From The Sea To The Big Screen

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 11.48.33 PMBy Jasmyn Jacob 3-9-14

True stories make great films. That’s why screenwriter Billy Ray jumped at the chance to write the screenplay for Captain Phillips. The film centers around the 2009 MV Maersk Alabama hijack when Somali Pirates jumped aboard the cargo ship and Captain Richard Phillips volunteered to be taken hostage. Ray saw this event happening on the news, and when it resolved itself he knew someone would turn it into a movie. And that’s exactly what happened. Sony Pictures got the rights to the Captain Phillips movie and began to look for a screenwriter. Billy Ray was chosen to write the film.

“The reason why I wanted this one so badly was because it came built in with great characters, great drama, great action set pieces, great politics that came into it… it had everything,” said Ray.

To get a full sense of the story and write the most accurate portrayal, Billy Ray talked to everyone he could. From Captain Phillips himself to the United States Navy, he made sure he covered all of the bases. Maersk and the United States Navy both provided Ray with container and destroyer ships so he could get an idea as to what happened aboard the ships.

After he soaked in as much information as he could, he knew something was missing – the story behind the Somali pirates leader Abduwali Muse. What he realized was both Captain Phillips and Abduwali Muse had a similar story- they were both acting as leaders.

“This is a story about two captains, and they both wake up in the morning and get dressed for work and off they go, except their work happens to run on a collision course, ” said Ray.

Because Captain Richard Phillips wrote about  his experience being a hostage in his book  A Captain’s Duty, it was easy for Billy Ray to get Phillips’ side of the story. The challenging part was getting Muse’s side of the story. He was able to write Muse’s story by researching about Somali pirates and about the role of the leader in this organized crime ring.

“I wanted to make sure we knew who these Somali’s were, why they did what they did, what was the world that they emerged from and what were the pressures that they were acting under. It’s not that different from the pressures that Captain Phillips,” said Ray.

Captain Phillips was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s 86th Academy Awards.