Interview with "Kon-Tiki" Directors Rønning and Sandberg.

Photo Credit: © Nordisk Film
September 5th, 2013

Filmmakers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have recently been named the directors of the new Pirates of the Carribean film but what will surprise you is their latest masterpiece film “Kon-Tiki”.  The film follows the expedition of Thor Heyerdahl and his raft journey across the Pacific ocean.  The two directors sat down with Movie Room Reviews and talked all about their brilliant film “Kon-Tiki”.

Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: Okay. So I just watched your new film Kon-Tiki, which you directed, and I think I had to say I think this is the best film I have seen this year.

Espen Sandberg: Oh, wow! That's a good start to the interview.


MRR: I really, really enjoyed the film and it's a world classic novel now written in the 50‘s. And it's real life experience of Thor Heyerdahl, right?

Joachim Ronning: Yeah.

MRR: Okay, so it's his book that you guys turned it into this film but he also made a documentary of the expedition which won the Academy Award in '51. That's the first Norwegian movie to win an Oscar, right?

Joachim Ronning: And the only one.

MRR: But you guys were nominated for one though, right?

Joachim Ronning: We were nominated, yeah, but the original documentary won the Documentary Oscar.

MRR: So how do you guys go about turning this book into the film?

Joachim Ronning: Well it took a long time. [chuckle] The story of Thor Heyerdahl and Kon-Tiki is the story that we grew up with actually, and it was just one of those stories that always appealed to us. This sense of real adventure. And so basically what happened was that five years ago now, almost six years ago, we started working on this project. There was a script but we had to spend many years financing it because it's like the biggest budget for a film production in Scandinavia ever, although not so much with internationally, but for Scandinavia this is like unheard of, I think we have like $15 million budget. And I think we ended up with 24 different financing sources from eight different countries and it took forever to put everything together. And we ended up shooting in six different countries and shooting out on the open ocean for a month. It was a huge ordeal, but in some sense also a real adventure making it.

MRR: Yeah, it looked like an adventure making it.


Joachim Ronning: Yeah.


MRR: How did you go about filming those unbelievable ocean scenes with the sharks and the whales and stuff?

Joachim Ronning: Well, we jokingly say the sharks are all Scandinavian. [chuckle] It is CG, I mean, it's computer generated. All the animals are in the film are computer generated creatures.

MRR: Wow, you could have fooled me easily there.


Joachim Ronning: Yeah. And that was daunting going into that because we knew that we would have lot of animals in the film, and that was also important for us to really make nature a huge part of the movie.

Espen Sandberg: You know you have all these fantastic documentaries now coming from National Geographic and Disney and BBC and all over where you see all these amazing animal life and we wanted to capture that in our movie as well, but of course, it was interacting with our story and our actors. So that was a great challenge, but we knew that lot of the appeal of the movie would be in fact through that.

MRR: You filmed the movie in English and in Norwegian, right? Two different versions?

Joachim Ronning: Yeah. That was also daunting going into, [laughter] I remember now, but the actors were amazing. They were so motivated into doing this and it was the only way we could finance it, to get money to make the film. So we had to do it, rather not do that again, but I think it has created a market outside of Norway, so we don't regret it.

MRR: Have other films done this? I have never seen this done in a film before?

Espen Sandberg: We heard the Germans did it right after the silent movies because they were worried that the films wouldn't travel. But that's the only thing I've heard of.

MRR: Now, the Norwegian version was nominated for the award. Is there a difference between the two versions, do you think?

Joachim Ronning: I think the, the English version is shorter. It was shorter from the get go actually when we did an identical cut between the two versions. And I think for the reason that English language is slightly more efficient. You don't need that many words [laughter] to say a meaning. And then we cut it further down together with The Weinstein Company to suit more the international audience and the American audience.

MRR: Well you know, one thing I liked about that, is that there was a lack of Hollywood in it.

Joachim Ronning: Yeah.

MRR:  So, it's based on this book that he wrote about the adventure. How honest did you guys stay to the book or where there things that you're just kinda like, "Well, we're not gonna do that 'cause it's easier to film it like this," or did you kind of struggle through and stay honest with the book that he wrote?

Joachim Ronning: Well, I think that Thor Heyerdahl, he lived one of the most well-documented life ever, but in a way, he was also selling a product. [chuckle] Which in many case was himself. So, he was a genius at PR. So, it was important for us to dig deeper. We of course used the book and we used the documentary film but Pål Hagen who plays Thor Heyerdahl, he became very good friends with Thor's son, Thor Heyerdahl, Jr., and I think that he managed to discover the real Thor Heyerdahl. I mean especially Norway, everybody has an opinion about him. And everybody kind of feels that they know him, but nobody really feels the same. So, it was important to cut through that and make our own Kon-Tiki chapter, so to speak.

MRR: Well, let's talk about, for a minute here, one of the most, if not the most important character in the film, the raft.

Joachim Ronning: Yeah.

MRR: You guys built a replica of the Heyerdahl that sailed for 100 days in the Pacific. How did you go about building that massive raft?

Espen Sandberg: Well, it's actually his grandson, Olav, that built it. Because he sailed the same route in 2006. He built another raft, it was slightly bigger than the original, and made the same voyage, and we got hold of the raft and we made sure to make an exact copy of the Kon-Tiki out of it and used it in the movie. So our Kon-Tiki raft has actually sailed from or drifted from Peru to Polynesia.

MRR: There's a museum, right? The museum is in Oslo?

Espen Sandberg: Correct. The museum is in Oslo and the raft that we used for our movie is in his hometown, Larvik.

MRR: What all can people see at the Kon-Tiki Museum if they were to travel there?

Espen Sandberg: Well, everything that Thor did. He made several other voyages after this, with the Tigris and the Ra, and so it's about his life and his archives that's now part of the UNESCO World Heritage. And also, it's a bit educational about culture and sea life, and everything. It's a very interesting place. And we live very close to it actually.

You can stop by and say hi.


MRR: Let's talk about you two for a second. You guys have been childhood friends, right?

Espen Sandberg: Right. Yes.

Joachim Ronning: We grew up together, so we started making films together when we were about 10 years old actually.

MRR: And you both grew up in Norway where he is from and where the story kind of begins.

Espen Sandberg: Yup.

MRR: How has your relationship lasted so long?

Joachim Ronning: We don't know any other way of making movies. [laughter] For us, it's a very natural way, it's a very natural process. It's a very collaborative process. We have different taste which I think is an advantage and we do disagree at times. But at the end of the day, we always find common ground to what's best for the scene or what's best for the film. And that I think we divide it... When we're in pre-production, post production where we do everything together, but when we're shooting, Espen concentrates more on the actors and I concentrate more on the camera and the visuals.

MRR: Well you guys are a great team and the next film you're gonna do is a pretty big hit, I'd say.  It’s Pirates of the Carribean part 5.  Are you going to take some things you learned doing Kon-Tiki into making this project?

Joachim Ronning: Yeah for sure. It’s great to be here at Disney.  And it’s going to take everything we’ve learned over the years to direct Pirates.  It’s a huge movie with lots of great characters and we love the universe and we are looking forward to bringing our take to it.

MRR: Well thank you so much for talking with me and both versions of Kon-Tiki came out August 27th so hopefully our audience will go check it out.

Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg: Thank you so much.