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.”
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.”
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.
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