Exclusive Interview: Director Peter Berg on Battleship

Peter Berg

Battleship posterTo coincide with the release of Battleshipnow in Australian cinemas and released around the world this week, and Blake Howard of Castle Co-Op and That Movie Show 2UE represented his sites as well as The Reel Bits at the Australian rounds of interviews.

Blake Howard had the luxury of speaking with director Peter Berg about the film, his influences, upcoming projects and the resonance of Friday Night Lights.

We need to thank Universal for the opportunity, Peter Berg for his time and, of course, Blake for representing the Bits on this special assignment.

Battleship is now in Australian cinemas. It is released around the world this week from Universal.

Blake Howard: Thank you so much for taking the time.

Peter Berg: Sure

So I just wanted to say I loved your recent performance in Californication, as yourself and you’ve got some very funny performances as yourself in Entourage. Is that the funnest thing that you get to do?

Yeah I’m getting this reputation of being a lunatic director [laughs] I don’t quite know why. I don’t feel as crazy as other people seem to think I am but its fun that they cast me to be the director. I dunno why

What drew you to Battleship in the first place? What made you sort of go for it?

I wanted to make a big summer popcorn sort of movie. I think that when people look back at this time in movies, the films that you’re actually getting the most creative freedom in as a director are these kind of bigger like Super movies. Its movies like Iron Man, The Avengers, Transformers. They’re so big and they have such a global reach that you, they’re very hard to control. It’s very hard for a studio or anyone to kind of stick their fingers into it so as a result you get to have this incredibly unique creative experience and I wanted that. I mean as for the specifics of Battleship, I grew up loving naval history, I wanted to do something about navies, and I like the Battleship brand because it made the studio comfortable. [It] made them willing to take the chance and I felt like it was on me… All I ask is like, gimme a chance you know. I don’t have a rule about what movies I want to make, if I’m interested in something I just throw myself in there. And I felt like with Battleship I knew I was interested in the Navy, I’m like this will be on of the most creative and challenging experiences that I’ve ever had and I’m up for it, I want to see if I can do it.

Peter Berg - Battleship

There’s a really intimate feel with a lot of your smaller scale movies. You shoot multiple cameras and you get these organic performances. Is that hard to balance [that style] with the craziness of a giant project like this?

Yeah: I mean doing a film like Battleship is a tremendous amount of ‘management’. You know you just, when I’m filming The Kingdom or the T.V show Friday Night Lights, we’ll go into a real room and the actors control everything, you know.  We’ll get a few lights going and then we just let it go. We try and get lucky and find unique moments of human interaction and that’s what the goal is there. It’s simpler when you’ve got 30 people, Battleship‘s got 3000 people and nothing exists, nothing. You see you go out there everyday and there’s nothing and you have to, in your mind get everybody fired up and get actors staring at pieces of green screen. You’ve got 20 designers from ILM [George Lucas’ special effects house Industrial Light and Magic] who are all you know, guys whose IQ’s are so far out of my league that I have to try and communicate with them and you know in the meantime you’ve got some guy having an affair with someone else and the wife’s showing up [laughs] and every day, it’s a circus, an absolute circus and it’s fun you know. It’s challenging fun, at times frustrating but at the end of the day to be able to say you get to make one of these films for me is very satisfying.

How much influence did you have over the invaders?

I had this idea that came from this Stephen Hawking documentary on aliens where he was talking about these planets that he called ‘Goldilocks’ planets that are real, well some people call them Super Earths and they really exist and are planets that we found that aren’t that far away from different solar systems and these planets have a sun that burns about as bright as ours. So these are planets that… these other planets should have the right temperature for a climate. Well we’re sending signals, these high intensity signals, we really do that and Stephen Hawking said you know that’s a horrible idea – “Humans can’t get along with human beings.” If they come, and that to me was interesting and I’m like yeah I like that, I can get my head around aliens that we’ve invited so they’re not just here come the aliens to kill everyone, they’re actually not even that violent unless you fuck with them. They didn’t come here to fight they just came here to you know “What’s that, you know who’s this?” They’re looking around. If they want something, like take it. You know there probably will be a big conflict but I like the idea of more humanoid aliens who you know come from a planet similar to ours you know. I mean I believe in that. I believe that … when we finally realise that there are aliens out there they’re not going to be from worlds that are so different from ours that they’re probably going to be much more similar to us then we would think. I mean that’s my personal theory.

