Director Peter Berg on Aliens, Rihanna & the Marketing Of ‘Battleship’

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battleship international trailer taylor kitsch Director Peter Berg on Aliens, Rihanna & the Marketing Of Battleship

Battleship - the film based on the Hasbro board-game – opens in theaters in just two months, and the marketing team at Universal is endeavoring to clarify the film’s tone and appeal in the public sphere. Director Peter Berg and female lead Brooklyn Decker were on hand at WonderCon this weekend to screen some of the footage and interact with the fans.

We had the opportunity to sit down with both Decker and Berg (stay tuned for our conversation with the former) to discuss some of the continued misconceptions about the project, what they are hoping to achieve with it, the inherent marketing challenges involved in a film such as this one, and the very first film based on a board game that Berg made (hint: he was fourteen at the time).

Screen Rant: Were aliens already a part of the story when you came on board?

Peter Berg: “I had tried to do a nautical film for a long time. I wanted to do a movie about John Paul Jones, founder of the American Navy. He’s a great, Scottish, alcoholic, womanizing, tough bastard who George Washington hired when we needed a Navy. He went out and started fighting all these English ships and sinking them and he was a total stud. I was going to do that movie at Fox and then ‘Master and Commander’ came out so it kind of killed that. And then I wanted to do a film about the Indianapolis. Robert Shaw tells the story of it in ‘Jaws’. That ended up with everybody getting eaten by sharks. It was very intense and real and it would be a great film, the sinking of it was brutal. Couldn’t get that going. Then I tried the story of the Essex, a book called ‘In The Heart of the Sea’ which ended in cannibalism – which is kind of hard to sell studios on [laughs]. And then about two years ago my partner and I were kind of figuring out what we wanted to do and we kind of looked at where movies are today and I really think that if you look at what guys like Jim Cameron, Jon Faverau, J.J. Abrams, Gore Verbinski or Michael Bay are doing, these guys are making films that I call “Super Movies.” They’re going out and they’re having this incredible global reach, they’re taking audiences places that they’ve never been able to go. In 20 or 30 years they’re going to look back at this time of big ‘Super Movies’ that have huge special effects components that are fun, that are global and I wanted to make one.”

Could you do that without the aliens, though? Could you do it as just a straight Naval film?

PB: “I don’t really think so. Having read those books and studied Naval warfare as much as much as I have, there’s very little fun about men dying out at sea. You get burned, you get shredded by metal, you get decapitated, if you live you get eaten by sharks or you end up drifting for years until you eat your friend, it’s rough. And I thought that the alien component, if I did it well and weathered the storm of, ‘Oh my god, it’s gonna be this movie or that movie,’ I thought we could find our own original way of doing it and I think we have. And I feel like it opens the film up in the way that we wanted it to be open.”

battleship movie featurette Director Peter Berg on Aliens, Rihanna & the Marketing Of Battleship

Can you talk about the marketing of the film? As you said, you’ll inevitably come up against a negative response (because it’s a board-game adaptation) how do you navigate around that?

PB: “I think it comes with the territory. Look we announced that we were making ‘Battleship’ based on the Hasbro game, which as we all know consists of seemingly strategy devoid lunacy. And we had Rihanna in it as our star, and we were out of our fucking minds. That was the initial reaction. Then people started to realize that there actually is a story, and it has been one of the bigger creative challenges of my life. You know, Rihanna is part of an ensemble and she is actually quite a good actress, as was Whitney (Houston), and Lenny Kravitz, and Mariah Carey, and Frank Sinatra, and Mick Jagger and David Bowie, and Barbara Streisand, and Tim McGraw, and lots of them. So the whole idea of, ‘Oh my God, this is the most shocking and outrageous thing and how dare they put Rihanna in this film!’ that all started falling away. I always follow my own instincts when I make films. I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, since I was in high school. The first movie I ever made was about two guys playing the board game: Stratego. Remember that game Stratego? One guy bumped another guy’s head and he went into a hallucination that the game is coming to life. I made that when I was fourteen. I’ve been making movies for a long time. And I don’t think there is a director that you will talk to whether it’s Ridley (Scott), or anyone here that wont tell you that  have to ignore (the skepticism) to make a film. You’re basically setting out to do the impossible, which is make people believe in something that is not real. There will always be doubters and I’ve enjoyed watching most of those skeptics start to turn around and sing a different tune.”

On the heels of that marketing question. Taylor Kitsch is the lead in the film. Does the fact that John Carter wasn’t the success that they were hoping for concern you in terms of the selling power of his name, or is the film such an ensemble piece that it really doesn’t matter?

