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SXSW: Gareth Edwards Explains How a Starbucks Cup Influenced ‘Rogue One’

Gareth Edwards’ keynote Monday at SXSW Film began years ago, in fact, when “Monsters” became part of the screening lineup in 2010. It had been rejected from every major – and minor – festival before that.

Today it was a trip down memory lane complete with laughing, (stories of) crying, swearing and a true look into the shaky beginnings of a now-big-time director, who followed “Monsters” with “Godzilla” and then dove into the Star Wars universe with “Rogue One.”

“I hate doing this stuff,” he said, like a true director who’s comfortable being behind the camera. “Please forgive me, it’s a little nerve-wracking.”

Here are some of Edwards’ favorite memories.

He was always going to join the rebel alliance.

When I was very young, my parents forced me to watch this film that was artistic and groundbreaking and revolutionary at the same time – you may have heard about it – it was called “Star Wars”? – and I instantly knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was going to join the rebel alliance and help blow up the Death Star. That was plan A. But at some point someone told me that I couldn’t do that. They told me that it was this lie called “filmmaking.” So the second best option was to become a liar. And that was definitely what I was going to do with my career – I was going become a professional liar, a filmmaker.

Spielberg didn’t get rejected, but Edwards did.

Right, so how the fuck do you become a filmmaker? If this talk had a title, that’s what it should be. At the time, there was no Internet. I grew up with the Steven Spielberg story – quite literally I had a book [that he holds up] called “The Steven Spielberg Story.” This was my bible, and there was a chapter inside about how he got to make films. There’s a little checklist – he made cheap films with his father’s camera, he went to university, he made a professional short film, he sent it to Hollywood producer and he got a contract to direct movies at Universal Studios. I was like, right, great. That’s what I’ll do. I checked off that list and I sent my film to Hollywood producer…where I got a very polite rejection letter. I flipped back through the book and looked for “rejection letter.” There wasn’t one.

His aha moment came when his girlfriend got sick on a trip to visit the original “Star Wars” locations in Tunisia.

I couldn’t make that break into directing. I was turning 30 and I hadn’t done it yet. My girlfriend at the time [she was sitting in the front row — the two are still friends] suggested throwing a party, but I had no friends so I thought that might be really depressing. But I’d always wanted to go to Tunisia – by the way, I’ve never told anyone this story.

They were very clever how they shot “Star Wars” in Tunisia and all the locations are all over the country. My girlfriend must’ve eaten something that made her very ill. We were meant to go across the country about 300 miles to see where Luke Skywalker’s house was, but if we didn’t stop now and see Obi-Wan Kenobi’s house, we were never going to see it ever. She really needed to use the loo but I begged her and she told me to really hurry. So we drive down the road and she tells me to hurry again. I put on my headphones and find some John Williams track [he starts to hum] and I start walking around the house. You have to remember, this is where he told Luke Skywalker what his destiny was, his fate of the rest of his life.

I was having this epiphany and it was the most spiritual thing I’ve ever experienced. I was taking it all in and walking around and right by the front door of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s house and right in front of me, I see my girlfriend in a ditch and she’s squatting with her pants down around her ankles. She said, “Don’t just stand there, get the wet wipes!” It took me down a notch. But seriously, I did all that geeky stuff and it really inspired me how that thing as a kid that I grew up loving – that impossibility of being a part of the rebel alliance – was a tangible thing that really existed. I went back home really inspired. This fear of failure that chases you is met head on with the bigger fear of never having tried.

The name of the planet in “Rogue One” came from a misspelling of Gareth’s name.

Gary Whitta – a writer on the film – was naming things in the story, but eventually he was sick of doing it. And I was waiting for him to say this. So he told me to name the planet at the end of the movie, the whole third act. I was like “Right, this is a big deal. I’m going to get a coffee and I’ll come back with a name.” So I went to a very well-known coffee shop and was thinking and thinking what should it be. When the barista asked my name, I must’ve said “It’s Gareth” and they heard “Scareth,” because it was written on my coffee cup. So I went back and slid the coffee cup over and said, “It’s Scareth.” It’s been so weird to see it on t-shirts and everything, but I couldn’t tell anyone that it was just a misspelling of my name of a coffee cup.

The Spielberg moment:

[The first time I got a big meeting] and I went into Legendary, walking in there are all these posters of Chris Nolan films and I got sat down with Thomas Tull who runs Legendary. He asked me what I was doing the rest of the week and I told him I had some meetings and screenings and such. He told me to cancel them all. “You never need to have another meeting,” he told me. “From now on you’re making all your movies at Legendary.” And I just started crying. It was really embarrassing, but I couldn’t stop it. All my life I’ve been waiting for someone like him to say something like that and I didn’t realize how much it was going to impact when it came.

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