Set Visit Coverage: Director Gareth Edwards Talks Godzilla from the Set!
Questioned in regards to his journey from the independent Monsters to helming the summer tent-pole that is Godzilla, Edwards said, “I wouldn't call it a ‘journey’. It's more like teleportation. It was like this instant, ‘There you go. You're making a massive movie.’ It was overwhelming in the early days. But it's so incremental; it's like climbing a mountain. One step is not that different than the step before. We presented the film to the studio last year, and we started filming in March. That's quite a long time to get ready for the fact that we were going to be making this. And no matter how much people warn you and tell you what it's going to be like, it's still sort of a culture shock. I've worked in TV, and it's like a micro-version of this. Yeah, I guess if the previous film is like riding a bicycle, this is like flying a 747.”
As for Toho’s involvement (a company who was none too keen on licensing Godzilla once again to an American production following Emmerich’s 1998 ‘Not-zilla’ flick, as it’s known by fans), “I went to Japan probably over a year ago and went to visit them and met with the heads of the studio and the president of Toho, and they were very generous,” said Edwards.
“They released Monsters, my previous film, and they had the rights to that, and when I arrived, they had the DVD and Godzilla merchandise, and they were incredibly welcoming. We went to dinner and they had a few questions about the story and (about) what we planned to do, and then from that point on, we've been sharing all the scripts with them and sharing the concept art and the development of the film, and they were heavily involved in the design of Godzilla in terms of approvals and everything, so it's very much been a Toho-approved Godzilla movie, which we wanted it to be because for us it was very important. It would be kind of pointless if Toho didn't feel like it was a real Godzilla movie. So we were pretty keen to try and get that right.”
The question arose of the inclusion of ‘Easter Eggs’ within the film itself (which as of last week came to certain light in the film’s second trailer, which featured the ‘Mothra twins’ appearing on the floor of a destroyed high-rise), and Edwards responded, “There's loads of Easter eggs in this film. Is there anything to do with Monsters? What I'll tell you, and it doesn't really answer your question, but on Monsters, for the girl in the film, Whitney, I made a charity bracelet for her character, and the idea was that it was for a pretend charity for people who had been displaced by the monsters. And everyone on that film wore it, and I wore mine from the day we started filming to after the world premiere. I was adamant (that) I was going to do the same on this, but we had a minimum run of these of four hundred, so we gave one to the whole crew, and you'll spot them around. This is a clue to the movie. Something in the movie happens and this is a clue, and that's all I can do.”
“There's a few in there (too),” stated the director, gesturing to the nearby set. “There's one right over in that room if you have a look. You might see it in the shot we're setting up later. There's something actually specific.”
Writer’s Note: The scene in conversation found actor Taylor-Johnson revisiting his character’s childhood home, which he perhaps hastily abandoned during the film’s 1990-era attack by Godzilla. Positioned with intent on the set’s floor of his bedroom were a dozen or so toy tanks and plastic army men, squared off against a plastic dinosaur (undoubtedly a representation of the titular creature). To be more specific, however, written on an abandoned pet terrarium atop his childhood dresser was one word: ‘Mothra.’ (Lends credence to the inclusion of the giant moth in Edwards’ world, now doesn’t it?)
Talk turned to filmmaker Frank Darabont, who lent his considerable talents in a story capacity to Godzilla.
“He did a fantastic job,” Edwards gushed.
“There's a particular scene we finished filming the other day, and I can't talk about it, but it was very strong, and it was all his idea. One of the actors that was in (the scene), as we were just chit-chatting off to the side, said, ‘This is the reason I took this job.’ And everyone felt that way when we were filming it as well. He brought a very emotional, powerful series of ideas to the story.”
“It's a global journey,” Edwards offered of the narrative, which is reflected in the various shooting locales and set dressings of the film.
“It felt like what we were doing with the franchise was taking something that was very Japanese, that belongs to Japan, and bringing it to America. And so from a very early stage, it was the journey of this movie from Japan to America. That felt like the heart of everything. It felt the most appropriate. Hawaii's (geographically) in the middle of it, obviously (and we shot there). So we sculpted the story around that basic, global path. And it's not as literal as, ‘Something from Japan comes to America’. It's not that straightforward. But it felt like visually we wanted that transition to happen, from a feeling of a very Japanese thing to become an American thing.”
