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Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca Talk Controversial 'Captain Phillips,' Rating, 'Fifty Shades of Grey' UPDATED

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 18, 2013 at 5:17PM

One sign of success in Hollywood is controversy. Well-reviewed Somali pirate saga "Captain Phillips" is hanging in at the box office against the fall onslaught because it combines a powerful true story with consummate moviemaking from director Paul Greengrass, who not only efficiently builds tension but shows us not only the POV of the heroic kidnapped Captain Richard Phillips and his crew but their Somali pirate torturers.
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Dakota Johnson in "The Social Network"
Dakota Johnson in "The Social Network"

De Luca: Also I think it's economics. That was an American flag vessel so the Navy responded. With some of the other piracy that's going on, other countries and other sponsors or owners of those ships aren't going to have the assets to deploy or send the money that operation costs so it's cheaper to pay the ransom, and cheaper to pay your insurance for that. In a lot of cases, it's part of the budget of doing business.

Brunetti: They all have their insurance, and even Captain Phillips would always say it's not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when" we get taken. Hundreds of ships that get taken every year, there's hostages right now being held.

De Luca: These guys, they really thought when they first saw the naval vessel, "Oh great, money, this is going to be great, this is America, there is going to be a giant bounty on this guy" -- not realizing what they were about to be up against. 

Brunetti: Captain Phillips told me when I met with him that they didn't know about anything out there and they've actually attacked Navy ships and have since learned not to attack the grey ones.

How did you shoot this? Greengrass appears to have demanded an unbelievable degree of verisimilitude; shooting on open water is something everybody has learned not to do.

Brunetti: This whole thing takes place on water, and we actually explored the possibilities of building a bridge and shooting on that but as Paul started doing his storyboards and blocking things out, we quickly realized that wasn’t going to work. The Navy got involved. They were very proactive with us because it was a good story for them and something they wanted to get behind...and so they gave us a lot of support with the ship. The only computer graphic in this movie is the prop under the water and we obviously changed some of the names on the boat. They gave us the ships: the Wasp, and the Halliburton, which is the last one that comes in, it was on the mission of the real rescue.

Maersk provided us with a sister ship, the Alexander Maersk, which is the sister ship to the Maersk Alabama, and it's identical to it. We got that pretty cheap. It wasn’t free but, considering. Then we went to Malta. We shot all of the stuff on the ship in Malta, we went out to sea every day and drilled holes in the water and everything with the Navy we shot off Virginia Beach. We put that toward the end of the schedule because initially we kept having Navy ships in other parts of the world. We originally had one in San Diego, then Algiers or some place, but the Navy was still operating. They have to do things around the world, so we kept losing our ships. We kept having to juggle our schedule and ultimately at Virginia Beach, they have plenty of ships there. We were worried that the political climate or whatever was happening in the world could really affect our production. In total, we shot on the water for 54 days.

How challenging was it for Hanks to step up to the Greengrass shooting methods, which are very documentary-like?

De Luca: One day, I think Tom saw a dolly track and was like, "What? On a Greengrass movie? What's that doing here?" He was up for it like nobody's business. He's this amazing actor who, you're talking to him between takes and he's doing standup and telling funny stories. He does that on a dime, it makes you think method actors are full of shit but it was stunning to watch.

I understand shooting on the Maersk is painful because it's all narrow and hard to maneuver. But it must have been the little lifeboat that was the horror.

Brunetti: The interiors of that were on a soundstage outside of London. And we cut up a lifeboat to get in and out of which, just being in it was pretty hard. It was bouncing around all the time while we were shooting eight hours a day. We did shoot some on the water.

De Luca: That was real. People coming in and out of that door was real. It was choppy and it was tough, and for people in the crew it was challenging at first. They got extremely seasick.

Brunetti: Tom was thrown up on. He never got sick. He was game for everything and anything, absolutely he had no issue with any of it, but he was thrown up on. One of the more spectacular days of this, We had like 10 boats that went out following behind the ship. Paul was on the camera boat off to the side. I was up on the Maersk bridge looking down and the backdoor of the lifeboat opened up and it was just projectile vomit coming out!

So you actually used former NAVY SEALS?

