Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, Corey Johnson, Max Martini, Chris Mulkey, Yul Vázquez, David Warshofsky, Catherine Keener
Director: Paul Greengrass
Running Time: 134 minutes
Synopsis: Captain Phillips is a multi-layered examination of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. It is " through director Paul Greengrass's distinctive lens " simultaneously a pulse-pounding thriller, and a complex portrait of the myriad effects of globalisation. The film focuses on the relationship between the Alabama's commanding officer, Captain Richard Phillips (two time Academy Award®-winner Tom Hanks), and the Somali pirate captain, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), who takes him hostage. Phillips and Muse are set on an unstoppable collision course when Muse and his crew target Phillips' unarmed ship; in the ensuing standoff, 145 miles off the Somali coast, both men will find themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control.
Release Date: October 24th, 2013
In Captain Phillips, director Paul Greengrass charts the emotionally charged story of Somali pirates taking an American sea captain hostage, while simultaneously exposing the underlying economic divide that sets the event in motion. The story begins in Vermont, where Captain Phillips leaves his family to sail cargo (partially food aid) halfway around the world " and at the same time in Somalia, where a former coastal fisherman, Muse, aims to overtake one of the high-value ships that passes through his coast every day. At the heart of the confrontation between Phillips and the desperate Somali pirates who take him hostage, Paul Greengrass reveals the rift between those who are part of the lucrative ebb and flow of international trade, and those who are caught outside of it.
'We've had a lot of very good films in the last decade that have looked at issues of national security and terrorism, but I wanted this film to look at a broader conflict in our world " the conflict between the haves and the have-nots," says Paul Greengrass.
'The confrontation between Phillips, who is part of the stream of the global economy, and the pirates, who are not, felt fresh and new and forward-looking to me. The stand-off between Phillips and Muse is a thrilling high seas siege, but one that speaks to the larger forces shaping the world today."
Paul Greengrass continues, 'I've always felt that a story should be told in a way that is compelling and thrilling, but also thought-provoking." As a former documentarian, Paul Greengrass has long been drawn to stories that dig beneath the surface of contemporary events " from Bloody Sunday, about a British Army massacre in Northern Ireland, to United 93, about the 9/11 hijacking thwarted by passengers, to Green Zone, about the Iraq War. At the same time Paul Greengrass has also emerged as the game-changing director behind high-octane thrillers of refreshing realism " The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Supremacy. These two strengths " Paul Greengrass's investigative instinct and his mastery of the thriller form " merge in Captain Phillips. At the core of Paul Greengrass's approach to Phillips was his decision not to tell the same story of a hostage-rescue triumph that had been seen in news headlines.
'When Paul joined the project, it was clear that he was committed to portraying the events around the Alabama's hijacking in a much more nuanced way than what had been reported," says Michael De Luca, who produced the movie with Scott Rudin and Dana Brunetti, and " with Brunetti " aided Columbia Pictures in acquiring the rights to Phillips' story. 'Paul made it clear from the outset that he wanted to tell the story as authentically as possible," he adds.
As Paul Greengrass explains: 'I want veracity. I want to convey the reality and immediacy of the event, as it happened. And that means immersing ourselves in research during the pre-production stage. I've always felt that, from conception to shooting to post-production, you have to earn the right to the audience's attention and you can't ever take it for granted."
Paul Greengrass wanted the film to reflect a complete picture of the world the pirates came from. 'Phillips' book was written from his point of view, naturally; from the beginning, Paul Greengrass wanted to tell a story that went beyond that," recalls screenwriter Billy Ray. Co-producer Michael Bronner, Paul Greengrass's long-time collaborator, dove deep into researching the history of Somali piracy and the economic imperatives that drive it. The depletion of fish in Somali waters due to industrial overfishing was one factor that spurred the growth of the pirate economy on Somalia's coasts, which had formerly relied on a healthy domestic fish trade.
Michael Bronner explains, 'Somalia, which has been decimated by civil war since the collapse of its military dictatorship in 1991, was hit around the same time by an influx of illegal fishing, after the EU tightened regulations, driving fleets into new hunting grounds. Somali piracy essentially began as a reaction to foreign over- fishing; former fishermen would hijack ships and hold them ransom as a source of income. When it became clear that this was a profitable activity, it attracted the warlords, under whose power piracy evolved into an organised, transnational enterprise. Somali piracy is organised crime that's truly global in structure, backed by financiers not only in Africa, but in Europe and North America as well. The boys on the boats sent to attack cargo ships " Muse and his crew " are only the end of a long and complex chain of players who control this very lucrative -business.'
The bosses of pirate conglomerates are able to live richly and ostentatiously, in a country where the poverty is so extreme that young men devoid of other prospects literally risk everything to get a taste of that kind of life." Michael Bronner supplemented his research into Somali piracy with research into the international shipping industry; he conducted extensive interviews with Maersk executives and the real crewmembers aboard the Alabama during the crisis to gain an understanding of the seaman's way of life, and the international laws and economics that govern container ships. The Maersk Alabama was unarmed when it was attacked by pirates (as all merchant vessels at that time were, in accordance with international regulations). Shipping officials revealed to Michael Bronner that they had " even in the days and weeks leading up to the Alabama's hijacking " been discussing ways to mitigate the risks to Maersk vessels navigating dangerous waters. Ultimately, the attack on the Alabama precipitated changes in the industry, with Maersk and other lines boarding armed guards (many former Navy SEALs) onto their vessels for the most hazardous stretches of their routes.
Shooting At Sea
75% of Captain Phillips was shot over 60 days on the open water. 'Shooting this film out on the ocean, on a working ship, was tremendously important to me," says Paul Greengrass.
'I started the film with the conviction that we had to re-enact the event in conditions as close as possible to those in which it occurred. Everybody said, -You're insane " shooting at sea is one of the things you don't do as a director.' But it gives the film a veracity that cannot be quantified."
The decision to shoot on the open sea, using the same kinds of vessels on which the real-life drama had unfolded, meant a production fraught with logistical, physical, and psychological challenges unlike any Paul Greengrass and his crew had encountered before.
'Striving for veracity involves taking risks yourself in making the film " as a director, as a cast, and as a crew," Paul Greengrass explains. 'As a piece of filmmaking, this was the most arduous experience I've ever had. Being on the ocean all day, every day, shooting in confined spaces or on the open water, in the swell, being knocked around, was torturous. But we did it and we kept our days. In the best of ways, the cast and crew on the film came to feel very much like we were the crew of a ship, all working together," Paul Greengrass says.
'At the same time, each individual job done was incredible. The acting was incredible, the lighting was incredible, the design was incredible, the editing was incredible. And it all builds to a final moment in which I believe Tom Hanks gives a performance of stunning humanity. My abiding memory of the film will always be Tom Hanks at that final moment. It is simply so human."
The first challenge the production faced was sourcing the numerous ships that the story called for " a working container ship, two US Navy destroyers, and an aircraft carrier. Finding vessels that were as close as possible to the ships used in the actual incident " a Paul Greengrass mandate " posed a huge problem, despite the eagerness of Maersk Line and the United States Navy to collaborate with the production.
