Chatham Author Discusses 'Pirates Of The Caribbean' Adaptation

By: Rowan Wood

Topics: Entertainment

In 2011, Chatham resident Elizabeth Rudnick Hessler wrote her first novels for Disney—adaptations of the superhero films “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” She has been writing books for them ever since, novelizing films such as “Frankenweenie” and the 2017 remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” even writing original novels based on the film such as “Frozen Heart” and “Pete’s Dragon: The Lost Years.” Most recently, she adapted the fifth film in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, having already novelized the first film in the series, “The Curse of the Black Pearl.”
The fifth film, “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” was released on May 26. Rudnick’s novel was released more than a month prior, on April 11, but reveals lots more about the film’s plot and gets into the heads of the lead characters and more.
We had the opportunity to sit down with her and chat about adapting the film, her favorites of the series, and more.

What do you think of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series as a whole?
I think that the “Pirates” franchise as a whole is engaging and very entertaining. It taps into a lot of stuff that makes humans smile and happy. There’s a lightheartedness to it, especially in the first film. In a way, it almost makes fun of itself, because Jack Sparrow [the main character, played by Johnny Depp in the films] knows he’s a caricature of himself. It’s almost a superpower. People think he’s a joke, but clearly he’s not. When Pirates is at its strongest, it’s because it’s tapping into those emotions—humor, love stories, and the thirst for adventure. All of those make it a really great series.

What did you think of “Dead Men Tell No Tales?”
I loved it. I felt like it was really coming back to the origin of Pirates as a franchise. It does a great job of balancing the seriousness and levity. It introduced a strong female character who wasn’t there simply to support the male character, and I loved that aspect of it. I thought they had come up with a strong and fun villain in Captain Salazar [played by Javier Bardem in the film].
It also gave more backstory as to who Jack is. I’ve always been intrigued as to what makes Jack who he is. For example, why does he wear eyeliner? Why does he swagger? Why does he feel the need to wear all the things in his hair? I think it’s cool that they gave him all that backstory.

When were you first asked to adapt the film?
I was asked to adapt it in the late winter of year. I finished it in April, I wrote it in the first month my son was born, while he slept.

Run us through the process of writing an adaptation for Disney.
They usually approach me a year before the film is set to release and I speak to the editor, trying to get a sense of what he’s is looking for in terms of tone. For this film, the editor wanted it to be slightly darker and aged up. I’m given a deadline, usually a really fast one, and given access to the script. Once I’ve been given that, they tell me how many words they need, how long it should be, etc. I read through it, kind of learn what it sounds like, and really sit down and factor in how many days I have.
And then I just write. I try to find a set time, usually mornings for me, to sit down. There are difficulties, like not always having constant access the script. They send it in encrypted files, and I had to sign a contract to promise that I wouldn’t tell anyone what happens. I write, write, write, write as fast as I can.
What’s fun is that sometimes they give me assets and visuals for the film. Like, if they’re working on a trailer, I might get to see that first, as to get a better look at the film visually.

Is there anything that you think could have made the story better?
I think that spending a little time of the Salazar element of the revenge [the title of the film in the United Kingdom is “Salazar’s Revenge,” which hints more strongly at the plot than its domestic title]. I also wanted to explore the motivations behind Jack’s behavior that set up the revenge.
They could have done a little bit more with Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner [played by Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom in the film, albeit briefly]. I said before that they have a really strong female character, but I would have liked to see a little more of that, especially her backstory.

What was the hardest scene to write?
Action scenes are really hard to write, especially the big battle at the end of the film. Any scene that involves swashbuckling and sword fighting and jumping from beam to beam is tough for me. It’s such a visual thing, and so much of those scenes rely on watching the action. With Jack around, you don’t know what could be going on, and so you have to fill in the blanks of the moments in between. Those are the driving force behind it for a lot of people. They love seeing those moments, and there’s a lot of pressure to make sure they come to life as much on a page as they do on the screen.

How do you decide what to make the characters think in a scene?
Most of what they’re thinking is usually my own ideas and writing, interpreting what I’ve been given in the script. I did this especially for the main pirates, like Jack and Barbossa [played by Geoffrey Rush, one of the only actors to appear in every “Pirates” movie yet]. I try to think of what I would want while reading and writing this book. Why are they motivated to do what they do? With this book particularly, my editor suggested I get into the nitty-gritty dark humor of it all, and that was fun.

If there were to be another “Pirates” film, what would you like to see in it?
I’d like to see Jack be happy. I would like it to be very cliché and bring it all together. There have been so many storylines brought to this world, and I would like to see Jack get his ship back and retire.
Either that, or I would love it to be a prequel. There’s a book series called “Young Jack Sparrow” that my editor wrote, which tells the story of young Jack Sparrow and his adventures. I would love to see some of those stories come to life on screen.
I feel like “Dead Men” brings some closure to it all—we know everyone will be OK, but I think going back to the beginning would be kind of fun. Like I said, I want to know why Jack is who is. I find him fascinating and I want to know what motivates him. That prequel story could be amazing.
I might also want to see an extension story. Like, a story within the world of “Pirates” but with a character we don’t see much of. There’s something so magical about these films that you just believe because it’s the world. It’d be fun to dive into that more.