While their upcoming movies may not have had panels at 2023 San Diego Comic-Con, Gareth Edwards and Justin Simien, who respectively have sci-fi thriller Creator and Disney’s Haunted Mansion hitting theaters in the coming weeks, managed to give their projects a spotlight, despite the ongoing actors and writers strikes.
The filmmakers, who were part of a Directors on Directing panel hosted by film website Collider, were in Hall H on Disney’s dime, as they repeated several times, and tried to behave as best as they could when moderator Steven Weintraub asked a couple of thorny questions about marketing and studio notes.
The duo handled it well enough, although the real wild card on the panel was Louis Leterrier, the Fast X director who was a last-minute replacement for David Leitch.
When Weintraub asked about projects that fell apart in the development process, Simien responded, “Disney is paying for me to be here right, so I can’t.” The director is well known for working on a Lando Calrissian Star Wars series that was ultimately put back on the shelf.
Edwards responded by talking about the different kinds of meetings he’s found himself in, and Simien did elaborate about his experiences, without naming names.
“You have a bunch of great initial meetings and the people are meeting with are genuinely excited, and then their bosses come into the picture,” he said. “And they’re not so sure or they were in a shareholder meeting or whatever goes on above our pay grade. And somewhere in the middle, it changes.” The attitude then becomes, in his words, “The very thing we hired you to do, let’s not do that.”
Leterrier then wowed both by revealing details about a dream project of his that never got off the ground: Yellowstone Falls, a story of a mother wolf and her three cubs making their way through Yellowstone while being chased by zombies, who in this scenario have run out of humans to eat and have turned to eating animals. “It’s my magnum opus,” he said.
Leterrier also detailed how he once spent eight months working with James Cameron on a remake of Fantastic Voyage, meticulously drafting the take and even developing new cameras for the endeavor. “It was killed in the room,” he said.
(He also hilariously recounted how Cameron was not at the pitch and he tried in vain to reach him. “Did you get ghosted by him?” asked Simien. “No, no,” Leterrier defended. “He had a good excuse. He was in the Mariana Trench.” Edwards quickly shot in, “He uses that excuse with everyone.”)
The panel was a fun and informative jaunt, with the directors expounding on different relationships with cinematographers, creating original movies in a time where branded IPs rule and the use of artificial intelligence.
Simien noted that he had very specific demands for Mansion, on which he worked with Jeffrey Waldron.
“When you see Black people in movies, especially if they are the only Black person in the movie, you can barely see them sometimes. They need to be lit differently,” he said. “And I can’t tell you how to do that exactly, but I just know I want to see Lakeith Stanfield’s face when he’s standing next to Owen Wilson. And that is actually quite a technical feat.”
On the question of remakes, Simien said he desperately wanted to make a version of The Wiz, to claps and hollers from the audience.
“This is the very first movie I ever saw, so by the time I saw the original Wizard of Oz, I didn’t understand they made a white version of the Wiz. I just didn’t get it,” he added.
His wanting to remake the movie became a running joke throughout the panel, much to his chagrin.
Edwards, who is behind the original movie Creator and got his break in 2010 making a low-budget indie titled Monsters, amusingly talked about how he was enticed into making his big studio movies.
“When I first came to L.A., I was like, ‘I’m not going to do it. I’m just going to make my own films and figure out the next one. There’s no way, you can’t talk me into it,’” he recalled. “And then what happened was, ‘Do you want to do Godzilla?’ Fuck. Of course you say yes … And after that, it was, ‘That’s it, I’m not doing another. That’s the end of it.’ Then came, ‘Do you want to do Star Wars?’”
It was and is hard to say no to these kinds of overtures.
But Edwards also noted that his movie is one of the few original studio offerings this year, a stark and dreadful contrast from years gone by when the top 10 movies of any year would be all originals.
“It’s simple math. They put films in the cinema and when lots of people go to see them, they make more of those films,” he explained. “When people don’t, they make different films. The way this changes, if people want original filmmaking in cinema, go to support original filmmaking.”
Leterrier is already a Creator fan and the director was so out of his seat with excitement that when an extended clip of the movie was shown, he ran into the Hall H crowd and sat with the audience in order to have a good vantage point to see it on the massive screens.