'These ships are made to work " and a working ship is either hauling goods 24/7 or, in the case of the Navy, on standby for military action, and you can't just take them offline," producer Dana Brunetti says. When Maersk Line identified a relatively underused container ship in the Mediterranean, the production picked up and moved half a world away to Malta in order to take advantage of its availability. 'Fortunately, this ship, the Maersk Alexander, was a direct match to the ship that was hijacked, the Alabama " that was a very lucky break for us," says Dana Brunetti.
In addition, the production was able to arrange for the Maersk Alexander's crew of 22 merchant mariners to continue operating the ship during the two and a half months of filming. The captain of the Alexander became a vital resource for Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks, illuminating both the mechanics and the human issues surrounding the day-to-day operations of the ship.
'Being on the real ship and having access to the real crew was essential to the process," says Paul Greengrass. 'You could ask them questions " what would they do, what would they say, where would they go, with what piece of equipment, in X, Y, or Z scenario."
Paul Greengrass's commitment to verisimilitude created challenges for the cast and crew. The weather was often uncooperative, which turned what would have been a merely difficult shoot at sea into a nearly impossible one. Of shooting on the Marersk Alexander, De Luca recalls, 'There are massive swells that come over the side of the ship. The sea changes minute by minute from calm to incredibly choppy and back, so you never know what you are going to get; how do you plan to shoot scenes and match shots with a landscape like that?"
Each morning the production crew had to be nimble enough to decide on a moment's notice if they could shoot a scene on the water, or if they'd have to stay in port and shoot a scene inside the ship. Maneuvering the five hundred foot container ship placed extreme constraints on the production, Daniel Franey Malone, the film's marine coordinator, notes: 'It's not like using a recreational vessel. This ship can only go to certain places, and we needed a harbor pilot and a tugboat to move it around every day. And, of course, the ship is made for containers, so it was extremely difficult to put a film crew on there," Daniel Franey Malone says. 'It's incredibly claustrophobic. It has narrow passageways and very narrow stairs. We're used to having a lot more space. We really had to scale things down and the teams had to be very conservative in what they brought on board. The constant back-and-forth from the bottom floor to the bridge " believe me, it was no small feat making it all the way up and down those stairs with equipment."
On top of the claustrophobia and the other constraints of working on the ship, the production had to take on the challenges of coordinating and shooting multiple vessels on open water. 'A crew is some hundreds of people and equipment " actors, and costume, and makeup, and cameras, and set," says Paul Greengrass. 'To put that on the water is a monumental logistical endeavour.
You've got dozens and dozens of boats, and then you have to have safety boats. The production was like a flotilla, and I felt like the admiral of a fleet." One of the most dramatic scenes in the film is the taking of the Alabama, which was done without the use of CG effects. 'One of the most difficult feats of the entire shoot was the technical safety aspect of bringing a skiff with four actors alongside a moving cargo ship with a tremendous undertow," says Paul Greengrass.
'Getting close enough so that they could put the ladder up and execute the boarding manoeuvre " that was a very time consuming process. Safety was of paramount importance. But the film gives you the sensation that you really are there, and they are right alongside that ship and going up, because they are." In preparing to film the sequence, the four men playing the Somali pirates " Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali " began a rigorous training regimen. 'Paul Greengrass told us that he wasn't looking for just actors " he wanted us to become pirates," Barkhad Abdi says.
'So with weeks of intense practice and rigorous training, we became pirates. I didn't know how to swim. I had to learn how to climb. Being scared wasn't an option. When I was on the ladder, 100 feet above the water, I just thought, I have to get to the top." Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali also had to learn how to handle the pirate skiffs as if they had grown up on them. 'We spent weeks taking the guys out so they could drive those skiffs, which was a challenge; they are not easy boats," says Paul Greengrass.
'Then we moved to the open ocean to teach them how to stand up while the boats were moving " and you can imagine how those boats throw you around in that swell. The challenge was to do all of this safely. And then we had to work out how to shoot it." That task fell to the director of photography, Barry Ackroyd, BSC. 'For the scenes on the skiffs with the Somalis," he explains, 'we built a small scaffold rig where we could bungee the camera, because when those skiffs hit a wave, they really hit it " and we had to find a way not to lose the camera overboard."
The most intensely challenging sequence of the film by far, however, was the climactic scene as the Navy orchestrates Phillips' rescue. Paul Greengrass calls it 'the most complex and difficult sequence" of his career: 'There were multiple Navy ships hurtling around, multiple helicopters " immense safety concerns. How do you choreograph, set, and convey on film action that involves a small carrier, several destroyers, and multiple helicopters bombarding a small lifeboat in darkness " all at high speed " on water? Any director will tell you that you get one helicopter in the air and your stress level rises. And the clock was ticking for us to get these shots, because we could only have the Navy hardware for a limited amount of time."
The U.S. Navy was as eager as Marersk Alexander to be involved in the film. But, just as with Marersk Alexander's merchant carriers, finding the Navy ships required a long and delicate negotiation. Notes Dana Brunetti: 'The Navy wanted to be involved from the get-go because this film reflects them as sober-minded professionals " I think they feel it's a very accurate representation of the way they operate. But, like Marersk Alexander, their commissioned ships all have to be on duty. The Navy ships have to be on standby to react to situations that arise around the world, and that was a higher priority than supporting a movie. They absolutely did not want us to make the movie without them, on our own, without their support; our depiction of them would have been less robust. The question was whether we could work around their very understandable limitations in a way that would allow them to get us what we needed."
A solution was reached, again, thanks to the production team's flexibility and adaptability. 'A high ranking admiral met with us in Los Angeles and made a promise to me: if we brought the movie to Norfolk, Virginia, he would get me " in his words " everything I needed," says Executive Producer Gregory Goodman, who handled many of the challenging logistics of the shoot. 'We hadn't considered going to Norfolk because it is not a film production center... Everything needed to shoot would have to be brought in from outside the area, and because of the distance, you can't rely on nearby vendors for support. But after looking at our limited options, it was clear: we were going to Norfolk. I called them up and said, -I'm going to hold you to your promise!' And they lived up to it. And I will say that once we were set up in Norfolk " a massive undertaking " it was a great place to shoot."
To portray the USS Bainbridge, the filmmakers were granted access to the USS Truxtun, a 510-foot-long Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer commissioned in 2009. 'The Truxtun had just been rehabilitated and needed to go on a two-month shakedown cruise, and part of that consists of doing minor manoeuvres," says Dana Brunetti. 'We were attached to that mission."
Throughout the shoot, the destroyer remained an active, mission-ready ship loaded to respond to emergency calls. The two additional ships that assisted the Bainbridge during the real-life rescue mission " the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship that is part of the Navy's anti- piracy task force, and the USS Halyburton " were portrayed, respectively, by the USS Wasp, a multipurpose amphibious assault ship, and the actual Halyburton, both of which were stationed at Naval Station Norfolk. Moving these Navy vessels was complicated, dangerous, and difficult " and Navy destroyers are an even less hospitable home for a film crew than a cargo ship is.
Dana Brunetti explains: 'The Navy ships have to operate seven miles out of port, and it's very difficult to get the ships in and out of port " it takes hours. So instead, our crew piled into small boats " fifteen to twenty people in each of seven or eight boats " and embarked from a dock in Norfolk to meet the Navy ships, waiting for us miles out at sea. Then each of us had to transfer over to the ship, an arduous process of stepping one by one over the side and climbing a ladder, in ocean swells, with all of our gear for the day. We made the trip back and forth daily, each night transferring to our small boats and heading back to Norfolk in the dark." Paul Greengrass says the Navy 'threw themselves enthusiastically into the film. From the Halyburton's captain and his number-two down, they put the ship and their resources at our disposal. They could see what we were trying to do, so we'd always have somebody in the crew saying, -You need to know this' or -In X situation we would do Y' " those thousand decisions that make a film feel like it's working and that keep it true to reality. Those environments are real: the CIC, the interior sections " they were all on the real destroyer."
