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Release Date: May 18, 2012
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Peter Berg
Screenwriter: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna
Genre: Action, Adventure
MPAA Rating: PG-13
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Battleship to Destroyer:
When filmmaker Peter Berg signed on to develop and to helm Battleship for Universal Pictures and Hasbro, he was conducting early research for another film about the U.S. Navy, a lifelong passion of his. Hasbro president and CEO Brian Goldner and top company movie executive Bennett Schneir were keen to partner with the director, who had not only brought spectacle to the juggernaut Hancock and action and drama to Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom, but also harbored a deep passion for all things nautical since boyhood. Goldner shares: "Pete has such a love for these ships, the history of the Navy and being out at sea. We knew it would come across on the big screen."
The action-adventure represents the culmination of a lifelong dream for the director, who often toured naval museums with his father. Berg says: "Battleship is a passion of mine because, as a kid, I spent so much time on ships, absorbing detailed histories about the great battles of WWII from my father. When this fell into my lap, it didn't take me long to find a take for the film—a contemporary story of an international fleet engaged in a very dynamic, violent and intense fight that's chock-full of action- packed sea battles with big hardware and conflict. You can go anywhere in the world and say 'Battleship,' and people will know it. In today's market, that's a big plus for turning a brand into a film."
Berg had forged a fantastic relationship with this division of the armed forces, and that would serve him well as preproduction began. He shares: "The Navy liked the fact that their branch gets to save the world. The destroyer sailors liked that for the first time a movie's focus wasn't on an aircraft carrier. If you talk to Navy destroyer crews, they are engaged in real fighting. Their kick-ass ships protect aircraft carriers." Still, the movie's title is a bit of a misnomer. Explains Berg: "Even though the film is called Battleship, actual battleships have been taken out of active naval duty and replaced with these bad boys—Aegis naval destroyers—the most lethal fighting ships on the planet."
Sharing in production duties on Battleship is Bluegrass Films producer Scott Stuber, himself the son of a naval veteran. The epic action-adventure represents his second project with Berg, after their 2007 collaboration, The Kingdom, and is the latest offering from the producer who brought audiences the blockbuster action-thriller Safe House.
Though the producer knew he was headed into an enormous production, he wasn't daunted by the thought of ensuring that audiences would see a "complete naval fleet unleashed." Stuber says: "Having worked with Pete before, I knew he would make a movie about a modern-day naval conflict with authenticity and excitement."
Stuber offers that the game's lack of narrative structure turned out to be a plus for its translation. "When you work on movies adapted from literature or comic books and such, the audience has predisposed notions of the characters' arcs," he says. "They visualize the story as they read it. This is a whole different challenge, because we had to create characters. The fun of the game is the blind reveal, the strategy, me versus you. Conversely, it's freeing not to begin with preexisting characters, because you aren't restricted to what is spelled out in the source material. You can create that within the dynamic of the story, one that translates into a big action movie."
The story of this source material is an interesting one indeed. In 1984, Hasbro purchased the Milton Bradley Company and inherited several global-brand-name toys and games, including "Battleship." As one of the world's premier toy manufacturers, Hasbro began strategizing about how to translate its popular brands into other mediums. Under the leadership of Goldner for the past decade, Hasbro has successfully reinvigorated its classic brands. The company has reinvented them for a variety of new mediums, including blockbuster feature films, television, digital entertainment, publishing, consumer goods, licensing and retail.
After the blockbuster success of the toys-to-films Transformers and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Hasbro reviewed the catalogue and focused on "Battleship" as its first game-to-film. Still, the company knew it wouldn't move forward until a crucial dilemma was resolved: how to logically transfigure a beloved property into a cohesive and entertaining motion picture.
Discussing the reasons to tackle this ambitious project with Berg's team and Stuber, Goldner explains: "'Battleship' is a global brand that has been enjoyed for nearly 40 years in more than 30 countries. It's known as 'Battleship,' or 'Naval Battles,' everywhere around the world. People know the game play and understand the face-off nature of it. We knew we could take its compelling elements and play them out in a reimagined manner. Plus, we believed that bringing the alien element into the property would make it contemporary and very universal."
At its core, according to the producer, is a story of strategy that engages audiences. Goldner reflects: "No matter whom you're playing in 'Battleship,' you're sizing your opponent up, both from a personality standpoint as well as strategically. It was that face-off that intrigued us, because that's the mark of the brand and what has made the game popular around the globe for so many years. That sense that you and your opponent are strategizing against the blind reveal is so critical to the game play. We knew we could make a film story around that."
Several years ago, Goldner had recruited film executive Bennett Schneir with the goal of tapping into Schneir's expertise to develop movie franchises and tentpoles from Hasbro's catalogue. Schneir says: "We looked at the core of this property and recognized that 'Battleship' is a game of wits, intuition, logic and smarts as you try to figure out who your enemy is and win the day. We thought it had all of the elements for a huge, incredible movie. It's cinematic, exciting and adventurous. To our filmmakers, the game was an incredible launching-off point."
Addressing the skeptics, Schneir reflects: "It's easy to ask, 'Why do you need 'Battleship' to make a movie about ships versus aliens?' You could also ask why you would need Pirates of the Caribbean to make a movie about pirates and skeletons, or why you would need Transformers to make a movie about robots from space who come to Earth. There is so much in the core DNA of 'Battleship' that is a source of inspiration for filmmakers. There are signposts along the way of the concept of the blind reveal, of knowing nothing and then knowing everything. The three-act-play structural experience of the game, the fantasy of game play, and how that translates into a movie became the canvas upon which our filmmakers painted their vision of the story."
Like Goldner, Schneir approached the film's development by underscoring what is unique about the game. "'Battleship' is a big part of our childhood and part of the family experience," the producer says. "I like the notion of fighting against an enemy you can't see. Little by little, the curtain is raised, and you learn where your enemy put his ships and where you should strike next. That's what leads you to victory. Bringing that emotional connection to the big screen is powerful and compelling."
Though its modern counterpart is the destroyer, the war machine known as the battleship was prominent in WWII and was in use until the first Iraq War in 1991. Explains Stuber: "Battleships were defined by their power and muscle and built to take on shrapnel. They were giant ships with giant guns and thick hulls that had extraordinary power. They are the protectors of the fleet. They're like Secret Service agents: if an enemy fires, they step in front of the carrier and take the shell. There's something extraordinarily heroic about being the first dog in the fight. Within the fleet, there's also the aircraft carrier, another amazing ship that is like an airport in the middle of the ocean. Ultimately, it was the battleship's job, and today, the destroyer's, to protect that carrier."
Echoes Berg's production partner at Film 44, Sarah Aubrey: "Destroyers are magnificent pieces of machinery, run by incredibly smart and brave people. We thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase them within the context of this game that people have such an affinity for. We take you inside of these massive oceangoing beasts. You will see their weapons, missiles, all of their muscular power. In our story, they're the underdog. So we introduce this mighty Navy fleet steaming out to sea, unlike anything we've experienced in a movie."
Berg and Aubrey were excited that their dream of making a nautical adventure was finally coming to fruition, and they knew it would be epic. "The game allowed us the opportunity to do our modern naval-battle movie," Aubrey continues. "Most naval movies are period, because in this day and age, you don't often have pitched battles at sea. We have not seen the modern Navy in its full glory on screen, with these ships and weaponry, in this kind of scope and scale."
While the filmmakers had their title character, they needed to craft a story, replete with tested heroes and the mysterious enemy whom they would encounter on the high seas. Berg explains: "This idea of having naval warships battle aliens came to me one day. I knew that the only way the film would succeed is if it worked as a character story. The CG and the spectacle would then support the characters."
Berg looked to Red writers Erich and Jon Hoeber to partner with him. The brothers sat with Berg in spring 2009 to pitch themselves as the project's screenwriters. "The alien aspect was in our first pitch: Navy saves the world from an invasion," they explain. "We started with a blank slate. Pete tore our pitch apart, but there was spitballing and collaboration. Once we got the gig, we wrote an elaborate treatment over the summer and the first draft that fall. Throughout the development, we had great synchronicity. Pete's a quarterback with bottomless energy who brought a lot of big ideas. We did a lot of brainstorming about what we wanted the film to feel like and what the main structural elements should be. Then we created the characters and the dramatic situations."
The writers were drawn to bring to life a naval epic that hit the hallmarks of the game while introducing a complex alien attack, commenting: "The idea of being able to write a big naval action film was exciting. It's been a long time since anyone made a film that so prominently featured the U.S. Navy. It was a rare opportunity. Plus, the opportunity to do that in a modern setting was extraordinary, with an enemy that we would fight toe-to-toe instead of lobbing cruise missiles at from miles off a coastline."
In preparation for their script, the brothers delved into research mode, spending three days out at sea on an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Preble. They note: "What an incredible experience, watching this young crew in action; their professionalism, dedication and drive were truly inspiring. They gave us full run of the ship, and we quickly got familiar with their language, culture and details of the hardware they operate. They ran war scenarios for us that helped us to make things as realistic as possible for both the story and characters."
