The Making of 'Pirates of the Caribbean'
In July 2009, Rob Marshall boarded a plane from New York to Los Angeles for talks that would alter his career, impact a near-$3 billion franchise -- and almost cost him his life.
Marshall, then in postproduction on the Weinstein Co.'s Nine, was among the very few directors whom producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp had shortlisted to captain a fourth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean after Gore Verbinski, helmer of the initial trilogy, opted to make Rango instead.
Their selection was critical: The Pirates series hadn't just grossed $2.7 billion at the global box office, it had fueled everything from Disneyland tickets to huge merchandising deals. But it had been two years since the previous incarnation, 2007's At World's End, which was widely panned. Bruckheimer knew how important it was to get his director right, especially with a new Disney Studios regime about to take charge under chairman Rich Ross.
"Oh God!" Bruckheimer says. "It's big family entertainment based on one of their cherished rides; it drives business through the theme parks and reminds people of the Disney brand throughout the world."
More than that, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides would draw revenue from "theatrical, DVD and everything from pay TV to broadcast TV," Ross notes. "We have a deal with Lego for a video game, and a publishing program. And obviously, we have an intricate relationship with the parks."
Satisfying these constituents would be a major aspect of Marshall's job. It was a factor he had never dealt with before. A former choreographer whose first feature, Chicago (2002), won the best picture Oscar, he'd had a financial disappointment with Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), would soon have another with Nine and was untested on a movie of this scope, budgeted at well beyond $200 million.
"I wanted to find out from the beginning what they had in store," he recalls.
So on July 21, Marshall and Bruckheimer met with Depp in his Melrose Avenue offices and ranged over everything, discussing the length of the commitment, the characters, the shooting schedule and a script already in place by Pirates regulars Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio that centered on the search for the Fountain of Youth. It would abandon two central characters from the franchise, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), whose story had concluded with a post-credits sequence in the third movie. In their place, the creative team introduced new characters: Blackbeard and his putative daughter, Angelica.
For Marshall, this act of reinvention was fundamental to the project's appeal. On Stranger Tides had "a whole new story line and set of characters. It felt new, and that was important to me."
By the end of the hourlong meeting, the project was a go.
"Rob is a very effusive man and very charming," Bruckheimer says. "After Johnny said yes, we started negotiating the deal."