6 Filmmaking Tips from the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Directors

Whatever you think of the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' franchise, it's been directed by some great talents.

Pirates Of The Caribbean Filmmaking

Whatever you think of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise, it’s been directed by some great talents.

Fifteen years ago, everyone thought the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was a joke. Disney was adapting a ride from its theme parks, one involving pirates, which up until were then notorious flop fodder. But it wound up being extremely popular, one of the top three movies of 2003, well-received by critics, and Oscar-nominated not just in technical categories but also for Johnny Depp as Best Actor. A lot of that achievement is thanks to director Gore Verbinski, a versatile filmmaker who went on to helm the first two sequels, each of which made more money than one before it.

Then Rob Marshall took over for the fourth installment. Mostly associated with musicals, including the Best Picture of 2002, Chicago, Marshall seemed ill-fit for the franchise but although his entry is the worst-reviewed, it’s nearly tied for highest-grossing worldwide. And now we’ve got Norwegian filmmakers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg at the helm of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Early reactions have called their sequel the best since the original, a return to what we all enjoyed that first time around. With their fifth installment, the franchise is set to sail past the $4B mark in total global gross.

Regardless of what you think of the quality of the franchise, though, all four directors are very talented and have made more acclaimed works outside of their Pirates entries. In fact, they’re all Oscar nominees — Marshall for directing Chicago, Ronning and Sandberg for Best Foreign Language Film with Kon-Tiki, and Verbinski, who actually won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature with Rango. Their advice to other filmmakers certainly isn’t something to shrug off, which is why we’ve collected six tips from the lot of them, with each director represented once for every installment they worked on.

1. ABS: Always. Be. Shooting.

Early this year, Verbinski took part in a Reddit AMA to promote his latest, A Cure for Wellness, and he was asked to share any “techniques or lessons” he’s learned. His answer:

I would say my one piece of advice would just to always be shooting. Just ‘ABS’, as we say. There’s no reason not to. You’re never going to have the perfect set of circumstances. You’re never going to be in an ideal situation with the right script or the right cast or the right budget, so you might as well get used to it. Grab your phone, grab your friends, tell a story, chuck it in the trash, tell another one. Chuck it in the trash if you don’t like it. If you like it, put it out there. Just that waiting and thinking that you’re waiting for some sort of conduit or some access point to become a filmmaker. You are a filmmaker. Just take that to heart.

2. No Egg McMuffins

Somewhat related to the above advice, in an Ain’t It Cool News interview posted one day later, Verbinski implies that filmmakers shouldn’t be too picky but they also shouldn’t play it safe. Acknowledging the diversity of his filmography, he says to take chances:

You have to approach every movie like it’s your last. I think that boundary of “I’m not sure” is a great place to be, pushing right up against that seam of the unknown. A Pirate movie is not supposed to work. That’s great, let’s do it! “Have you ever made an animated movie?” “No, don’t know how. Let’s do it!” The gig is gonna be up someday, so why not just go for it?…I mean, I like an Egg McMuffin, but I don’t want to make one.

3. Don’t Ask for Permission

Speaking of taking chances, Verbinski would say not to let anyone keep you from doing so. During a keynote address to game makers at the 2008 DICE Summit, he recalled having to defend Johnny Depp’s characterization of Captain Jack Sparrow to Disney during the making of the first Pirates movie and used the anecdote to offer the crowd this creative advice (quotes via The Escapist and Wired):

The trick is to not ask for permission…You are willing something into being. You do not ask for permission…Our audience wants us to surprise them. They demand it of us. When they see something that’s new, they will champion it because they discovered it

A few years later, while promoting Rango in an interview for DIY magazine Verbinski reiterated when asked about any studio push back:

I just don’t ask for permission. I grew up in the time of Old Yeller, the Wicked Witch of the West. I don’t know when we decided that drama had to fit in a Happy Meal box. I think kids can handle a lot more than we realize — we constantly underestimate our children. We made the movie for the child in all of us. I expected them to squirm a little bit during the existential crisis of the character, but they were quite mesmerized.

Christopher began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called 'Read,' back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials.