Was Captain Phillips Filmed on a Real Ship?

Starring Tom Hanks in the lead role, ‘Captain Phillips‘ recounts the true events that happened with the crew of a merchant ship that was attacked by Somali pirates. At first, the crew tries to contain the situation by trying to negotiate with the pirates, but then, their captain is held hostage, and the next four days are spent in a tense atmosphere. The film keeps the audience on edge by never taking them off the sea, so it feels like they have been stuck there, like the crew and its captain. To make it feel all the more realistic, the crew filmed at the locations that would present a more authentic portrayal of events.

Captain Phillips was Filmed on a Real Merchant Ship

While making ‘Captain Phillips,’ the main concern of director Paul Greengrass was to get as much real-life stuff on the screen as possible. For this, about 75 percent of the film was shot on open waters on a real merchant ship, which was almost identical to the real ship that Richard Phillips had been on. Moreover, they got in touch with the Navy to get real ships to film the scenes regarding Phillips’ rescue, and one of the ships they got for the movie was also present during the real rescue. The crew adopted the same approach as the lifeboat. They created an identical replica of the real lifeboat to give it the claustrophobic effect that Phillips must have experienced during the four days he spent as a captive.

It fell on executive producer Greg Goodman to come to an agreement with Maersk and the Navy. The process took months, but eventually, he was able to procure the ships for the film. It was also a good deal from the financial point of view because both the Navy and Maersk decided to charge much lower fees than they usually would. The film was on a tight budget, so this helped the production on all fronts.

Almost half of the film takes place on a merchant ship. In real life, it all happened in Maersk, Alabama. However, during the production of the movie, Alabama was on active duty and couldn’t be used for the film. So, Maersk provided them with its sister ship, Alexander, identical to Alabama in almost every way. In the same vein, getting real ships that had been there during the rescue wasn’t entirely possible. The aircraft carrier USS Wasp and USS Trusxtun (which sat in for USS Bainbridge) were used for filming. Still, they got USS Halyburton, which had been there during the incident. This added to the film’s authenticity and helped the filmmakers get a real sense of the aftermath, discovering the details of what happened behind the scenes while Phillips was on the lifeboat.

While the production team got the ships, they knew that filming in a real lifeboat would be tricky, considering how cramped the space is. So, they created a replica, which was then put on a gimbal. This allowed the crew more space to film the scenes while maintaining the claustrophobia and the sense of getting trapped. All of this combined worked out rather well and delivered the intended effect.

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