 And what kind of films were you influenced by? I know you said that this kind of Blockbuster moment in film history was a perfect opportunity for you to go in with Battleship but what other films when you were thinking of this big kind of blockbuster did you have in mind that you kind of wanted to emulate?

You know those film makers, you know there’s that handful of film makers that are getting to do these now, you know Jim Cameron [is] on one end of the spectrum he’s, I don’t even know what he’s doing. [Laughs] I’m a big fan of John Favereau and JJ Abrahams … and Michael Bay and these movies or films that have a certain vibrancy and swagger and like global reach that um I wanted to make a film that fit in one of those boxes

Is Alex Hopper, Tim Riggins?

I thought you were going to ask “is Alex Hopper, Pete Berg?”


[Laughs] Is this Pete Berg?

They’re all me [laughs] yeah Hancock was me, Jamie Foxx’s Fleury was me in The Kingdom and Kyle Chandler is a little bit me and Tim Riggins is a little bit me. I often get asked “is Battleship just Transformers 4” [laughs] you know what’s different you know it’s the company that brought you Transformers. The marketing feels like Transformers and I will say like, I think um I been doing this a long time and I think it’s kinda like my job and my pleasure to try and put myself a bit into every movie I do.

And that starts with the characters so you know there’s a big part of me that would probably get drunk and break into a store to get the girl a burrito and would end up just screwing it all up …but somehow I’d get the girl at the end of it. [laughs] It would just be real rough getting her. There probably would have been a lot of easier ways to get a date with a girl

[laughs] Yes… he’s [Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch)] great because he is flawed and he’s really human and there’s something to like about the fact that he kind of doesn’t do things quite right

That’s the reluctant hero, that’s Joseph Campbell and that’s an old classic myth and it works. And I’ve always been drawn to flawed heroes. And guys who really don’t want to deal with this but they got to deal with it you know what I mean. Bruce Willis in Die Hard was like the first memory I have of like, this guys just so awesome he doesn’t give a shit you know, he doesn’t really want to do this but he’s got to do this you know he’s got that great line where he’s like covered in blood and crawling through a pipe and they’re shooting at him and he’s like [Berg doing a great Willis impression] “yeah come out to California get some waves meet some girls” [laughs] as they’re shooting at him and I always felt like that was you know, those kind of characters were always appealed to me and men who are forced to find a better version of themselves in order to do something good, you know I thing it’s a great architect.

 Is there anyone scarier than a potential father in-law then Liam Neeson?

Maybe Chris Cooper?

Like for me the two scariest guys I’ve ever worked with are Liam Neeson and Chris Cooper and it’s ‘cos they’re so nice and quiet and easy but every once and a while they’ll snap and like Chris Cooper maybe would be scarier. That guy is intense.

I was just going to say American Beauty yeah he was pretty scary

But he’s such a sweet guy so that like for me I yell and scream all the time and nobody even listens to me anymore [laughs] unless I really yell but guys like that they never yell. If Liam Neeson yells it’s scary. But I definitely thought um you know that the irony of Taylor having to ask the man from Taken for permission I thought would be effective.

 I saw that your next project you’ve actually embedded yourself in with the Seal team for your next project Lone Survivor



How was that experience?

Um, that was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was with a 19 man Seal platoon in Western Iraq right by the Syrian border, out in the middle of no where and I get to really live with these guys everyday and develop some great friendships from that but to see, you know I get to go out and see them operate and it’s pretty amazing what these young guys, you know they’re young,  mid to late twenties and they’re being asked to do very complicated operations, very surgical operations where there is a 1000 things that can go wrong and only one good outcome and they’re constantly having to make judgement calls and there’s no preparing you know, half the things that happen so I was so impressed to see these young guys. And it just made me realise that the old days of war being fought by two armies with uniforms, and civility you know – this is my side,  this is your side let’s go -it’s a whole new world and these young men particularly Navy Seals are just extraordinary guys.

And you’re working with Taylor again on that one I see.

He’s going to play one of the 4 guys yeah.

Friday Night Lights, Battleship. [What is it about] him?