The writers worked with Berg to explore what would happen if an alien race responded to a series of interstellar transmissions from NASA to a "Goldilocks planet" in another galaxy. Known as "Planet G," this planet to which the NASA scientists have been transmitting for six years is a mirror image of our own world. The logic is that if a planet is too far from its sun, the world is too cold to sustain life; if a planet is too close to its sun, it is too hot to allow for the growth of flora and fauna. This "just right" planet with which we've been communicating is similar to ours and able to hold water at the right mass to sustain an atmosphere and therefore life. And unfortunately for Earth, its inhabitants have come to take our resources.
Aubrey reports that as the screenplay developed, the team found an organic way to introduce the game concept. They were not only able to bring, organically, the title character into the mix, but also to set up three other ships equipped for battle under an impenetrable field that was 300,000 feet in altitude and two nautical miles wide. She says: "Pete came up with the idea that our ship is operating blind, like in the game. All of their radar capability has been taken away early on in a fight with the aliens. As a result, our heroes are hunting the enemy in the dark. So, Hopper and Nagata have to quickly figure out how to track the alien fleet—without radar-so they can strike them as they bombard the vessel. As Hopper is struggling with a solution, Nagata explains a tactic that his countrymen have used before to locate ships in the Pacific."
In their research, Berg and the writers discovered that tsunami buoys exist along the Hawaiian coastlines, and their function is to triangulate water disbursement. Aubrey explains what that meant for the script: "Buoys measure water displacement as an early tsunami-warning system for those living along these vulnerable coastal areas. Nagata uses them to quickly map out a grid, which comes up on his ship's radar screen, simulating the grid of the board game itself. It's a fun way to get the audience to recognize that familiar grid and that we're playing 'Battleship.'"
An International Crew:
Casting the Action-Adventure
As the script's action took shape, the filmmakers set out to populate their story with a band of heroes who happen upon their alien foes after investigating of a piece of debris floating off the coast of Oahu. Joining them in the production would be accomplished producer Duncan Henderson, who had helped to bring the ocean-set epics Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Poseidon to life and served in key production roles on A Perfect Storm and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
When the Battleship team was researching the project, they spent time on destroyers in the Navy's fleet and made a visit to the U.S. military's Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Florida. The team was impressed by the young men and women who populate the Navy's high-tech ranks, as well as the extreme situations for which they train. It became strikingly clear that at the wrong time in politics or war, these sailors could be in the middle of life-and-death situations for which they so arduously trained.
Stuber shares that Berg's depth of research and experience as an actor resulted in casting a group who did justice to the brave sailors they met. "Pete wants to emulate everything the way it would happen, whether it's through an actor's performance or an explosion on the side of a ship," he says. "On Friday Night Lights, he didn't just read the book, he went to Texas to immerse himself in the world of high-school football. A lot of that comes from being an actor. Other actors trust him because they see he wants to get their best performance. He's takes these authentic characters and puts them in big worlds."
In crafting the film's protagonist, Hopper, Berg and the Hoeber brothers imagined a character who is forced to grow up fast. A hothead kid who shoots from the hip, Hopper learns discipline through his naval service, especially from his older brother. Stone's frustration with his sibling leads him to insist that Hopper get his life together. "It's brotherly love taken to a whole new level," says Aubrey. "Still, Hopper is a guy who leads with his chin and is always looking for a fight."
"I think Battleship is autobiographical," laughs Goldner. "In many ways, Hopper is Pete. What I love about him is his willingness to bring that to the table. There are no filters. Pete's right in there, creating a characterization of someone who an audience can root for. Hopper is a tough guy, certainly challenged and with a history. You're going to see a depth of character that evolves. Pete created a character who is real, emblematic and enticing to an audience."
Cast as Hopper was another longtime Berg collaborator, Taylor Kitsch. The performer's work in the critically acclaimed television show Friday Night Lights has moved audiences since 2006, and his scene-stealing work in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine finally brought to life Gambit, one of the most beloved characters in the X-Men universe. In addition to Battleship, Kitsch hits worldwide screens this spring as the title character in Disney's epic John Carter. In July, he will be seen in Universal's Savages, the new drama from Oliver Stone.
Truly, it would take a partner like Berg for the actor to agree to cut his hair for the first time in 12 years. Berg began his career in front of the cameras before he turned to directing, and his style has long meshed with Kitsch's. "I love the way that Pete shoots with regard to freedom...no marks or anything like that," the actor commends. "Of course, I was used to his style from FNL and will always be grateful that Pete gave me that huge opportunity to play Riggins."
Kitsch was also curious to explore the dynamic between the two brothers. He says: "That is what put me overboard, no pun intended: the arc of where Hopper starts in the story—from stealing and being arrested to the head shaving when he enlists—to his becoming a leader. As an actor, that's everything. You see his emotion through the loss he suffers, then watch as he becomes the ship's captain. Hopper never wanted to be this guy, but he's thrown into it unexpectedly and is forced to reach his own potential in the most extreme circumstance. Even though he's in the Navy, his core hasn't changed. This guy who's saving the world is the same guy who you met in the beginning.
"In comparison, Stone gives him a purpose, and Hopper owes everything to his brother," the actor continues. "Initially, he didn't want to reach his potential because of that risk of failure. He'd rather just sit and go with the flow because he can get by with no problem. But taking this risk is also risking failure, and that's something Hopper, in the beginning, just won't do."
Calling Kitsch "the real deal," Berg flew to London—where the performer was in production on John Carter—to pitch to him. Kitsch recalls the meal: "The way Pete does it, it's not like your average meeting. It's like this: 'You want to do this with me or not? Let's do it. Let's kill it. Let's make a badass, fun movie with a heartbeat in it!' To have that responsibility and challenge is everything. There was already a trust there, which is everything on set. You've got to know that your director has you, your character and, of course, the film's best interest at heart."
Kitsch shares the big screen with another television favorite, Alexander Skarsgard. The star of HBO's award-winning series True Blood was brought on to the production as Commander Stone, Hopper's disciplined older brother who convinces
Hopper to get his act together by joining the Navy. Berg met the performer for dinner, this time in Los Angeles, where Skarsgard is based while filming the show on which he stars as Eric Northman, the aged Viking vampire.
As it turns out, the eldest son of acting great Stellan Skarsgard was quite familiar with "Battleship": He played the game, known in Swedish as "Sänka Skepp" ("Sink Ship"), as a boy. "On meeting Pete for the first time, I liked him," Skarsgard says. "His energy was enthusiastic, as was the way he talked about the project. When he discussed his father's fascination with naval history, you could see Pete's passion come out. And I liked the dynamic between two brothers. Stone is diligent, hardworking, and attended the Naval Academy. He's very motivated. He also loves his younger brother, but he isn't sure how to help him."
"But Hopper doesn't have that drive at all," Skarsgard adds. "He screws up all the time, but he's also charming. Stone's approach is to let his brother learn and grow from his mistakes. He's tough on Hopper, but you feel the love between them and the connection there. You have to feel that he really cares about his brother or it wouldn't work. I really liked the dynamic of their story arc."
Skarsgard took care in sculpting his role by requesting time on a U.S. Navy vessel, USS Benfold (DDG 65) to watch a commanding officer (CO) and his crew in action. While the U.S. Navy was a new entity for him, the actor was no stranger to military service. Before co-starring as a marine in David Simon's gritty HBO miniseries Generation Kill, he had logged time as a Marine who worked in antiterrorism in his homeland of Sweden.
The timing of Skarsgard's request coincided with the 2010 Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC), the biennial maritime event staged off of the Hawaiian coast. It is the world's largest international maritime gathering, and more than a dozen navies from around the globe participate. RIMPAC is hosted and administered by the U.S. Navy, with support from the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard, Hawaii's National Guard and the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which invites and oversees allied military forces from the Pacific Rim nations.
With the cooperation of the U.S. Navy, Berg guided embedded camera crews on four ships for 12 days to capture the spectacle of these military war games and collect astonishing footage of the ships on the open seas. These crews were supported by camera boats and camera helicopters that added exponentially to the look of the film, and the sequences were then built into the screenplay. "Fortunately, RIMPAC was on in Hawaii, so we went out there with Pete and camera crews for an amazing week," Skarsgard remembers. "I did get to talk to the CO of the ship, which helped tremendously. I was also able to fly out and land on an aircraft carrier, which was spectacular."
Skarsgard relates how Berg blended their on-deck experiences during RIMPAC into the film: "Stone receives recognition because his ship, the Sampson, is the highest- ranking ship among the 13 nations and dozens of ships participating. Stone is proud of his ship and crew, and his little brother is a naval officer on another destroyer. That's also fun for Stone, to have Hopper out there on another ship."
Another elite member of the U.S. Navy was played by Rihanna, making her feature-film debut. The Grammy Award winner was chosen to play the tough-as-nails gunner Petty Officer Second Class Cora Raikes, one of Hopper's fellow shipmates. "From day one, I had strong feelings about Rihanna," Berg says. "You can tell she's musical because she takes direction well, and she looked the part. I was very impressed with her work."
The performer was open to acting roles before production began. "I didn't know who I was going to play when I met with Pete," Rihanna reveals. "After I got the script, I was so impressed by it, and I just loved the story. I couldn't put it down, which was a clear indication that it would be a film that I would enjoy watching. What I ended up enjoying about working with Pete was his energy, how adventurous and spontaneous he is."
