Cast: Ben Whishaw, Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy
Director: Ron Howard
Genre: Action, Adventure
Running Time: 122 minutes
Synopsis: Oscar winner Ron Howard ('A Beautiful Mind") directs the action adventure 'In the Heart of the Sea," based on Nathaniel Philbrick's best-selling book about the dramatic true journey of the Essex.
In the winter of 1820, the New England whaling ship Essex was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth size and will, and an almost human sense of vengeance. The real-life maritime disaster would inspire Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. But that told only half the story. 'In the Heart of the Sea" reveals the encounter's harrowing aftermath, as the ship's surviving crew is pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive. Braving storms, starvation, panic and despair, the men will call into question their deepest beliefs, from the value of their lives to the morality of their trade.
In The Heart Of The Sea
Release Date: December 3rd, 2015
We were heading for the edge of the Earth.
We left home behind with a sliver of hope…searching for the truth.
It is one of the greatest seafaring tales of all time: the Nantucket whaling ship Essex was attacked by a leviathan"a white whale of singular size and intent"leaving only a few of its crew to overcome near-impossible odds and live to recount their experience. But in the almost 200 years since that harrowing voyage, the truth faded into history, eclipsed by the celebrated novel it inspired, Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. Now, with acclaimed director Ron Howard at the helm, the legend of the Essex, her courageous crew, and that mythic white whale comes to the big screen for the first time in the epic adventure 'In the Heart of the Sea."
Moby-Dick is fiction; however 'In the Heart of the Sea" brings to life the powerful saga that would fuel Melville's defining and enduring novel. Howard says, 'The true story of the Essex is fantastic. It's visceral; it's rich and cinematic at its core, with lots of twists and turns along the way. And though the film is set in the past, it touches on ideas about relationships, survival, humanity and nature that are relatable and thought-provoking, and connect to our own sensibilities about who we are as people."
Howard initially received the screenplay from actor Chris Hemsworth when they were working together on 'Rush." Hemsworth, who stars in the film as Essex First Mate Owen Chase, remarks, 'I loved the script from the start. -In the Heart of the Sea' is about heroism and people being tested beyond their limits in absolutely every way. I was also captivated by the psychological thriller aspect of the whale turning the tables on them. There is something incredibly mysterious about how this animal is portrayed"why the whale goes on the attack, which was unlike anything the Essex crew had ever encountered. The hunter becomes the hunted."
Benjamin Walker, who plays the role of Essex Captain George Pollard, posits that the mortal clash between the whalers and the whale is only one component. 'There are three great trials encompassed in this story: man against man, man against nature, man against self. How can you overcome those trials and survive? That's the question of the movie. But there's beauty in that; you see the endurance of the human spirit."
Howard acknowledges that when Hemsworth initially approached him about the project, 'I didn't know anything about the Essex and didn't know the script was based on events that were very real. But when I learned this had actually happened, it was mind-blowing. I instantly began to visualize a movie that would be raw and intense…a movie that I would want to see, which is the crucial litmus test for me."
The extraordinary journey of the Essex and her crew was chronicled by Nathaniel Philbrick in his book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. The author and historian, who calls Nantucket home, had a long-held fascination with the industry that had put the small Massachusetts island on the map. 'The book grew out of my curiosity about how it was back in the day when Nantucket was the capital of American whaling. This was a story that got under my skin."
Philbrick's detailed account of the ill-fated voyage had a similar effect on the filmmakers and cast. Producer Paula Weinstein attests, 'The book was absolutely riveting; I couldn't stop reading it, and when that happens, then you know it's going to be a project you can be passionate about. I also found the subject matter to be very contemporary. You could just change the clothes and the setting and it would become as current a story as you could find right now, exploring timeless themes of ambition and sacrifice, men and their fathers, women and their husbands, animals and nature, and life and death."
Howard's producing partner Brian Grazer offers, 'It's experienced through the perspective of men doing what they believe is right and worthy, and we see the moral complexity of that. But it's all beneath the surface of a seagoing action drama that is extremely dynamic."