Getting the Navy onboard was just the first step in filming the rescue sequence. 'In that scene, there were a lot of moving parts " two destroyers, an aircraft carrier, and a helicopter shining a light on the lifeboat," adds producer Dana Brunetti. 'We had to get the ships in position, we had to get our cameras in position, the helicopter had to hit the lifeboat at the right moment, and the actors in the lifeboat had to deal with the fact that the ships were creating an intentional wake to rock the boat. They were in there for hours while we did to them what the Navy did to the actual hijackers."
Goodman expands on the logistical challenges involved in that climactic scene: 'The lifeboat moves very slowly " about two or three knots. That actually happens to be just below the safe operating speed for Navy ships. They are liable to stall if they're going that slow. So we had a cat-and-mouse game in terms of timing the ships and their relationship to the lifeboats. That was very tricky " it was a math problem."
What the filmmakers didn't know at the time was that this was a case of art imitating life. The USS Bainbridge had experienced the same problem during the real-life rescue of Captain Phillips; the destroyer kept outrunning the lifeboat. The climax of the film " set at sea, in total darkness " also presented tremendous challenges for cinematographer Ackroyd. Pulling off the shooting of these sequences required an extraordinary amount of advance planning, coordination, timing, professionalism " and a little luck. 'We shot them day-for-night, dusk-for-night, and night-for-night,"
Ackroyd says. 'Each scene is a combination of all three techniques, all rolled into one." He adds, 'We had one camera inside the lifeboat, I was in a RHIB [rubber-hulled inflatable boat] with another, a third camera was on the destroyer, and a fourth camera was in a second helicopter, positioned to shoot the picture helicopter. The Navy destroyer is coming up on the lifeboat and doing a handbrake turn in front of the lifeboat, and we have to get that shot simultaneously from my RHIB, from the destroyer, from the air, as well as from inside the lifeboat, looking out from a two-foot-by-three-foot port. All of that was done dusk-for-night " and dusk is twenty minutes. You have twenty minutes to capture a maximum amount of material. And you can't stop, or dusk will change, and all of a sudden you are shooting night-for-night. We haven't CG'd those shots " all of those happened live. People would always ask, -How are we going to do it?' Well, we're going to shoot it. That's what I live for."
Though the production was daunting and technically difficult, everyone got through it, because the entire crew shared an esprit de corps inspired by Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks. Producer De Luca notes, 'Tom Hank was very game. He never paused no matter what we asked of him. For example, being in the lifeboat on the open water all day, for days on end, was exhausting and took tremendous stamina for everyone involved; and Tom Hank never complained, despite the inevitable and constant sea-sickness that set in for him and the other cast aboard that very unwieldy vessel. I think that attitude and spirit from him carried through to everybody and carried us through the production."
'This was pure filmmaking " I'm very, very lucky to have done this. I'll always carry the memory with me," says Goodman. 'Everybody was focused on the same goal." Ackroyd agrees: 'As a cinematographer, when you see a script and it says -Night " total darkness " at sea,' you have to think twice about doing that project " unless it's Paul Greengrass who is asking you to do it. When you sign up to do a Paul Greengrass film, it's because you realise that the struggle will be worthwhile, the story will be powerful, and the effort will be recognised " by which I mean that the audience will take from it something that they don't get from every other film. And I hope that will be the case with Captain Phillips."
Cast and Characters
The audience will not find conventional heroes in Captain Phillips " only human beings in all their societal, cultural, and personal complexities. Paul Greengrass saw Richard Phillips not as the engine of the story but rather as a man who, while quietly devoted to his work, gets suddenly swept up into a violent, global event.
'Phillips reminds me of men I knew when I was young, growing up with a father in the merchant marine: the working men who haul the goods we use around the world, who are the lifeblood of the world economy. They are the truckers of the sea. It's a very physical, blue-collar kind of world. To me, Richard Phillips is that kind of man " a kind of Everyman who finds himself in this unwanted confrontation," says the director. 'He's really an ordinary person, but the way he responds to what happens to him and what this ordeal he goes through has to say about the world we live in is extraordinary."
From the very beginning, the filmmakers envisioned Tom Hanks as the veteran merchant mariner Richard Phillips. Tom Hanks has excelled in diverse roles depicting seemingly ordinary men facing extreme crises: from Andrew Beckett, the lawyer suffering from AIDS and fighting a wrongful termination suit in Philadelphia; to astronaut Jim Lovell, struggling to return to Earth after a moon mission goes awry in Apollo 13; to John Miller, the World War II captain searching for a missing soldier in Saving Private Ryan; and to Chuck Noland, the FedEx executive trapped alone on a desert island in Cast Away.
Tom Hanks builds characters from the inside out, endowing ordinary people with a quiet but extraordinary bravery. His portrayal of Richard Phillips is no exception. Paul Greengrass says of his first time working with the two-time Oscar®-winner: 'Tom Hanks and I went on a journey together. In the beginning, he kept saying, -For me, it's really just about a guy in peril on the sea' " and Tom Hanks honed his performance down to something that stark and true. He spent hour after hour in that lifeboat " everyone was moved by how much he put into this. It was not just a matter of his talent, but of his willingness to explore every inch of this man's humanity " the accuracy of what Tom Hanks did and the detail of it was magnificent. I was also incredibly impressed by his physical stamina. We were out on the ocean for hour after hour, and Tom Hanks never complained. He was always the first one to turn around and say, -I'm ready. Let's do it again.'"
Tom Hanks prepared for the role by getting to know Richard Phillips, visiting with the captain at his home in Vermont, where he lives with his wife, Andrea, a nurse. Tom Hanks found Richard Phillips to be an affable, self-effacing man who never saw himself as anything more than a seaman simply doing his job. Incredibly, Richard Phillips returned to his work at Marersk Alexander not long after his near fatal ordeal with Somali pirates. 'That in particular I found amazing," said Tom Hanks.
'That a man who suffered such a wrenching, terrifying ordeal, could bring himself to go right back to sea. I knew understanding Richard Phillips' strength " that particular kind of personal fortitude and connection to the sea, despite what happened " would be essential to understanding the sort of man Richard is. The reality is that not everybody has what it takes to be a ship captain " and not everyone could have withstood being taken hostage."
Arriving on set for his first collaboration with Paul Greengrass, Tom Hanks was surprised by what he found: 'Paul Greengrass tried to explain to me what his style was like before we started shooting " handheld cameras, no dolly track, no marks to hit " and asked me if I was comfortable with that. Of course I said I was, but I honestly expected " regardless of what Paul Greengrass said to prepare me " that when it came to shooting, I would see that dolly track come out and we'd get specific about hitting our marks and hitting our light. Never happened. We didn't even stage the scenes " we found them. We'd gather in the morning, discuss the scene for an hour and a half, two hours, maybe even longer, and then shoot it in its entirety all the way through " an eight- minute scene, a twelve-minute scene, whatever it was " instead of breaking it up into shots. It's an extraordinary way to make a movie " a method that is 180 degrees from that of other filmmakers. It plays to Paul Greengrass's strengths and I don't think he's interested in making movies any other way. And the result, I think, speaks for itself."
