rings, we also had John Dykstra – who did the original Star Wars movie, and so you’re working with genuine heroes of mine. So, handing your baby over to people that can look after it way better than you can is an easy thing. It wasn’t that difficult to get up.
Q. But did you miss doing it yourself at all though?
Gareth Edwards: Do I miss being all alone in a bedroom [laughs]?! Looking back at Monsters, one of my favourite parts of the process was doing the effects from home because you’re on your own and there’s no stress. Look, making this film was genuinely the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, but the reward is things like the premiere last night, when you get to show fans. It’s kind of like dreaming of the film is a lot of fun… you can close your eyes and imagine anything you want to see. But then showing the film is a lot of fun, but the middle feels like war [laughs].
Q. Was there any kind of pressure to get the movie done in time for this year to mark Godzilla’s 60th anniversary? Also, how did you deal with the Japanese and getting them to let you use their monster for a Hollywood version again?
Gareth Edwards: I’d love to say that we were really clever and tried to not make this film until it was the 60th anniversary, because that would be perfect, but we just got lucky in that sense. I didn’t realise this until Ken [Watanabe] pointed it out, and I’m gonna get it a little bit wrong, but you know how they have the year of the dragon, and the year of the… well, every 12 years it repeats; there’s a five cycle thing and then there’s a rebirth. And so 60 years in Japan means “the rebirth”. And so it’s highly appropriate… So, yeah, we totally planned it that way! I was actually offered the job when I was 21 but we were like: “No. Let’s do this properly.”
Q. How long did it take you to design your idea of Godzilla and would you change anything about him now that you’ve seen him on-screen?
Gareth Edwards: The great thing about Godzilla is that if you had a load of images of silhouettes of characters in cinema history and you went around the world and you showed them to people, and as soon as someone didn’t recognise them you threw those images away, I feel like the grand final would be between Mickey Mouse and Godzilla. I think what makes him iconic is that he has a very strong silhouette, so when we designed him we literally put settings on the computer so he didn’t have any texture. He was just pitch black against pure white and we just kept rotating him and just pushing and pulling and trying to get the silhouette looking just right. It was like a Rubik’s Cube. You get one side good and then you’d turn it and you’d ruined the other side but you couldn’t cheat and peel the stickers off. So, it took nearly a year to get it to a place where we could rotate it 360° and go: “I don’t wanna change anything.” And genuinely, I don’t think you’re a filmmaker if you don’t always think: “I could have done this or I could have done that.” But one thing I do feel is that, geuinely, I don’t really want to change anything. I’m very happy with how we got him.
Q. You’ve made a plausible story that’s rooted in reality and you play it straight. Was that always the intention, to have no gags?
Gareth Edwards: I think the thing is if this really happened and there really was a giant monster that came out and did these things it would be the most horrific, world changing event ever. So, this is what we said. It would be like World War II or even worse and within that you’ve got such a range of different films, such as Saving Private Ryan and Casablanca. We wanted to take it seriously and have a very emotional, life-changing event. I think these things are most fun for me when you really believe it and you really get pulled into that world. And there is sort of comedy within the film but the important difference is that the characters are not finding it funny. Like, the filmmaker can find things funny and show things that make you chuckle to yourself or something but the characters that are going through the events are having a very traumatic time, so they shouldn’t be doing wise-cracking one liners and things like that.
Q. Godzilla and nuclear energy has always been kind of a twin concept. Do you see it as a warning against nuclear energy?
Gareth Edwards: Yeah. I think the first thing you do on day one is you sit down and say: “So, what is a Godzilla movie? What is it about?” And it’s not a simple answer. And what we arrived was that Godzilla represents nature, really, and the other things going on in our film basically represent man’s abuse of nature. It’s this whole idea that the more we try and control nature, and the more we try and think we can somehow contain it, it always backfires and something goes wrong, especially with nuclear power and things like that. So, this movie’s really about the fact that we can’t control nature – nature controls us. And when we landed on that we tried to amplify it as much as we could through the movie.
Q. You’ve now done films which are very small and inventive and now a big blockbuster. Do you have a game plan for alternating between the two now? Is there one you prefer?
Gareth Edwards: Well, you do a ‘personal’ film and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want that film to be as popular as possible – that’s the most important thing. It’s a pointless exercise if you do something that’s a passion project and no one sees it. What’s the point in that? And if you do a commercial or popular film you want to make it as personal as possible, you want to make it as creative and as artistic. So, whichever end of the spectrum you’re coming at it, you’re sort of heading for the same place. So, I don’t know what will end up happening next but the goal is to get to that sweet spot where people really like a movie and you’re proud of it. I think anyone’s lying if they’re not trying to combine the two really.
Q. You once expressed a frustration with working with huge crews so how did you overcome that with this one?
Gareth Edwards: I know exactly what you’re on about and thanks for pointing that out! It was when I was working in TV and I think the problem with TV is tha it’s trying to be a Hollywood movie or a Hollywood quality of filmmaking but it hasn’t got the resources. So, when you get to do it for real and you literally have millions of dollars and the best crew in the world, it is insane. The thing that I was most surprised about was you do a small film, there’s five of you and then do this massive movie where there’s 300 and you think there’s going to be this massive difference. But then you’re driving on to set and as a director you’re in a bubble and they drive you straight to the camera and you don’t meet anybody and all you speak to all day long is the assistant director, the camera-man and the actors and you literally just know five people. And the most embarrassing thing is at wrap parties because I didn’t know anybody. You smile at people every day and you go: “What does he do?” And you’re like: “I don’t know. Stands near a light? Holds a microphone?” You’re just protected. So, I could kind of convince myself that I was making this intimate movie with just a handful of people that just happened to have 300 spectators around the sides. So, that’s how I got through it.
Q. Can you explain Andy Serkis’ role in making the film?
Gareth Edwards: Initially, the motion capture was all done by Bryan Cranston [laughs] and after a few test screenings we felt that Godzilla was a little bit camp… No, Andy came on quite late in the day which is not what you normally do. But the reason being… it’s all animated the long, painful way by animators and everything you see in the film was done by visual effects companies. But Andy Serkis and his team came in because basically you’re trying to find performance and the fastest way to do it is to have an actor and as we were coming through the crunch time of all the post-production, the fastest result was to get Andy in and he did a handful of shots, quite a few, and found the soul of Godzilla. So, a lot of the shots, the more soulful moments, are Andy’s performance as reference for the animators. He gets associated with motion capture but he’s a genius actor, I think, and it’s very clear when you look at the performances he does in motion capture and you go: “Oh my God that’s amazing.” And then you see the behind-the-scenes and you see Andy and you go: “That would win an Oscar.” He’s just underrated, I think. But it was a dream come true for me to be able to work with him.
Q. Has your film philosophy changed?
Gareth Edwards: I got thrown out of class when I was 10 and I remember storyboarding a little film. I always wanted to do this. But I never expected it to happen. This is just so surreal that if I think about it too long I either start to get emotional or I start to get the shakes or something. It’s a kind of… I can’t process it. I can’t process what’s happened.
Q. You mentioned a sequel. Would you like to do a sequel and, if so, what would you like to do?
Gareth Edwards: I sat down with Thomas [Tull, producer] the other night and had a meal to celebrate the fact we had finished the movie. Inevitably, as you’re chatting, sequel came up. And we both agreed not to jinx it and said: “You know what, let’s see how this plays out. Let’s see how people respond.” If all goes well, on May 17 we’ll be having another meal and we’ll try and figure it out.