Rihanna completely responded to how tough her character was. "Raikes kicks a lot of ass," she says. "She's one of the boys, and it was fun to explore that because I was a tomboy as a kid. The character is filled with raw energy, and it was a moment for me to be someone completely different than what people are used to seeing. It was exciting for people to see me as an actress and look at me as Raikes and not Rihanna."
For Rihanna's acting debut, Berg chose as a technical advisor a sailor who was just a year younger than the performer. By the time production began, JACQUELYN CARRIZOSA had spent three years in the Navy and was based on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) in San Diego. Carrizosa was a Gunner's Mate Second Class (SW/AW) whom Berg first spotted playing soccer for a U.S. Navy team during the 2010 RIMPAC.
Berg says: "I wanted Rihanna to see that it is possible to be tough, patriotic, kick- ass, and still be feminine and sexy. I looked at Jacque and thought she was Raikes. I saw her in the RIMPAC Cup, and she was the only girl playing soccer with a bunch of guys. She was all tatted up and had on this badass band T-shirt. She is a hard-core, dedicated sailor who was more than holding her own. I thought that she would be a good role model for Rihanna, and the two of them got along great."
Rihanna remembers her first meeting with the sailor, who also played her double in the RIMPAC soccer game. She says: "I had Jacque in my trailer all day long. I listened to the same music she listens to, and I just lived and breathed in her mind set because I was playing the part of who she is in real life."
Raikes was not the only tough woman in the Hoeber brothers'screenplay. Meet physical therapist Samantha "Sam" Shane. Actress Brooklyn Decker was brought aboard to play Sam, Hopper's fiancée and the daughter of his CO. "I was in Oahu, shooting Just Go With It, when I got the call," Decker recalls. "I was told that I wasn't right for the role because they wanted someone tough, and I seemed a little too nice. But they kept calling me back, and I flew to L.A. and read for casting. A week later, Pete called me in to read.
"I knew the role would be very physical, and Pete wanted to make sure that I could stack up," Decker continues. "So, he put me through the ringer. What made me want to be in this film was the fact that Pete was directing. He's big on strong female characters. The women in his movies never play the damsels in distress; they're never weak. When I read for Sam, I loved that she was this admiral's daughter, a bit of a rebel, strong and independent and could hold her own in helping to save the world."
The director discusses why he chose Decker: "She's incredibly mature for a 23- year-old. When Brooklyn was cast, there was speculation on whether this model could act. Brooklyn is going to surprise people. She's a bright, serious and beautiful woman who wants to do a great job. She is mature and quite good in the role."
Unlike her co-stars, Decker's research did not involve a week on the high seas. Truly, she has the scars to prove her rugged, multiweek shoot in the Hawaiian brush. In preparing for the role of a physical therapist who rehabilitates wounded soldiers, the actress visited hospitals to meet with injured troops. She provides: "I went to Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu and another rehabilitation hospital later in the shoot, the Intrepid Center in San Antonio. I respect Pete so much for his dedication to doing the military justice, and it's also the reason that the military was so supportive."
Several dozen of these wounded warriors served as extras during the company's one-day shoot at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a rehabilitation facility in San Antonio that treats amputees and burn victims. It is located next to the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston and was specifically built to provide care for U.S. servicemen and women who have returned from military operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
"A big part of Sam is her relationship with Mick [U.S. Army Colonel Gregory D. Gadson's character] and how they struggle with one another and become a huge source of strength to one another as they go through an emotional and physical arc," Decker reflects. "I talked with these soldiers to find out about their emotional arc and how they progressed in their stages of post-traumatic stress after returning from battle. With modern technology, there are so many soldiers coming back who don't die from their injuries. They are returning with lost limbs and other severe wounds that are beyond anything you can imagine."
The character to whom Decker refers is Army Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, a double amputee who lost his legs in Afghanistan and has recently been fitted with prosthetic limbs. On his road to recovery, the Special Forces officer relies on Sam to assist with his physical and mental rehabilitation. While Hopper is engaged in war-game exercises, Sam and Mick set out on their first rehab session. She takes the veteran on a hike in the hills above the Pacific. What begins as a simple exercise evolves into battle with aliens who are trying to erect a communications tower and call for reinforcements.
The role of Mick was brought to life by Gadson, a massive former football player whose legs were amputated above the knee after being wounded. "The character of Mick had injuries I can identify with," shares Gadson. "I'm a field artillery officer, was a battalion commander in Iraq and lost my legs to an IED, or improvised explosive device. So, I brought my understanding of someone recovering from these injuries to the role. That's where Mick Canales and Greg Gadson came together."
In his 20-plus years as a career officer, the West Point graduate and real-life hero has served in every major global conflict of the past two decades in which the U.S. has been involved (including Kuwait, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Iraq). In May 2007, Gadson was a Lieutenant Colonel and battalion commander of 400 troops in Baghdad. Three months before the attack, he had been deployed to Iraq's capital city. After attending a memorial service for two deceased soldiers from a sister battalion, he was severely wounded while returning to the base.
Several years later, the soldier sitting on the film set in San Antonio's Intrepid Center recounts the stark details of that fateful night. "Returning to headquarters, my vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb," he explains. "The IED ejected me from the vehicle and damaged my legs severely. I was fortunate that my First Sergeant, Frederick Johnson, located me immediately and began to resuscitate me. PFC Eric Brown got tourniquets on my legs to get the bleeding under control. I needed 129 units of blood to save my life."
After sustaining an overwhelming 22 surgeries and experimenting with different types of artificial limbs, Gadson now sports powered titanium prosthetics. He explains how Berg first became aware of his story: "There was an article in the January 2010 National Geographic that focused on bionics and advancements in prosthetics. There were power knees that I was testing, with a picture of me in uniform displaying them."
If Berg had any doubts about choosing the first-time performer, Gadson assuaged him on his first day. According to the director: "Greg had, as a Lieutenant Colonel, to act in front of hundreds of soldiers. He had to act like a hard-ass, had to act like one of the guys, like a dad or an uncle to his troops. As he started getting more comfortable on set, I felt like he was getting it and he was enjoying it."
When he was recovering at Walter Reed in 2007, the honorary captain of the New York Giants couldn't have guessed what the next few years would bring. "I never would have imagined being on the sidelines of the Super Bowl champions," he says. "Or being promoted to colonel in the Army and chosen as the new director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program. But I have to admit that I wasn't holding my breath about being in the movie. I thought this would run its course. I don't want to say, 'It goes to show you that you just have to live,' but you can never quit. That's what I've tried to do."
The man running the show in Oahu is played by action star Liam Neeson, who was brought aboard to serve as Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Shane— Hopper, Stone and Raikes' CO (and Sam's father). The performer explains his interest in the project: "The foundation stone is the script, and this one was a real page-turner. That's the litmus test. If I'm reading through it, and I'm suddenly at page 78 and haven't stopped for a cup of tea or a glass of water, it's got me. I thought this was very gung ho. It's got thrills and spills and very good character development, too."
No stranger to playing tough guys, Neeson found it quite simple to ease into his part. The star of Taken and The Grey explains: "As an actor filming on location in Hawaii, at Pearl Harbor and on USS Missouri, I didn't have to use my imagination... all that history is right there for you."
One of Neeson's most memorable moments on set was the day when he shot a key scene with Colonel Gadson, which was filmed at the famous "Punchbowl" cemetery in Honolulu. Neeson recounts: "I present a medal to Greg's character, Mick. After they helped him up on the stage, he walked toward me. As the camera rolled, he had a look in his eyes that wasn't acting. It reflected what this man's been through, the incredible injuries suffered for his country. Yet, there was also this incredible defiance and dignity and power. It made me feel very proud."
Battleship marks the second big Hollywood film for Asian movie star Tadanobu Asano, who made his English-language debut as the Asgardian called Hogun in 2010's blockbuster Thor. Asano landed the role of Hopper's Japanese counterpart, Captain Yugi Nagata, whose ship, the Myoko, is destroyed in the alien attack. This forces the captain to join his archrival on USS John Paul Jones, where they fight together.
Producer Aubrey describes his character's arc: "Nagata, whom Hopper has initial friction with, subsequently becomes his ally during this epic battle. Hopper is very competitive with the Japanese, which you'll see in the RIMPAC soccer game. After their first encounter with the aliens, Hopper wants to charge right back into the fray. Nagata thinks that's not a good idea. But, being a brave and honorable sailor, he doesn't want to leave Hopper's ship exposed. So, he follows him into battle and loses his own ship when it is sunk by the aliens. Nagata and the remainder of his crew come aboard Hopper's ship, and the two men must work together to defeat the aliens."
Asano shares what attracted him: "I play a Japanese navy officer who fights side by-side with an American Navy officer, which is something that intrigued me. Nagata is a captain of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, and he and Hopper come together during a convention of Navy officers from all over the Pacific called RIMPAG."
"Nagata and Hopper have known each other prior to this convention," the actor continues. "Nagata likes Hopper, but there's something about him that gets on Nagata's nerves, and there's a bit of conflict. I'm a captain and he's an officer, so I treat him a bit condescendingly, which he reciprocates with similar attitude. But when a common enemy approaches, we accept that we have to fight together."