Given Edwards’ interest in character-driven pieces (as evidenced by his Monsters, which found some fans wishing for more of a creature presence), the following question was posed pertaining to the ‘summer tent-pole’ aspects of Godzilla: ‘How big is this film and the creature itself?’ (Writer’s Note: He’s a staggering 120 meters tall).
Joked the director, “Well, obviously, the one downside to shooting this film is that we don't have Godzilla on set. He's too expensive, and he’s in (his) trailer, and he has to do all of his stuff against green screen, well, blue screen, because green wouldn't key very well.”
“Honestly, there are certain key words that you bring up over and over, like, ‘It's gotta be this,’ and, ‘It's gotta be that.’ And, obviously, the term ‘emotional’ gets in there, like you gotta care, but the other one by far is ‘epic’. I feel like if we haven't made an epic movie by the end of this, and if you haven't felt like you've gone on a massive journey, and if you don’t nearly tear up, and if the hairs on the back of your neck haven’t been raised, then I probably failed at what we're trying to do because all of that's definitely the goal. Hopefully it's not spectacle for the sake of it, and not, ‘Let's just throw every trick at the screen and try to distract the audience.’ It's more of a cinematic style, like holding back and letting the audience do the math. Like a lot of our sequences, our set pieces, people don't talk much through them. It's all thoughts and visual storytelling. We'll see how it pans out, but the films I love are those sorts of movies, and everyone knows that's what we're trying to do.”
Edwards was queried on what he felt would distinguish his Godzilla from perhaps a Michael Bay-directed version of the same.
“I think something that's coming through that I'm quite pleased about, and I'm really proud of, is that there's a lot of scenes we've already shot that are quite engaging,” he replied.
“Like you're really pulled in with the way the characters are coming together and the actors. I can't go into too much detail because it will ruin the movie for you, but we've watched dailies and teared up on a few occasions so I'm really proud. Hopefully, this will be a blockbuster where you really care about the people you're following.”
“Obviously, there's a giant, epic spectacle to it as well. I think, for me, if I'm honest, I'm personally not a fan of some of the Hollywood blockbusters that come out, and we're trying to hark back to the movies we all grew up on and loved like early Spielberg stuff, and trying to get in a bit more restraint and suspense, and not this ‘cutting-every-three-seconds’ and ‘explosions-every-two-seconds’ mentality. We're trying to respect the audience, and hopefully they want to see a good story. So hopefully we've been quite brave with the storytelling that we're doing. But we'll see. I say all this, and then we see the edit, and it reveals itself again to you. It's really hard at this stage to be that definite about everything in the movie because we're still finding it.”
With Edwards called back to the camera, we asked him if there had been one particular memory of the production that stood out above all.
“I've purposely not processed any of it,” he answered.
“I think if you really (were to) comprehend what we're doing here, it would paralyze you. You just have to look at all the cars on your way in, down the street. That's just the crew for this film. I purposely just bank it in my brain and try not to think about it. It still hasn't hit me. Like the other night, obviously, there's marketing aspects and visual effects aspects that have all started to happen already, and I had to quickly look at some video that was an approval thing to me, and it was like, ‘Oh my God, that's cool. That's like something you'd see in the cinema! Wow!’ And there was this excitement over, ‘Oh my God, this could go right in the cinema the way this looks. That's fantastic!’, and then realizing, ‘Oh my God. That is going to go in the cinema.’ And I still haven't really let it set in because otherwise the pressure would be too much. It's really hard to take risks; and in doing anything slightly creative, if you've got too much pressure on you, it's not healthy. You don't do your best stuff. So it's been really hard to get rid of all those thoughts and not think of how much this is going to be around the world for a week or so next year.”
I have a feeling it’s going to be in theaters for a bit more than a week or so, Mr. Edwards.
Up next, our on-set interview with Godzilla star Bryan Cranston.
And oh, not to be remiss (burning fan questions and all), in this film Godzilla does indeed breathe nuclear fire.
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