Pirates 5 interview

I’ll be straight with you: I’m not a big fan of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The first Pirates film had the benefit of extremely low expectations back in 2003, and I don’t think the film series has ever been able to truly recapture the magic of the lightning in a bottle they managed to snag the first time around. Pirates 5 was notorious for its difficult production: delays, rewrites, budget woes, and an injury to star Johnny Depp that caused the production to shut down for two weeks.

So when I attended the press junket and found that co-directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki) were giving interviews separately instead of being paired together, I knew I had to ask them a tough, uncomfortable question about whether or not this movie had a negative impact on their working relationship. To their credit, they didn’t throw me out of the room – and it sounds like while the shoot was indeed difficult, they ultimately had a good experience making it. Read our Pirates 5 interview with the filmmakers below.

I’ll start with an easy one. Not counting anyone from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, who is your favorite cinematic pirate and why?

Joachim Rønning: I remember the first movie I saw when I was a very young kid was Swiss Family Robinson. I think I saw it like a hundred times because I had it on VHS and we got the VCR in 1979 because my dad had a record store and he was selling these films in the store. I remember it really captivated me. I can’t remember the names of the bad guys in that film now, of course, but I think that was my first love, so to speak, for the kind of adventure that Pirates of the Caribbean reminds me of.

Espen Sandberg: Captain Hook. He’s funny and scary!

Jerry Bruckheimer is one of the biggest producers in Hollywood history. I’m curious about his level of involvement on this film. What was your relationship like with him?

JR: He’s very involved. Involved in absolutely everything. He’s a great collaborator. Very director friendly. Going on this journey with him, I’m a big fan of his and his movies. They rocked my world! I feel very honored that he wanted us to do this and he believed in us, and he never stopped believing in us through the whole process. He’s also a guy with great intuition in regards to what the audience wants and needs. He’s great at that. So it’s very important to listen to him, because he’s usually right.

ES: He’s 100% involved. Very hands-on from the very beginning to the very end. He’s incredibly knowledgable and it’s been a great collaboration. He’s very filmmaker friendly. He just makes your job easier. He’s the expert at bringing the best possible team together both behind the camera and in front of the camera, and he’s always right. You always have to pay attention to whatever he says because he has this intuition that’s unique.

How much influence did he have over the look of the movie? Because a lot of his films have a very distinct “Bruckheimer” look.

JR: He was instrumental in picking the [director of photography], Paul Cameron. We use a lot of his people, so to speak, and of course Stefan Sonnenfeld, the brilliant colorist at Company 3 that has done all of the Pirates movies and the majority of Bruckheimer’s movies. He does the Michael Bay movies, Transformers – he’s an amazing colorist, and that gives it a certain look, and a look that I love and wanted.

ES: He’s very interested in that. That’s really a dialogue with us. I don’t know if it’s because he has a background in advertising or where he comes from, but he’s very into the choice of DP and the lighting style and all that. So that’s really cool, we love that. It means that we have to be really conscientious about what we’re doing and how to make the movie better.

This is the fifth entry in a huge franchise. Were there any orders given from on high about needing to recreate the style that Gore Verbinski established in the first three movies?

JR: That pressure I put on myself. Especially the first movie. I think they’re great. I think he’s an amazing director and visionary and he created this and I wanted to honor that. Not only in the look of it and the feel, but that mix of big adventure, great fun, comedy, thrills, it scares you, and at the same time it has a lot of heart. That’s exactly what I wanted from this one. That mix is very unique to this franchise, and difficult to do.

ES: I think we were all conscious about the first movie really having done something right. It just had the right balance, I guess. I think we all wanted to make sure this movie was really, really funny like the first one, and also that it had a strong emotional core and a lot of heart. I think that’s what they liked about our pitch also, was we really wanted to make sure every character had an interesting journey that appealed to people on an emotional level. Even Jack Sparrow, who doesn’t have an arc as a character.

What else was involved in your pitch? I imagine there were a lot of people trying to get this movie and you guys were able to lock it down.

ES: Another element, apart from the character arcs, was we talked a lot about the humor. We really wanted to make sure we had a lot of physical humor. By that, I mean that the action sequences were also fun, but that they were based in story and character. They weren’t something that would stop the show. And we talked a lot about the bad guy, Salazar. Because the other movies have such iconic bad guys, so we knew we had to put an emphasis on that and make sure he was really intriguing, both visually and also as a character. By implementing him to Jack’s backstory, which is something Joachim and I brought to the table, and making that personal, I think that was key.

There’s some pretty gruesome stuff in here. Severed heads, people getting stabbed through the chest…

JR: You know those heads are Espen and I? We did a cast, we did everything.

Oh, really? Very cool. Was that a tough process?

JR: Yeah, it’s very claustrophobic. You sit in a chair and they put straws up your nostrils, and they have silicon layers and at the very end they put the cast that stiffens. That chemical process heats – it actually warms your head and you’re completely dependent on breathing because it’s going to take a couple minutes to rip this thing off. I was a little claustrophobic.

So with stuff like that in the film, was there any sort of pushback from Disney about any of the content?

JR: I would say no. There were also some restraints we put on ourselves. We didn’t want to go too far ourselves, either. We were nervous about a couple of things that they maybe wouldn’t like that we really believed in, but they kept it in there. It’s very much our director’s cut what you’re seeing.

ES: No. This is a Disney film and we have kids, so we know that there’s a limit. But at the same time, we want to push the envelope. This movie is fantastical, which means that you know it’s a movie, so you can go a little bit further without being too grotesque. The thing is that kids also love scary things, because if you do it in the right way, it’s funny at the same time. I think we have that balance. I think Javier [Bardem] has that balance in his performance. He’s really scary, but he’s also funny. He’s also emotionally interesting, and he has a pain there, where you feel you understand the guy.

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