Like the rest of the cast, the Yokohama native filmed several scenes on location at Oahu's Pearl Harbor. Setting foot on such sacred ground made the actor "think a lot about what happened between our two nations decades ago." He asserts: "Without that history, we Japanese and Americans wouldn't be collaborating on a film like this today. I feel terribly sorry for those who lost their lives. But the fact that now, as a Japanese person, I can work in a friendly atmosphere with an American crew at Pearl Harbor is what makes this movie even more significant. For that, I feel grateful."
"I tip my hat to Tad," commends Kitsch. "I looked forward to working with him in every scene we had together. He's a great actor, and I'd do it all over again. I admired the balls it took to come over here and be a huge part of this huge movie, with English not being his native language. It would be just like me going to Japan, speaking nothing but English, and having one guy come in and translate direction. He just killed it!"
Asano returns the compliment: "There were so many things that were unfamiliar to me working in the American film industry for just the second time. I was like a kid, watching and learning from my colleagues. I'm especially thankful to Taylor. His power and charisma is palpable, and he is also kind and humorous. When I didn't understand what was being said, Taylor would step in to help me communicate. Also, when we filmed a scene together, if I made a subtle change, he was sensitive and responsive."
The performer was but one of many international actors in Berg's multilingual cast. Coincidentally, with the exception of Jesse Plemons, each of the other actors playing key naval personnel were all from countries outside of the United States. While Kitsch hails from British Columbia, Skarsgard is a native of Sweden and Rihanna was born on the Caribbean island of Barbados.
The Texas-born Plemons, Kitsch's co-star on television's Friday Night Lights, was cast as the ship's boatswain, BMSN Jimmy "Ordy" Ord. The low man on the totem pole, Ordy thought he'd never in his wildest dreams see action in battle. Still, he must rise to the occasion when duty calls. As well, New Zealander John Tui makes his Hollywood film debut as the 20-year career man, Chief Petty Officer Walter "The Beast" Lynch. The ship's engine expert, Beast is the exact guy who you want beside you if you must head to war.
Tui, a New Zealand Tongan, provides yet another example of the game's worldwide reach. He says: "In New Zealand, we are influenced a lot by Europe and America, and 'Battleship' is huge. My mates had the game when I was growing up, and I would go play with them." For his part in the film, the actor reflects: "I wanted to give this role the integrity it deserves, for the Navy, for your country."
On the civilian side, Hamish Linklater was brought on board as Cal Zapata, the project manager at Saddle Ridge Station who must join Sam and Mick to stop the aliens from finishing construction of the beacon tower. With nerves of jelly, Hamish must take as much inspiration from Mick as possible in order to complete his mission.
Finally, joining the team in supporting roles are JOJI YOSHIDA as Chief Engineer Hiroki of the Myoko; RICO M C CLINTON as Navy Commander Brownley; ADAM GODLEY as Beacon Project director, Dr. Nogrady; JERRY FERRARA as Sampson JOOD Strodell; and PETER M AC NICOL as the U.S. Secretary of Defense.
Trainers and Technical Advisers
To help the cast prepare for their roles, Berg worked with multiple consultants who organized the performers and got them in fighting physical and mental shape. Standout partners on the production include the teams who helped Rihanna, Decker and Gadson get ready for their intense scenes battling the aliens.
Gunner's mate Jacque Carrizosa was at the ready to get Rihanna into fighting shape on the set of Battleship. Channeling such tough-as-nails warriors as Terminator 2: Judgment Day's Sarah Connor and Aliens' Private Vasquez, Rihanna impressed everyone on set with her dedication to the part and discipline in preparing for the role.
"A lot of the training on set had to do with how to hold the weapon the correct way," Rihanna notes. "I had to learn about these weapons and I enjoyed that because I didn't want to look like an actor with a gun, just shooting off into nowhere. It was also important to Pete to make sure that everything would be like it would be if we were actually in the Navy. Jacque had a lot to do with my look and feel in the film."
During production, Carrizosa held the rank of E5, which is petty officer second class. "I deal with everything from basic 9-mil handguns and 50-caliber weapons to torpedoes, magazine sprinkler systems, missiles, VLS systems and such," states the sailor. "We also deal with the 5-inch guns that you see on a battleship like USS Missouri."
She explains how she got the actress ready for battle: "I helped Rihanna feel comfortable with military protocol and weapons handling. She shot a little before I came on board, so she wasn't scared. I helped her with posture, standing at attention and saluting. Along with her talent and beauty, she's really smart and a natural bad-ass." Duty called, and the Gunner's Mate's time on set was up. She was back on her ship in San Diego after a three-week hiatus with the production in Hawaii.
Gadson and Decker had assistance of a different sort as they battled aliens on Oahu's windward (eastern) side. Things got off to a shaky start as equilibrium came into play when Berg first took Gadson and Decker (and co-star Linklater, also crucial to the landlocked sequences) out to Kualoa Ranch, where the company spent three weeks filming the scenes in which the aliens construct their communications tower.
Decker appreciated the bonding that her director encouraged. "Greg and I became close very fast because we had to be incredibly vulnerable. We rehearsed and shot in the mountains where it rains all the time. It's muddy, it's hilly and there were a couple of times when Greg's prosthetic legs would slide on this mud and he would go down. Because he would fall in front of me, or when I would be a nervous wreck in front of him, we quickly became trusting of one another. He told me: 'If we're going downhill, I'm going to need to push on you. I need you to be strong when I'm walking downhill; you need to support me.'
"There's a scene when Sam freaks out after she finds bodies and cars ripped apart and sees one of the aliens for the first time," the actress continues. "Mick is her source of strength. That day we shot this scene, it was just Greg and me. We didn't talk to anybody on set; we just rehearsed. I told him to get physical with me, push me to the ground, grab me and shake me. We beat each other up, but also took care of each other."
Berg recalls that first day of rehearsal before filming officially began: "Greg's never acted before, and he's a double amputee. This was completely out of his comfort zone and certainly something he's not familiar with. Yet, he came out and jumped right into it, and it was intense, especially when he slipped and fell. We picked him up, he took a few more steps and immediately fell again, hard. I thought he had damaged his legs; they looked banged up. He got real quiet, and I thought to myself, 'This is going to be an absolute disaster.'" Berg couldn't have been happier to be more wrong.
"It's what happens when you don't have your legs...you fall," the director remembers Gadson telling him. "I wanted to take him up to the top of the mountain to see what we could expect: How much stamina he had and whether he could stand and move on this type of terrain. Brooklyn got right in there with Greg and helped him walk around. Then we were able to start seeing whether he could act."
While these titanium legs, which Gadson calls "Real Ones," support his body, the soldier still struggles with balance and navigates in a wheelchair when not wearing his prosthetics. He relays that standing and walking (with the aid of a cane) is like being on the top rung of a stepladder. "It's shaky on prosthetics," he explains of the challenges. "You have to balance, to keep yourself stable so that you don't lose support on the ladder. That's the best way to describe being a bilateral AK, or amputee above the knee."
Stunt coordinator KEVIN SCOTT recalls the first time he saw a picture of Gadson after Berg cast him as Mick. "I saw he was a bilateral amputee. But he is not just a guy with two aluminum legs. He is a true warrior, a fantastic person and a great leader. The fight scene that we did with Greg will be an extremely moving moment in this film. I wanted to make sure that we paid respect to individuals who have lost their limbs. We didn't want to do anything that was out of character."
Scott continues: "DAMON CARO, who's one of the industry's best fight choreographers, came out to help us, and we put together a fight that Greg was comfortable with. There were a couple moves in the fight that came from just talking to Greg. He can twist his legs in ways that we can't. It was interesting to see his response to the fight, and he admitted he'd not been this physical since losing his legs. There were some extremely moving moments with him, and he came through as a warrior every time. The audience will not have seen this type of physical activity before."
To ensure that every aspect of the U.S. Navy was portrayed as accurately as possible, Captain RICK HOFFMAN was brought on board as Berg's Navy technical advisor. From dialogue and sets to specifics of uniforms and haircuts, the veteran who commanded two warships during his 28-year career left no stone unturned.
Hoffman—whom we will also see portraying Battleship's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—recounts: "When I was first interviewed for the position, Peter told me that in a movie this fantastic, the real part has to be very real. He wanted to use active duty sailors—preferably serving aboard ship now—in as many scenes as possible, and we wanted to make sure the actors came across in a compelling and convincing manner."
Prior to each of the main shipboard scenes, the film's actors and extras would go through what came to be known as "Cap'n Rick's Boot Camp." While this did not involve push-ups or yelling, the training was a full day on the set that helped the sailors grow accustomed to what they would see during the filming, as well as help the actors to understand how to look and act like sailors. It was also an important time for the cast and military extras to get to know one another as they rehearsed their scenes.
The career sailor's influence extended to close work with the crew. Hoffman adds: "I also had the chance to work with the extremely talented set design, props and set decoration teams in putting little touches on the set—moving a radio so it worked better with an actor's movements, adding charts, binoculars or other small details to create a realistic environment. I used the sailors' help whenever I could to add realism. They know what 'real' looks like better than I do."
Old Gray Lady:
Lensing on a Real Battleship
Filming on the massive set pieces of Battleship commenced on location in Oahu, with the project marking Berg's second directorial effort in Hawaii. The state had previously doubled for the Brazilian jungle in his 2003 action hit, The Rundown.
