Technically making its world premiere at Alamo Drafthouse’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas (despite it already playing to audiences twice before), expectations for Gareth Edwards’ follow-up to his standout Star Wars film Rogue One nearly seven years earlier were indeed quite high.
And while initial reviews of The Creator are a bit mixed, there’s no denying that it’s a truly beautifully realized and shot film that showcases how Edwards’ world building skills are second-to-none. Yet, despite a story rife with topical subjects on artificial intelligence and the nature of humanity, perhaps the most interesting angle to The Creator was simply how it got made.Edwards’, along with his small team featuring DP Greig Fraser (and replacement DP Oren Soffer, who picked up for Fraser when the latter had to bounce to start on Dune: Part Two) were able to find success in a new mode of filmmaking in which the crew chose to forgo the traditional green screen studio approach, and instead shot the film on location, with a minimal crew and actually powered the Sony FX3 camera.
The Real Story of ‘The Creator’
When we first covered the news that Gareth Edwards, Greig Fraser, and team were running around Asia shooting their rogue sci-fi feature on $3,000 cameras like the Sony FX3, many industry mainstayers were skeptical, while DIYers and indie filmmakers were probably more impressed.
After all, the Sony FX3 is no bad camera by any means. With a 12.1MP full-frame CMOS sensor capable of UHD 4K up to 120p, just out of the box and with a starter kit of lenses, the FX3 can easily serve as a more-than-capable camera for any variety of indie or commercial projects.
When combined with the right set of glass (in this instance, DP Oren Soffer reached out to confirm that the team used Kowa Cine Prominar and Atlas Mercury lenses) and technical know-how, it’s certainly capable of being used for films set to be presented on the biggest of screens.
Soffer also confirmed that the film was actually entirely shot on the Sony FX3. A true testament to the camera's capabilities and the talented team behind the lens tasked with bringing Edwards' creative vision to life.
On Location Over In Studio Production
What’s perhaps more interesting though than just the camera choice, is the reason behind it. One reason studios prefer that their biggest blockbuster films are shot in-house and on their big studio lots has mostly to do with the consolidation of resources. The studios can control everything and knock out the most bang-for-their-bucks when shooting on studio lots and on green screens.
The camera setups and crews can all be consolidated and stay safely in one space, so they can become very big and expensive. However, for the more indie filmmaking approach that Edwards’ and crew employed, they needed a smaller camera setup and crew as they chose to shoot on location and out in the field as much as possible.
By taking this approach, of smaller cast and crew filmmaking at actual locations across Asia and with the goal of adding all the VFX later, Edwards estimates he saved the production over $200 million as the final budget came in at roughly just $80 million, against what he suggested would typically cost closer to $300 million.
AI and the Future of Storytelling
While the filmmaking behind The Creator might be most interesting to us fellow-filmmakers, we also have to talk about the film’s narrative, which is so topically aimed at today’s issues and concerns with the future of artificial intelligence.
It’s fitting that The Creator is set to release here on the eve of the WGA strike, which itself was very much about AI and the role it might (or might not be allowed) to play in regards to artificially writing scripts. The Creator tackles these questions about as well as any sci-fi fantasy film could, as it gives a face and name to the AI to better connect it with human emotions.
Yet, it still certainly feels like this story is far from over as this self-contained narrative might portray. The Creator tells a tale far in the future and with a much more fantastic version of what AI might eventually be. The real issues of AI and its slow creep into everything we consider art and creative development is going to be a much more complex story than any single narrative will ever be able to capture.
Hopefully though, films like The Creator will continue to prove that Hollywood doesn’t need to shoot every blockbuster as a boilerplate superhero movie, and continues to support filmmakers with more practical DIY and indie filmmaking sensibilities as they aim to tackle these complex subjects, and give human emotions to perhaps our biggest fears.