Paul Greengrass, in turn, says that Tom Hanks was fully on board for the process and the result was a masterful, truthful performance. 'I remember one very difficult scene. We were on the Truxtun and we were getting ready to film the scene, post-rescue. We asked Richard Phillips where that interview really happened, and he said it took place in the sick bay. Well, we'd been planning to do it in the Captain's quarters, but as soon as he said it, the sick bay made much more sense. So Tom and I worked out how we'd do it, and I picked a crewmember from the Truxtun to play the scene with him. As a result, a woman who was not expecting when she woke up that morning to have a speaking role in a movie, or to be acting opposite a two-time Academy Award®-winner, did this climactic scene with Tom that brought the entire crew to tears! It's just a stunning moment in the film."
Paul Greengrass's orchestration of the fraught initial encounter between the pirates and the Marersk Alexander crew provides another example of the methods Paul Greengrass used to help the actors reach an added level of realism: Paul Greengrass made the decision to keep the actors playing the seamen from having any contact with the Somali-American actors who would play the men taking over the ship. They never met until the moment they shot the scene of the pirates entering the bridge. 'It was a smart thing Paul Greengrass did, that we never met each other," explains Tom Hanks. 'We didn't have readings or dinners, so they were these shadowy guys to us, and when they storm the bridge, the verisimilitude was just incalculable. The hair stood up on the backs of our necks."
Says Paul Greengrass of the scene: 'Since they had never met, shooting it that way was a -once-only' moment " we had to get it in that first take. And we did. It was incredible. Tom Hanks and Barkhad did that long scene with such depth and humanity that when it was over, everyone on the set applauded." In seeking four foils for Tom Hanks, casting director Francine Maisler conducted an intensive search for actors who could bring both authenticity and emotion to their roles. Francine Maisler began by narrowing the choices to actors of Somali descent. 'From the beginning, it was very, very important to Paul Greengrass to cast Somalis in the roles of Muse and his crew," Francine Maisler says. 'And that was a massive casting dilemma. But Paul Greengrass has a tremendous gift for teaching young, untried actors to perform, often alongside formidable experienced actors " it's part of what makes his films so visceral. I knew the only way to build the organic connection to Somalia that was so important to the film was to find men who were Somali or Somali-American. And I knew that meant finding young men who may have had relatively little experience on set, but who were open to taking a leap on this film, and who were able to hold their own, opposite Tom Hanks," says Francine Maisler.
Having researched all the places in the world where Somalis have emigrated in large numbers, Francine Maisler centered her casting search on the U.S.'s largest Somali-American community, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There she distributed flyers announcing an open casting call at the Brian Coyle Community Center, drawing more than 1,000 candidates for the role of Muse and his three crewmates. As she worked with Minnesota Casting Director Debbie DeLisi to narrow the candidates from hundreds to just a handful, Francine Maisler began to group them into foursomes to see how they would work with one another. One of those initial foursomes consisted of Barkhad Abdi as Muse, Barkhad Abdirahman as Bilal, Faysal Ahmed as Najee, and Mahat M. Ali as Elmi. Realizing that these four men all knew one another, it was natural for Fracine Maisler to assign them as a group. 'Once we grouped them, they began to rehearse on their own time, with Barkhad Abdi leading the group's rehearsal sessions," Francine Maisler says.
'Later, we swapped other actors in and out of the foursome as an experiment, but we kept reuniting that original foursome, and ultimately, Paul Greengrass cast them in the movie. He was impressed, as we all were, by their talent and chemistry and commitment to the film." The final hurdle was a meeting with Paul Greengrass and Francine Maisler in Los Angeles. After the meeting, they went for a walk on the beach: the four actors, Paul Greengrass, and Francine Maisler. Francine Maisler recalls, 'It wasn't quite clear if they realized that they had been cast, so Paul Greengrass told them, -You guys know " you have the parts.' -No, nobody told us.' -Well, you have it.' They were so ecstatic that they ran, fully clothed, into the ocean, celebrating. It was one of the most pure moments of joy I've ever seen." Says Ahmed: 'We just had to jump into the sea to make sure it was true." 'When I saw them, they were friends and had worked together as a group,"
Paul Greengrass says. 'There was something about them that already looked and felt like a crew." None of the four had any formal film experience, but they were determined to give their characters a tangible humanity. 'The degree of intensity they projected and the nuances of character they found were incredible " and the ability to do all of that opposite the extraordinary power of Tom Hanks was something special," says Paul Greengrass. First-time actor Barkhad Abdi takes on the role of Muse, the pirate captain. Francine Maisler says that immediately upon meeting Barkhad Abdi, she knew Paul Greengrass would want him for the demanding and complex role of Richard Phillips' primary adversary.
'The weight on the shoulders of a young, untried actor in particular to carry a layered role like Muse's " which demands a capacity for menace as well as compassion and contemplation " is tremendous," says Francine Maisler. 'It takes a very special kind of person. The bar was very high. Barkhad Abdi demonstrated a great deal of natural ability and I knew he could bring to life all of the dimensions of the character as written on the page " but he'd also make the role his own. He could be commanding but quiet; we could see that he made a very strong impression on people. The other Somalis we had him working with in the auditions seemed to automatically treat him as a leader."
Born in Mogadishu and raised in Yemen, Abdi moved with his family to Minneapolis in 1999, when he was 14 years old. He is acutely aware of the pressures that many Somalis have faced as economic conditions deteriorate in their war-torn country, even while ships lined with valuable cargo pass] their shores. This personal understanding drew him to explore the reasons why a young man like Muse, no longer able to make a living from his town's traditional trade in Somalia's overfished waters, would turn to piracy.
'I think if things had been different, Muse could have been happy as a fisherman. But when he's unable to make a living that way, and when he sees men from his village become pirates, he wants his share of the money that comes to them," Barkhad Abdi explains. 'I still have family in Somalia, so I know what's going on there," he continues. 'I know that my character is in a place where people have very little in the way of opportunity. But I think today, all over the world, we all have dreams that we can live big. That's the bottom line for Muse. He has big dreams " and since he has so little, he also feels he has nothing to lose by turning to piracy. 'When Muse boards the Alabama, for him it's all about business: the captain calls the shipping company, the shipping company calls its insurance carrier, a ransom is paid, and no one gets hurt. But it doesn't work out that way, and he finds himself in a terrible bind that he knows will be fatal if he can't find a way out. Muse is a foot soldier in a complex pirate-ring funded by powerful investors, and he knows he can't return empty-handed. As the captain of his crew, it's his job to find a solution. He realises the only resolution is to sail the lifeboat to Somalia and offer Captain Phillips for ransom. He's in a tiny lifeboat surrounded by American warships " it's this desperate situation. Still, he's able to maintain a sense of command and power. That's what makes his character so compelling to me."
