Opening this Friday from director Peter Berg is the game to screen film BATTLESHIP. Berg has quite the resume built up from actor, writer, director as well as producer. His film roles include FIRE IN THE SKY, SMOKING ACES and HANCOCK to name just a few.
His writing career brought about one of the most watched television shows FRIGHT NIGHT LIGHTS, which also brought him executive producer status. He also produces ten episodes of the series PRIME SUSPECT.
In the film BATTLESHIP Berg meshes two of his favorite things, which is naval history and aliens. He is also in post production on the film LONE SURVIVOR which is based on the mission OPERATION RED WING in 2005 in which four Navy Seals take on the task to find the Taliban leader Admad Shad.
I got the chance to speak with Peter about BATTLESHIP and what motivates him to bring a well-known toy together with aliens.
Thanks for talking with me today Peter.
Oh absolutely. I heard you talking that your son is in the military?
Yes, he just finished his tour in the Army and is coming home today.
Congratulations and please tell him I send my very best seriously I am so happy he is home and God bless him! Tell him Peter thanks him for everything and welcome home.
I will do that, thank you. Okay, I read you are interested in anything nautical, how does that translate into BATTLESHIP?
My dad was a Marine and a Navy historian and he use to take me to every Navy museum he could find. He made me read books on the great battles of World War II and the wars between the English and the German as well as the Americans and the Japanese. It made me understand the courage and honor among these soldiers and the general badass heroism of any soldier. My dad was particularly obsessed with the Navy and how these guys would go out by themselves and how they came into these conflicts because there was no running away when the fight started, you were out there. So I always wanted to do a Navy story but most Navy stories are very violent, brutal and expensive and studios don’t want to pay for that. When the idea of BATTLESHIP came up I thought it was a great way to scratch the itch of wanting to do a Navy movie but doing it in a way where I could make it emotional because I didn’t want to shy away from that but also make it fun. I wanted to make it a summer movie that could touch people, pay respect to the soldiers and had the theme of honor, courage, brotherhood and all the things we associate with the military. Anyone in the military knows these aren’t just words, this is in the blood, this is how we live and how soldiers live. But I wanted it also to be fun so I put aliens in the movie and tried to put a few laughs in the film. It was a great way for me to make a big summer popcorn movie and get to spend time with some of my favorite people in the world and that’s United States Navy.
How did you incorporate the Hasbro game of BATTLESHIP into the film, how does that come about?
Well, we knew we were going to use the title BATTLESHIP and that we wanted to use the game. The challenge is that the game is five on five right? Basically if you and I are playing your trying to find me and kill me and I’m trying to find you to kill you. It starts out slow but as the game heats up there is nowhere to hide and you get nervous and then, you fight to the death. It’s actually a violent game if you think about it. It’s a violent heart pounding game in a way and that’s why it’s been around for 80 years and it’s going to be around for 80 more years and your great-grandkids will play it. I like that, then the challenge became who are the people on these ships and who are they fighting? That was all the creative challenge in that there were actual aspects of the board game that I liked and I also liked the fact that everybody knows BATTLESHIP. You just say BATTLESHIP and everyone immediately knows that game. That helps us in Hollywood because it helps to have a little brand awareness and that’s a good thing.
What did Hasbro think of the idea when you first brought it to them?
They loved it because they made so much money on TRANSFORMERS they were thinking yep, another one, let’s go! I mean they did TRANSFORMERS and G.I. JOE and now BATTLESHIP. They are very happy.
I thought it was interesting that you brought the Japanese and RIMPAC into the film. What made you decide to touch on that aspect of the storyline?
Because when I was at Pearl Harbor way before RIMPAC getting ready to go out on a ship for four days to do some research. I was on this ship and I was walking around on the helipad on the stern of the destroyer and I looked and there was a big American flag off the transom and right behind the American flag was a ship with a rising sun Japanese flag. So I was standing in Pearl Harbor seeing an American flag and a Japanese flag and there’s American sailors standing by. I finally said ‘excuse me, does anyone know there is a Japanese war ship there?’ They said ‘yes, that’s the Nataga and they are our friends.’ I said, ‘but there Japanese – in Pearl Harbor?’ and I quickly realized that yes we were friends with the Japanese and we share resources. The Japanese come to Pearl Harbor now as friends and I was so blow away by the site of the American and Japanese flags side by side peacefully in Pearl Harbor. I was thinking if you could wake my grandfather up and show him that today only God knows what he would think. I honestly thought that the fact that two countries who would go through what we went through and seventy odd years later we are friends? Anything can be forgiven! Its not trying to be heavy about it but it speaks to the power of forgiveness. Whenever something bad happens my Mom would always say ‘time, it all takes time’ and its true. So I wanted to put the Americans and Japanese fighting together as friends and when I saw it for real I was blown away by it.
When you bought the veterans in, again, what made you come up with that, how about we bring them in?
I believe that we could do more as Americans in our own backyard taking care of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents and I think that we don’t do a good enough job of staying close. You go to Italy and you have whole families living together, everyone lives in the same house. Its not like ‘oh damn, we’re having dinner with the parents’ kind of thing. They share wisdom and culture with each other. Particularly with veterans, we don’t pay them enough respect. I love veterans, I love hearing stories and taking the time to talk to them to hear their experiences. Your son is going to be a veteran very shortly and he’s got stories to tell, a lot of stories and a lot to offer people. I hope there are people who ask him. In ten years he’ll be able to talk about things and believe that that incredible experience he had someone cares about. I love bringing veterans in because its badass to hear about them. These guys are like 80 and 90 years old and have strong fists, clear eyes and a fire in their bellies. They were like all up and down the U.S.S. Missouri yelling and telling us how to fight with it and how to load guns and it was a chance to pay respect to them and also as a filmmaker it was just so cool. When they were all the premier in Hollywood people were cheering. I understand the military cheering but when you see Hollywood cheering for them then you know you’re onto something.
