Directors of Dead Men Tell No Tales: Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg

As part of the #PiratesLifeEvent we had the chance to talk with the directors of Dead Men Tell No Tales, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg. They are Norwegian film directors that grew up childhood friends making short films. Their excitement of having the opportunity to work on a dream film such as Pirates of the Caribbean is contagious. They talk about their vision of bringing the back story to a worldwide fanbase that you don’t want to let down. The box office is saying they succeeded. Does this mean they are ready to make the next one?

Directors of Dead Men Tell No Tales Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg
Director Espen Sandberg and Director Joachim Rønning ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Directors of Dead Men Tell No Tales

Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg

Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning Photo by Louise Bishop

How did this script fall into your laps?

Espen: Yeah, it didn’t fall into our laps. We chased it. We wanted to make this movie. And I think the basic reason, as you know, Joachim and I started making movies together when we were 10. Movies that inspired us back then was you know the Spielberg and Lucas and Zemeckis films. And this franchise just reminds us of that. It has that unique blend of spectacle and humor and scary parts and also a lot of heart. So that meant a lot to us.

The special effects are amazing. One of the things that surprised me the most were the sharks. What made you decide to go with dead sharks?

Espen: Well, it was in the script, brilliantly written by Jeff Nathanson. And you now and then it became our job to translate that and to add elements in the action sequence. The idea was on paper, but you know that scene where he jumps over the boat and all? That’s all coming as we’re developing the idea. But the ghost sharks are the look of the ghosts basically.

©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The design of the ghosts became a long process that we did together with Javier Bardem as well. And the production designers and the effects supervisors and going in and trying to find what can give it a ghostly appearance without losing the actors. Like with Javier’s face, it is so wonderful, and you don’t want to mess it too much up. So, that’s where it started. And then the ghost sharks came from that trying to be a part of that family, so to speak.

What is it like to work on Dead Men Tell No Tales since you’ve done so many projects together since you were ten?

Joachim: We only work every other day. (laughing)

Espen: It’s very easy for everyone.

Joachim: As Espen was saying, we don’t really know any other way of doing this then being together. For us, it’s a very natural process. And I think it’s a collaborative one. We include the actors and the crew and everyone as part of the discussion basically. And we try to create safe work environment as you could say.

You know where every day is welcome and everybody can be a part of the discussion. And that’s important to us. I think that’s like probably one of the strong advantages that we have as a directing team.

Was there any part of the creative talk that you really enjoyed that didn’t make it in the film?

Joachim: This has been a very long journey for us. I think almost four years? Almost four years we’ve been working on this movie which is long even for big movies. And of course like in that process 1 ½ year just working on the script there’s always going to be so many different versions. The process is very long and complex. I think that probably one of the things that we had the most versions of is Jack Sparrow’s back story. His origin story, how he became Jack Sparrow and all of that.

I remember we had like you know 10, 15 versions of that. That was a long and grueling process because of the mythology of Pirates of the Caribbean, the series, and movies. It’s a complex mythology. There’s a lot of fans out there that knows everything. And so it was important for us to be ahead of that and not mess with any previous back stories.

Espen: You know and we also wanted to blend that back story of Jack also with Salazar’s s that their relationship, and the revenge story, became personal so to speak.

In the process of making the young Jack scenes, was the process similar to the Rogue One and how they did the young Leah regarding the CGI for Johnny’s face?

Directors of Dead Men Tell No Tales Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg
Pictured: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp)..Ph: Film Frame..© Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Joachim: I would say yes and no because the Leah was not made with Carrie Fisher, but we shot with Johnny Depp. So I mean the youthification that we call it — I’ve been misquoted in so many newspapers saying, beautification but it’s youthification — And that’s very important. And we shot it with Johnny and then spent the year in the computer basically.

There’s a company in Santa Monica that does it called Lola. Fitting, fitting name.

Espen: Now we can do 21 Jump Street again.

Joachim: Yeah, exactly. He was thrilled when he saw the results. He was a little like freaked out by looking at it but he loved it. And that was a fun moment.

Directors of Dead Men Tell No Tales Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg

What was it like working with Johnny Depp?

Espen:  Oh, it’s amazing. He’s so funny. And I mean, what you see with Jack Sparrow is, it’s all Johnny. And he’s a genius. I mean for us he’s like up there with Chaplin and the other ones because his timing is just perfect and he has such a weird imagination. So he comes up with the craziest ideas. And for us, the highlight was always going into his trailer in the morning and going through the scenes and the lines and trying to come up with even more cool stuff to do to make it even funnier.