Producer Dana Brunetti notes, 'For coastal villagers like Muse, access to a lawful economy is often blocked. In piracy, they see an opportunity to fit into an alternate economy: in this case, one that can bring wealth many orders of magnitude beyond what is possible through any other means in Somalia. You've got the wealth of the world sailing past your shore, there for the taking. Somalia has been controlled for more than two decades by warring factions who keep the population under tight control. Of course, Muse is a dangerous young man, but what becomes clear as the film unfolds is that he feels as trapped in the siege as does his hostage. It was the full person, the full human being, that we were searching for in Muse's character and in Barkhad Abdi's performance " something that transcended the criminal act he's involved in without blunting it, because that's the reality."
Barkhad Abdi hopes the film's depiction of Muse will help audiences gain some insight into the tragedy of Somalia and the more complex motivations of the pirates. 'Piracy is a crime, and the film never seeks to condone it, but I think people will come away with compassion for Muse. He ends up confronting the full power of America " a malnourished young man wearing rags up against three massive American warships. You feel his predicament. He's a criminal of course, but he is also a person in a bind. I remember coming to America for the first time as an immigrant and having to learn to navigate this overwhelming, extremely wealthy and powerful country. I don't want to draw a comparison between the two predicaments, but I could understand what it must have been like for him to stare up at that awesome military ship and think, you know, -Now what?'"
Tom Hanks was especially impressed with how far Barkhad Abdi took his character into palpable reality. 'This story depends on Barkhad Abdi portraying all of the sides of the character " he never lets Muse become a paper-thin villain," says Tom Hanks. 'For a young, first-time actor to inhabit such a complex role with such command was striking. He conveys an incredible range of emotion and nuance of expression " that's not something that can be taught. His character begins as something we think we know " a fearsome pirate leading an armed crew in a terrifying criminal hijacking of an unarmed ship " and without ever apologising for that, he pulls the audience into a much deeper emotional engagement with the human being behind that act: a young Somali who harbors aspirations all of us can understand, but who is utterly blocked from pursuing them because of incredibly arduous life circumstances in Somalia."
Najee " the pirate Phillips dubbed the 'tall guy" in his memoir " is played by Faysal Ahmed, who is of Somali descent and was born and raised in Yemen, where he met Barkhad Abdi. Faysal Ahmed describes Najee as 'the muscle of the group, someone who grew up with violence " and that's the only answer he knows." Like Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed won the visa lottery to come to the United States, but still has family living in Somalia, giving him an intimate perspective on current events there. 'I think a lot of Somali emigrants would love to go back to Somalia if it had a stable government," he observes. 'To me, it is my home, even though I have never been there." For Ahmed, the highlight of making the film was his fight scenes with Tom Hanks.
He recalls: 'Making those seem realistic was very difficult, especially because the set was so narrow. I accidentally connected with a real punch at one point, but Tom Hanks was great about it. He did his own stunts in that scene and he pushed me toward steadily improving my work. I'm thankful to him for that. It was no small challenge to put myself in the head of this man. I asked myself: what would a normal person " a -normal pirate' " do in this situation, having fought desperately to take this ship, against incredible odds, and then to have my prize " the only thing left to show for the risks I've taken " nearly escape? We entered the pirate mindset and when it came time to shoot, we were ready. It was hard, but it was also an amazing experience."
Elmi, the taciturn boat driver, is played by Mahat M. Ali, who was born in Somalia and grew up in Kenya, before coming to Minnesota while still in grade school. 'I think there was a question mark for Paul, and that was, were we going to be up for the challenge of the roles, physically," says Mahat M. Ali. 'He knew very well that the roles weren't just difficult emotionally " but that it was going to be really hard work, the kind where you collapse into bed after a long, hard day. Were we up for that? Yes, of course we were. Paul Greengrass was right " it was very hard " but it was worth it."
Seventeen-year-old Barkhad Abdirahman, who was born in Kenya of Somali descent, plays Bilal, the youngest of the pirates. Barkhad Abdirahman says of his character, 'He's the guy who does what he's told; I think he behaves the way any normal kid would behave in a war." For Barkhad Abdirahman, Greengrass's realistic directorial style and on-set environment gave him a greater understanding of the intense situation his character faces " especially as a very young man.
'Paul Greengrass created so much energy and excitement that he really brought us into what was happening on the boat," he adds. 'It's a pretty insane place to be for Bilal. He's overwhelmed. He's under a lot of pressure " he's really just a teenager, and he's not at all equipped to handle this situation." All four actors entered intensive training in Malta prior to production, undergoing a rigorous daily regimen, comparable to boot camp, designed by stunt coordinator Rob Inch. 'They had to learn how to fight, how to handle guns, how to handle boats, how to lift ladders, and how to work in choppy waves," Rob Inch explains. 'We wanted to really immerse them in that high-seas world."
'We were really out there," says Barkhard Abdi. 'And when I thought about how hard the training was, everything I went through to get to that moment, when I was climbing up the side of a container ship, I couldn't help but think that these four men would've learned to do the same things we'd trained to do. We had that in common now. For me, as a Somali, that's powerful " it put me in Muse's shoes in a way our preparation wouldn't have if Paul Greengrass hadn't been as committed to the training. I'm positive that this had a tremendous effect on the way I played the rest of my scenes."
As intense as it was to film the taking of the Alabama and the scenes on the container ship, nothing prepared the actors for filming on the lifeboat. 'I'd seen pictures of the lifeboat, and the National Geographic documentary about the incident, but you can't imagine what it's like to be on the lifeboat until you actually step inside," says Barkhard Abdi. 'It's small, it's tight, but it's the smell that really got us all at first: the seawater and the humidity, the heat and sweat. There's no ventilation in a boat like this. Inevitably, all of us got very dizzy and seasick, especially the first few days, and that made it difficult to concentrate. I can't imagine being shut up in that lifeboat twenty-four hours a day for five days " the length of time Phillips and the pirates were confined there during the real incident." While the media closely covered Captain Phillips' rescue from the lifeboat by Navy SEALs, less well known is what transpired aboard the Maersk Alabama early in the crisis, as Phillips attempted to outwit the pirates and regain control of the ship " a period during which Phillips' twenty crewmembers played a key role.
Michael Chernus (The Bourne Legacy) portrays Shane Murphy, Captain Phillips' Chief Mate and second in command. Of shooting on the Alabama, Michael Chernus says, 'We'd leave port and be out at sea for twelve or fourteen hours; you get to know your cast-mates quickly " and well " in circumstances like that. We became a kind of crew " and started to communicate like one. That helped us respond to each other in a very real way. We bonded in a way I've never experienced on a film set before. Another unanticipated benefit of working on the ship, which had been temporarily decommissioned for the shoot, was that the Alexander [the ship standing in for the Alabama] had, living on it, real Maersk crewmembers with years of experience at sea. Every actor had a real-life counterpart on the ship, so I was able to hang out with the chief mate of the Alexander and ask him what he would do in particular situations. That helped us familiarise ourselves with a whole lifetime's worth of knowledge in a short time."