'It's not only a tale of these men and the journey on which they embark," says producer Will Ward, 'but it's also an incredible story of survival and the lengths a man is willing to go to save his own life and the lives of others. While reading the script and researching this world, what astounded me was that these guys did this for a living. They sailed out in the open ocean on these 80- to 100-foot vessels for years at a time, and when they spotted whales, they would go after these mammoth beasts in small rowboats. It's really unbelievable."
In recent years, modern society has come to understand that whales are sentient beings, with highly developed intelligence and emotions. But screenwriter Charles Leavitt, who also shares story credit with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, points out that you have to view the livelihood of these men through the prism of times past. 'This is not a movie that glorifies whaling; on the contrary, it shows how brutal it was," he states. 'The whaling industry of the early 19th century was essentially the oil industry before someone figured out how to drill a hole in the ground to get oil from the earth. Whale oil lit the lamps of America and Europe. They rocked their babies to sleep in cribs made out of whale bone; their furniture, women's corsets, and a myriad of other essentials were by-products of whales. But the lives of the men on board these whaleships were expendable, nothing more than entries on a company balance sheet.
'The story has been described as -man versus nature,'" Leavitt continues, 'but the fact is there should really be no -versus' because humans are a part of nature. However, that was unfortunately not the prevailing attitude of Western society at that time. They believed man had dominion over nature and that included all animals. Whales were nothing more than a commodity to be harvested."
'The audience's ability to understand the culture of these whalers relies so much on Ron's talent for creating a world cinematically," Grazer observes. 'He is particularly good at humanizing characters and making them multi-dimensional. So you will see all the different sides of these men as they metamorphose while struggling to survive on this vast ocean."
Weinstein concurs that the film could not have been in better hands. 'I cannot say enough about the experience of working with Ron. He is the most extraordinary director"strong and clear, hardworking and collaborative and inclusive. As a producer, it isn't hard to hand over a project if you are handing it to a master filmmaker, and Ron brings that and so much more to the table."
The cast, led by Chris Hemsworth, shares her sentiments. 'Ron has the biggest heart of anyone I know and has the best work ethic," says Chris Hemsworthh. 'As a filmmaker, he is always pushing the envelope. You look at the movies he's done in his career and you can't put them in a box"from huge comedies to compelling dramas to big action, he's done it all, and done it with integrity and intelligence. -In the Heart of the Sea' was a demanding endeavor for all of us, and when you go through something like that, you need to be arm-in-arm with one another, and supporting each other. He constantly kept us on our toes, but that's what you want as an actor"to be challenged and inspired." Walker affirms, 'Ron likes things to be spontaneous and fast, so he expects you to be prepared when you get to the set. I respected that and responded to it. He shot with multiple cameras on every take because he wanted to capture how capricious life and death could be for these men on the ocean, and I think you can feel that when you're watching the movie; it's almost seems like you're part of it, like you're hidden on the mast and witnessing these events going on around you."
Howard reveals that is always his goal, noting, 'When I go to the movies I want to be transported, and I saw -In the Heart of the Sea' as an exciting opportunity to transport audiences. I wanted to take them on a ride in a really vivid, cool way. I realized that telling the story the way it should be told was full of challenges, but they were challenges that could now be met. We could put it on the big screen in a way that was convincing, exciting and lived up to the promise of what the film could offer."
To carry moviegoers effectively to another place and time, the filmmakers recreated the Nantucket of the early-to-mid 1800s at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden in England. They also shot pivotal scenes on the open waters off La Gomera, one of the smallest Canary Islands, with many of the actors getting a taste of 19th-century sailing on a full-size replica of the Essex.
'It really is an amazing adventure," Howard says, 'but one with a lot of heart, a lot of soul and interesting ideas to express. And who better to express those ideas than our remarkable cast?"
