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The Finest Hours Interview: Producer Jim Whitaker Talks Authenticity

The story spoke to you…

Yes, it just spoke to me, right.

When you put the film together, or started shooting, were there any specific films you looked to as references or inspiration?

There are a lot of water movies you can look at, like The Perfect Storm and so forth.  But I wouldn’t say they drove us.  Again I come back to the story.  It’s a story about these guys.  We were just really focused on figuring out that part.  We weren’t worried about, it is like this, or are we going to make it like that. We where just like, how are we going to make this story as authentic as possible? And kind of not screw it up.  Does that make sense?

As far as this being a Disney movie, and the action, have you discussed what rating you’re going for?

Yes, it’ll be a PG rating.

There’s an epic nature to this film.  Are you aiming for a summer release, a big tent pole for Disney?

I think that’s been announced.  Right now it’s scheduled for April 15, 2016.  April is the new beginning of the summer. I should be clear.  It hasn’t been determined what the rating is going to be.  So I shouldn’t say…we’re in that range.  It’s definitely not an R rating.

Is the coast guard going to be involved in the promotion of the movie, or things like that? Of all the military, I would think it’s a coast guard recruiting thing, unsung heroes?

It’s rich in their history.  They love it.  They’ve been on board from the very beginning. Where we’ve had a need to have them as consultants on a specific level, we’ve had their involvement.  We’ll continue with that.

I don’t want to ask what your budget was, but can you give us a sense to the scale of the production, compared to other things that Disney is working on?

That’s a Disney question. (laughs) Alright…

We met Kyle and John, and saw the precision of their casting. It’s so well cast.

Yes, Craig has a great eye, a great precision about it.  Obviously there’s Casey Affleck, who’s great, has this wonderful character  that lives in the engine room.  And in living in the engine room, he has to emerge in a heroic way, by coming up on deck and seizing control of the Pendleton.  Michael Raymond James plays his antagonist, he’s very good.  There’s John Ortiz, who is excellent.  Kyle is terrific.  He’s a shy assistant to the cook, played by Abe Ben Rubi, a kind of larger than life character.  He’s the heart and soul of the Pendleton itself.  So there’s interesting, well drawn characters that have these little roles. John Stewart, he’s great, play’s Tchuda Sutherland.  The only person that can understand Tchuda on the boat is Casey.  He’s of Cajun descent, so his language is a little bit hard to get.  There’s a translation thing that goes on that’s very funny. Graham Mctavish is just great too.  I don’t know if you know Graham, he’s 6’5”, larger than life. He’s in The Hobbit.  He’s a dwarf in The Hobbit. (laughs) He play’s Fato(?). Fato had kind of been the Jonah.  He’d been on several boats, prior to the Pendleton that had almost met their demise.  So everybody on the ship, are like, what are you doing on this ship.  So when he tries to take control, the guys are like, you’ve not had a lot of  luck in this category, we’re not going to listen to you too much.  

Superstition?

 Yes, there’s a struggle that goes on there.

Does Casey Affleck play a guy from New England?

Yes, he was from slightly more southern Boston.  Casey is playing his normal cadence of accent.

I was wondering if he gave the other actors tips on the Boston accent.

No, no, they’re doing great actually.  We have a great dialect couch.  They have found it, or, one of the great characters is Maske.  He was just on his way, and had to stop over during the snowstorm. Because they didn’t have a lot of guys in the house, when they decided who to take out, he just raises his hand.  That’s what I signed up for, I guess I’ll go out.  And he got on the boat, of course not understanding the level of what he was dealing it.  You spoke to John.  Then all of a sudden he was thrown in the middle of it, but nobly got through it.  There are these great characters.  They are all very different and specific.  They have these great, contrasting relationships with each other.  

Are you going to play up the idea, we were told, that they were the B-team? Is there any of that underdog theme to them?

I think there is, but I would say it comes very organically.  It has to do with the two boats. The first boat goes down, so everybody, all of the A-team gets sent out.  They’re the underdogs because they’re left over.  They’re left behind.  Because they were put in the position of effectively a suicide mission, not everybody wanted to raise their hand.  The ones that did, were like Andy Fitzgerald, who was a third class engineer.  He only went, because Mel Guthrow, who was ahead of him as an engineer, was sick.  So Andy ended up signing up, then Maske, who was walking through the door, said I’ll go too.  And Levisey, who Ben Foster plays, was not all that happy about not being chosen for the first team.  So he’s a pretty capable guy, who’s left to be chosen with a bunch of guys, who he knows is lesser  in rank and ability.  That also causes tension with Bernie.  What’s great about Bernie is that he’s driving the boat, and has this great journey. It happens very organically. Scott Silver, Erick, and Paul, they wrote a draft that brings you to that place.  But it was the circumstances of the night.  It’s what happened.

Was there any concern that this is a very masculine movie. There are a lot of male characters. Men on the ships, that there wasn’t enough of a female presence in the movie?

Well, there is. In the sense that there’s one very strong female presence, which is Holiday Grainger, who plays Miriam. At a certain point in our development, we realized it was a rescue story. It was about Bernie coming to a place, and getting through it.  But on shore, it’s the story of a woman who’s eager to be married, but not yet there. She has to discover on land, what it would be like to be married to a guy who spends his life on the sea, putting his life at risk. It’s a movie about a rescue, but it’s also a movie about a marriage. I think that’s one of the great things about it. It has this center with real masculine qualities, but it also has this love story that surrounds it. It’s about that, as much as it is about the rescue.  

More: Ben Foster Interview for The Finest Hours

A heroic action-thriller, “The Finest Hours” is the remarkable true story of the most daring rescue mission in the history of the Coast Guard. Presented in Digital 3D, Real D 3D and IMAX® 3D, the film will transport audiences to the heart of the action, creating a fully-immersive cinematic experience on an epic scale. On February 18, 1952, a massive nor’easter struck New England, pummeling towns along the Eastern seaboard and wreaking havoc on the ships caught in its deadly path, including the SS Pendleton, a T-2 oil tanker bound for Boston, which was literally ripped in half, trapping more than 30 sailors inside its rapidly-sinking stern. As the senior officer on board, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) soon realizes it is up to him to take charge of the frightened crew and inspire the men to set aside their differences and work together to ride out one of the worst storms to ever hit the East Coast. Meanwhile, as word of the disaster reaches the U.S. Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts, Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) orders a daring operation to rescue the stranded men. Despite overwhelming odds, four men, led by Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), set out in a wooden lifeboat with an ill-equipped engine and little, if any, means of navigation, facing frigid temperatures, 60-foot high waves and hurricane-force winds.

Disney’s “The Finest Hours” is the unforgettable story of the Coast Guard’s courageous mission, which is directed by Craig Gillespie and stars: Chris Pine; Academy Award® and Golden Globe® nominee Casey Affleck; Ben Foster; Holliday Grainger; John Ortiz; and Eric Bana. Produced by Jim Whitaker and Dorothy Aufiero, the screenplay is by Oscar® nominee Scott Silver and Oscar nominees Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson based on the acclaimed non-fiction book of the same name by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias. Doug Merrifield serves as executive producer. “The Finest Hours” storms into U.S. theaters on January 29, 2016 in Digital 3D, Real D 3D and IMAX® 3D.

The Finest Hours opens in U.S. theaters on January 29th, 2016.

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