And of course, when we started shooting he would do something completely different. And everyone was sort of thrown off, but that also makes it come alive and funny, so.

You said that you pursued this title. Is there a particular reason you wanted to do the next installment in the series or was it just this type of origin story that attracted you?

Photo by Louise Bishop

Joachim: The origin story in the movie came from us. That was something we wanted to explore. That was something when we were you know going the rounds and trying to get the gate, that as fans of the franchise ourselves we were curious about Jack Sparrow. We were thinking well, that could be cool too –, and they got that. Disney liked it.

And Johnny liked it too. He was a little bit more reserved because he’s very protective of this character of course. Jack Sparrow’s a tricky movie character because he doesn’t have what they call the character arc. He learns nothing during his journey. It’s not richer for the experience.

So he was very curious to where we would go with it. And then I think that it was now in the fifth installment, creating how he got his name and all of that. It’s a little bit risky. But then when we presented it and then we started shooting he really embraced it, and that was cool. So that was a big part of what we brought to get the job in the first place.

Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney Joachim Ronning

Was that just the main reason you wanted to do the films is that you are super fans of the franchise?

Joachim: When we were growing up, we were very influenced by Hollywood adventure family movies that inspired us to become filmmakers in the first place. And Pirates reminds us of that. It’s very much those movies that gives you energy. We both have kids. That was also a big part of why we wanted to do this. It’s something they can relate to and be a part of.

We’ve been doing the premieres and all over the world and traveling with our kids. That wouldn’t work if it were like a horror movie. It was a big part of it to make something that we saw ourselves in when we were kids and to make something for our kids.

Were there any other villains that you explored before settling with Captain Salazar?

Joachim: Well, I’m sure there were, but when we came on board I think that he changed. He wasn’t Spanish when we came but then when Javier agreed to come on to be a part of this, then he became Spanish. So I think he’s like originally he was British or something like that. But yeah, so that’s what changed with Javier.

So, what’s in store for the franchise? Will there be another one since we saw the clip as two?

Joachim: I hope so.

Espen: We wish we had that position. We are fans of the franchise, so we certainly hope that it continues. We’re just going to enjoy this now and see how it goes. But we’re crossing fingers.

Joachim: Yeah, it’s up to the audience I think now. And then Disney will make a decision.

You mentioned your family. So besides entertaining, what are you hoping people walk away with from the film?

Joachim: Something that was important to us was that we touched upon a little bit was the emotional core of the story and the kind of family theme that the film has. And that’s I guess a treasure is not always a chest of gold. It could be other things.

Espen:  Even for a pirate.

Joachim: Even for a pirate. And I think that was like something we really fought hard to do because I really inspired by the first movie. I think the series that had a big heart. And then, of course, you have the adventure. You have the scares and the comedy. But yeah, I hope that the audience will be moved by it as well.

Are your kids growing up in your footsteps and making movies together?

Joachim: Yeah, I would say so.

Espen: They’re best friends actually. Super close, so. And they’re doing a lot of creative stuff, so we’ll see.

Joachim: Yeah, we have five kids between us. I have two, Espen has three. Every other year. They’re nine, 10, 11, 12, 13. Yeah, so it’s a good bunch to travel.

How did the two of you meet?

Joachim: Through dance.


Espen: Yeah. Really.

Joachim: We were break dancers.


Espen: Yes.

Joachim: Oh, God.

We want to see you bust a move now.

Espen: Again, we were 10. And we immediately started making movies instead. And luckily we didn’t pursue the dancing career. We went for the moviemaking.

Joachim: I think when we were in elementary school, my dad bought a video camera. That’s why we kind of drifted into that and became very interested in film.

Do you have any of those early films?

Joachim:  Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s hilarious.

Pirates is such an iconic part of Disney and history. What’s it like being part of that? Is this what you’ve wanted to have that kind of feather in your cap?

Joachim: For sure. No, it’s a dream come true. I think you know we grew up with this in movies and –.

Espen: And it’s so much bigger than us. It’s amazing to go to China, and there are thousands of screaming fans. It’s such a global phenomenon, and it’s because they love the universe. They love the characters. And for us to be a part of that and keep that story going is really cool.


Check out my other Pirates of the Caribbean posts from the #PirateLifeEvent.

PremiereJavier Bardem | Geoffrey Rush |

Brenton Thwaites | Kaya Scodelario

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales NOW in theaters
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I was invited by Disney to attend the #PiratesLifeEvent to share my experience with my readers. All opinions are my own!
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