Interview – WAMG Talks To KON-TIKI Directors Joachim Rønning And Espen Sandberg About Blu-ray Release And PIRATES 5
Did you see KON-TIKI when it was in theaters earlier this year? It is an amazing adventure and the kind of film we avid movie goers haven’t seen in a long time.
Based on the amazing true adventure of Thor Heyderdahl (Pål Sverre Hagen), KON-TIKI is the tale of a Norwegian explorer in 1947 who embarks on the voyage of a lifetime to prove a point. When the scientific community rejects his theory that South Americans were the first to settle in the Polynesian Islands, Heyerdahl resolves to prove its validity—and save his reputation—by embarking on the voyage himself. Recruiting a group of five men who are just bold enough to tackle the seemingly impossible trip, he builds a simple raft to original pre-Columbian specifications and sets off on the epic 101 day-long journey across the treacherous ocean to meet his fate, while the world watches.
In case you missed it during it’s run in cinemas, on Tuesday, August 27th, Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein Company are releasing KON-TIKI on Blu-ray and DVD.
A 2012 Academy Award – Nominee For Best Foreign Language Film Of The Year from Norway as well as Golden Globe Award Nominee For Best Foreign Language Film, KON-TIKI is from the directing duo of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.
Some background on the directors.
Childhood friends Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg grew up in the first video generation, spending their spare time making short films with a massive 30-pound home video camera.
At a time when video editing was only performed on expensive equipment by professionals, they gained access to their home town’s only video production company. Here they could sit at night and create their little films. Thus, Rønning and Sandberg were given a golden opportunity to practice on that most important aspect of filmmaking: storytelling.
In 1991 they started their own company, Roenberg – a combination of their two names. In 1994, they graduated from Stockholm’s Filmskola in Sweden, and began their military service later that year. As part of the same unit, they travelled all over Norway, which allowed them to film everything from submarines to helicopter shots of NATO exercises in the far north.
In 1995, Rønning and Sandberg began their career in advertising. Their visual style and comedic sense quickly made them popular across Europe. When they won the USA Today Ad Meter survey for their Budweiser spot during the 2001 Super Bowl, their path to the American market was opened and they moved to Los Angeles for two years.
Along with Espen Horn and Harald Zwart, they own and run Motion Blur in Oslo, Scandinavia’s largest and most awarded advertising film production company.
The two have previously directed MAX MANUS: MAN OF WAR (based on the books by the Norwegian resistance hero of the same name), BANDIDAS (starring Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek with French director Luc Besson as screenwriter and producer), and are now at the helm of the Disney’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 5 - DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES starring Johnny Depp. The film is slated to open on July 10, 2015.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Joachim Rønning And Espen Sandberg about the film, their real life adventures and how their next one – directing PIRATES 5 – is coming along.
Michelle McCue: The last time I saw you both was earlier this year at the various events during Oscar Week.
Espen Sandberg: Oh fantastic.
MM: I first want to congratulate you both again on the nomination for the film and the invitation from the Academy to become members.
Joachim Rønning: Yeah, Isn’t that amazing?
MM: It truly is! KON-TIKI first screened in Norway in August 2012 at the Norwegian Film Festival and here you are, a full year later, talking about the Blu-ray release. What has life been like?
ES: It’s been amazing – so much more than we could ever have hoped for.
JR: We did dream about it, but it’s been amazing and now we’re sitting in our production offices at Disney in Burbank and pinching our arm everyday. It’s a dream come true.
MM: The transfer of KON-TIKI to Blu-ray is stunning. I thought it may lose something going from the big screen to my TV at home, but the look and sound are impeccable.
The real life Thor Heyerdahl passed away in 2002. How much of his true story were you able to put in your extraordinary film?
JR: Thor lived one of the most documented lives ever so it was very easy to access him. Then, of course, he was a master in PR. He could really sell a product and often the product was himself.
His true genius was in that – in PR. So it was important for the actor, Pål Sverre Hagen, to make up his own mind and dig deeper.
We talked a lot to his son, Thor Heyerdahl Jr., who was very frank and very open. So Pål and he became very good friends in the year leading up to shooting the film. It was a huge advantage.
MM: All of that is a part of the bonus features too.
ES: Oh, fantastic!