David Warshofsky (There Will Be Blood) plays Chief Engineer Mike Perry, another veteran colleague of Captain Phillips. From his post in the ship's Engine Control Room, Perry tries to track the pirates' movements elsewhere on the Alabama, and sabotage their ability to obtain operational control of the ship. Corey Johnson, who has appeared in three Paul Greengrass films (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Legacy), plays the ship's second mate, Ken Quinn, who remains on the bridge with Phillips. For his performance during the pirates' takeover of the bridge, Johnson recalls that Paul Greengrass directed him not to think about responding to the attack in the most heroic way, but rather in the most human way. 'It's not un-heroic to show fear," says Corey Johnson. 'Captain Phillips tells the crew, -Maintain your dignity', to show some grace under pressure and to be resourceful. To me, that's the source of their courage. My character feels a responsibility to the rest of the crew, as they all did. He's not going to go down screaming and pleading. They all try to stay focused, keep doing their jobs, and defuse the situation." Once Phillips was taken captive on the lifeboat, the American government responded: the U.S.S. Bainbridge, headed by Captain Frank Castellano, was dispatched in the Indian Ocean to track the pirates and negotiate a swift and peaceful conclusion to the stand-off, or " if that wasn't possible " to buy time until the Navy SEALs could arrive.
'Castellano was not a guy you heard a lot about in the news," says actor Yul Vazquez, who portrays the Bainbridge captain. 'The reporting focused mostly on Captain Phillips and the Navy SEALs. But Castellano was an important part of the story. He was the first responder to the event and he felt it was his responsibility to ensure a peaceful ending to the crisis." Castellano knew that if he was to do anything to escalate the standoff, the pirates might panic and harm Captain Phillips. At the same time, he was ordered to check the lifeboat's progress toward Somalia, which he could only do by aggressively blocking the lifeboat with his massive warship. Forced into a situation where he had to be adaptive and nimble, Castellano forged a rapport with the pirates, feeding them, helping to anticipate their needs, and trying to keep them relaxed in order to maintain control of the situation.
Says Yul Vazquez, 'The most important thing to Paul Greengrass was that my character be seen as a man with a tremendous degree of pressure bearing down on him. He's trying to do the right thing, and he did do the right thing, until the pirates gave him no other options. Paul Greengrass wanted to see that pressure on my face and in my eyes " to see this guy struggling his utmost to end this ordeal, but to end it well." In the film, the majority of the men seen working alongside Castellano inside the Bainbridge CIC (Combat Information Center) are real-life officers and sailors who were stationed aboard the USS Truxtun, which stood in for the Bainbridge. The group also includes two sailors who served aboard the Bainbridge during the real event in 2009. The final piece of the casting puzzle involved the Navy SEALs " the elite warriors renowned for being a breed apart. Though the role of the SEAL commander, played by Max Martini, was extensive and involved enough to require an actor, Paul Greengrass wanted the SEALs under Martini's command to be the real thing.
'As I've said, we wanted to make this film as authentic as we could in every way we could," says Paul Greengrass. 'I'm convinced that audiences know when they are seeing something that doesn't quite measure up " they may not know why something seems inauthentic, but they know. Navy SEALs are one of those things " like shooting on the sea " where there's no substitute for the real thing." As a result, civilian SEAL adviser Eric Casey secured the services of ten former SEALs to take the roles of the men who carried out the close-in sniper operation. 'It's hard to replicate SEAL mannerisms and skills without very extensive training," Casey explains. 'They have a certain persona and a very particular way of carrying themselves that's hard-won. It can't easily be taught."
Photography and Design
To bring to Captain Phillips the intensity and realism that Paul Greengrass's films are known for, Greengrass brought in a visual team headed by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, BSC. Barry Ackroyd, a longtime Paul Greengrass collaborator, was the cinematographer on Paul Greengrass's United 93 and Green Zone, as well as on Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, for which Ackroyd was nominated for an Academy Award®. Paul Greengrass and Barry Ackroyd come from a documentary tradition, and both men agree that there are certain habits of non-fiction filmmaking that they have yet to shake " and that have proved beneficial on the sets of their feature films.
'In a feature film, you have many more takes and many more opportunities to capture a scene than in documentary," Barry Ackroyd says, 'so you always have to remind yourself about the urgency and importance of every frame. If you tell yourself that every frame is the only time this will ever happen, and it will be the most important frame of the film " and if you can keep that concentration up throughout a million feet of film " then you are giving the editor the best material you can for him to cut the best film."
Paul Greengrass agrees, noting that this style of shooting goes hand-in-hand with the kind of interaction he wants the actors to have with the material. 'You never lose an instinct for what's urgent, what's real. We work very hard with the actors to get them to play not just the screenplay; the script is important, but we also want the actors to be attuned to " and to examine for themselves " each situation, and the motives of the characters inherent in each scene. And, as we get the actors to that place, where they are playing and inhabiting the immediacy of the scene, we have to capture that intensity " the looks, the moments."
Producer Dana Brunetti says that Barry Ackroyd's style of shooting not only lends itself perfectly to Paul Greengrass's direction, but to this film in particular, because of its locations. 'Paul and Barry shoot in a very in-the-moment, urgent, vérité style " a lot of handheld shooting, not a lot of dolly tracks " which is supremely well-suited to the telling of a hostage crisis story, and uniquely suited to shooting on a container ship," notes Dana Brunetti.
'The ship is so tight and confined, and the hallways and stairwells are incredibly narrow. Barry Ackroyd put that camera on his shoulder and ran along following the actors, whipping the camera all around and up and down the ship. The lifeboat was more contained, so it became about finding the detail and the intensity in those spaces."
Paul Greengrass adds that these locations provided an intense visual and physical challenge " one that required Barry Ackroyd to be extremely flexible. 'Barry Ackroyd and I had a long discussion before production began about creating a look for Captain Phillips that is very restrained and highly focused on character," says the director. 'As the film progresses, you are inhabiting a smaller and smaller space " so the challenge visually is to keep those tiny spaces very alive and interesting. That sometimes means putting Barry Ackroyd into some of the most gruelling and absurdly cramped positions. I don't think he could have made this film if he didn't practice yoga."
Barry Ackroyd often had two or three cameras operating for each scene. On the container ship, Ackroyd mounted his camera on his shoulder, while another camera operator, Cosmo Campbell, rigged a special short-armed Steadicam that allowed him to get through bulkhead doors and small spaces. PaulGreengrass and Barry Ackroyd do not block the scenes with the actors, giving them free rein to roam where they like, with the handheld cameras following. Often, this means the actors are running up and down stairs and in and out of rooms with the camera team close behind. Barry Ackroyd has noted that this way of working liberates actors. 'Once you stop asking actors to perform for the camera, it gives them a kind of freedom. Even in a confined space like the lifeboat, we told them, -Go wherever you want, and we'll follow.' It's a challenge, but it has a powerful effect on the performances. The actors end up giving more because of that, and what you capture contributes to the film's ability to move people. If there's something exciting going on in a scene, the camera gets excited. And when the mood is sad, the camera reacts with sadness. In this film especially, the camerawork ties into emotional moments in ways that are unexpected and unscripted."
In their collaboration on United 93, Paul Greengrass and Barry Ackroyd experimented with various techniques intended to obliterate any awareness of the camera " among the actors as they performed on set, as well as among the audience as they watch in the theatre. They took those methods one step further on Captain Phillips. 'Paul Greengrass and I both felt that if we successfully did our job, our presence would be barely felt by the actors," Barry Ackroyd notes.
