QUESTION: You have made several movies taking place on water.
WOLFGANG PETERSEN: Obviously, I like to work with water. I find it very, very dramatic. For a movie, for a story, it’s very good. I grew up in Hamburg, northern Germany. I’m close to the water. I’ve always liked it so much, hanging out there, looking at the horizon. It was always a wonderful thing to let your imagination just fly. And then also watching when the water was coming and when it really got bad. The power of water is unbelievable. I was always impressed as a kid how strong it is, all the damage the water could do when it just turned within a couple of hours, and smashed against the shore. It was just amazing. But then also as a filmmaker, a storyteller, when I’m feeling okay, if you are out or lost on a boat, and you just don’t know how to get back, or the boat is sinking, or it’s just stuck, it’s a great dramatic setting. It somehow stuck with me. When I got Das Boot, I had the feeling you can learn maybe more about the whole vast phenomenon of war if you have just 45 people stuck in a submarine and see how they deal with war and with attacks and with being attacked and everything and at the same time being stuck and not able to run. You cannot just run away. So, it’s more intense than in other war stories because you’re stuck in a claustrophobic situation, no windows, no nothing. You cannot just desert and run. There’s no way. So I found that extremely dramatic. And I liked this concept very much. Then, when I came across The Perfect Storm, I had the feeling, “Oh my God, this is a similar story, but only six people now out in the Andrea Gail and the Grand Banks, with fish. And the biggest storm of the century coming.” So, again, a situation that is not war, but close to it. Now let’s see how they react. So, always the feeling that audiences will like very much the disastrous situation of very, very extreme circumstances that have to do with nature or with war, where they are tested to see what they really are made of in this extreme situation. What would you do? How would you react? What is really there? Peel off the surface and look inside your heart. Who are you? That I think is dramatic. And then, here with Poseidon, same thing, so it’s even more interesting, maybe, to see it is not really trained professionals who go through a absolute dramatic situation like the capsizing of a huge, wonderful, luxurious ship, thousands of people, and focus on the group, see how they deal with disaster. I thought it was fascinating, and very much now like you and me, they are definitely not trained, definitely not prepared that anything like that will happen. For that night, I think they had other things in mind.
QUESTION: Why did you want to shoot this film on stages?
WOLFGANG PETERSEN: I really learned that on The Perfect Storm. The Perfect Storm was done 80% also on stage. And it looked very real. Actually Das Boot was done a lot on stage also.
QUESTION: Was this much bigger than those films?
WOLFGANG PETERSEN: Yes. We had enormous sets. Many, many. And also we wanted to build them with real sets. For example, the ballroom: we built completely a four-room wall set, and the same huge set we also shot upside-down. The same thing with the lobby – upside-down and right-side-up. It’s a big deal to do that. It’s a big logistic thing now to connect all the elements to it because you have to work with a lot of CG, of course, still.
QUESTION: Did you have to drain the stages daily?
WOLFGANG PETERSEN: Oh, yes. They were very supervised. Everything is kept clean and warm enough. In the film the water is very cold. In reality it was very warm. Not that warm, but very warm. And, yeah, it’s dangerous business. I mean, the actors, they did an unbelievably tough job almost every day in dealing with being underwater for so long and being thrown about by the water. It was very hard and very intense. And because of that we have to be very careful. Because it’s dangerous if you don’t take all the precautions, and have the safety guys and the divers there always ready to immediately jump in. It’s tough.
QUESTION: What kind of films influenced you?
WOLFGANG PETERSEN: I like spectacular films. I like getting the audience into a really visual experience and also get them in a place where I and they have not been before. That’s always fun. For example, I have not been on a big cruise ship in my life and wanted to get an audience inside a ship like that. But especially what’s interesting is when it’s upside-down – the disaster version of the cruise ship. I like that, to get them into a submarine or so. But also, I’m very much interested in the people, not just spectacle. What influenced me? I love films like Lawrence of Arabia, for example, which is a big, spectacular film, or also The Godfather, or such films like that. I’m very much a fan also of very small films like High Noon, from Zinnemann, or The 400 Blows from Truffaut. Truffaut was one of my favorite directors when he was alive. And he worked on a very small scale. So, I always try if I can, not always succeeding at first because it’s very difficult to balance the spectacular nature of a film with a very good and intense portrayal of people inside of it to balance it. It’s not just to overwhelm people with spectacle but also get them inside the people. Here I thought, in Poseidon, it was a very good chance because it’s an interesting concept – we don’t know these people. I don’t do long explanations of where they come from, and they talk about “I’m this, who are you?” And “I’m an architect. What are you doing?” That kind of thing. In a story like this, it’s not allowed. Ship goes over, and now they come together and they don’t know each other. It’s like a bunch of people, 10, 12 people, who have no idea who the other people are, and now they have to cling together and spend probably like two or three of the most important hours in their life together with complete strangers. It’s not a whole family gang who’s going. This is all strangers. And to see how they interact is quite fascinating. So, this human element is: how do these people, who are all of them like you, like me, very normal people. So the cast is also not known. It’s just an architect there. It’s a stowaway from Spain. It’s that little waiter from the kitchen. It’s a guy who’s a poker player. And so that’s interesting to see how they handled it. I think it draws you in. It draws you in the sense of saying, “Aha. What do I do? What would I do? This is not about Hollywood characters. This is about us.” It’s cruise ship. It’s the most normal thing in the world. Everybody does it. And it’s New Year’s Eve. And everyone gets drunk and wants to have a great time. And it’s over. Now, what now? Boom, over. Interesting.