MM: The composer for KON-TIKI, Johan Soderqvist, had previously worked on THE ROAD and IN A BETTER WORLD. His score for your film is so rich and becomes a character in its own right. How did the two of you go about choosing him for your film?
ES: Well he did one of our favorite films, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, a Swedish film, which is just an amazing movie. He did the music for that, among others. He’s done a lot with Susanne Bier – the Danish director’s movies (IN A BETTER WORLD).
JR: He’s just an amazing composer. What we actually did was use some of his older music as temp music when we were editing the film and we hadn’t really decided on a composer. It just became obvious that we should work with him because we’re using his music already.
It was amazing. He took an instrument – he took a sound, which almost sounds like a horn or a trumpet. It’s what we needed. It’s like a seashell – a Conch. And there is this Swedish Jazz musician that plays on a Conch basically. So Johan was able to get him into the studio and do so many cool things. We liked that being the signature of the Sun so to speak – of the Tiki god.
ES: We really liked that and we ended up recording it at the Abbey Road studios in London. It was probably one of the highlights of the whole production – being there, recording.
We could only afford one weekend – only two days with a full orchestra. They didn’t have any time to rehearse and they played off the notes. Straight in with two takes. It was so professional, so great being in the studio where The Beatles did 90% of their records. It was one of those moments.
MM: The 10-minute Visual Effects featurette is accompanied by Johan Soderqvist’s score and without any dialogue. It’s a beautiful montage.
ES: Oh that’s great!
Listen to clips of Soderqvist’s KON-TIKI score here: https://soundcloud.com/johan-soderqvist/sets/kon-tiki
MM: You shot the film on the open sea (Mediterranean) as well as in six different countries: Norway, Sweden, Bulgaria, Malta, Thailand and the Maldives. As a viewer, I really felt as if I was on the ship with Thor and his crew – it is that authentic.
And you were working with so many crews. Did anyone ever advise you NOT to shoot on the open sea?
ES: Everyone told us not to do it on the open water. It ended up being the best experience for us and I think some of the best moments in the film. It was basically due to costs. We couldn’t afford shooting in a tank. Green screen (CGI) looks amazing, but we couldn’t afford that.
We were like 25 people in the crew, out on the open ocean for a month. We were lucky with the weather also – that must be said. It was the best part of the whole production.
MM: Did anybody ever say, hey, let’s go for a swim?
JE: Yeah! There’s a story about a Great White Shark in the Behind-the-Scenes section. We’d swim during lunch hour, only to realize later that the biggest Great White shark ever caught was in Malta. It was a 20 footer – it was just amazing.
MM: Sharks. Open water. All this was ultimately good training for PIRATES 5. What’s the latest on that and what was your initial reaction when you heard the news?
JE: We’re in pre-production. We’re in our Disney office here. It’s amazing and a dream come true, really.
In a way, we have to pinch our arms everyday – coming in here and working with some of the best movie producers in the world, as well as the actors and crew.
ES: It’s on an amazing level. Everybody is so supportive. It’s a dream come true because it’s an adventure movie and it really reminds us of the adventure movies we grew up with in the early 80’s. INDIANA JONES and movies like that. Movies that made us want to become filmmakers.
So in a way, we feel like we’ve come full circle almost.
MM: KON-TIKI is such a unique movie and looked like such a challenge for you as filmmakers. What would you like the viewer to take away from the story of Thor and his journey?
ES: I think what we set out to do – and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback on this – that it’s an inspirational film. That was important for us.
JE: I really believe a lot of people have that dream – a dream to travel, to take a couple of months or a year off work. To go climb that mountain or drive Route 66 or sail around Cuba.
What we’ve noticed from the feedback we’ve gotten over the year is that that happens now. We’ve succeeded in that. It’s become an inspirational movie and Thor Heyderdahl was an inspirational character.
ES: That’s what captured the whole world when he set out to do this in 1947. And that’s why he sold 50 million copies of the book and his documentary about the voyage won an Academy Award.
It’s not because everybody is so interested in migration theories – it’s because it’s a real adventure and it tells you that your life can be filled with more adventure too.
MM: Thank you for discussing KON-TIKI, congratulations on everything and best of luck with PIRATES 5.
JE/ES: Thank you.
Learn more about KON-TIKI at: www.kontikifilm.com