'Our aim in this film was for the camera to be simply observational and as truthful as possible. At the same time, we were not making a documentary. Rather the style is a kind of hyperrealism that allows the audience to see many perspectives on each moment and on the choices that the characters are making. We looked for the humanity in the shot." Tom Hanks says he was inspired by the authenticity and immediacy of Paul Greengrass's and Barry Ackroyd's shooting style " and that the result was one of the richest experiences of his career. 'One of the questions I asked Paul Greengrass on this set was, -Where is the camera?' Because I never saw it," says Tom Hanks. 'They are all about capturing the behaviour of real people in the moment, and I think Paul Greengrass's willingness to discover the movie as we shot allowed him to capture the full reality of the story."
Barry Ackroyd's photography in the film also makes maximal use of natural light. 'I always shoot in natural light when I can because you can shoot in 360 degrees," he explains. 'Having to light shot- by-shot is like putting a straightjacket on the camera and camera operator. So instead, we planned our scenes out like a sundial, following the sun around. We had a narrow shipping lane that we could move in, and so " unlike shooting in a fixed location " we could alter course, turn around, and get sun in the same direction on the ship, no matter which way we went. It was like tacking in sailing. Chris Carreras, who is Paul Greengrass's first assistant director, became the proxy captain, setting the ship's course " -Let's go five degrees port now' – to keep the light as consistent as he could. It's the same principle you use on land, but because we could move the ship, we took advantage of that, and Chris Carreras became expert at it."
Early in pre-production, Barry Ackroyd decided to employ 35-millimeter film cameras, primarily using the Aaton Penelope, which is often sought after for handheld cinematography and documentaries. The Aaton Penelope allowed Barry Ackroyd to move nimbly through the narrow stairwells and passageways of the ship. 'When you shoot digitally, in most cases you're only trying to reproduce the aesthetic look of film anyway. On top of that, when we looked at the conditions we would have to film in " getting on pirate skiffs with bungees, getting sprayed and splashed from the waters of the cargo ship " electronic cameras didn't make much sense," says Barry Ackroyd. 'Film cameras are over a hundred years old. It's a simple, classic technology. It's like how cars still use combustion engines " it's because they work."
Barry Ackroyd also employed 16mm film cameras for the scenes focusing on the Somali pirates. 'I thought the grain and texture of 16mm would work well for us, and it does " but the real reason I wanted to do it was because in a 16mm format, I could choose a 12:1 zoom," he explains. 'With the 12:1 zoom, I could get a wide shot inside the skiff with the four Somalis, or I could frame each one individually or as groups. And I could use the same lens to zoom into the bridge of the container ship and find Captain Phillips on the bridge with binoculars, or someone running along the deck, and I'd be able to link the two shots, moving fluidly from one to the other." Then there was the film's cramped lifeboat, into which Richard Phillips descends alone with his four captors. The production used several replicas of the Alabama's 28-foot-long lifeboat, all equally uncomfortable.
'That kind of lifeboat drives like a bowl of spaghetti," explains marine coordinator Daniel Franey Malone. 'It's all over the map. It's top-heavy and it doesn't take much to rock it around. And it's incredibly difficult to shoot in." Paul Greengrass and Barry Ackroyd say that the lifeboat was among the most unforgiving shooting environments they have ever experienced. 'The lifeboat is incredibly cramped," says the director. 'Intense heat. Intense seasickness. The thing's tipping on every axis. We had to pull people out at regular intervals."
Barry Ackroyd operated the camera himself in the lifeboat, as he did in most scenes, putting his body on the line for the film. But he doesn't mind the struggle " in fact, he relishes it. 'That's how I know I'm alive!" he says. 'All of the physical things, the aches and pains… I like the struggle, or the sense of struggle. If things become easier, I feel that maybe we're not achieving what we could achieve. If there's not a struggle, I don't feel satisfied." 'Barry Ackroyd had incredible guts and courage," says Paul Greengrass. 'Squinting through that lens, he was constantly seasick " but you wouldn't know it watching the movie. How he kept the image as stable and coherent as it is, I have no idea." Further articulating the look and feel of Captain Phillips is the work of production designer Paul Kirby, who had worked with Paul Greengrass and Barry Ackroyd on Green Zone.
'Paul Kirby's design on this film was supposed to be -invisible.' He provided an environment for the actors to perform in, and for Barry Ackroyd to shoot in, that was as close to the real world as could be achieved," says Gregory Goodman. 'But the -invisible' style is extraordinarily difficult. The audience knows when it sees something phony, even if they can't put their finger on it. On top of that, Paul Kirby faced immense logistical issues " not least of which was finding, designing, and building a Somali village that would kick off the movie. He did that and then some " he made it seamless with the rest of the film." Paul Greengrass tasked Paul Kirby with designing four different worlds for the film: the Somali village, the container ship, the lifeboat, and the Navy vessel. 'I tried to design sets that would seamlessly join the real world and the imagined world," Paul Kirby explains. He adds, 'In this film, we go from expansive " the enormous container ship from high above, so high that it looks like a dot in the middle of the sea " to increasingly claustrophobic, until we're focused on Tom Hanks' eyes as he thinks his life is about to end in a 25-foot lifeboat, with the force of the U.S. Navy bearing down on it," says Paul Kirby.
'We wanted the audience to feel that journey " into Captain Phillips' soul, really. Even if they're not conscious of it, they'll feel it and remember it the following day. And I hope it stays with them." Another challenge for Paul Kirby was designing the fishing skiffs the Somali pirates use in the attack on the Alabama. 'The skiffs had to look like Somali village boats, but had to be completely seaworthy and secure for the cast in every respect, even under very rough conditions," says Paul Kirby. Inside the boat, Paul Kirby and the stunt team outfitted the skiff with straps and footholds designed to help the actors as they maneuverer on the boat in the swells. He also exaggerated the prow of the boats, a subtle way of heightening the tension. 'We wanted the pirate skiff to look and feel like a weapon as it cut through the water."
Costume designer Mark Bridges, an Academy Award®-winner for The Artist, began his work by conducting a formidable amount of research, not only digging deeply into the original news accounts of the hijacking, but exploring both the Somali and American seafaring traditions. He wanted clothing that would achieve the verisimilitude that Paul Greengrass sought. Eyl, the Somali village we see in the beginning of the film, is traditionally a fishing port; men there typically wear shorts or rolled-up pants that keep their ankles free, and a specific kind of sandal. Mark Bridges and his team created twelve copies of the costumes for each of the pirates.
'It took a month to distress all the sandals, shorts, shirts, and jackets of each costume to the proper level of wear," he explains. During production, Mark Bridges and his staff had to be in a constant state of vigilance, or their month of work would be literally washed away. 'We underestimated the strength of the seawater; it took out much of the dirt and distressing that we had thought was permanently on the clothes. I could see it. I'd walk by a costume and I'd stop short: -That's changed colour. Let's get it back to the shop.' We had kept four perfect, undistressed costumes for each of the pirates; we were going to use them after Malta to shoot the first scene in the film (in the Somali village), and those were useful as a point of reference as we refreshed the costumes that lost their wear and tear." 'For the Maersk crew's costumes, we interviewed Richard Phillips and Maersk officials, determining what Phillips wore on his arrival at port vs. what he would wear after embarking," recalls Mark Bridges.