PB: “No not even in the slightest. I’m not even remotely concerned. ‘John Carter’ if anything suffered from marketing challenges and that is very common. The way in which a film looses its ability to find an audience is very complicated. You know, Hollywood is not stupid, contrary to popular belief; it’s really a lot of intelligent people trying to figure things out. They had some bad things happen on that film, and some régime changes.”

Are there lessons that you can learn from that going in to marketing on your film?

PB: “I think you have to really listen to your audience when you’re talking about marketing a film, which is different than making a film. But when you are marketing a film and you’ve invested as much as some of these films that you’ve looked at today, there is a responsibility on the part of these guys to really kind of listen to what the world is saying. The tricky thing now is, because of what you guys are able to do with these (digital recorders), is that it’s much harder to figure out who to talk to and how to adjust the message. How do you get a new message out if you need to? But for us, I love Taylor. I know him very, very well. He’s like my stupid little brother, who I adore. And I’m his asshole big brother that he wants to kill half the time. He’s a great actor. He’s very funny and charming in this film. I don’t even think about it. I just hope ‘John Carter’ makes some money back overseas.”

Battleship Taylor Kitsch Director Peter Berg on Aliens, Rihanna & the Marketing Of Battleship

Taylor Kitsch in a scene from 'Battleship'

Is Battleship itself really the star of the film in a sense?

PB: “‘Battleship’ has a lot of different elements. Brooklyn is a huge part of the film that has nothing to do with ships. She’s on land fighting for her life with a double amputee, a real double amputee named Greg Gadson by the way. It’s this crazy duo — Brooklyn plays a physical therapist and he is this (real) wounded warrior from the military. To me, that’s a huge part of the film. What’s happening on the sea is a huge part of the film; the global reaction is a huge part of the film. Obama’s a character in the movie; his reaction is a part of it. I think the totality of the experience is bigger than any one actor.”

Stay tuned for our continued coverage of Battleship as we move towards its release in theaters on May 18th.

Follow me on twitter @JRothC

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  1. “Obama’s a character in the movie; his reaction is a part of it.”

    P*ssing himself would be my guess.

    Can’t wait for this movie.

    • LOL. Good one.

    • It’d be awesome if they showed the president reading a childrens book in front of a class of kindergaten students. Then one of his cabinet members whispers into his ear that we are being attacked, and he just sits there with a blank stare on his face. Oh wait… that already happened in real life.

      • @jay

        Yah, we all know the correct thing to do is to run around screaming bloody murder panicking everyone in the room like they did in Scary Movie… That movie has such great satire, little did you know that was the correct thing to do…

    • Yeah, our presidents need more cowboy hats and six shooters.

      • @Mike

        No, but I do believe that one requirement for anyone to be a president is that they must have been a colonel or higher in the military. I think all of our best presidents have been military Colonels or Generals…

        Teddy Roosevelt, George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower… etc. etc. The rest have been such wusses or so easily abuse their powers, especially those who have no military background at all, weak sauce…

        • Yeah Abraham Lincoln was a terrible president. Oh wait… he helped free the slaves AND as it turns out, also hunted Vampires!

  2. Wait a minute, Peter Berg WANTED to make a piece of s*** “SuperMovie.”

  3. I want this movie to fail

  4. I can’t even begin to express how much I this movie is gonna suck. Seriously, they should change the title to Hoover.

  5. anyone else think the actual aliens look like the nano suit soldiers from the game series crysis ?

    this to me looks like transformers on water, i mean you even have a giant skyscraper collapsing and a massive navy ship getting attacked, i really wouldn’t be surprised if they used footage from the tf movies for this. i’ll probably watch this strictly for the visuals since the rating implies no proper action (akin to the trash alien movies of recent).

    • If Bay was involved, I’m sure most of the footage would just be recycled from his previous films, Transformers included.

      • universal and hasbro and involved with both movies, so i wouldn’t be surprised if they did use footage from tf in this, with that being said a $200 million budget implies that everything is freshly filmed.

  6. I want to jump on the Battleship hatred bandwagon, I really do…but I can’t. I’ve been a fan of Peter Berg for too long. I loved most of his movies. If someone is going to pull off a “Super Movie” for once, it’ll be him. Not that my expectations are too high (actually, pretty low), but he’s convinced me enough to buy a ticket.

    Speaking of John Carter, I haven’t seen it, but heard that its failure is truly due to marketing. Is that true? Do the previews not do it justice? Should I go see it?