I know I keep working with Taylor you know I like um. One of the things that struck me as odd about movie making is, its just my own thing, I mean sure a lot of directors don’t agree with this, you know you get a group of people that come together like in this case it’s Liam and Alex and Taylor and Brooklyn and Rihanna and a couple of … come together. Nobody knows anybody, everybody’s kinda awkward and by the time the movie is over, you’re actually just starting to really understand the human beings. It’s like a relationship you know like a wife or a brother or something. And Taylor, like I like going deeper, you know like you’ve got to be able to, if you want to do good work with someone you got to be able to have a fight with them “Fuck you” and “I hate you” [laughs] and storm off and then come back and apologise and you know watch the relationship grow and if you can let that relationship grow and continue to work with the same people. Like Taylor and I have a great shorthand now, I’m not, we’ve had big fights you know and gotten pissed at each other and then made up and gone out and had a shitload of beer and had fun and that makes it for me, I can work better with people when I know them better. Like any working relationship, you’re more comfortable. So you know we’ve gotten. I’ve worked with some repeated people before like Jason Bateman, somebody I feel very close to, its just if ah, I find someone I like and understand and Taylor does remind me of a younger version of me and I love his sense of humour and I know, I know what he can do well and its just comfortable.

Yep. Well this is one of the first times we’ve had you on our shores since Friday Night Lights and I would be remiss to not mention just [how] powerful [the] series [is]…Why do you think it resonates so much with people?

You know I think ah, its just started with this book, some of this stuff starts with the material and um H. G. Bissinger wrote the book Friday Night Lights and he went and lived down there for a couple of years and he really figured out what’s going on. He figured out how to, he figured out a way to get into peoples very intimate lives you know, and if you can get, let someone in its going to have an effect and so Bissinger did it with a book. I went down there and kind of followed in his footsteps and lived down there for a year when I was writing the movie so I really understood that culture and I understood kind of, I dunno the issues and the triggers and the ways that those cultures use sports to really access much more important issues for parents, religion, education racism all these themes they’re all sort of attached to this sport but if you really understood the culture around the sport like we did, you can make some hard moves in peoples hearts and that’s what we were aiming for. They think they’re getting this little football movie and then we smash them with something really emotional.


 Is that for you then because you’re into going deeper? Is television something that you look at now as a viable [outlet]? 

Television …definitely [has]…advantages. Your ability to explore a character is you go deeper into issues. We couldn’t in the movie Friday Night Lights we just; we didn’t have the time to really go deep with these young boys in one season. To deal with racism, which is a huge problem in parts of our country, you can’t just casually do that but in a TV show, you go in there for 5,6,7 episodes and really dive into it so um it’s a great time for television in America now you know particularly cable to see shows like Homeland now. Is that come out here yet?

Yeah just coming out here.

Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, what’s on in cable is really, really extraordinary. Networks are having a little bit of trouble right now.


Cable, the private television is really good

What was your [proudest] moment during Battleship?

I think that I’m most proud of you know, Gregory Gadson getting this real war veteran into the movie who never acted before, who for the first 3 phone calls that I had with him thought I was full of shit and I was joking and I slowly let him know that I was for real and then slowly talk him into it, I had to teach him how to act because he never acted. And I think like the first day that he showed up on the set to do that little scene with Brooklyn he said “I’m half a man I got nothing.” You now and he, just that movement of reaching out and finding someone and bringing him to California and getting that moment out was very satisfying.

(Regarding the special effects) How far out from the actual finished product do you know exactly what it’s all going to look like?

You don’t until like the last minute. It’s one of those things that’s so frustrating. Like the aliens ships, I got the idea of those from looking up water mosquitos. I’d see footage of them on the surface of water and I loved the way they could move and the architecture of them. And it started with me sketching them with the designers from ILM and … we start sketching and we’d draw pictures and models of them but then you start seeing them rendered on film and they look horrible. And I learned when I did Hancock you have to be patient with that process because it doesn’t come quickly and you have to have , you know the tendency can be like oh my god this is horrible let’s do something else but what you really have to do is say ok we’re here, we’re going to get here it’s going to be rough. Stage 1 is cool ”cos its all just you know, they’ll look like this and we’ll do that and it’ll be great. And you’re like all high until stages 2 through 8 come in and you’re like this looks horrible.


And you’re like you know patience we’re gonna get it there and then suddenly somewhere towards the end you go and you sit and they show you a shot and you’re like “Holy shit”. You remember back to stage 1 which was 2 years ago [laughs] and it’s challenging but definitely a rewarding experience.

Well thank you so much for reading, and a massive thank you to Mr Berg for taking the time.