‘Pirates 5’ Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg on Crafting Jack’s Backstory

     May 29, 2017


From directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth installment in the hugely popular Pirates film franchise that blends fantasy, humor and action into a new tale involving Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). This time around, the down on his luck captain is being pursued by the terrifying Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who is hell bent on killing Jack, and his only hope of survival is teaming up with a brilliant astronomer named Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) and a young sailor named Henry (Brenton Thwaites) to recover the legendary Trident of Poseidon.

At the film’s press day, the Norwegian directing team of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg talked about how making this movie was a dream come true, finding the right balance for the complex tone, making sure every character got the right amount of screen time, the most challenging set piece, whether there was anything they had to compromise with each other on, getting Sir Paul McCartney for a cameo, the comedic genius of Johnny Depp, and their hope that there will be more Pirates films.


Image via Disney

Question: How exciting was it to do this movie?

JOACHIM RONNING: On a scale? Of course, it’s a dream come true, for sure! We grew up together and we’ve been making films together since we were 10 years old. Watching Hollywood family adventure movies and very much being inspired by those movies – [Robert] Zemeckis, [Steven] Spielberg and [George] Lucas films – made us want to become filmmakers, in the first place. I think it’s very much in our blood. Also, we’re fans of the franchise and loving the characters of Jack Sparrow and Barbossa. Going into this, it was important to analyze why we love it so much. We went back to the first movie in the franchise and tried to analyze what makes it what it is, and I think it’s a combination of things. It’s the spectacle and the adventure, it’s very funny, it’s great comedy, it’s scary with great scares, and most of all, it’s got heart. I think it’s that mix of elements that’s a huge part of the attraction for us, at least.

You’ve said that you wanted this movie to feel like a ride, and it is inspired by a theme park ride. What was the process of taking audiences on this journey like?

ESPEN SANDBERG: I think it’s about the unique mix that this franchise has, with the spectacle, the action, the humor and the heart, and you need to make that balance right. It’s quite complex to hit that tone. For us, it was very important to make it really funny, and we worked hard on the physical aspect of that. Johnny is great, and the other characters have great lines, but we also wanted every action piece to be fun and to have a story. To make everything work, you need great character arcs and you need an emotional connection, so we wanted to give all the characters an emotional journey that was interesting for the audience. And of course, you want to always surprise people, so that they don’t know what’s around the next turn.

How did you make sure that everyone had the right amount of screen time? Was that part of the script, or was that something that you guys did?


Image via Disney

SANDBERG: That was definitely part of the script, but that was also what we did when we developed the script, after we got on the project. It is important, and we did analyze the first movie because of that. One of the things that’s interesting is that you have this young couple that are the leads and that are driving the story, and they have an arc. It’s a serious, if fantastical, pirate story, and then Jack Sparrow crashes the party and weird things happen, but he doesn’t have an arc. He’s the spice of the story. 

RONNING: He learns nothing!

SANDBERG: But we wanted to give something to the audience anyways, so we created this backstory about how Jack becomes Jack the Sparrow, and in that, we also tied in Salazar to make sure that we had a villain and a conflict that was personal. That was also a way to get the balance right. 

Of all the big set pieces, which one did you find the most challenging?

RONNING: Yes, there are a lot. Especially since it’s a period movie, you can’t really point the camera anywhere without building something or putting up a blue screen. For us, the most fun and the one that we are the most proud of is the scene where Jack Sparrow is strapped to a guillotine. That was never in the script, which is a brilliant script by Jeff Nathanson. There was an action sequence, but there weren’t those kind of gangs that we wanted. The old Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin movies, and that kind of physical humor, inspired the character of Jack Sparrow. Gore Verbinski did it brilliantly in some of the first movies in the series, and we wanted to get back to that. That’s part of making a big movie like this. You dream up something, and then six months later, they’ve built this thing. They spend millions of dollars, and then you get Johnny Depp and strap him in there. It’s fun!

SANDBERG: You just pray that he doesn’t get sick. 

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