In recent years we’ve seen a lot of movies and TV shows set in post-apocalyptic futures (hopefully it’s not prophetic), but upcoming sci-fi sequel/prequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes promises to show the beginning of a new civilization as well as the end of an old one. Set a decade after the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the new chapter in the franchise sees Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his fellow apes living out a peaceful life in the forest, which is disturbed when they come into contact with members of a nearby human settlement.

One of the reasons that Rise of the Planet of the Apes worked so well is that a significant portion of the movie is spent inside an ape sanctuary, where the drama of Caesar’s rise to leadership among the apes is conveyed entirely through body language and the occasional bit of sign language between Caesar and ex-circus orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval). During the second half of the movie, the human characters were very much moved to the periphery of the narrative.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has already impressed a lot of critics with its tale of two tribes, but director Matt Reeves revealed in an interview with Screen Rant that Twentieth Century Fox’s original plan was for the movie to be more focused on the human characters, rather than being centered on Caesar and continuing his story.

“When I came in to meet with the studio, when they approached me about doing the film, they pitched me the story that they had… and it didn’t center on Caesar. It started in the post-apocalyptic city… and there was this story in the city and the apes were actually very articulate, they already could speak very, very easily. I was like, ‘Oh… Well I don’t think this is the movie for me… This is just not what I would do.’

“And so they said, ‘What would you do?’ And I said, ‘I think you need to keep on with what you did. You created, in Rise, a hero in Caesar, and if I were going to do this movie I’d want it to be Caesar’s movie through and through. I think the secret of Rise is that it ends up being an ape’s point-of-view movie. I think now that you’ve done that, you’ve earned it, this movie should declare itself right from the beginning as being his movie. It should start and end on him.”

To Reeves’ surprise, the studio immediately acquiesced to his ideas with a simple, “Sounds great,” and offered him the directing job. With that, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes became the continued story of Caesar, and Reeves made the decision to exclude humans from the first twenty minutes or so of the movie, so as to give the audience time to adjust to the the apes’ perspective. It actually makes a lot of sense in context: the franchise is all about the process of apes taking over the planet, so it only feels natural that they would take over the movie’s narrative as well.

Another reason that Reeves felt it was important to focus on Caesar and his tribe – at least during the beginning of the movie – was that post-apocalyptic movies have been done a million times before and audiences have already seen the story of the last few surviving humans on Earth done in just about every way possible. Instead, Reeves designed to story to be a modern Western that was partially influenced by films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apocalypse Now.

Ultimately, however, Reeves says Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is about both humans and apes, and doesn’t hold either group up as the good guys or the bad guys: “The whole conceit is that it’s about animals that have taken over the planet, but… the secret is that we are the animals that have taken over the planet, and so it’s really about us. You look into the face of apes in order to look at ourselves.”

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes arrives in theaters on July 11, 2014.

Stay tuned for more of our Interview with director Matt Reeves