It is interesting watching these veterans on the U.S.S. Missouri not having the advantages of technology and really great for people to see how physical strength was necessary to do there jobs. To see all that is a history lesson in itself.
Absolutely. We spent so much time on the Missouri that the guys would take me around the ship and into these gun turrets that took 140 men to run one turret. There were three gun turrets and it was hot – like 130 degrees – they couldn’t hear anything they didn’t know what was happening. They were just loading those guns, unloading them, loading them again, and cleaning them. That’s real true grit, true grit.
I have to ask about the cast. Taylor Kitsch, he is action film material with that glint in his eye that says ‘bring it’. Is that why you chose him?
Yes, he’s like my little brother. I worked with him on “Friday Night Lights” and that was his first real bit of Hollywood. He and I just hit it off. It’s like when you look someone in the eye and say ‘I like this guy and I trust this guy and I’ll go into battle with him’. With this movie we’ve gone into battle. We are a close-knit group out in the middle of nowhere and we are under pressure and people can die on sets. There are dangerous things all over the place and you want to know that you’re going into something with people who have got your back. Also, when things get a little rough they aren’t just going to quit and Taylor I know I can trust.
Of course I have to ask about Mr. Badass himself…
Oh you mean Liam? <laughing> He’s the king! I wish I could have used him more. My only regret is that because of the way the movie was designed and he was on the outside of the dome we used him as we could. I love how Taylor has to work up the nerve to ask Liam Neeson for permission to marry his daughter right?
How do you ask the man who taken down wolves and the Albanian gangsters…
In TAKEN you see how much he loves his daughter right? <laughing>
Exactly. Though what made a few of us laugh is a part in the movie where he says to Taylor ‘you lack a certain set of skills’ because that is going to be his calling card forever. You don’t mess with the man!
I know right? I knew we weren’t going to be able to use Liam to his total potential but that was the obstacle Taylor is facing. I mean he’s too scared to ask the dude because everyone knows how it is to be scared of your girlfriends’ father. I mean really, who would be more terrifying than Liam? It’s hard to think of one. But the thing about Liam is that he’s such a sweet guy. He’s a poet and he loves his boys. He’s a stay at home Dad that likes to light a fire and have a glass of wine. He’s so sweet but when he turns it on – wow. When he would say my name <loudly> ‘PETER! PETER!’ I would kind of cringe.
You’re the director and you’ve just been yelled at by Liam Neeson!
Yes, I would think ‘oh no, he doesn’t sound happy’ but it wasn’t like that. He really is great.
What made you choose Rihanna?
I had really great luck with Tim McGraw in “Fright Night Lights” and I like mixing it up every once in a while. I think its cool to go to the movies and see someone you’ve never seen in a film. I was actually surprised that no one had ever approached her before. She has so much charisma and is just a really unique girl. I thought she’d be really interesting to have on the film. She added spice and she came in and said she wanted to act. She worked hard and that girl has something special.
It’s interesting that she was so willing to glam down. No hair and makeup, no glitz or glamour, just her in a cut off t-shirt wrestling very big guns.
Yes, that’s what makes having her on the film really unique and special.
Jesse Plemmons, another interesting choice. I happened to catch PAUL last night and his role as Jake. He comes across in BATTLESHIP as such a sweet and humble person yes?
Jesse at such a young age is measured, he’s a reader and a philosopher. He’s a very gentle spirit and funny as all get out. He doesn’t know how funny he is. He reminds me of Matt Damon’s little brother. Yes, he is a cool dude.
Now, the aliens, how difficult was it for you to conceive of the aliens. You wanted them to be different than what has come out of Hollywood. How did you conceive of them?
I love alien films and I always wanted to do an alien film, ever since I saw E.T. and ALIENS – the Ridley Scott film. For me, bringing aliens into BATTLESHIP helped me to make it less bloody, less human killing humans and less real so people could have a bit more fun with it. I wanted aliens that were somewhat human like. My take on aliens is if they are out there they probably come from a planet somewhat similar to ours and have some of the characteristics that you or I have. The basic thesis of what the aliens would look like is humanoid and then work with some really talented designers who come up with those specifics.
Did you do some of the designing of the crafts and the shredders?
Yes, I did all that. The alien ships that they used is from water bugs and mesquites and how they float on the water. If you look at youtubes videos of those bugs they look really mean and they can leap sideways really fast. I said to the designers what if we use that as the core idea. They loved that and started building the mechanics and they put in hydration systems and all around stuff.
Nothing like hands on right?
Absolutely. This definitely has been an experience.
As it has been talking with Peter. I’d like to thank him for the kind wishes for my son Jason who will be seeing BATTLESHIP soon. If you are looking for a movie with lots of action, lots of brave soldiers, lots of mad aliens and lots of everything in between with your large tub of popcorn than BATTLESHIP is the film to see this weekend.
From Universal Pictures, Film 44 and Hasbro – see BATTLESHIP in theatres this Friday!