08 July, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

There was a lengthy swordfight sequence in the first film - Curse of the Black Pearl - where instead of running away and hiding, the heroes fought baddies they knew could not be killed. On Wordplay I called this a 'logic flaw' and was told off by Ted (or was it Terry). I bottled and said I was wrong - although I wasn't sure I was, actually.

In the new film there is a lengthy threeway spectacular swordfight sequence but again I think it was totally pointless. There wasn't even the slightest suspicion that any of the three would be hurt during this, never mind killed. For me the problems of the first film were made bigger here as the budget was made bigger. It's even longer, even more complicated and even more bloated . It's strictly for fans of the actors and/or fans of special effects and action for its own sake unconnected to a coherent narrative. But on the positive side, there are millions of those fans and they will love it.

A new storyline developed after, what seemed like, several hours and I worked out that for it to be resolved I'd need to be stuck in the cinema for several more hours. Luckily, it was left unresolved as a cliffhanger which will be concluded in part 3 in May next year. It's going to flipping well take me that long to recover.


Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott interview by Sean Kennelly,
Creative Screenwriting magazine excerpt

You're known for taking the creative process very seriously. Can you walk us through your process for writing Dead Man's Chest? For instance, which comes first, concept or characters?

Terry Rossio: We try to not let anything come first, in the sense that nothing is defined until everything is defined. The danger is that you'll lock in something; like you'll lock in a story point or you lock in a particular characterization. But a particular characterization is useless unless it is working within the overall story. Sometimes to get the story to work the design of a character ideally should shift to create maximum impact. Or the story point has to give way to something else so the overall story works best. I guess our commitment initially is to an effective exploration of the story idea, if that makes any sense. We try not to let anything really come first. Let the rising tide raise all boats -- to use an expression.

Ted Elliott: It's really thinking about the character and plot in combination, and trying to get a real feel for "What is the story we're going to be dramatizing?" Maybe the way to describe what we're going for is this: after you've seen a movie, you're talking to a friend and he says, "What's the story about?" and you can go through and give a synopsis of the story as it unfolded for you to your friend. That's where we're trying to get to -- what is that story as it unfolds?

The step from there is to look at that story and say, "All right, how are we going to treat that for use in a movie as a dramatization?" That means thinking about scenes, how those scenes interrelate. Every once in a while you'll have something that has to occur in the story that you can think of no good way to dramatize. That story point can't be written as dramatic presentation. You say, "All right, we need to somehow reveal to the audience that this character is thinking about this." Basically, he's doing something in opposition to what he is really thinking. How do you demonstrate it to the audience?

For example, in the first movie we established that Jack had this compass and it's implied very strongly that the compass points to Isla De Muerta. In fact, we went back and looked at it and in no place in this movie do we state definitively that the compass points to Isla De Muerta. So in Dead Man's Chest we had a chance to redefine the compass -- whoever's holding it, the compass points to what you want most.

In the beginning of the story, Jack points it in one direction, he looks at it and says, "Okay, we're sailing in the completely opposite direction." And this way you're demonstrating to the audience that whatever Jack actually wants most is something he really doesn't want to have anything to do with. That's one way to demonstrate that Jack is a conflicted character. Because we're using props to reveal character, more naturalistic writers like John Sayles or Horton Foote might say we're cheating, because we're not telling the story through character behavior alone. Terry and I tend to go for a much more…well, I guess "artificial" is the opposite of "naturalistic," but let's say "stylized" instead. "Melodramatic?" Man, they're all pejorative. We write more "Golden Age of Hollywood" style, how's that? So, whatever, John [laughs].

How do you go about then developing your characters? You write a lot of genre films, how do you keep your characters human yet hew to the conventions of the genre?

Elliott: As you talk about the story, you explore all the different things about it. In a pirate movie you start by saying, "What do we know about pirates?" So you find out, "Oh hey, did you know that pirates invented democracy? Oh, did you know that in a lot of cases pirates were rebelling against their incredibly harsh treatment in the Royal Navy and just wanted the hell out? They actually lived in England and would go out for a couple months and then come back." Things like that. What sort of thematic material is being suggested here? Just so I can be clear -- theme, as I'm using it here, doesn't really refer to the moral of the story. That's something different. It's more -- what is the subject of the work itself? Beyond the narrative, beyond the specific techniques, beyond the story? What is the story about, in a subtextual way?

Read Sean Kennelly's full interview with Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott in the latest issue of Creative Screenwriting Magazine. Their current free weekly email has extra interesting interview stuff they couldn't fit into the mag. Sign up here, if you want.

Latino Review interview

Movieweb interview

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