While there were many reasons for choosing Hawaii as the film's backdrop, Stuber cites its storied history in the annals of WWII, where battleships were instrumental to the Allies' efforts in the Pacific battle theater, as well as the poignancy of this location that so changed the course of mankind. He explains: "We set our story at Pearl Harbor so we could honor these historical references. We also cast actual WWII Navy veterans,
and we brought back the iconic WWII battleship, USS Missouri, and gave it a key role." The producer reflects on the poignancy of Japan and America's modern-day partnership. "Every year, the RIMPAC exercises serve as a reminder of how far we've come. Now, in Battleship, to watch American and Japanese sailors working closely together to fight a common enemy was quite a powerful visual for all involved in the production."
A Football Field at Sea
The massive crew shot a great deal of footage on U.S. Navy ships at sea over an extended period of time. Amazingly, the production was afforded access to five different destroyers during the film's production, allowing them the opportunity to observe ships at sea and in port, as well as a glimpse into the lives of the young men and women who serve their country.
Producer Duncan Henderson (along with his longtime colleague, co-producer TODD ARNOW) brought a couple hundred members of the cast and crew out on the high seas for more than a week of filming at the immediate outset of the shooting schedule. Discussing the decision, Henderson shares: "We scouted in Australia's Gold Coast, but we went with Hawaii. That added so much realism. We talked about completely working in a tank because of this particular water work. But, once we were in Hawaii, we could go out on the ocean, and that opened up the picture because Pete would not have been able to get that look just by working in a tank. Plus, we got amazing footage."
The scenes on the Pacific, a mile or so offshore on Oahu's leeward (or dry) side of the island, included the crucial moment when Hopper and his crew (including Raikes and Beast)—while manning a Navy rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB)—circle a mysterious piece of floating debris to ascertain its origins. The sequences marked more time in which the production would film on the open seas. Indeed, their RIMPAC experience happened prior to the official start of production, their work on USS Missouri was during production and an embedded shoot for two days at sea on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln occurred during postproduction.
Henderson and Arnow have helped create 10 feature films together during the past two decades, with several of them stunning epics set on water (including Poseidon, The Perfect Storm and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). So, the men were hardly wet behind the ears when it came to the challenge of filming key moments of the story that were set on ocean waters that are several hundred feet deep. They proposed something that they had never tried before...and it was a big ask.
That idea was to rent a massive barge that was almost the length of a football field and sail it into the ocean. This way, Berg and cinematographer Tobias Schliessler could stage the scenes at one end of the vessel as it faced out into the open waters. On this side of the barge, Oscar®-winning special-effects supervisor Burt Dalton—constructed a 70- ton gimbal that simulated the part of the aliens' broken ship drifting in the ocean.
On the opposite end of the vessel, the crew was able to house the tons of vehicles and equipment needed to facilitate the week's work. The floating soundstage anchored offshore for the entire week, with cast and personnel shuttled daily out to the barge via a network of boats which ran like a flotilla of water taxis all day long.
Discussing the ingenious idea, Henderson relays: "This approach was unique because we were using the front edge of the barge as our stage space and everything else at the other end was there to support the shoot. There was also a little bit of luck involved. We didn't have big ocean swells and we didn't have rain, probably because we shot in Hawaii during the driest part of its seasons."
Once they completed their water work, the company landed at Pearl Harbor, the historic working naval base where 12,000 sailors live and work alongside another 8,000 air force personnel at the adjoining Hickam Air Force Base. Pearl Harbor is visited by thousands annually who pay their respects to USS Arizona (BB-39) Memorial. One of the battleships bombed by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, the Arizona's remains reside at the bottom of the harbor. It is also the final resting place of the 1,177 sailors who perished on the vessel, whose attack provoked America's entry into WWII.
Brief History of USS Missouri
While USS Arizona did not play a part in the film, one of her sister ships, USS Missouri (now a floating museum called the Battleship Missouri Memorial), served as a key location for the company over a weeklong stretch in early September 2010. Production was so massive that the popular and busy tourist attraction was shut down for four of the seven days the company used the ship as a backdrop.
Nicknamed "Mighty Mo," the Missouri is an Iowa-class battleship and the last such vessel ever built by the U.S. Navy. Named for the home state of President Harry S. Truman, the Missouri was built at the Brooklyn Navy yard in 1941, launched on January 29, 1944, and commissioned into battle on June 11, 1944.
The ship weighs 45,000 tons, stretches for 887.2 feet in length (a few feet shy of the Titanic) and originally housed 2,700 officers and sailors. The vessel was reactivated in 1984, years after her prior service in Korea in the 1950s. To modernize her, the Navy refitted the Missouri with contemporary armament and electronics, with housing capacity reduced to 1,851 sailors. She saw her final action in the Gulf War of 1991.
Arriving at Pearl Harbor on December 29, 1944, USS Missouri was engaged in some great battles off the shores of Japan in the latter months of WWII. On April 11, 1945 (the day before Truman became president), a low-flying kamikaze, although fired upon, crashed on Missouri's starboard side, just below her main deck level. Flames ignited a gasoline fire in gun mount No. 3.
The battleship suffered only superficial damage, and the fire was quickly extinguished. The remains of the pilot were recovered on board the ship. Out of respect for the fallen Japanese flyer, the Missouri's captain, William Callaghan, commissioned a funeral at sea with military honors. Indeed, Callaghan recognized his heroic, but failed, efforts, even as one of the enemy. The dent in the side of the ship remains to this day and is one of the intriguing tourist attractions on the vessel.
Barely four months later, USS Missouri made history when the Japanese surrendered to Allied forces (led by Adm. Chester Nimitz and Army General Douglas MacArthur) in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. Production had not yet started on the Missouri Memorial when the U.S. government and Hawaii held a commemorative ceremony on September 2, 2010, marking the 65 th anniversary of the end of WWII.
Decommissioned on March 31, 1992, USS Missouri served for a brief period in the Navy's reserve fleet stationed in Bremerton, Washington. In 1998, the Navy donated the vessel to USS Missouri Memorial Association in Honolulu, where she sits today, a floating museum anchored on Ford Island, adjacent to the naval base on Battleship Row. Her presence in Pearl Harbor, across the waters from USS Arizona Memorial, is a fitting resting place for the "Mighty Mo." Massive bookends, the pair of battleships represents the beginning and end of America's involvement in the Second World War.
Taking Her Out in the Pacific
Following $18 million worth of maintenance and preservation work in the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, the Missouri returned on January 7, 2010, to her home pier near USS Arizona Memorial. Sporting a refurbished hull, fresh coat of paint, and state-of-the- art cathodic protection and humidity detection technologies, the ship is now fortified against corrosion for decades to come (thus far, more than three million visitors have paid their respects to the "Mighty Mo" since it opened as a museum in 1998).
While production would not commence for another eight months, taking the Missouri out for a spin was way too good of an opportunity to pass up. Filming for the movie "unofficially" began on January 8, 2010, less than 24 hours after the Missouri returned from dry dock. At 9:25 a.m. that day, the Missouri shoved off once again for preliminary filming on Battleship. Berg and the production team worked with the nonprofit USS Missouri Memorial Association to take advantage of the ship's narrow window of availability after its return from dry-dock and before reopening to visitors.
Towed by tugboats, the battleship was maneuvered well outside Pearl Harbor, coasting approximately two miles offshore of Waikiki Beach. Her historic, albeit brief, "voyage" out to sea was an image not seen since the ship's arrival in Hawaii in 1998. Many surmised it would mark the gray lady's final sail.
"Taking the Missouri out to sea for filming was a case of being in the right place at the right time," states KEITH D E MELLO, who works with MMA, the nonprofit organization that oversees the legendary ship. "It took a great deal of effort by all parties to make it happen. Mr. Berg's scout of Pearl Harbor in preparation for filming happened to coincide with the Missouri being in dry dock for the first time in 17 years. The fact that the Missouri was going to be 'underway' at all was unique."
"USS Missouri plays a very big role in the movie," reflects Aubrey about the gargantuan battleship, which made history yet again in conjunction with the film production. "First, our ability to get a battleship in the movie was thrilling. Especially this battleship, the Missouri, which is where the Japanese surrendered in World War II. Yet, we had the opportunity, while it was moving from dry dock to its permanent berth, to take it out on to the open ocean. Because the engines are now disabled, it was towed."
Aubrey adds: "The men who were aboard the ship that day were some who had fought on the Missouri, worked on that ship, had repaired it and kept it in such glorious working shape all these years. You could tell how overjoyed they were, so excited having never thought they would see the 'Mighty Mo' on the ocean again. We felt extraordinarily lucky that we were able to be part of that as well."
"When the filmmakers saw the Missouri, they realized that she's this grand old dame who is very much loved by the people who run and maintain her," affirms the film's veteran location manager, MICHAEL MEEHAN, another longtime Henderson associate. "So, they decided to bring her into the movie." Meehan marvels: "We were standing at Pearl Harbor, then looking out over the harbor to the deck of the Missouri. In one visual element, you see the beginning and end of World War II."
Adds Henderson: "It was a great honor being on this ship. Just the size of the Missouri itself is daunting. The production value we got working on any of the Navy ships was tremendous, and being in Hawaii was just visually rewarding."