Joining Chris Hemsworth andBen Walker in the central ensemble were Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Holland and Ben Whishaw.
'Our actors endured some real physical trials over the course of production," says Howard, 'but they were determined to get it right because they wanted to respect the truth of the story and the lives of the individuals they were portraying."
The tragedy of the Essex is the story of two men: Captain George Pollard and his first mate, Owen Chase.
The Nantucket of the early 1800s was very prestigious due to the wealth of the whale oil industry. And, in turn, there was one group of men on the island who commanded the most respect. Philbrick details, 'The whalers of Nantucket were very much like the fighter pilots of today, with the -right stuff.' They had a swagger when they walked down Main Street. They were explorers who went to places no one had ever been to battle the mightiest creatures on Earth. I mean, these guys were cool and kind of arrogant, too. They looked down on landsmen and even on other sailors as inferior mariners, so if you were a young Nantucket boy, you wanted desperately to become a whale man."
But within the whaling community, there was a distinct caste system, based more on blood than on water. Owen Chase was a skilled whaler who had repeatedly delivered record amounts of oil to port. Nevertheless, not having been born to a whaling family, he is passed over to captain the Essex.
Chris Hemsworth offers, 'Chase is a working-class guy who has the skill set and qualifications to be captain but not the birthright. Because he is not from a privileged family and doesn't have the right name or background, he is pushed aside for captain to be first mate to George Pollard, much to his frustration and anger."
'Chase is heroic, noble and charismatic," Howard says, 'but he's also flawed. He is driven by a need to prove himself and is single-minded about it to a fault. Chris Hemsworth is such a courageous actor who conveys every facet of the character, sometimes without a word. Through his performance, we really come to know Chase at a profound level."
Chase's simmering resentment toward George Pollard is only exacerbated by his new captain's total lack of experience. Hemsworth confirms, 'There is a lot of friction between the two of them due to Chase knowing full well he should be the captain, and Pollard likely realizing it, too, deep down. When they both try to exert their authority with the crew, it sets the stage for a pretty dangerous scenario because they have conflicting opinions about how to do things. The men question whom they should trust because Pollard is the captain, but Owen Chase has more knowledge."
Although Pollard has the power of command, he is plagued by the doubts that come with knowing it was given but not earned. 'George Pollard did not get to choose what he wanted to be," Walker elaborates. 'He is the scion of an established whaling family and has grown up with the responsibility of living up to the Pollard legacy…whether he has the aptitude for it or not. There is a lot of pressure on him, and understanding that pressure is understanding George Pollard."
'Ben Walker is an excellent actor," states Howard. 'He has the intelligence and insight to comprehend the complexity of a character like Pollard, who is driven not by a need to conquer, not to hunt whales, but to measure up to some ideal with which the family name burdens him."
Walker relates, 'He gets the opportunity with his first captaincy, which is all well and good…until he is assigned Owen Chase as a first mate. From then on, there is a struggle between the two men that forces Pollard to figure out who he is as a man as opposed to who he is within the context of his family. And I think that is fascinating…someone discovering themselves in the midst of being tested by the circumstances of nature."
Chris Hemsworth agrees, noting, 'The before and after is what I find to be one of the most compelling aspects"how the men who survive respond to what they've been through. All of them are far different at the end from who they were starting out. Coming home, how do they look at themselves and at the world? How do they look at whaling? Are they going to go back out there and do it again…? Or perhaps they are going to think, -Maybe this is wrong. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned here.'"
The conflict between the captain and first mate leaves Second Mate Matthew Joy to try and smooth the waters between them. Cillian Murphy, who plays the role, shares, 'Matthew tries to be a mediator within the tense relationship between Chase and Pollard. What I liked was the sense of history you get about him. He's obviously close with Chase; they've been sailing together since they were about 13. You also see that he's a reformed alcoholic who has turned over a new leaf. He was quite an interesting character to play."
