Gareth Edwards had only directed one film, the seriously micro-budgeted Monsters from 2010, when he was offered the chance to helm a little something called Godzilla.
Budgeted at $160 million (over 300 times what Monsters cost), Godzilla is an incredible opportunity for the young filmmakers second effort and also incredible intimidating. These emotions and more were clearly evident when we got the chance to sit down with the very amiable Brit in the UK recently.
Read on for chats about reboots, trailers, anti-heroes and trying to hide the fact that you’re making a massive blockbuster.
[this was a round table interview conducted on the 28th of February 2014]
Gareth Edwards and Bryan Cranston on the set Enlarge
CLICK: How are the interviews so far?
GE: It’s funny because this is the first set of interviews I’ve been doing so I haven’t got my spiel down! So you’ll get honest answers right now!
CLICK: Why do we need a new Godzilla?
GE: I think for me there are many reasons. When you know you’re going to make Godzilla, it’s such an amazing opportunity, such a big, recognised icon. It’s probably the most famous silhouette of a character I can think of, next to Micky Mouse or something! And the big reason I think he survives is because there are so many different directions you can take the story. As long as it’s got Godzilla in it you can kind of do anything. And so I think that’s half the reason it’s survived. It sound pretentious but deep in our DNA I think there’s this instinct. For millions of years we lived in caves and huts and everyday there was this expectation that an animal might come in and hurt or kill us. And it was a genuine real problem for the history of mankind. Just in modern times we’ve built these giant huts and caves in the form of skyscrapers but deep inside there’s still this fear that this creature is coming. And as the huts get bigger I think our nightmares of that creature get bigger and so as crazy as this monster seems it actually seems strangely right. We’ve had it too good for too long. When is the monster coming? It’s going to come! So it felt like a modern take with all the obvious CGI tools that we have today that no one had really done Godzilla the way that I wanted to see it. Hopefully when the audience watches they’ll agree but I don’t know how you could not do Godzilla. It’s kind of like the Shakespeare of monsters! [laughs] Every generation gets a go.
CLICK: What do you think your advantages and disadvantages were in coming from an Indie background?
GE: It was a completely different experience to some extent. Doing Monsters was incredibly low budget and this is the other end of the spectrum. So all of the things that were really hard on low budget films are really easy with a big budget and all the things that are easy when no one cares and you’ve just got a camera are a lot harder when you’ve got a big budget. So it was definitely a different experience but the main thing that I hope it’s got in common was that it’s got some soulful, beautiful moments in all of the carnage and horror that happens in the movie. I’m always looking to contrast it with something innocent and opposite so that it has value. Because I think when you have back to back bad things, if you don’t have some light in the cloud it stops having any meaning and vice versa. So Monsters hopefully had some of those aspects and for Godzilla thankfully the studio were in agreement and it’s hopefully why they asked me to do it was because we can inject the movie with random moments of … I don’t know how to explain it. Even in the sequences you saw today, like in the Halo jump when they’re falling. Even though its horrific and it feels like they’re falling into hell I really like to find something calm and beautiful and then go back to the carnage. It gives it that contrast and I try to do that as much as I could in this film so it wasn’t just one note. Because that makes it less interesting.
CLICK: Did you ever feel like you’d bitten off more than you could chew? Was it overwhelming?
GE: Yea I’d be lying if I said I didn’t turn up to set and you’d pass truck after truck after caravan after trailer. And it felt like there were 100 of them as you’re driving to the location. And the joke was always like – ‘how come we always pick locations that are in the middle of caravan conventions?!’ Because there was this convoy everywhere. It does intimidate you but what’s really good about the studio way of making films that they’ve really got down to a fine art is that you don’t have to deal with those people! They do their job really well. If you lined up all 400 people who worked on our movie I think I’d be able to tell you what 10 people did. Because that’s all I ever talked to and you’re in this little protected bubble. And we tried to keep things as intimate as we could, for the actors as well. I feel like Aaron [Taylor-Johnson] said this as well – it felt like we were making more of an indie movie in terms of the spirit of trying to inject some soul into the some of the scenes. It’s funny because there are advantages to doing a low budget film where you get a lot of soul quite easily. And then on a big budget film it’s a lot harder to get moments that feel real. We were definitely trying to bend the machine to approach certain sequences in a way that was very opportunistic. We had moments where the crew had to back off and not come near so there was only 10 people on the set. So we could go wherever we wanted with the camera and the actors had some freedom to approach it so that realism could come across.
CLICK: You described Godzilla as an anti-hero?
GE: Is he a lover or a fighter…?! An antihero is a good description. I don’t think you could ever say he was a hero because of what happens in our film. But whether he’s the lesser of two evils, maybe you have to watch the movie to see that side of things. It’s also a bit like a hurricane – is it good or bad? It’s kind of neither, it’s just nature. Godzilla in theory in our movie is just trying to put the world to right in terms of the balance of things with Nature. And for some people that’s a horrific experience. And for other people in the long term maybe it was for the best. I don’t know. I don’ think it would be fair to call him a hero because of the carnage that’s inevitable. But the kind of personality that we gave him was kind of like the last of the samurai or something. He was the lone Ronin left, because he is the last of his kind. There’s neither good nor bad in him, it’s not really coming from a malicious place, it’s more animalistic.
CLICK: It’s very fashionable to have an environmental message in a blockbuster these days. Is there one here?