For the producers from Hasbro, it was truly a dream come true. Explains Schneir: "We found an answer to the question we'd been asking ourselves during development: 'How do you make a movie called Battleship when there are no more battleships in the military?' We wanted to use a battleship as the hero ship that saves the world. We then learned that USS Missouri, which is now a floating museum, could be repurposed and repositioned into active service.
"We added the Missouri as a critical plot element and character in the movie," Schneir continues. "We were on the Missouri for two weeks shooting in September. But, before production even began, in January 2010, we were able to tow USS Missouri off of its dry-dock and into open water...with great anxiety from the Navy and the studio. Yet, it went off without a hitch. We had fabulous weather that day, perfect conditions, and we were able to get shots of the Missouri out in open water, which ILM later used to create some of the amazing visuals in the third act of the movie."
A Cast of Thousands:
Players and Locations
It was crucial to the cast and crew that the action-adventure honor the generation of sailors that set the precedent for the decades of freedom we have enjoyed. Stuber reflects: "We have a big movie with aliens, stuff being blown up and all those things that make for a true summer blockbuster. But thematically, we want to also pay homage to our heroes and what they achieved."
Working with "Old Salts"
It was a unique opportunity for the cast not only to set foot on a true battleship, but also one with such an illustrious history. Skarsgard shares: "It was amazing. When we shot our scenes, we had a bunch of veterans who were on the Missouri in World War II. To be on that ship with those guys and hear their stories was a humbling experience."
"Filming on the Missouri was incredible," echoes Kitsch. "We talked to NORMAN M C CLAFFERTY, who was part of the 'Old Salts'speech scene with my character. He was on USS Oklahoma [BB-37], but he won a coin toss and was transferred before the bombings. Seeing him relive that, then working with us on the
Missouri, was incredible. As an actor, I felt lucky to share those moments with these men."
"I was aboard the Oklahoma, and the only reason I' m sitting here today is because of a flip of a coin," says 90-something Norman McClafferty. The Navy veteran, who is retired in Hawaii, answered a casting call from extras casting coordinator JUDITH BOULEY to play one of the 3,000 extras in Battleship (most of whom turned out to be current or retired Navy personnel).
Berg was looking to cast WWII Navy veterans, the "Old Salts," to be featured in one of the film's key scenes in which our heroes are feted on board USS Missouri. At the casting call, McClafferty came with an old photo showing the career sailor with John Wayne and Burgess Meredith. It turns out McClafferty had a small role opposite Wayne in Otto Preminger's 1965 epic In Harm's Way, filmed partly in Hawaii. The photo nabbed him not only screen time, but also a role with dialogue. About his time on the ill- fated USS Oklahoma, he says: "Two of us wanted off the ship...that was in July before the attack in' 41. You know the rest of the story. I was the lucky one."
McClafferty, who served on USS Oklahoma from 1939 to 1941, recalls the morning of December 7, 1941. He was then based on Palmyra Island, halfway between Hawaii and American Samoa, serving as a supply officer: "We were sitting there until the morning of the attack, when the CO called us together and told us the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor and concentrating on Battleship Row. The Oklahoma and the Arizona were sister ships, exactly the same frame. I figured the Oklahoma's weathered a lot of storms; it' ll weather this one. But sadly, it didn' t. The Oklahoma capsized in just eight minutes."
On December 7, 2007 (the 66 th anniversary of the attack), a $1.2 million memorial was dedicated to the 429 fallen sailors of USS Oklahoma on the grounds of Pearl Harbor on a walkway that leads visitors to the Battleship Missouri Memorial. The names of those who lost their lives when the ship rolled over at its mooring on Battleship Row and sunk — her masts and superstructure jammed into the mud on the bottom of Pearl Harbor — are engraved in black granite on 429 individual white marble columns, each of which is seven feet tall and weighs 120 pounds.
McClafferty was one of approximately a dozen real Navy veterans cast in the action-adventure, some of whom served on USS Missouri (such as TOBIAS LANCON, who served in the Korean War from 1952 to 1955). Like the film's cast, Berg's military technical advisor, retired USN Capt. Rick Hoffman, was honored to meet these other veterans populating the scenes on the floating museum.
The captain enjoyed his time on the "Mighty Mo." Hoffman says: "What an incredible experience. World War II destroyers weighed about 1,800 tons; World War II cruisers, about 12,000 tons; and our current destroyers, about 9,000 tons. But a World War II battleship was about 64,000 tons! It sports three 16-inch gun turrets.
"It has a huge historical significance," adds the Navy veteran. "It was brought back into service, along with three others of the same class, and participated in Vietnam shore bombardments, then stayed on board through the first Gulf War. To go aboard that bit of history and then to have the production bring aboard people who'd served there or on similar ships in World War II—listening to their stories as they walked around the ship themselves—was just extraordinary."
Shooting on a USN Destroyer
In addition to the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the company also had the privilege of filming for a week on board an active USN destroyer. USS Hopper (the coincidence to Kitsch's character's name is purely that) was launched in January 1996, and in September 2010, it was moored at Pearl Harbor and undergoing maintenance.
Of the sophisticated ship that Kitsch was allowed to tour, Hoffman relates: "Hopper portrays John Paul Jones. The crew and officers of the ship graciously allowed us to have a great deal of access to their flight deck, main deck, the bridge and forecastle. This is an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. It's also called an Aegis guided-missile destroyer, or Aegis destroyer. It's got phased-array radar for anti-air warfare, is 505 feet long, about 9,000 to 9,500 tons, and houses 260 young men and women who go to sea in harm's way—doing everything from ballistic missile defense to chasing pirates off of Somalia."
"The Navy's been incredibly cooperative," adds location manager Meehan of the access provided to Pearl Harbor, the RIMPAC exercises and its fleet of vessels. "We requested a destroyer, and the Navy got us the Hopper, the only destroyer that was not out at sea. What makes her unique is that she's the only one in the Navy named after a woman." Admiral Grace "Amazing Grace" Murray Hopper was, according to Meehan, "a pioneer in computers, and she brought that knowledge to the Navy."
Lensing the RIMPAC Soccer Match
Access to the base, the piers and the ships were thanks to Capt. RICK KITCHENS, the U.S. Navy's commander of Pearl Harbor during the film's location shoot in September 2010. Kitchens' official title is Joint Base Commander at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the recently merged single base comprised of what was Naval Station Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base. On his watch, Kitchens is responsible for the port that is home to 11 ships and 18 submarines or, as he calls them, "one-third of our nation's submarine attack force." The captain reflects: "To be able to be Pearl Harbor's commanding officer, with its history and fame...has been a thrill."
While insuring a smooth and productive experience for the company during its three-week stay at the U.S. naval base (in addition to the prep time prior to the shooting schedule), Kitchens scored extra points for the RIMPAC soccer game Berg staged during the shoot's time at Pearl Harbor. It was 2010, and World Cup fever abounded.
For Battleship's soccer game sequence (which pits members of the U.S. Navy against Japanese sailors), Berg chose a field on the Pearl Harbor grounds that overlooks two ship-mooring docks. "I felt like we should open the movie with soccer, which would give it an international flavor. We found a local team made up of Japanese and American players. Originally, it was going to be a football game, but we were fed up with shooting that," the Friday Night Lights director laughs. "Then we found out there really is a RIMPAC Cup, a tournament of all the countries participating in RIMPAC."
While Bouley had brought several hundred people to play fans watching along the sidelines, Berg had an unexpected surprise: Several hundred additional extras came along. They were American and Japanese sailors whose ships had coincidentally pulled into port at the naval base the night before the scenes were filmed. They were now in Berg's camera frame, just outside the soccer field's fences. So, the filmmaker requested that the troops from each ship come out on deck to cheer on their respective soccer teams when goals were scored. They happily obliged.
Location manager Meehan states: "I asked the Navy if we could put some ships at Bravo Pier. However, that particular pier does not have enough power to sustain a destroyer. So, the question was 'Would there be a destroyer available, and if so, could we put it where we wanted?' Through the diligence of several people in the Navy, they realized that this particular ship, USS Shoup [DDG 86, another relatively new destroyer, launched in 2000] was coming into port."
"It was good fortune that those ships were moored at those particular piers," Capt. Kitchens recalls. "In fact, the Japanese ship, JDS Kirishima [DDG 174], is actually the ship that was in the RIMPAC scenes out on the Pacific. The ship was at Pearl Harbor for some missile testing that they were coordinating with the U.S. Navy."
For those surprised to see a Japanese naval ship docked at Pearl Harbor, Capt. Kitchens explains: "We have a defense treaty with Japan. We' re far removed from the World War II days of being enemies. We are now integral to each other's defense around the Pacific. We have mutual defense treaties, and the Japanese have been coming here for years and are exceptionally respectful. And they always have the most beautiful ships. As a career sailor, I admire that."
Filming at Punchbowl and Kualoa Ranch
It was truly a different era 70 years ago during World War II, when the two current allies were bitter enemies who suffered the deaths of thousands. Many of the American casualties are interred in Hawaii at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as Punchbowl Cemetery.
Built in 1948, this cemetery is located in the Pu' owaina Crater (Punchbowl), thus the name most associated with the sacred burial ground. In ancient days, this crater was known as the "Hill of Sacrifice." The cemetery is a memorial to the sacrifices by the men and women in the U.S. Armed Services, especially those who died in the Pacific theater. The resting grounds were dedicated on September 2, 1949, and 776 casualties from the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor were among the first to be buried here.