Murphy adds that he was equally drawn to the script and the director. 'I read the script and it felt like the kind of great, muscular adventure that we don't see too many of these days. It was one of those scripts you can't put down, and you're still thinking about it when you go to bed and when you wake up the next day.
'Then there was the idea of working with Ron, whose films I've loved over the years," Murphy continues. 'I've always said the director sets the tone for the set and it percolates down to the cast and crew. On a Ron Howard set, there is such positive energy and he's so involved in every detail of the production and each character. And that enthusiasm and joy of filmmaking is infectious. That's what you get from him." Two actors of different generations play the role of Thomas Nickerson, separated by three decades. Young Tom Holland plays the 14-year-old cabin boy setting off on his first whaling expedition, on the Essex. Veteran actor Brendan Gleeson portrays the man who still bears the scars of his ordeal, although most of them are invisible.
Howard explains, 'Our two Nickersons gave us a chance to explore individual aspects of the story that are both interesting and emotional. There's the danger and the excitement of the adventure seen through the eyes of a boy, and the trauma of the tragedy as remembered by the man."
Tom Holland describes the younger Nickerson as 'one of the hardest kids I've ever come across. He's an orphan, he has no one, and he sets out on this voyage with a bunch of hardened men who have been doing this for years, and he genuinely has no idea what he's doing. So he heads into it wide-eyed and ready to go, but he doesn't really know what he's in for."
Thirty years later, we see Nickerson"now the last remaining survivor of the Essex"as he is being pressed to recount the events that continue to haunt him. Brendan Gleeson remarks, 'He was only a child when he witnessed this awful thing and has never spoken about the horror of what he went through. It's something he's suppressed for years upon years, and it's essentially killing him. When he is able to bring himself to a place where he can finally confront it, it's quite cathartic."
The person who entreats Nickerson to talk about the disaster is a young author by the name of Herman Melville. In creating the framework for the screenplay, Charles Leavitt says, 'I wanted to meld the true story of the Essex with the fictional account of Melville going through the writer's process of giving birth to his great American novel, Moby-Dick. The narration of the film is from Nickerson's point of view, but we can begin to imagine where Melville's imagination will take off."
Cast as the now-legendary author, Ben Whishaw notes, 'The film begins with Herman Melville's hunger for the truth. He has heard whisperings and believes there's been a cover-up about what really transpired on the Essex. In a way, my character is the catalyst of the film in that he is ultimately able to get Nickerson to tell his story. What transpires between them is a kind of dark night of the soul"they talk all through the night"and by the end they have to look at themselves in a new light."
Nickerson might never have opened up to the author were it not for the support of his wife, played by Michelle Fairley. Gleeson attests, 'She encourages Melville to get her husband to unleash the story because she feels it's the only hope for them. She doesn't quite know the extent of what happened, but she has been living with this darkness hanging over them and with him closing in on himself."
Howard relates, '-In the Heart of the Sea' actually has a lot to do with the women in these men's lives because in the history of Nantucket and the whaling industry, the women were the true survivors. As the men ventured out for years at a time, it was the women who made the place work. It was more than raising the kids and keeping the house; they ran the community."
Charlotte Riley plays Owen Chase's loving wife, Peggy, who is pregnant with their first child when her husband leaves, promising he will return to her. Howard says, 'Seeing Owen's relationship with his wife in the beginning is vital to understanding his character. When the story becomes about finding a way home, we have to know there is something that's so much more meaningful to fight for, not just his own life. It's the idea of family and the woman he loves that's important."
The men who sail out with Pollard and Chase also include Caleb Chappel, played by Paul Anderson; Nickerson's teenage friend Barzillai Ray, played by Edward Ashley; the ship's cook, William Bond, played by Gary Beadle; Ramsdell, played by Sam Keeley; Richard Peterson, played by Osy Ikhile; Benjamin Lawrence, played by Joseph Mawle; and Pollard's cousin Henry Coffin, another member of the prominent whaling family, played by Frank Dillane. Jordi Mollá plays a Spanish whaling ship captain who had a fateful encounter with the white whale and tries to warn the Essex crew of the danger ahead.