    • I really liked John Carter. It had action and humor. Pretty good mix if you ask me…

    • I couldn’t agree more. I love Peter Berg movies. Very Bad Things, The Kingdom, Hancock, and the Rundown are all enetertaining films and completely different from one another. That alone will make me want to see this. I actually was hoping that he would have been the choice for GI Joe Retaliation. Thought he would have been perfect for it. That movie looks to be shaping up pretty well tho, so maybe we’ll get lucky and get two fun blockbusters this summer.

  7. For the last time stop bashing on a very exciting looking summer blockbuster before it even comes out…..this is not the Descendants.
    -Thank you for your time-

    • thank you. i agree. just wait to bash it AFTER you have seen it. i am looking foward to all the summer stuff for its summer feel of mindlessness. i turn on my brain in late oct for the oscar stuff.

  8. transformers are living robots. these are alien vessels controlled by humanoid aliens. so how are they the same as transformers? they aren’t.

    @thecool, why do u want this to fail? is it competing against a movie you’re releasing the same weekend?
    @the rest of you haters, whats the problem? jeez. peter berg has proven himself a pretty competent film maker, and i hope this turns out to be the blockbuster I’m almost sure it will be, and i say almost ’cause, you know, it could turn out to be awful, but I’m optimistic.

    • Nope just after watching TF 2 & 3 I think all movies like it should fail. But ill admit I didn’t know the director did The Kingdom. I liked that movie

  9. Peter Berg directed three very good movies (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, and The Rundown), so it’s established that he can handle drama, comedy, and intense action sequences.

    Sadly, he’s also responsible for the poorly titled Hancock (formerly poorly titled ‘Tonight, He Comes’), so he has the capacity to channel his inner Michael Bay when left unchecked. This guy is better than this, and I’m worried that with Battleship and Hancock 2 on the horizon, he may have pulled a Ratner and may never be able to redeem his good name again

    Pete, my man…I wish you all the luck, but there is nothing about this trailer that I haven’t seen in the Transformers trilogy.

    My kid gave me the old “it’s a rental” look when he caught the trailer, and he’s never wrong about these things.

  10. Ha, ask Berg a couple easy questions and everything he ever thought since he was 6 spills out like a bucket of spaghetti on the floor.

    His main goal here wasnt to work with a story he liked from the get go, but like that kid who knows he wants a muscle car real bad goes out and grabs a rusty 75 Nova thinkin no one can tell it aint a Chevelle. Close enough! lol. I can see the bondo on this movie a mile away.

    But hey, I like Berg, even though I cant remember what he did except the main character in that weird movie with the guy that got put in the electric chair and comes back as a bald ghost in an orange jumpsuit or something. Probably got the VHS tape in a box upstairs still.

    I hope it does well though, maybe he can reboot Stratego and throw some aliens and hookers in there kinda like Duke Nukem. Maybe a Chutes and Ladders with prison gangs, I mean why not, look what Bay did with an Erector set.

  11. This film in my mind is shaping up to be similar to 2012. 2012, in my opinion, was a very good, watchable movie. It had shock value and breath-taking special effects. They did the best they could with the flimsy plot and basic premise of 2012 which can be summed up in one sentence: The Mayan “doomsday” prediction comes true in that the Earth’s tectonic plates shift. I understand going in that Battleship in no way attempts to be an Oscar-winning movie. Just an enjoyable popcorn flick. I knew Transformers and 2012 would be mindless entertainment/eye candy and guess what – that’s exactly what I was in the mood for when I paid for my ticket. I’ll be paying to watch Battleship when it comes out in theaters.

  12. John Paul Jones was not THE founder of the American Navy, he was perhaps, A founder. Certainly Abraham Whipple from Rhode Island certainly preceded him when RI became the first colony to renounce the British King and the colony established a colonial navy with Abraham Whipple in command of the sloop Katy. John Paul Jones was certainly major figure of the early American Navy and arguably the most famous of them, but certainly not THE founder Mr. Berg.

  13. Unforunately, this film has been marketing to look like Transformer. And, I’m sure it isn’t, more like I hope it isn’t. I just get the sense that Pete Berg is looking at this film as his way of jumping on the “Super Movie” bandwagon. I’d of more respect if he was original, directed an old fashioned battleship movie, character driven, drama like and action all together, very little use of CGI, kinda like during the World War II era or something. and have the classic line “battleship sunk…”

    But that’s just me.

    • Guess what?….It’s not, this is a summer blockbuster movie, not Saving Private Ryan on water.

  14. I do wonder how many of the moving going public realise this movie is based on the board game. None is my guess. Any brand loyalty they were going for by making this movie is wasted IMHO.

    • What brand???