Deepwater Horizon Reaches the Big Screen

By Paul Benecki 2016-10-03 16:52:03

On September 30, the Deepwater Horizon blowout will make it to the big screen – not the spill and cleanup, not the years of litigation, but the story of what happened on board. Peter Berg's new feature film covers the rig's final day with a focused view of the crew’s actions, a part of the timeline that has been largely obscured by the environmental disaster that followed.

The film follows electronics tech Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), a family man with a wife and daughter waiting at home; Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), an experienced drilling supervisor for Transocean; and BP well site leader Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), characterized as a company man focused only on cost. Vidrine and Harrell face off over whether it is safe to finish up and move on to the next drill site; it is not, of course, and when Vidrine makes the final call to begin pumping out drilling mud, the inevitable happens, leaving Williams and Harrell to respond. The dramatic highlights of the film are in their attempts to limit the damage and get the crew to safety, and this is where “Deepwater Horizon” delivers, offering up all the action of a big-budget disaster movie. 

It's not every day that mariners and roughnecks see their work depicted by Hollywood, and when they do, accuracy is bound to be part of the discussion. The team that made “Deepwater Horizon” went to considerable effort to create a realistic portrayal, but more to the point, they did so while creating a story that reflects the seafaring community's values: the importance of experience and prudence; the need for clear lines of authority; and the duty to help others in an emergency, even at personal risk. Unfortunate things happen in “Deepwater Horizon” when these values are not kept – just as they did six years ago on the Deepwater Horizon.

MarEx was invited to an advance screening of the film and had a few minutes to speak one-on-one with director Peter Berg.

What drew you to this project, and how did Mark Wahlberg get brought in for the lead?

There was a 60 Minutes piece on Mike Williams that was very inspiring. As for Mark, I knew that I wanted to work with him on this – we've become really good friends and we have a high trust factor.

How much involvement did you have from the Deepwater Horizon's crew and their families?

We worked with several crewmembers and we met with the families of the 11 people who died on the rig. Caleb Holloway and some of the other crew stayed with us on the set. The families had set visits but weren't there for all of the filming; 

How did you work with the cast to recreate the characters from the rig?

Since all of the characters are real people, we tried to study the real versions and base our characterizations as much as possible on reality. 

Many of our readers would be interested to know about how the industry was involved in the film. Can you tell us about your technical advisors? 

It's my belief that BP tried to make it difficult for us to hire advisors or to have any other kind of industry involvement. I think that their influence was also what kept us from getting access to rigs, or to the OSVs and helicopters that service them. 

However, we did have a core group of about 10 advisors, all of whom have many years of experience. I don't want to name any names because I don't want to damage their careers. 

So you couldn't get access to a rig for filming. Instead, you built what may be the largest film set ever – an 85 percent scale Deepwater Horizon mockup. What was that like to work on, and why did you choose it over CGI? 

The set gave us a level of reality that we wouldn't have been able to get if we'd had to do it all with computers, and I think when you see the film you can appreciate that difference. 

- MarEx

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.