GE: Not really a message… it’s not about the environment. The nuclear theme is within our movie for sure and I’m quite proud of some of it. You want to make a film that will work on two levels – you can do to the movie and if you don’t care about these things and just want to be entertained you can just see loads of cool sequences. And if you’re the type of person, like I feel I am, where I wanted another layer to it and it’s a bit pointless if there isn’t a point of view or something to take away. Then there is that layer in there as well. But it’s a fine art I think, especially with a film that has to be as wide reaching as this. To get that balance right. So I’d hate it if people thought the movie was preachy, we definitely didn’t want to do that. But there’s certainly the theme of man vs. nature and how we’ve had it too good for too long and we abuse our position on the planet. And there are lots of little moments. The whole film deals with that dilemma – if we go too far with what we’re doing we’re going to cause our own future problems. But that’s true of real life. There are all kinds of examples in the world where we’ve abused our position and then either other people are paying for it or we are a generation later. So this is kind of like a fantasy, physical manifestation of that idea. Sounds very pretentious!
CLICK: You’ve said all good science fiction is metaphorical…
GE: Sci-fi is my favourite genre but I hate it when it’s not about anything. Like just L.A. Law in space, just a soap opera. Great sci-fi makes you think and really shows you another perspective on ideas that you had. And in that crazy situation it can put a new light on something you’ve taken for granted. And makes you question things. I love the original Twilight Zones for that treason. So when doing Godzilla, you don’t start with that but once you dive into the story you’re always looking for exactly what the film is saying. We’ve got the amazing opportunity for it to go out to the whole world, it can’t be void of a point. It has to have some weight or some hidden truth as well. It look a long time to discover what that was.
CLICK: You must have been asked by now about the comparisons to Pacific Rim? Do you think it’s a good or bad thing to have these two movies come out so close together?
GE: For fanboys I wouldn’t be worried at all – you could never give them enough monsters! For me it’s like… I understand people who might think that way but monster movies are like World War II movies and in a WW II movie you can get Casablanca, Saving Private Ryan… there are thousands of possible stories. And if you have a fantasy film I think there are just as many takes on that. And I feel like the film I did before became like a romantic road movie in a way. Which is really not what you expect on a monster movie. So that was a story that felt like it hadn’t been done within that realm. And with Godzilla it’s so much the ultimate character for monster movies that I feel like if only one thing was going to remain it deserves to be Godzilla. Out of all the monsters that have ever existed, it’s kind of the original and the best! It’s more like the others have to justify why they have to exist rather than Godzilla, because he was the first!
CLICK: You’ve talked about different themes and aspects to the movie but you also have to sell it to audiences. Is it tough to sell the emotions and message and also make people aware it’s a cool big action movie?
GE: Obviously I don’t put the trailers together, there’s a whole amazing marketing team at Warner Bros that do that. But its funny because you give them the film early on, they’re some of the first people to see it because they need to start figuring out what they’re going to do, and then they present a bunch of ideas. And you’re too close to it in a way to be a good judge of how it should be marketed. I know I had favourites and in the end they went with something else and that went down incredibly well. So I’m happy to be very wrong about how to market my own film because I’m just too close to it! And a beautiful thing about the age of the internet, in the past you would have made a trailer and had no idea what people thought. But today, our trailer went out a few days ago and literally it went out at 10 o’clock and I couldn’t resist – I just typed in ‘Godzilla trailer’ on Twitter and spun through all of these comments. And it’s such a nice thing because everyone has been so supportive of the film and it’s really hard making a film! And you never know how well or badly you’re doing. And I always get paranoid myself because it could always be better and then you get the fan response online and it gives you a boost right at the finish line. It’s been incredible the reaction, it makes all the pain and difficulty, it’s just a reward to see the response. It’s probably like childbirth, it’s really difficult painful thing I imagine but when you see that kid smiling you’ll say you can do it again.
CLICK: Can you talk a bit about the amazing actors involved – like Juliette Binoche? Did you want her and is she a Godzilla fan?
GE: Definitely wanted her. We had this role in the movie and the great thing about doing a film like this is you have a fantasy about who you might want to work with and you imagine you can’t get them. But actually you can! Let’s just make the call! It wasn’t expecting her to say yes. But we were really happy with the materials that we sent and thank God her kid was a Godzilla fan! And so when she said to her son: “I’ve just been offered Godzilla” he had this amazing reaction. So she did it. So I’ve got to thank that kid one day.
CLICK: Godzilla has Japanese roots – how do you manage those roots in a very Western movie?
GE: I think this franchise, I hate that word, but this character is really a Japanese icon that we are trying to bring to the West, to America. So when we laid out the basic story we felt the most appropriate thing would be if it started in Japan and went to America. I wanted a character at the heart of the film that was Japanese that wasn’t just there as a token but had his own story and weight. And Ken Watanabe thank God went for it. And I don’t know what we would have done if he didn’t! Serizawa is the name of his character, as a nod to the original 1954 version which had a scientist called Serizawa as well. No relation to Ken’s character but we thought it would be fun to give him the same name. And Toho were very much involved in the film – I went to visit them at the studio and they came over to us when we were filming. They had sign off in approval of the design of Godzilla. To be honest if this film doesn’t do well in Japan, I’ll feel like I’ve failed. It’s got to feel like a proper Godzilla or we haven’t done our job I don’t think.
CLICK: You mentioned the word franchise – will it be one?!
GE: I would be honoured to have the opportunity to play in this sandpit again. I feel like there’s just so many ideas that you can’t fit into one film, so many moments. I’d love the film to be enough of a success that someone wanted to do it.
Godzilla is in cinemas from the 15th of May 2014.