When we first see Phillips as he takes command of the Alabama, he's in his captain's uniform (the same merchant marine uniform, displaying rank, that Phillips would have worn). Research into Maersk-issued clothing from the period, in 2009, revealed a technical but critical issue: the Maersk jumpsuits had recently changed from the all-cotton blend the Alabama crew wore in 2009 to a poly-cotton blend " a meaningful distinction because poly-cotton does not age well, making it difficult to give the uniforms the worn look that the period required. 'We were lucky to find a contact at Maersk with some old cotton stock. The boiler suits from the period were made of cotton, which breaks down well, allowing us to give the costumes a real, lived-in feel that was authentic to the work wear on the ship at that time."
Paul Greengrass's work with his editor, co-producer, and longtime collaborator Christopher Rouse, A.C.E. started well before a single frame was shot, while the director was working with screenwriter Billy Ray in shaping the screenplay. An Academy Award®-winner for his work on The Bourne Ultimatum, Christopher Rouse says, 'Paul Greengrass and I spent more time together during the script development and preproduction processes on Captain Phillips than we ever had before. We had regular story sessions as the screenplay evolved; we spent months talking about every aspect of every scene in the film. For the action scenes we create storyboards and animatics, so that Paul Greengrass has pre-visualised sequences heading into production. But otherwise our process is the same, whether a particular scene is an action sequence, or a dialogue-driven sequence," Christopher Rouse says.
'It's not just about the kinetics of an action sequence " we analyse how action supports story and character as well. We get into the integral details: who the characters are, what the characters are about, what their agendas are, what their obstacles are. Once he went out to shoot, Paul Greengrass had vetted the piece very thoroughly over the course of several months. He was able to probe the piece on every level " examine and reexamine it " and a lot of problems that might have arisen during shooting were solved before the cameras even rolled." As an example, Christopher Rouse cites the structure of the first act of the film, which balances the perspectives of Phillips and Muse. It was important to Paul Greengrass to intertwine Phillips' and Muse's stories, Christopher Rouse says: 'The film portrays each man as a casualty of circumstance. It was key to achieve appropriate balance between the perspectives of the two characters, and it took a lot of back and forth between Paul, Billy, and me to get it just right."
Screenwriter Billy Ray adds, 'It was important to all of us not to let Muse devolve into a caricature of a villain; despite Muse's aggression and potential for violence, Paul never stopped pushing to give him moments of real vulnerability."
Paul Greengrass had this to add about his process " from the script, to the set, to the editing room: 'Billy envisioned the fundamental markers of the film: the characters, the narrative, the sense of the set pieces " he conveyed the essence of it. But at a certain point we had to go off to sea to shoot, and get the actors involved. Shooting at sea, on real ships, re-enacting the event as closely as we could, lent the film a sense of immediacy that we couldn't have prepared. I like to shoot material at length, because then you get the unplanned moments, and you get people to inhabit the story as a reality,"
Paul Greengrass adds. 'It's not just a movie, it's something really happening in front of them " and that's when you get that sense of urgency, that sense of excitement. And then Christopher Rouse can take the material I shoot and create the right tempo, balance the points of view, make sure that Phillips stays at the center of the story . . . he creates the template that pulls it all together. The relationship between a screenplay and a shoot and a cut is the magic of film." Having worked with Paul Greengrass on United 93, Green Zone, and the Bourne films, Rouse has become accustomed to intuiting the constant movements of Paul Greengrass's camera, and creating from those movements an engrossing editorial rhythm; that played a big role in the architecture of Captain Phillips.
'Paul Greengrass and Barry's style of moving the camera instantly provides a scene with emotion and rawness," Christopher Rouse says. 'The moving camera creates tension, gives great dynamics to action sequences, and also supports the way Paul works with actors, infusing his sometimes improvised scenes with visual immediacy. Editorially, I embrace the camera movement as another rhythmic element in the scene, attempting to feel and shape it from cut to cut as I would the rhythms of dialogue. In terms of pacing, Paul and I don't talk about specifics much. If I've anchored myself properly in story, character, and theme, it all flows naturally."
In the editing room, Christopher Rouse and Paul Greengrass were able to continually ramp up the film's tension, despite the fact that the action keeps getting compressed into tighter and tighter spaces. 'It's inherently tense " the power of the U.S. Navy is bearing down on this tiny lifeboat in the middle of the ocean," Christopher Rouse says.
'We spent a lot of time with these scenes, both on the page and in the editing room. In particular, the climactic sequence at the end of the film, that culminates in the SEAL snipers taking their shots, took months to work out." Christopher Rouse explains in more detail: 'In the final reel, the action is reaching a peak: the lifeboat has just been hammered by waves from the enormous warships, putting Phillips and the pirates on a razor's edge, while at the same time, the SEAL Commander is trying to assess line of sight for his shooters, and to manipulate Najee into letting the Bainbridge pull the lifeboat into closer range. In the midst of all this, the scene hits an emotional pitch, as Phillips comes to believe the standoff is reaching its crisis point and that he's going to die " and decides to write a letter to his family as a result.
'This was a tricky construct, because several threads had to be knitted together. We'd built to this point over the entire movie, and so the question became, how do we bring all of the converging elements together to create a powerful, exciting climax, but still retain the deeper, more nuanced, characterful, and thematic aspects of the piece? 'Paul Greengrass wanted Phillips desperate and active through this sequence, to build the emotion in the strongest way possible to Phillips' writing of the letter. My goal was to keep Phillips at the center of events, milking each moment of Tom Hank's performance (realising the lifeboat was coming in range of the snipers, seeing the pen, deciding to write the letter, clocking Najee, grabbing the pen, then searching for paper). At the same time, I balanced those moments against everything else that was occurring " keeping all the characters present for the audience through the sequence: the SEAL Commander surveying the snipers' shifting lines of sight from the Bainbridge fantail, Najee arguing with Elmi and the SEAL Commander, Bilal starting to realise that Phillips' letter-writing portended something significant.
'During all of this, it was crucial to show the enormous scale and scope of the warship maneuvers, and, just as importantly, their effect on the characters " in particular Phillips, who realises that the Navy is bringing the situation to a head, and decides to write the letter as a result. We also had to convey that the SEAL Commander has sold Najee a bill of goods [i.e., allowing the Navy to reel him within sniper range] " a bill of goods which, once accepted, sends the sequence into its endgame. Finally, I tried to build a small crescendo culminating in several back to back actions: Najee acceding to the SEAL Commander, Phillips successfully getting pen and paper, and the tow rope starting to be reeled in.
'We were trying to get the balance right. It wasn't an easy proposition but I think we were able to do that " to ratchet up the tension while staying honest to the deeper dramatic elements that underpin the sequence." As the film intensified, layer by layer, to its ultimate catharsis, Paul Greengrass felt he and Rouse were in perfect synchrony.
'Chris did an incredible job," Paul Greengrass says. 'The sense of excitement he cultivated and the way he has brought out the characters make it a beautiful piece of editorial work." For Christopher Rouse, as for all of Paul Greengrass's collaborators, it's the director's ability to juggle disparate elements " moments of private emotion, grand-scale global realities, and cinematic suspense " that creates a unique, powerful, humanist brand of filmmaking all Paul Greengrass's own. 'Paul Greengrassis an absolute master of capturing deeply intimate aspects of characters who are journeying through richly thematic territory," the editor and co-producer observes. 'I think that ability is a product of Paul Greengrass's worldview, his exceptionally literate background, fused with a powerful journalistic sensibility, his great dramatic instincts, and his enormous heart. All of those aspects are front and center in this material. Our job is to help them be felt and understood."
Release Date: October 24th, 2013