Majestically situated on the hills above the capital city, the cemetery includes the Honolulu Memorial, which was erected by the American Battle Monuments Commission in 1964. It was built to honor sacrifices and achievements of American armed forces in the Pacific during WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The impressive memorial sits high on the wall of the crater overlooking the cemetery. In addition to a chapel, the most striking element of the memorial is a monumental staircase leading from the crater floor. The walls flanking it include a total of 28,778 names representing those who lost their lives.
"Punchbowl is one of the most profound cemeteries I've ever been in," Meehan states. The film's key sequence, fittingly lensed on September 11, 2010, features Adm. Shane bestowing medals upon our story's heroes. Like the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the location shoot added gravitas to the production's efforts.
"It's almost a shame to call it a cemetery," Meehan continues about the impressive site, which he saw on his first location scout when flying over the island. "It's like a shrine. Where else in the world could you see a beautiful setting in a cinder cone? It's deeply moving, a wide-open place where your voice drops. This is a place of respect."
Hoffman remembers that morning as being quite a touching one. He tells: "The sun was coming up as we started to assemble several hundred extras for the day's work, most of whom were active duty and in their own uniforms. One of the extras who was portraying a Japanese naval officer, an officer with the Air Force Reserve, asked if he could sing the National Anthem before the shoot and Peter agreed. After Peter greeted the cast and crew, the assembled crowd was witness to a beautiful rendition of the anthem, in one of the most somber settings in the world. It was profoundly moving and a wonderful honor to be a part of that day.
Before the company set sail for Baton Rouge for two months of soundstage work, they spent time at one final key location in Hawaii: Kualoa Ranch, one of the island's most popular sites for Hollywood productions. It was at Kualoa that Berg staged the explosive scenes with Decker, Gadson and Linklater, who come upon the aliens erecting a communications tower in a place called "ground zero" in the screenplay.
Kualoa Ranch is a sprawling 4,000-acre landscape on the windward side of Oahu and contains one-stop shopping for location managers. Its diverse terrain consists of verdant rain forests, lush valleys, jagged mountain peaks and sparkling white-sand beaches. Just 25 miles from Waikiki, the working cattle ranch has hosted diverse projects over the years, from TV's Lost and Hawaii Five-0 to the films Jurassic Park, Pearl Harbor and Godzilla, among dozens of other titles.
The hallowed site, once the province of island royalty and one of the most sacred places on Oahu, has been hosting Hollywood for the past 45 years. The first film to use the ranch as a location, coincidentally, was the aforementioned 1965 WWII drama, In Harm's Way. The ranch was purchased privately in 1850, with family descendants still on-site, and the owners operate daily tours of the facility for the paying public.
"Kualoa Ranch is probably one of the most astonishing views of greenery and mountains in Hawaii," says local locations manager LAURA SODE-MATTESON. "It's such a film-friendly location. Shooting at the ranch gives you the jungle and the remoteness that you want, but you still have the support and infrastructure of Oahu, with its hotels, restaurants and easy access."
Sode-Matteson states the requirements from Berg were "a mountain ridge untouched by civilization." The Hawaiian native notes: "We found upper-road locations where you can see all of Kā ne'ohe Bay, the largest sheltered body of water in the main islands. It's a spectacular view and so green because of the rain. But Hakipu'u is a part of the ranch that isn' t filmed as much; logistically, it's more challenging. It was perfect because when we were on the hill, you could look back to the ocean as if it was Pearl Harbor with the ships on the water. So, when the destroyers come to attack, it's believable, because it's right there in the valley looking out to the ocean."
For her part, Sode-Matteson achieved something never before done in the years this state has been used as a location: She closed down one of the three main highways for half of a day. The breathtaking views offered from a certain vantage point outside of downtown Honolulu — as the highway stretches toward Kāne'ohe Bay on the eastern shores of Oahu — were too much to pass up. She confirms: "We shut down the H-3 in the opposite direction so it didn' t impact the traffic as much as people might have thought."
Working in Louisiana
On the third week in October 2010, the filmmakers bid aloha to two months in Hawaii and headed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where they had scheduled the next two months of interior ship work on four separate soundstages at the Raleigh Studios at the Celtic Media Centre. The new media facility—which opened in 2007 with 150,000 square feet of space divided among eight soundstages—sits less than 10 miles east of downtown Baton Rouge, along the banks of the Mississippi. The choice location also afforded the team access to yet another historic naval ship.
USS Kidd (DD-661), now a museum on the Mississippi, is a Fletcher-class destroyer launched in 1943 and named for the first Navy flag officer to die during WWII, Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. He perished on the bridge of his flagship USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. After its service in the Korean War and subsequent use as a training facility, USS Kidd was never modernized and is the only destroyer to retain its WWII appearance. The Kidd's special mooring in the Mississippi was designed to cope with the annual change in river depth, which can be up to 40 feet. For half of the year she floats in the river; the other half of the year, she is dry-docked.
As Baton Rouge is far from any Navy base, Berg had Captain Hoffman find sailors from Mayport Naval Station, in Jacksonville, Florida, to capture necessary realism for these scenes. "I was in Mayport between Hawaii and Baton Rouge and saw my former ship, USS Hue City, in dry dock," remembers Hoffman. "A few calls to the Captain, and we got some volunteers to come over and help us. They took some of their hard-earned leave to share in this adventure."
Also providing needed sailors to the Baton Rouge shoot were USS Carney (DDG 64) and USS The Sullivans (DDG 68). As the flow of the day's filming made it appropriate, many of these sailors found themselves with dialogue that was added to the scenes.
All Hands on Deck:
Building the Vessel Sets
Months before the company arrived in Louisiana, production designer Neil Spisak's art department and construction laborers were busy constructing several set pieces that portrayed the interior workings of USS John Paul Jones. In sum, Spisak's set designs consumed four of the eight stages that reside at Raleigh Studios.
"Of course, you always want to do as much on the real ships as possible," notes the designer, who joins Berg for the second time after their work together on Hancock. "Frankly, no matter how great a set you can build, there's still an edge to being in a real place that gives you a reality that is different than a set. Still, we established as much of the character of the real ships as we could in the sets we built."
In researching naval vessels, Spisak toured one of the Navy's newer destroyers, USS Chung-Hoon, with his supervising art director. This seasoned movie veteran, WILLIAM LADD SKINNER, proved extremely knowledgeable in the world of massive ships. "He's done a lot of water work and military-themed films before," Spisak says. "He had a good eye for what he needed to teach me about Navy ships."
Skinner's Hollywood tour of duty dates back to 1975 and includes the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films and the submarine sets for the WWII thriller U-571, the latter on which he served as the film's production designer. Skinner was a huge asset to Spisak's team (as were several other key associates, including set decorator LARRY DIAS, assistant art director MARK TAYLOR and construction coordinator ROBERT A. BLACKBURN).
Spisak re-created an existing steel structure in the studio's Stage 5. He says: "We took liberties with the ship's interiors to make them feel familiar. I toured an engine room, which was a brilliant white. We took liberty with that in terms of the gray colors used. That way, when we wanted the engine room to be really bright, we could light it. But when we wanted it to be moody, we darkened it to have the right feel."
The ship's engine room set was a replica of the engine rooms found on modern destroyers, which house jet engines built by Rolls Royce and propulsion and electrical power systems designed by GE. In addition to modifying the space for filming, there were a few other modifications to enhance the story. Though the jet engines are normally contained in fire-proof, sound-proof, heat-resistant modules, these boxes were removed to reveal the gleaming machinery and give the full effect of the modern warship's propulsion systems.
Skinner explains: "These are General Electric and Rolls-Royce turbo jets. There are two propellers on these destroyers, and they're each powered from an engine room— one room on port side and one on starboard. Each drive shaft is driven by two of these jet engines. So there are four jet engines that power the propulsion of the movement of the ship. The larger one is the port side, and that's the one we based our design on."
"Everything that you see in that set are things that would be in a destroyer's engine room," Spisak emphasizes. "However, we've broadened things slightly to give room for the action, which is this brutal fight between the character of Beast and one of the alien thugs. A real engine room is a five-level space, but we've contained ours because our action plays mostly on one level."
Regarding another key set design, Spisak states: "The captain would be placed either in the Combat Information Center (CIC) or the bridge." Therefore, the designer erected this space adjacent to the engine room on Stage 5. "Dramatically, you need to see what's playing out on the open seas, so the bridge on these ships became rather important. The challenge of how to accomplish the bridges, both in the alien army and in the human navy, was pretty daunting."
Skinner adds that the CIC operates in conjunction with the officers stationed on the destroyer's bridge: "The destroyer fights from the CIC, which is the heartbeat of the ship. It's below deck and is the ship's nerve center. Sailors can control all defenses and all offensive maneuvering or weapons firing from this place. The battle against the aliens is conducted from the CIC in concert with the bridge. With Battleship, more than any other film in recent years, you'll see how a destroyer works and how a battleship works. We took great pride in our designs for these realistic sets."