Monsters…are they real? Or do the stories exist only to make us respect the sea's dark secrets?
Without question, the white whale plays a pivotal role in the drama, so his creation involved the combined expertise of several departments. Howard says, 'The behavior of sperm whales was something we researched and analyzed as a team. We met with ocean mammal experts and marine biologists to get a better understanding of their behavior. What interested me most was why this happened. A ship being relentlessly attacked by a whale was unheard of, unparalleled; it was the most freakish thing. I came to believe that this animal was pushed to the breaking point leading to an inevitable clash."
Production designer Mark Tildesley says, 'We needed to make sure the whale feels like a living presence in the film. We tried a few images of white whales and they looked fantastic, but, unfortunately, the pure white also engendered a very ethereal, calm image. But in our research we learned a lot of older whales start to lose their skin, so we made the whale darker, but you see the white coming through in patches where the skin has flaked off."
'He is also scarred from previous battles with humans and other predators, so his appearance conveys the harshness of his history," adds visual effects producer Leslie Lerman.
The whale was brought to life via CGI by the visual effects team, led by Lerman and VFX supervisor Jody Johnson. Johnson comments, 'It was particularly challenging, with a creature of such immense size and power, to push the envelope without going over the edge because we didn't want to pluck the audience out of this real world and take them into a fantasy realm. Each time we conceptualized an action sequence that involved the main whale, or any of the whales, we sent it off to our experts and we'd discuss how plausible it was and what other behaviors they might suggest. It gave us a great spectrum from which to work."
What does set this whale apart from anything in our frame of reference is his size: measuring 95 feet long, weighing approximately 80 tons, with a tail spanning 20 feet. By contrast, the other male sperm whales they encounter measure just over half as long, at about 52 feet.
Paula Weinstein remarks that the enormousness of this whale is not all that distinguishes him. 'To me, he is the voice of nature saying -Enough!- He is a protector who is telling them in the only way he can to stop invading his waters and killing his family. And given the times in which we live, that's very important. I think the audience will want Chase and Pollard and the other men to survive and make it home, but at the same time they will be cheering for the whale. It's that mix of emotions that makes it all the more compelling."
Since it was discovered that whale oil could light our cities in ways never achieved before, it created global demand. It has pushed man to venture further into the deep, blue unknown.
On Land And Sea
'In the Heart of the Sea" was filmed almost entirely in sequence for several reasons, not the least of which was the gradual change in the characters' appearances as they waste away from a lack of food and water, as well as shelter from the unforgiving elements. The appearance of the men who survive the sinking of the Essex changes drastically over time, so the actors, in turn, had to lose a substantial amount of weight over the course of production. Hemsworth details, 'The men were lost at sea for months, so by the time any of them were found, they were basically just skin and bones. We were eating minimal amounts of food, but we kept reminding ourselves that it was nothing compared to what they suffered. We all banded together to keep morale up and distract us from how hungry we were."
Tom Holland suggests, 'There's no stronger glue than getting a bunch of guys to lose weight together. But it helped forge a bond between us on the set, which was really important."
'It started out with a healthy level of competition," Walker offers, 'but there was a point at which it did become uncomfortable. We tried to keep it in perspective though. We couldn't have pizza and cheeseburgers, but it was worth it; we were making a Ron Howard movie. And for us to be in some level of discomfort was almost as if we were paying homage to those who actually endured that horrible experience." The director expressed his appreciation for the perseverance of his cast, stating, 'I'm so grateful for their professionalism and dedication in the midst of being hungry and exposed to the elements day after day. It was apparent from the beginning what they were going to go through, but they tackled every demand of their roles with tremendous integrity."
