The scribes talk about writing commercial films, creating Davy Jones, and what to expect from the next film, At Worlds End
When you've written some of the most successful films to ever grace the silver screen, you would think that that would be enough of an accomplishment. Well, screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot recently added another feather to their cap when the movie they wrote, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, bested Spider-Man for the best opening weekend box office. In creating a sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the writers took the now iconic characters of Captain Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann to new heights. We recently caught up with them on the release day of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
Did you guys have any idea, when you were writing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, that it was going to take the best first weekend title from Spider-Man?
Ted Elliot: No. (Laughs) Eventually some movie had to overtake that record, but I think most people assumed that it would be by a couple of million dollars. So it wasn't just that we made the record, but there's much more money out there than anybody knew! Really?
Terry Rossio: One of the strangest things about working on any film, we've been involved with a number of films that have had commercial success, when you're working on the film you're pretty much convinced that you're involved in an absolute disaster. Whether it turns out to be massive hit or not, at the time you're working on them they feel like trainwrecks.
Even though you guys have had the success you've had?
Terry Rossio: In a sense that just sets the bar high. In fact, if you just repeat yourself it's a recipe for failure because it's the same thing over again, but it does help that you've done something in the past.
Ted Elliot: Also, movies, they're so complex. They're more akin to an emerging phenomenon than something... you cannot start out by saying, "This is what it's gonna be exactly" and necessarily get there. There's so much between those two points. It really comes down to, even if you're doing sequels, every single movie is a one off. Every single movie you have to kind of reimagine... up until it's in front of an audience, it's just a theory of what will work. Not until it's in front of the audience do you know if it actually works or not.
Why do you think that the public is so fascinated with the Pirates franchise?
Ted Elliot: Part of it is that there's just an underlying fascination for this concept of... it's the great Bob Dylan line, "To live outside the law you must be an honest man." That idea of you have to be willing to accept the fact that, "Yeah, I'm living outside the law," and I think there is a fascination with this concept. Sort of the outlaw mentality, but that's particularly strong with Pirates. Also, it's a different period, that we had not seen on film in a long, long, long time. Then you have to give credit to our cast for really bringing these characters to life in just such a vivid way.
Terry Rossio: I think it's the writing. How do we account for the popularity? One aspect is, I think it's the world that's been created which is such a tribute to all the filmmakers, cast, art design... writing, direction, set and construction. I think there's a sense that the world of Pirates of the Caribbean is a fantasy world, so fantastic things can happen, it's a dramatic world, it's visually appealing. As a moviegoing experience it creates an environment where you see such amazing things you can certainly showcase CGI. I think the answer to the question is that there's so many aspects of it that come together.
For me, relevant to other movies that are being put out into the marketplace, in particular with Pirates of the Caribbean, I think that audiences sense that these filmmakers went out and actually made these movies. It's kinda like the old days. I think you get a lot of credit for that in the marketplace. People go, "Okay Pirates, that's not just some soundstage somewhere and some greenscreen." There's wheels rolling down hillsides, there's actual ships, and it looks like they're having a good time. I think that draws people in, maybe to a greater degree, than other films.
How involved are you guys in terms of how certain characters look? Lets take Davy Jones, is what we're seeing on screen how that was written in the script?
Ted Elliot: That came from, the story basis was of course these characters spent a lot of time underwater. One of the earliest ideas we had, it actually didn't make it into the movie, was you're looking out at sea and you see the waves are breaking, and the breaking waves themselves become the ship. It became just too impossible to realize that particular idea. That was the basis to, you have Davy Jones, Davy Jones locker, and what do those guys look like? I think it was Gore (Verbinksi) who said, "What if there are like trillions of sea creatures?"
Terry Rossio: I think the conceptual artist did variations of what the characters could look like. Again, it's a confluence of people, but I want to say that it was the conceptual artist who came up with the squid as beard idea.
Ted Elliot: Once you get a squid as beard you start saying, "What can you do with a squid as a beard?" (Laughs)
With Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End coming so soon after the second one, how does that effect the story or does that not effect the story?
Ted Elliot: We actually worked out the stories for both of them at the same time before we started writing the actual scripts; the dramatization of the story. The story work's been done. You go back and you revisit things and you learn things from the first film, we learned things from Dead Man's Chest that are reflected in At Worlds End. In terms of just the work involved for the writers, it's really always the same work. Which is, okay we gotta have something that Gore can direct, and that the actors can perform, and that can be shot in this number of days...
Terry Rossio: I think the real challenge for everybody was shooting two films at once. It was really hard to shift gears. As you know films are shot out of order. On one day you could be shooting the middle of Dead Man's Chest, and then the following day maybe something in Act Three of At Worlds End. At one point, it's hard to figure out exactly what happened but, it might have been our fault, some scene numbers got disarranged and there was a certain amount of shooting done with Keira in the wrong costume; because the scene number wasn't right. Just a minor thing like that... it can get crazy just trying to keep all the details straight. Whether it's costumes or on the set, "Is this scene after the deck railing has been blown away or before?" All that stuff has to be right, it was crazy, props, costumes, everything.
What can we expect from At Worlds End?
Terry Rossio: I think brilliant writing. One of the things that I think gives real power to At Worlds End is that it's the end of the trilogy. It may be the last that will ever see of Jack Sparrow and these characters. It's just strange to bring these stories to a conclusion. There's resolution for the different characters and to the storyline. That's pretty powerful.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is currently available at DVD stores everywhere from Walt Disney Video.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End opens in theaters everywhere May 25, 2007 from Walt Disney Pictures.
Dont't forget to also check out: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest