Creator Producer in making sci-fi blockbuster studios at a fraction of the price

Movies like The Creator usually no longer made. It’s an original science fiction concept, a rarity in a world dominated by franchises and intellectual property. The Creator is an ambitious sci-fi epic that plays like a tentpole film for a fraction of the price. Most films of this size and scale would cost around $200 million. The CreatorHowever, the budget was $80 million. However, it’s a beautiful film with visuals that put the impact of a big-budget project to shame.

Below, producer Jim Spencer explains the origins of his relationship with belongs to the Creator writer-director, Gareth Edwards, and dives into the unique process of making this film. Their goal: create The Creator feels like a blockbuster for a lot less money than the going price suggests. Spencer also shared the proof of concept that helped greenlight it The Creator and if he feels additional pressure to deliver as the critical and financial results will impact the future of original films of this scope.

Oren Soffer / 20th Century Studios

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Digital Trends: How do you feel?

Jim Spencer: I feel good. I’ll tell you more about how I feel on Monday (after opening weekend), but I feel really good. We’ve had some great screenings. We have some great reviews. It seems people are reacting very well to this. We obviously wanted to try to go against the system a little bit and make a big film for not too much money. It seems like it gets quite a lot of attention.

Before we get to the heart of the problem The Creator, I would like to start your relationship with Gareth. Do you remember the first time you met him and how it felt?

I remember very well the first time I met him. Gareth and I have known each other for around 20 years, so we often go back in time. We originally met when I was producing a TV show. This was at the dawn of VFX. Basically, I had to take the director to this meeting with the VFX guy, Gareth. He was like, “You can come and meet me at my house, and I can show you some things.” I was like, “Okay. That was great,” and we went and met at his house.

I didn’t know he was in a flatshare, so we ended up sitting on his bed. (laughs) The director and I, side by side, sat on his bed while Gareth showed us some stuff on his laptop. It definitely stuck in my mind. Yes, we have known each other for a long time.

You worked on a few TV movies together, which was fruitful monster. When the film came out and was a hit, and you saw it do well with audiences and critics, did you start to think that things would change?

Yes. I mean, it’s true. What happened was he was obviously picked up very quickly. He continued on to Godzilla Really, Really quite fast from behind Monsters. I’m not with him. We took a sabbatical from each other Godzilla And Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and then we discuss this one again. We are always in touch.

With Monsterswe are trying to do something similar to what we have done The Creator for much less money. We always talk, let’s say, in Monsters Of course, if someone gives us $1 million and we make something that looks like $10 million, we can persuade someone to give us a little more money. Can we make something that looks like a tentpole film? Hopefully, that’s what we’ve achieved here.

Alphie touches the robot bomb on the Creator.
20th Century Studios

I’m sure you do. Your film cost less than $100 million, and it looks beautiful. Then you see some $200 million blockbuster, and it’s just trash. They don’t look good at all. Is that proof of the people behind the scenes? Why does this movie look so good?

Of course, this is a testament to the many people behind the scenes who work very hard and do a great job. But it’s also a testament to having a leader in Gareth who likes to approach filmmaking in a certain way. Plus, that doesn’t apply to all movies, right? This worked really well for us, and was very much in line with his more naturalistic filmmaking style. From the start, he was determined to reverse engineer the film. We always thought, “Let’s shoot for as little money as possible.”

Basically, all production design is effectively done in post. That is so, very different point of view. This also comes from someone who has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve, so this often confuses many people. (Laughs) He can shoot for an actor or for a crew member. If they were standing around, he would record something, perhaps with a slightly odd frame, because he had already seen something that he would put there later.

The visuals are truly extraordinary. I’m reading that (The Creator) started as a short film you made under the guise of location scouting. Can you share details about the short film and what it’s about?

Yes of course. At the end of 2019, Gareth and I had a chance to chat together New Regency. We explained what we wanted to achieve, but we knew that there would be some questions asked about our methodology in terms of what we wanted to capture with this very small camera. In terms of VFX, we wanted to take a very non-traditional approach. We don’t want anyone to have tracking markers. We wanted to be able to photograph a very naturalistic performance, both from the performers, but also when we had the background as well.

We decided the best way to do it was to kill two birds with one stone and go to Asia, (and) start location scouting for the film, which turned out to be very successful. We were actually just shooting continuously while we were there, and that gave us the ability to go back and cut these 10 minute sizzle reels.

We then spoke to ILM (Industrial Light and Magic). Is it possible that if we want people to be simulants, can we choose between people? So, will they be able to have this design effectively with negative space in your head? And they can do it, so we’re very fortunate in terms of technology and technological advances now that you don’t have to take a course or track. Metadata makes things easier, but it’s still possible to do without it.

That gives Gareth more room to choose from as you can then choose who you want to be the simulation. Plus, we can then scale it. If you have a framework and you don’t want everyone you know to be a simulation, you can choose the people you do want. We then cut it, posted it, showed the studio, and said, “Look, this is what we think we can do.” That’s useful on two accounts.

Do you think the film was made without that proof of concept?

Uh, that’s a question for New Regency, are they happy to accept what we’re doing. Look, they’re amazing partners in this. This is a huge leap of faith. Even $80 million is a lot of money to say that we’re going to shoot effectively with these three little Sony FX3 cameras. It’s like an SLR, although we have a beautiful vintage lens. That’s very interesting.

(The studio) gave us quite a lot of space while we were away. We were shooting on a beach in Thailand, and one day I was walking onto the set. We were filming, and these guys were on the open part of the beach. They were like, “Oh, yeah. I thought someone was shooting a pop promo.” (laughs) Nobody knew what we were doing. They give us so much freedom to capture a more naturalistic world.

John David Washington sees a young boy leaning on his shoulder in The Creator.
20th Century Studio / 20th Century Studio

There is always pressure when a film is released. They have to convey it. I understand that there is a bottom line that must be achieved. I’m sure people said they enjoyed seeing an original concept sci-fi film. Do you feel any additional pressure to make it happen? You’re almost a torchbearer because this is an opportunity to show that audiences want these types of films, and if they do well, you can make more.

Yes, that’s very kind of you to say that. I’d like to think that we are. See, the reality is that in all filmmaking – you can watch romantic comedies, dramas, or science fiction – the audience has to choose for themselves. That’s the reality. We make films that we believe in and that we enjoyed watching when we were younger. You can only hope and believe that people will follow you. So, yeah, I certainly hope so.

The Creator now come in theater.

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