The actors' commitment notwithstanding, the filmmakers would never have allowed them to do anything that might jeopardize their health, so losing weight could only go so far. The makeup artists, led by makeup and hair designer Fae Hammond, were then able to enhance the look of malnourishment, making the men appear increasingly more emaciated. In addition, makeup was used to show the damaging effects of dehydration and prolonged exposure to the sun.
Taking it a step further, the visual effects team painstakingly removed muscle mass from each man's frame as their characters neared the end of their ordeal"in whatever manner that would come.
Costume designer Julian Day reveals that the fit of the wardrobe also came into play. 'We made the clothes slightly too big, but with a cinch at the back. At the start of the film, we cinched them all the way in and as the journey went on, we let them out more and more, so the clothes got bigger and would hang on the actors differently."
The manifestation of the men's deprivation was psychological as well as physical, so the filmmakers hired marine and survival consultant Steven Callahan to help the actors fully grasp every aspect of the ordeal. An experienced sailor, Callahan had been shipwrecked and survived two and a half months on a life raft in the Atlantic Ocean, writing a book about it entitled Adrift. He notes that the impact of fighting for life has not changed with time. 'It was interesting to watch these guys learning about survival in terms of the mental part being affected by the physical part. All the tension and the constant swings from desperation to hope remain as relevant today as they ever were."
Conversely, the actors had to start that journey as men whose livelihood required them to be physically fit. Hemsworth affirms, 'For the men going out to sea, it was like going off to war"they would be gone for two or three years and there was a good chance they wouldn't come back. They were in the trenches, so to speak, and it was incredibly dangerous."
'At the beginning," Cillian Murphy says, 'Ron wanted everybody to be in shape and look capable of handling life at sea. So we had a gym on set and everybody was working out together."
Holland relates, 'I had to exercise with Chris Hemsworth, right? That was pretty funny. My workout was taking his weights off the bench press," he teases.
The cast also had to prepare to perform tasks like experienced 19th-century sailors. Stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart says, 'One of the most important things was learning everything that went into crewing on a ship, some of which hasn't changed to this day. By the end of filming, I think our actors could get on a boat and sail the world because of the invaluable instruction they received."
Gary Beadle attests, 'We practiced rigging and tying rope knots, and did a lot of rowing. Rowing back and forth, back and forth, getting the rhythm. I think I can row the English Channel now," he smiles.
Joseph Mawle adds, 'My biggest challenge was climbing up 40 feet onto a yardarm, straddling it and moving to the edge. For some guys it was effortless, but I froze the first few times. I realized I have no head for heights, but eventually I was able to do it, and overcoming that fear was a joy for me."
He needn't have worried. Frank Dillane explains, 'Climbing up and down the rigging, they put us in a harness, so even though we trained for it, the stunt people made sure we were safe. Even if you did fall, you weren't going anywhere."
One cast member, however, was spared some of the more arduous tasks. Walker acknowledges, 'We were taught to tie knots, swing rigging and row as a crew…and what was great about playing the captain is I didn't actually have to do any of that. I just got to boss people around and tell them when they're doing it wrong," he laughs.
The dichotomy between the newly minted captain and his crew is made visually clear in their costumes. While Pollard's pristine uniform has never seen so much as a spray of salt water, his men's attire shows the wear and tear of a life spent at sea.
Day illustrates, 'It's Pollard's first voyage so he has to look neat, whereas the other guys are in the hard-worn clothes they've probably had for years. Ron and I talked about the idea that they were more like industrial workers than sailors, so their clothing reflects that. I used wet weather fabrics like duck cotton and wax fabrics to protect them from the water. We also produced their shoes in synthetic materials rather than leather because a lot of the action happens in water. If you put leather in water it hardens and you can't wear it again."
Although there was no specific outfit for whalers, Day says, 'I designed a blue jacket for each of the men, representing the sea and the sky. What they wore underneath was individual, but giving them a blue jacket of various shapes and sizes was what I did to create a sense of uniformity."
They also had one other item of clothing in common. The costume designer found a knitter who had done research on the Monmouth cap worn by many whalers at that time and had her knit an authentic cap for each of the actors on the ship.
