AUSTIN – “Godzilla” helmer Gareth Edwards’ life changed overnight at SXSW 2010 when his directorial debut “Monsters” premiered. An alien invasion tale heavy on CGI – and produced on the British-born director’s laptop – the $250,000 film took the indie world by storm, and caused Legendary Pictures and later, Warner Bros., to take notice.
Now, Edwards is just two months away from “Godzilla” opening worldwide. (It opens in the U.S. on May 16) Tuesday night, after a screening of the original 1954 Ishiro Honda film, Edwards participated in a Q&A at the Alamo Ritz. Wednesday morning he spoke exclusively with Variety.
Variety: How is “Godzilla” different from all the other movies about superheroes saving the earth from imminent destruction?
Gareth Edwards: Probably one of the important things I felt about this film was that the characters at the heart of the story shouldn’t be superheroes. They should be everyday relatable people. In the [Steven] Spielberg movies they found that holy grail, the sweet spot of having the epic spectacle, but also relatable and emotional characters. Those events change and affect the characters, but the idea of someone blatantly saving the day becomes quite predictable. The events are real harrowing and present a life-changing scenario, so we just tried to take it really serious.
Do you think audiences have tired of CGI-heavy films? What’s the level of fatigue?
I think it’s valid. I call it CGI fatigue and you can get it quite easily in these kind of movies, when you are constantly throwing every visual you can at the screen. You climax quickly, then reach a plateau. It’s the same with photography. I’m always about trying to find new perspectives on the event that give you a moment of quiet, somewhere to go with the movie. It’s so easy to peak with these films then you get stuck as a filmmaker. I think basically there’s this CGI trend that is going to be over soon.
What do you mean?
It was over like 10 years ago, we had this big excitement and sort of a honeymoon period. It felt like “Jurassic Park” opened the floodgates and we worked through the list and checked off the boxes. We went through the list quite a few years ago. Now, it’s new territory to go back to proper storytelling and cinematic storytelling in terms of showing restraint and subtly, teasing the audience and being suspenseful as well. I know it’s very easy to just get fatigued with set pieces. That was something I was really careful about. I’m trying my hardest try to build the big moment in such a way that the audience will climax right the end of the movie and then we hit the credits.
Godzilla is a beloved monster. How did you battle its reputation and make your own version?
As much pressure as the fans put on you, the studio put on you, nothing equals the amount of pressure I put on myself. You only live once and this is a once in a multiple lifetime opportunity, so I don’t want to screw it up. But you also shouldn’t make a film for other people, you should make something you want to sit and watch that gives you goosebumps.
What studio pressures did you encounter?
I was really nervous doing this. I went from a really low budget movie to this massive tentpole Hollywood movie. I was genuinely nervous, hearing these horror stories of filmmakers losing control and the studio taking over and everybody said, look at movies like this that you respect and see which studios made them. Legendary and Warner had a very high score, very filmmaker-friendly. During filming I kept turning to Seamus [McGarvey, the cinematographer] as we were filming and asked, “how normal is this freedom?” He told me that he had never worked on a film with this amount of freedom. But Thomas Tull protected me from everything and he’s such a massive fanboy, we had a bit of a freak-out together.
You made “Monsters” for $250,00 on your home computer. “Gozilla” has a budget upwards of $100 million. That’s a big production difference.
I try not to think about the money, the one thing money can’t buy is an idea. And I’m throwing all my best ideas out the whole time. It’s been the hardest, most stressful, most insane three years of my life and I’m surfacing out the other end now.
Tuesday night a sold-out crowd watched the 1954 “Godzilla.” Is this a sequel?
No, it is a standalone movie that is inspired by the original and we worked with Toho [who is distributing in Japan], who produced that film.
Is Godzilla good or evil?
Neither. He’s restoring the balance to nature. We’ve taken an absurd position on the planet as this alpha predator and the movie suggests, what happens if we weren’t top dog. He comes along and puts us in our place. If you try and pick a fight with nature, you’re going to lose. But the film does take itself very seriously. I could have made a cheesy popcorn version and it probably would have done well, but that’s not what we were looking for.