Moving along to the bridge, the production designer reflects upon the use of a motion-control mechanism called a gimbal: "The bridges were part of the biggest action sequences, and that required the entire bridge be on a platform that moved. This gimbal allowed us to slant the bridge, tilt it, and make it roll with the ocean waves. It was an expensive piece of equipment, so we discussed how to repurpose a single bridge set."
Spisak's solution was to build one massive bridge set. Completely engulfed in green screen, it consumed the entire working space of Stage 7 at the studio. The set would be refitted to play three different ships' bridges in the film: that of USS Sampson (commanded by CO Stone), the Japanese ship Myoko (Capt. Nagata's perch) and USS John Paul Jones (ultimately captained by Hopper).
In designing a single set, Spisak states: "Construction had to work closely with effects because the gimbal is a moving platform. Therefore, everything that was attached to it had to be steel and welded so that it would all stay in place and be safe. And, the gimbal was built to accommodate the set, not the other way around. The bridge set matches a real destroyer's bridge."
The gimbal's design fell to veteran SFX supervisor Burt Dalton, who marks his third project with Berg after serving in the same capacity on The Rundown and The Kingdom. Dalton's SFX team customized the gimbal based on the requirements of the bridge set and the script's action. To replicate the ship's pitching and rolling movements on the high seas, this gimbal—with its pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis—was crafted. The massive steel structure weighed 150,000 lbs. and measured 70 ft. by 30 ft. and stood less than eight feet off the ground.
"It's all computer-controlled...built extremely stout so we could do whatever we wanted, from subtle to radical movements," the SFX supervisor explains. "It was also a different design than we'd used before. We needed it very low to the ground, only eight feet off the ground. We couldn't get much lower and not have the green screen reflect up into the glass and on people's faces. So, we built an inverted 'V'system, one axis down on the ground, and the other axis cupped into it."
Dalton states that a gimbal "lends realism for the actors as the ship sways like it would on the ocean. But, there were two or three instances where we really needed to use it as a gimbal, when the ship is being rocked by explosions, like when the aliens break out all the windows during their attack on the Sampson. We then blew out all the windows and violently shook the set. In those moments, we could dive it down and slam it to a stop and make people tumble forward on deck. When the ship's supposed to be sinking, we could also dip it at strong angles."
Aliens, Stingers and Shredders:
Invaders and Their Weaponry
It was crucial to the producers that when audiences see this epic, they witness an incredible spectacle. Schneir says: "They're going to see airplanes and ships and aliens and shredders and thugs. They're going to see the game of 'Battleship' that they all grew up on come to life in front of them. And at the core of it, they're going to see a story about a group of human beings who are up against impossible odds."
The minds at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM)—under the supervision of VFX supervisors Grady Cofer and Pablo Helman—were responsible for creating those odds. "We took great pains to construct the aliens so that they were similar to us," Aubrey offers. "Certainly they're going to look very different, but the idea was that we live in parallel worlds, something astronomers call a 'Goldilocks planet.' They use and need the same resources, so they can exist in the same environment that we do. From the onset, Pete was very intent upon identifying certain aliens as having distinct personalities from one another so that they will be identifiable to the audience."
Stuber admits that he was blown away by the intimidating look of the humanoid aliens, as well as their massive ships and intergalactic weaponry. He says: "ILM is the first to come to the table with a new idea. Having worked with them over the years, it's still fun to see how much they continue to up their game, and the things that they continue to bring to life on film are extraordinary."
SFX supervisor Dalton also worked in concert with his VFX counterparts at ILM for those sequences that featured another unique device: the shredder. "We introduce an entire alien naval fleet in the movie, which I've never seen before," states Berg. "We had some of the best minds at ILM designing these ships and building 3D models on computers, figuring out what kind of fighting systems they would have. The naval combat between these alien ships and our Aegis-class destroyers is breathtaking. We've also created some cool weaponry that the aliens use. One is called a shredder, which has an intelligence system and is programmed to destroy whatever is in its path."
Helman describes the mechanical weapon: "It's about nine feet in diameter, a sphere that shreds whatever is in its path. It's huge and has all kinds of gears and things that cut through metal and cement, anything actually."
"Pete was brainstorming about what kind of diabolical weapons of destruction the aliens could have," adds Aubrey. "One of the first things we talked about was the idea of a shredder. Imagine a circular array of chainsaws, a huge ball the height of a normal room with a whirling dervish motion that could burrow down to the center of the Earth just as easily as it could plow through an 18-wheeler."
The shredder appears in several action-packed moments throughout the film. Per Dalton: "Most of those have to be all CG because there was nothing we could do practically on the set. It's beyond Newtonian physics. Like a scene when a shredder chases after one of our heroes, Ordy, down the ship's hallway. For that particular shoot, we knew we couldn't destroy the hallway because you had to do multiple takes."
However, another key sequence featuring the shredder required Dalton's crew to cut a bus in half. The script called for the device to chew its way across a highway, devouring a light pole and cars before slicing a bus in half. "We made three sections of a bus," he states about the labor involved in cutting a real bus in half live in front of the cameras. Naturally, all of this was shot in Baton Rouge, where Spisak's team created a 400-foot green screen highway in a huge empty lot across from the Celtic-Raleigh stages.
Dalton discusses the assorted set pieces created for the dynamic scene: "One bus was towed on what we call a ratchet, a high-compression, air-powered cable that allowed us to move the heavy vehicle up to 15-20 miles an hour. When the shredder hits it, we used metal shape charges below 3/8-inch steel plates that held it together. When those steel plates blew apart, the bus was pulled apart and torn in half. We added an additional brake and steering system that was self-contained. The stunt guy 'driving' the bus up front had to live through all these hellacious explosions, but not a fireball."
"In this sequence, the shredder flies from one of the alien ships out on the water off the coast, zeroing in on a freeway," adds ILM's Helman, who worked closely with Dalton's team to execute the detailed effect that took a week to capture under the expertise of 2 nd unit veteran PHIL NEILSON. "It was not a real freeway, but a stretch of asphalt that we surrounded with green screen, which allowed us flexibility. We blew up buses and cement trucks and cars...the fun part of my job! The most successful shots are the ones in which we combine practical effects, miniature work and CG."
Helman, a 15-year veteran with ILM, likens the process to "molding a piece of clay. But, we do need references from the real world, so if we need to design a 'shredder,' we take references from places like Home Depot. We took a look at metal and the way light reflects upon that material. It's not that different from designing a car."
One of ILM's design ideas involved the look and movement of aliens'subterranean vessels, known as Stingers. They took their cue from Berg, who states: "The initial idea for the alien ships was taken from the idea of a water bug. The ships themselves have this movement and orientation where their backs are up and their heads are down, like they're charging, and then they hover and sit on top of the water like bugs. I loved the idea of having that unexpected movement in the water as a counterpoint to the way that we all understand how ships sit and move through the water."
Cofer discusses the design: "We developed Stingers, which are alien ships that start under the water and then rise up to the surface. Pete said, 'What if these ships could all of a sudden leap into the air and land in the water somewhere else?' which was a very intriguing idea. It's science fiction, but grounded in reality."
Still, Cofer relates that he asked the animators: "'How do you do that with these massive ships that are so heavy? How would that work?' We started this test: taking a Stinger and a U.S. Navy destroyer, and we pitted the two against each other. We allowed the Stinger to leap, defensively and offensively, during its maneuvers. It was awesome, and became one of the most interesting things about that ship."
Cofer states that it was never the aliens, shredders or spaceships that posed the biggest challenges. "Battleship will push the boundaries of fluid simulation," he emphasizes about the creation of the VFX water. "The water interaction in this movie is very intense. We'll have surface waves, splashing and crashing waves, and mist and spray and foam. We at ILM, our R&D department, nicknamed the film 'Battleship Water Project.' We have had to reengineer how we tackle deep-water simulations!"
The team dealt with many ocean simulations and studies of water surface. Cofer continues about what lay ahead for the VFX wizards during the yearlong postproduction window following the film's wrap at Christmas 2010. "Pete is specific about what kind of swells he wants to see, the speed that he wants these ships to move at. He has a lot of boating experience, so he knows what things look like when they're out in the ocean.
When you put a big ship out, it displaces the water when crashing through waves."
For this research on water displacement, Cofer says the team "shot a lot of footage of how these massive ships travel through stormy seas. It's amazing how even these big, heavy ships rock and move. Of course, that's something you would feel when you're on a real ship."
Universal Pictures presents—in association with Hasbro—a Bluegrass Films/Film 44 production of a Peter Berg film: Battleship, starring Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Rihanna, Brooklyn Decker, Tadanobu Asano and Liam Neeson. The music is by Steve Jablonsky, and the executive music producer is Rick Ruben. Battleship's costume designer is Louise Mingenbach, and the film's editors are Colby Parker, Jr., Billy Rich, Paul Rubell, ACE. The epic action-adventure's production designer is Neil Spisak, and the director of photography is Tobias Schliessler, ASC. The film's executive producers are Jonathan Mone, Braden Aftergood. The action-adventure is produced by Brian Goldner, Scott Stuber, Peter Berg, Sarah Aubrey, Duncan Henderson, Bennett Schneir. It is based on Hasbro's "Battleship," and it is written by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber. Battleship is directed by Peter Berg. © 2012 Universal Studios. www.battleshipmovie.com
Studio photos, notes and videos © 2012 Universal Pictures