The Essex of 'In the Heart of the Sea" was comprised of an actual sailing ship, used on the open water, and a replica, situated in a tank at Leavesden Studios.
'We did a lot of research," Mark Tildesley offers. 'There was obviously no photography at the time, but we gathered some visual images from paintings, drawings and the like. There's also a whaling museum in Mystic, Connecticut, which has the last original whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan. It has been completely restored and was a fantastic resource for us."
The production designer set out to locate a ship that could double for the film's Essex, measuring just over 100 feet in length and divided into sections that served as the officers' and crew quarters and a lower deck for storing the barrels of oil. The ships were equipped with four or five rowboats, approximately 30 feet long, which were lowered into the water when the lookout hollered 'Blow!" upon sighting their prey.
Tildesley and his team searched the globe for a ship of suitable size and scale and soon discovered, 'they're booked years in advance. But we were lucky enough to find a ship called the Phoenix in Cornwall that's of similar size to the Essex, though it only had two masts whereas the Essex had three. So that was a small compromise."
The design team then constructed a replica of the Phoenix on a gimbal in the middle of a large exterior tank at Leavesden. 'We made the replica slightly bigger to make it easier to work on," says Tildesley. 'It has a steel frame, but everything you will see"all the rigging and masts, etc."were made by a company that actually builds boats. So, for all intents and purposes, the exterior is a copy of the real ship."
The interior, however, was another story. The special effects team, led by special effects supervisor Mark Holt, rigged the replica ship with tanks that could be filled or emptied to change the buoyancy and tilt the ship to either side or even sink it. The hydraulic arm of the gimbal enabled them to rock the ship, which was especially important for the sequence when Pollard decides to test the mettle of his crew by steering directly into an oncoming squall.
Ron Howard confirms, 'Filming in the tank was vital when we it couldn't safely shoot at sea, whether it was the storm scene or the whale attacking and sinking the ship, or anything that required a significant amount of stunt work."
Thanks to the efforts of the special effects group, the scenes were all-too-real for the cast. 'It was kind of like being on a wet amusement ride from hell," Walker deadpans. 'There we were having a great time until they turned on these huge wind machines and water cannons, and then Ron calls -Action' and expects you to act. The saving grace was we were all in it together."
Hemsworth emphasizes, 'We were also doing it in the middle of winter, so not the most comfortable environment. Even Ron said we didn't have to pretend to be miserable because we pretty much were," he laughs. 'It was one of the hardest things I've ever done but also one of the most rewarding, because when you have Ron Howard leading with his energy and passion, everyone from the cast to the crew follows suit. No one wanted to let him down."
Brian Grazer shared in the actors' admiration for his longtime colleague. 'Even after 33 years, I still get awestruck by how gifted he is. We were in this huge tank and there were so many variables: wind machines, wave machines, boats on a gimbal, different cameras, visual effects… But Ron was so in his element, applying all of the skills of a master filmmaker. I still love watching the pure talent of that."
Like the replica of the Essex, the smaller whaleboats were crafted by real boat builders. Initially constructed out of wood, they were then cast and duplicated in fiberglass 'because the wooden ones were too heavy to lift on the set," Tildesley ex
plains. 'We then trimmed them in wood so it looks exactly like the wooden boats." Every ship or boat, whether on the ocean or in a tank, was rigged with multiple cameras, enabling Howard and his cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, to give moviegoers the feeling of having a firsthand view of the action. Howard notes, 'Anthony has a great eye and brought a very contemporary cinematic sensibility to this classic story. The fact that the cameras were right there on board makes it feel very organic and immersive. We want you to get the sense that you're right next to these men, sharing in the experience."
With lights, cameras and other modern equipment cluttering the decks, Tildesley came up with an ingenious way to hide all the cables, fabricating rubber ropes that could be clipped over the wires, hiding them from view.
