Bringing a movie like Adrift to life required having an experienced team at the helm. The story itself is complex and powerful, balancing love and human connection against survival and all the elements of nature as a young couple find themselves facing a catastrophic hurricane and then surviving adrift at sea. Then there’s the fact that it’s a true story, inspired by the real experience of Tami Oldham Ashcraft. And that’s before we get to filming itself, which took place primarily out on the open ocean. Complicated is an understatement.
Thankfully, this ship had a more than capable captain in director and producer Baltasar Kormákur, who was aided in bringing the story to life by co-writers / producers Aaron Kandell and Jordan Kandell. We had the chance to speak with all of these guys at the Adrift premiere in Los Angeles about their experience bringing Tami’s story to screen – as well as composer Volker Bertelmann, whose work adds so much to the story.
Much like the stars of Adrift, Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin, Tami Oldham Ashcraft’s story was what made this a project the filmmakers had to be a part of. In fact, Aaron and Jordan Kandell (who also served as screenwriters on Moana) were actually doing research for an original story when they came across Tami’s book, Red Sky in Mourning.
“It’s rare that you come across a story that’s so inspiring and primal, emotional, and true. When we read [Tami’s], we just tabled the original one because this had everything we wanted to say and more,” Jordan said. “It’s truly one of the most unbelievable survival and love stories of all time.”
From that point forward, staying true to Tami’s experience became a top priority. “This is not our story; this is her story,” Aaron explained. “We always just wanted to try to be the megaphones to help spread it wider to a larger audience and hopefully have audiences respond and react in the same way that it first hit us – in the gut and the heart simultaneously.”
The script and Tami’s extraordinary survival story were also significant factors in director / producer Baltasar Kormákur coming aboard. “[Tami’s] story was something that I was very drawn to. After [reading the script], I read everything I could get my hands on,” he said. “Having a story for a woman surviving the elements, to my knowledge had not really been done. It’s about time. Women have to spend as much time in nature as men […] I thought this was a fantastic opportunity to do that.”
Casting Tami and Richard
Adrift‘s cast list is quite short, with the majority of the movie focusing on just the two central characters of Tami (Woodley) and her eventual fiancé, Richard Sharp (Claflin). Since Richard is incapacitated by the storm, Tami has to take the lead in ensuring their survival – so finding that leading lady was critical.
Kormákur spoke highly of both of his leads, recognizing the challenging role Shailene had to play in particular. “Shai is a strong woman, and I wanted […] someone with real character,” he said. “She’s a west coast girl – she has this kind of free spirit, this energy that was really appropriate for [Tami]. And most of all, [she brought] her authenticity. She never plays a false move.”
And as for Tami’s other half? “Sam, on the other hand, is a kind of soft-spoken, sweet Englishman,” Kormákur said, explaining that Tami was even “freaked out” a bit when she came to set because Claflin bore such a resemblance to Richard. “What I liked about Sam was his generosity in allowing it to be Shailene’s movie,” he added.
Woodley really does get the opportunity to own this film in a way that is not the norm, but was so wonderful and empowering to see – especially bearing in mind that she is portraying a real woman’s experiences. In a word: badass.
Behind the Music
A great movie needs great music, and Baltasar turned to composer Volker Bertelmann (Lion, Patrick Melrose) for this one.
Bertelmann was also drawn in by the complex story and its many emotional beats. “I thought it was an extraordinary story because it’s dealing with real people and it has a lot of tension. I still feel touched by the story. I thought that was a challenge [in creating the score],” he said.
In order to provide the soundtrack for Tami and Richard’s love story and their ups and downs at sea, Volker mainly employed strings and piano, along with woodwinds at some points. “It was, I would say, a more simple approach of writing music,” he explained. “I was definitely thinking that I’m using a lot of piano melodies and themes that are very simple. And then in the dramatic scenes, I didn’t want to have any kind of action music, but more like a mixture of sounds and more tension in the music – more of a soundscape.”
Watch our full interviews with the filmmakers and composer behind Adrift below:
Don’t miss our premiere interviews with Adrift stars Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin! You can watch them here.
Adrift hits theaters today, June 1.
Photos Courtesy of STXFilms