Brunetti: Max Martini was the only one that wasn't. All of them were either acted or medical-processing out, close to retirement about to come out or had already retired or were no longer. Everybody was a real Navy Seal.

How did you do the scene at the end of the movie where Tom Hanks in the sick bay? Who was the woman?

De Luca: The original scene in the original script happened in the captain's quarters. It was a fine scene. Paul asked what really happened and we found out he was taken to sick bay and that obviously makes more sense and as we picked up more of the real facts from the crew that had been in the incident. He adjusted the scene on the fly during our production schedule that week and just grabbed that woman out of the crew – and that's a real job. Within three takes they had the crew of the film crying as they shot and Paul obviously, with "United 93," gets amazing performances from first-time actors and has a great eye for who might be a real natural in front of the camera. She woke up that morning and had no idea she was going to be in a movie with Tom Hanks.

Talk about the casting of the Somalis.

De Luca: We discovered there was a large Somali community in Minneapolis, Minnesota and so we got a casting director there and had an open casting call. They had 700 to 800 Somalis show up dressed like pirates. These four guys really stood out. They actually were friends and had worked together prior so when they came in, they really stood out and Paul responded to them.

Brunetti: it was really smart of them to audition as a group and immediately they showed chemistry, and that their dynamic was like that in real life. Paul identified that and used that.  They had no acting experience. Barkhad Abdi, I believe, came as a refugee to America. He got out of Somalia when he was 13. 

De Luca: His family was displaced because of civil war and he went to Yemen and he left Yemen when he was 14 and came to Minnesota. He's an artist in his own right, a songwriter, and he is an actor and a director as well. When he was trying to describe where he pulled from for that performance, he said he would close his eyes and imagine what would have happened to him if he didn't get out of Somalia because he thinks that he probably would have ended up a pirate. 

Apparently the thing that's said in the movie about the fishing is true, that they were driven to this?

De Luca: It's a complicated situation because a lot of the war lords that come in to that area and basically get them to go out and do this aren't from Somalia; a lot are from Europe or even the United States and they profit and make money from them so they exploit and take advantage of them.

Shooting on the water with the skiffs going up against the big ocean vessel, that is real right? And dangerous?

Brunetti: They had a lot of marine training where we sent them out every day for like two weeks with a marine squad but on the boat, those are stunt doubles until they actually get to the ladder but when they're jumping we had stunt doubles.

Apparently you didn't have the Somalis meet the other crew members in the beginning.

De Luca: We kept them separated from Paul, Tom Hanks and the crew until they first met. That scene when they come up was the first time you ever met. It felt real. As you were watching, it felt real. It was a really good strategy on Paul's part.

You're producing "Fifty Shades of Grey," which is a challenge in terms of taking explicit material and turning it into the kind of movie that everyday moviegoers would be willing to go see.

De Luca: It's a cliche to say this but a picture is worth a thousand words. I think the author was trying to really show you the inside of this girl's mind as she goes through this sexual awakening. She really wanted you to believe in the point of view of the character and with something literary, it's okay to be over-descriptive in a way because you're painting on a different canvas in film. In a movie you don't need to be explicit, you can be subtle and nuanced because it's imagery, and we process images differently than we do words. We talked early on how we're all fans of the Adrian Lyne aesthetic and what he would do with sensual material in his heyday. Since then, Hollywood has kind of given up on a straight-up love story that's not buried in some genre, so we're excited at the prospect of bringing that kind of filmmaking back.

The book deals with interesting male/female power dynamics. I'm happy to see you got a woman director.

De Luca: Sam Taylor-Johnson had directed her first film "Nowhere Boy," which was very good. It's tricky, too, because you're dealing with an iconic character, young John Lennon, so you know where that story goes, Aaron Taylor-Johnson played Lennon. She's a photographer and she has a background in that medium and she did a short film that was such an apropos calling card for "Fifty Shades." It was a really tasteful and sexy love story. She's just got a really great sensibility.

You had to sign the leads up for more than one film, and for them to be willing to be naked?

This article is related to: Fifty Shades of Grey, Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks, Paul Greengrass, Paul Greengrass, Interviews , Interviews


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