The filmmakers, cast and crew then moved to the island of La Gomera, one of the smaller Canary Islands, becoming the first production ever to shoot there. The Phoenix sailed from the UK to the location, giving members of the visual effects department the opportunity to shoot ocean plates from the deck of the boat during the voyage. Those plates gave them a library of images at different times of day and in a variety of conditions to fill in and expand the panorama of seagoing scenes.
The island location provided everything the film needed, especially a breathtaking expanse of calm, blue water. The production took over the tiny port of Playa Santiago, from which the Essex and her crew set sail…surrounded by a flotilla of camera boats, shuttle boats, hair and makeup boats and a catering boat. Everyone on the island was extremely welcoming to the cast and filmmakers and a number of locals even got jobs on the film.
After five weeks on the waters of La Gomera, the production moved to a beach in Tenerife for a week of filming on what will appear to be a deserted island. The area chosen was El Golfo in Yaiza because of its interesting rock formations and the beautiful green lagoon that was formed by a now-extinct volcano.
Bookending 'In the Heart of the Sea" are pivotal sequences that unfold in the whaling hub of 19th-century Nantucket. We arrive in 1850, as Melville seeks out Tom Nickerson, and then flash back to August 1819, when the Essex departs on her final voyage, which will soon become the stuff of legend. At the end of the film, we are returned to 1850, when Melville, armed with the story he so fervently sought, leaves to write what remains one of the most widely read books of all time.
After scouting a number of port cities in the UK, the filmmakers realized that, although they could establish the period in England, the architecture was nothing like New England. 'In the end," Tildesley recalls, 'we decided it was best to build the town at Leavesden, turning the existing tank into the harbor."
However, because the scenes are separated by three decades, Tildesley and his team had to dress the set in two different time periods. Our Nantucket, circa 1819, has muddy, dirt roads and the buildings are more sparse. To denote the progress of 30 years, the designer details, 'We cobbled the street and put a train track down the middle of it to evoke the mechanization that has happened over time. There are also steamboats in the harbor because we were now in the steam age."
The set was surrounded by blue screens enabling the VFX team, working with Tildesley's designs, to extend the backdrop of old Nantucket to the horizon.
Nathaniel Philbrick was duly impressed by the set, remarking, 'My wife and I travelled from Nantucket, where we've lived for 28 years, and then stepped into the Nantucket of the 1800s. It blew our minds. It's amazing to think that this small area was basically providing the world with light, but they really had a blind spot when it came to the whales themselves. Today, the people of Nantucket are proud of their background, but they have an entirely different attitude toward whales. They want to do everything they can to save them, and I think that's the importance of learning from the past and hopefully making a better future."
After the completion of principal photography, Howard relates, 'The complexity of this film extended into post-production because everything was about finding the right equilibrium"the balance between the old and the new, the classic and the cutting-edge"which was a challenge for me and editors Dan Hanley and Mike Hill, as well as Roque Baños, who composed our amazing score."
The director continues, 'During production, Roque and I met to talk about the blend of traditional and contemporary that I wanted to engender. Roque is an outstanding, classically trained musician who has scored a wide range of films, so I knew he had the ability to mine every facet of adventure and drama. And I was right. His music is incredibly strong in its power and emotion."
Howard reveals that Baños went beyond conventional instruments in musically harkening back to the maritime setting. 'His percussion incorporated props from the film, including harpoons, ropes, sharpening stones and other tools from the era. Together with the orchestra, it all worked to infuse the score with qualities that were intrinsic to the journey."
'In making -In the Heart of the Sea,'" Howard reflects, 'I wanted the period to fall away, for people to relate to the characters and be swept up into the drama as it's happening. I used everything I've learned over the course of my career to try and transport the audience into this world and take them on this ride. By experiencing the adventure, they will hopefully connect even more deeply with the human side of the story…and the human story of the Essex can inspire us in entirely unexpected ways for generations to come."
In The Heart Of The Sea
Release Date: December 3rd, 2015