‘Godzilla’ Director Gareth Edwards on Fat Godzilla, the Iconic Roar and the Easter Egg You Definitely Missed
Gareth Edwards is exhausted. As ‘Godzilla‘ prepares to open in theaters this week, it marks the end of a four-year journey for the British director. After getting some insight into his production schedule and doing a little math, we calculated that Edwards worked over 13,500 hours making ‘Godzilla’. If you worked a normal 40-hour work week, that’s over six years of work, and Edwards did that in just two years of filming and post-production. It’s an interesting shift for a director who got his start in the business by winning a film challenge where a movie had to be created, start-to-finish, in just two days.
Go Gareth Edwards is tired, but, as he notes, he’s certainly not complaining (“The sound of someone complaining about directing ‘Godzilla’…that’s a guy you want to punch in the face.”). The good news for Edwards is, the work has paid off, with this trilling new ‘Godzilla’ movie. We caught up with Edwards recently in New York City to talk about his lack of sleep, what specific sounds made up Godzilla’s new roar and the many easter eggs he has hidden throughout the movie.
It’s been a while for you, right? You’ve been working on this movie for about four years?
It’s not a relief until the film comes out and we know how it’s doing. For a year-and-a-half it was kind of in a loose development phase. It was more of, is it going to happen or is it not going to happen? And, then as soon as they pulled the trigger on it, it was non-stop for two years. It was relentless. Probably in the last two years, I had a total of, like, five days off or something. And, they weren’t really days off.
When you were working, how much sleep would you get on any given night?
When you’re filming, you get about four or five hours a night. But, the problem is, it’s every single day. So, you don’t get Sundays off or anything. Well, you do in theory, but Sundays for me were either filming with second unit, or having to go through an infinite lists of tasks and prepare for the next week. It’s just non-stop. You can’t keep up with it. The train is going faster than you can keep up with it, so you just have to keep running and running. I can’t complain though.
Just making this movie, which has been very well received so far, seems like it should be satisfying enough, but it’s interesting that you’re concerned about the film’s box-office.
I thought three years ago, it would be nerve-wracking, but it’s been a team effort and we’ve all worked hard and done what we’ve wanted to do. Now, whatever the result is, I feel like we can all look at each other and say we did our best. The pressure from that is sort of off, but I personally — Thomas Tull, who is the producer of the movie, took a big gamble with me and always backed me and supported me and I just want the film to do well, so I’ll feel better and be able to pay him back.
There’s a tempo to this film that feels unlike most modern blockbusters. Is this something the studio was supportive of. Was there ever any pushback to make the film more relentless?
When we sat down, we talked about what kind of movie we were thinking about and we talked about ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Jaws’ and a lot of Spielberg movies like ‘Close Encounters’. Also, ‘Alien’ and ‘King Kong’. And, they all have one thing in common: it’s about an hour into the movie before you see the creature. Because our benchmark films had taken that approach, no one ever really got nervous. And, to be honest, we sat and watched those movies that give it to you straight away and don’t let up until you leave, and…you just get tired. Quite easily you reach a brick wall and you get what I call “CGI fatigue.” Where you can’t care anymore about anything. When everything is cranked up to 11, you just can’t care anymore. So, that was always the consideration. To try and build slowly and tease and pull the audience in, and then when they get it, it’ll be more powerful.
There are a lot of surprises in the movie that aren’t spoiled in the trailers or commercials. Was that important to you?
Warner Bros. did a fantastic job. They have their own perspective on how to market the film, and I was nervous because I was worried they might try to mis-sell it. But, tonally their approach, I was really pleased with. There was never a conversation about, should we show this or should we show that. They’ve been just as much into holding back as I would’ve been, so we never had that conversation. We had the whole conversation early on about “less is more” and “quiet is the new loud.” We wanted to go in a new direction with it and they were really into that. I think they’ve done a phenomenal job with it.
Have you heard any of this “Fat Godzilla” stuff coming out of Japan.
[Sighs] Yeah… I think it’s probably two people online. It’s comments like that that give giant monsters image complexes. Godzilla’s not fat, he’s big-boned. It’s comments like that that make monsters angry, so maybe Japan will be next.
Did you ever consider using motion-capture technology for Godzilla?
Sure. It was an option. We briefly flirted with it. In the end, because we went via the pre-viz route, I think if we had two monsters standing up on their two legs, mo-cap would’ve been the go-to choice, but because we had the MUTOs, who have six legs and not easily configured into the human body, it ended up being all hand animated. That said, Andy Serkis got involved with his company for about a week towards the end, and we worked on refining the performance in the third act. And, they gave us a lot of reference material. So, I saw the advantage of that. But, you really have to get involved in that very early on for it to be worthwhile. It ended up more as reference than actual usable data.
There are a lot of easter eggs in this film for people who are big ‘Godzilla’ fans.
There’s lots of little things in there. All sorts of things. I’ll tell you one maybe you didn’t spot. You know the boat at the end? That’s called “Go Whales Tours” because the Japanese word for Godzilla is “Gojira” and jira, means whale. Those are little things that keep us occupied while we’re making the film, but no one will ever notice.
When you’ve been sleeping four hours a night for two years…
Yes. These are the things that keep you going.
Godzilla’s original roar was created using a leather glove up a double-string bass. What are the specific ingredients of this new roar?
Erik Aadahl, who’s the sound designer, he basically wouldn’t tell me for the whole film, because he didn’t want me to think differently about the roar. Once you know, it’s like, “Oh, it’s really that?” So, he said he’d tell me when we finished everything, he took me aside and he let me in on the secret. But, I promised I’d never, ever say anything. I will say that it’s as obscure and bizarre as running a leather glove down a double bass. The one thing they did use, which is new, are these scientific microphones that can record really high frequencies and when you slow them down to normal speeds, you get this effect that is like slow motion on a camera. You can record all kinds of weird sounds like the squeaking of a chair and when you hear it back it’s like the scream of a massive animal. They just went around and recorded hundreds and hundreds of unique sound effects with these microphones. That opened up a whole new world for the sound of the movie.
Ken Watanabe is your secret weapon in this movie. Just his delivery of the word “Godzilla” is perfect.
In that particular moment, we came to film it and he says “Godzilla” in the script, and we suddenly had this moment where, “Should we say it in Japanese, or should we say it in English?” I really liked the Japanese version, because everyone knows what you’re really saying. But, he found this balance that was Japanese enough, but still English. As we were filming that, everyone was busy doing their own thing on the set, so we did the shot and did this dolly push on him as he had a pregnant pause and says, “And we call him…Gah-zilla.” He said it and I went “cut” and I looked up expecting them to be looking at me like, wow we nailed it, and they were just busy getting on their job. I never, ever say anything out loud while we’re filming – I’m just not that kind of director – but this time, I said, “Everybody, we just got a shot that will be remembered as part of cinema for a long time. If there’s anything people are going to remember from this film, it’s the shot we just did.” And, they all looked at me like, “What are you on about?” [Laughs]