When mounting a production as gargantuan as Battleship — Universal’s $200 million-plus maritime alien invasion spectacular — it helps to seek out as much advice as possible. Fortunately for director Peter Berg, one of the foremost experts on making mega-budget Hollywood productions on the open ocean came to him. Two months before Berg, Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna, and the rest of the film’s cast and crew set out to shoot on the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii, the Hancock director says he got an unsolicited phone call from none other than Kevin Costner.
That’s right: The star of the notorious 1995 flop Waterworld had a few things to get off his chest about shooting a movie on the briny sea. (Costner was unavailable to comment for this story.) Check out his advice as Berg recalls it below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So Kevin Costner just called you out of the blue?
PETER BERG: I was in my office one day. I get a call. Kevin Costner’s on the phone. I’ve never met Kevin Costner. I’m like, “Hello?” He’s like, “I need to come in and talk to you.” I’m like, “…Kevin?” He’s: “I need to come in and talk to you.” I say, “When?” He says, “Tomorrow.” I say, “Okay!”
So he comes in, he sits down, he says, “I feel compelled to talk to you and I want to tell you” — verbatim — “the stuff we did right and the stuff we did wrong.” And he talked to me for three hours about the perils of filming out on the ocean.
What did he tell you?
He just took me through it. Halfway through, I stopped and asked if I could bring our line producer up there, Duncan Henderson, who is very responsible for [the logistics]. We just sat there and listened to Kevin. He helped us so much, you know, in terms of thinking about the things that you don’t even think about that could go wrong. It’s not the things you think of that go wrong, those things are fine.
When you’re making a film, rarely does someone get hurt doing a stunt. Everyone’s so vigilant during a stunt. Got the ambulance here, we practice, everyone’s padded, everyone’s fine. It’s the stupid stuff.
So what do you need to focus on?
Looking crew members in the eye and making sure they’re okay. Really understanding what the fluctuations in the weather can be. What to do if sharks show up and you’re filming, ’cause they do.
So it was all about minding your Ps and Qs?
Yeah. It was about redundancy, identifying anything that could break, and then making sure you had three backups. Not one, but three. And then it was paying attention to all the things that weren’t obvious. You know, really making sure that crew members were alert, that they weren’t getting dehydrated and falling off these big barges we were filming on. Well, people fell off the barges, so we were making sure there were rescue divers in the water all the time, so that nobody got hurt. And nobody got hurt.
We had five hundred people on a barge a mile out, and, you know, cranes and boats with cameras. It was a circus out there and film crews tend to work their asses off and they go into these trances and they don’t think, “Oh I’m a mile out, on a boat, and if I step here, I’m in the water.”
It sounds like Kevin really broke it down for you.
It was awesome. Kevin is a great guy and I think, maybe it was a little cathartic for him [laughing]. He’s probably waiting to have this conversation with someone for a long time. But, yeah, he didn’t have to do that and, you know, I can’t say enough about him. He made a huge difference. He just put vigilance in our minds. Like, the second we got to set every morning, we were alert. We were not f—ing around.
For more on Costner’s advice to Berg — including Berg’s nightmare scenario — check out this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, May 11.