Rather than do the usual Top 10 lists for 2017, we decided to pick out some of our favorite interviews from some time back and find out what’s happened with people like directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg who had just finished making two versions of their Oscar-nominated Kon Tiki. The two were heading into big-budget territory with Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales when I was able to talk to them in their production offices back in 2013.
The duo survived a delay in shooting and dealing with Disney (plus a 29% critics slaying on RottenTomatoes), but it appears that Rønning will be directing Pirates of the Caribbean 6 solo along with two other film projects that were announced (Origin, Maleficent 2) while Sandberg is set to direct Amundson, a biopic of Arctic explorer, Roald Amundsen.
Here’s the interview we had with the two back in 2013 before they felt the harshness of Hollywood. They had survived dealing with Harvey Weinstein, but the Mouse House was a whole other entity.
Kon Tiki co-directors Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg are sitting in the production offices for the fifth installment of the Johnny Depp franchise Pirates Of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales still not believing it’s all real. They’ve been in production on the Disney lot for a few months now, but the childhood friends are still pinching their arms to make sure all of this is real.
The two have been making movies together since they were ten years old, and suddenly they’re living the Hollywood dream (not overnight though) after spending more than five years to get $15 million for the 2013 Oscar and Golden Globe Nominated film Kon Tiki. They made history as this was the first Norwegian film that was nominated for both awards.
Now they’ve been thrust into a project that makes that budget look like peanuts. It was the biggest budget ever for a movie coming out of Scandinavia, but as part of the deal to secure financing, they also had to make an English speaking version to go with the original one. Then they survived the infamous editing room of Harvey Weinstein unscathed which not many new filmmakers can’t say. Just ask Todd Haynes who got the ‘Harvey Scissorhands’ treatment more than once!
To say that they’ve paid their dues and earned their place at the table is an understatement and the duo are not likely to ever forget what it took to get to the Disney backlot. We were able to get some time with the very busy men in the Burbank production offices of ‘Pirates Of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales‘.
Naturally, with a film like Kon Tiki that was shot on the water for more than a month, everyone wonders why they put the actors through it. As Sandberg humbly said, they didn’t have the luxurious budget they have now for CGI or large scale water tanks, but they’re both very proud that you can see every dollar of the budget wound up on the screen. Rønning explained that during the filming it was quite daunting with only 20 people, including the actors on the boat, but now looking back it was the most magical part of the production.
When asked which version (Norwegian or English language) they have the most affinity to, they both quickly answer the Norwegian.
As Sandberg said, the English version turned out to be shorter because the language is a bit more efficient. They both were thankful to have such motivated actors on the set, and the process of doing the same film in two different languages was that they would do several takes of a scene in Norwegian and then do a take in English. Sandberg had expected Weinstein to dub the Norwegian version, but he wound up liking the English version as it was and left it alone.
When asked about going from a much smaller budget to an astronomical one, the two were quick to say that they’re not focusing on the money as it could wind up throwing off their creativity. As Sandberg said, they’ve worked on smaller budgets long enough to know how not to waste a large budget and make sure that every dollar comes out on the screen. For anyone who’s seen Kon Tiki, these guys are definitely the ones to do it too. Both men said that the transition from Kon Tiki To Pirates is pretty easy as they are both very similar in story.
I couldn’t help but mention how horrible I personally thought many of the Pirates films had been, especially On Stranger Tides, it brought out quite the laugh in both of them and they were quick to say that they were both inspired by the first film and wanted to get back to the purity of that one.
“We want to make this fifth one feel fresh again with both the comedy and emotional elements in the great script from Jeff Nathanson,” Sandberg explained. “We both grew up on all those great 80’s epic adventure films like Indiana Jones, and it’s still unbelievable that we’re now in the process of making one. The script is really funny and touching, and it’s exciting to bring this vision to the big screen.”
To many, it sounds like they made the quick jump from getting nominated for an Oscar to landing the directing role coveted by many top names like Rupert Sanders and Frederik Bond, but Sandberg said it wasn’t the case. “We spent months of hard selling and chasing this opportunity, and I think the fact that we were so adamant on retaining the purity of the first Pirates movie really helped them choose us. Either that or we were the cheapest thing on the budget,” he joked.
These guys were one of the few interviews I really enjoyed doing as they’ve still got all that filmmaking passion without being so guarded with their answers. I’m sure a few years in Hollywood will change that, but for now, I’m rooting for Pirates Of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales to remind us why we liked the first film. After the ineptness Rob Marshall did with On Stranger Tides, the bar is low, but if you’ve seen Kon Tiki, I think you’ll agree these two could easily surpass our expectations in a good way. If you’ve not seen Kon Tiki yet, check it out here.