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‘Rogue One’ Director Gareth Edwards on Avoiding Hollywood’s Addiction to Numbing Visual Effects

Filmmaker Toolkit Ep. 22: Edwards talks about how starting his career as a visual effects artist prepared him to make "Godzilla" and "Rogue One."

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..Director Gareth Edwards..Ph: Jonathan Olley..©2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Director Gareth Edwards on the “Rogue One” set.

Jonathan Olley /Lucasfilm Ltd.

Gareth Edwards grew up dreaming he would follow in the footsteps of his hero Steven Spielberg: He’d go to film school and make a short that would gain him entry into Hollywood.

“That never happened because my short film was rubbish,” said Edwards, who was guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit.

Beyond his film being bad, Edwards realized the competition to be a director had multiplied since Spielberg had started out and it took more than a good short to get a foot in the door in Hollywood. Edwards’ first short, which he made with a his computer animator roommate, was one of the first student works ever to mix CGI with live action. The experience opened Edwards’ eyes to the computer as being the future of filmmaking and he now saw his path to Hollywood could be to make his own films from home, doing the editing and effects himself.

READ MORE: Why Action Scenes in Big-Budget Movies Have Become So Boring

It took the “Rogue One” director well over 10 years to realize that dream when he brought “Monsters” to SXSW 2010, where he sold the film and met his current agent Mike Simpson. Along the way he built a successful career as a visual effects artist having taught himself computer animation. While on the podcast, Edwards discussed how working in VFX for a decade helped him in directing his two big budget, effects heavy films, “Godzilla” and “Rogue One.”


“I think one of things is you end up being a little bit better at is that dividing line between what do you film in camera – like what’s really built and in front of us – and what is CGI,” said Edwards.  “There are things that are really hard to do in the computer and you have a basic understanding of that and when you are dividing up the pie in the budget – ‘we should build this, we should shoot this, we should go [to this location], we don’t need to go there’ – there are things I was fighting for because I thought it would make it feel more real.”

Edwards also learned working on VFx there’s an instinct that more is better and there’s a tendency to cluster an image by adding more vehicles, people and effects, almost as if you are giving the client more value for their money.
“It looks like rubbish and you basically learn the hard way the more you remove things and the more you keep things simple and iconic and very easy to read, the stronger and more memorable those images are and so you become very confident that less is more,” said Edwards.

READ MORE: Why ‘La La Land’ Was So Much Harder to Edit Than ‘Whiplash’ [PODCAST]

Edwards believes the tendency to add more effects and make the spectacle bigger is what is wrong with many modern Hollywood blockbusters.

“There’s been this arms race going to who can have the most stuff in a set piece and how insane it can be,” said Edwards. “Living in this age, we all see those trailers and they show those shots and I am numb and I mean I couldn’t give a (blank) about it.”

Edwards saw how leading with visual effects over story is the exact opposite of what Speilberg and George Lucas were doing in the films he grew up idolizing.

“It’s not about how much stuff you can throw at the screen, it becomes about – and it’s an obvious thing to say – but it becomes about do you care about what’s going on,” said Edwards. “It’s really about is the story this is supporting, or the moments within it, are they grabbing you emotionally. Are you getting pulled in? Are you caring about the outcome? That style of filmmaking is what wins and what stands the test of time.”

Deleted Scene from Rogue One

“Rogue One”

Jonathan Olley..© 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd.

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on iTunes, StitcherSoundCloud and Google Play MusicPrevious episodes include:

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

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