How Virginia Became a Film Location for Captain Phillips

With the Oscars just a few weeks away, there’s much buzz in the film world about the 2014 nominees. Among the “best picture” contenders is partially-made-in-Virginia Captain Phillipsnominated for six Academy Awards. To share the exciting news of having Captain Phillips filmed in the state,  the Virginia Film Office issued a press release on the movie last fall.

Directed by Paul Greengrass, the movie stars two-time Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks in the titled role and Barkhad Abdi (a first-time actor from Minneapolis) in the role of Muse, the leader of the Somali pirates. For his powerful portrayal of Muse, Abdi recently won the British Academy Award

Captain Phillips is based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephen Talty. It’s the true story of the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. cargo ship Maersk Alabama by a band of Somali pirates.

PHOTO CREDIT: Above is a production still from Captain Phillips featuring actor Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of the Somali pirates.

PHOTO CREDIT: Above is a production still from Captain Phillips featuring actor Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of the Somali pirates.

In addition to Virginia, the movie was also filmed in other locations throughout the world including Malta (with the Mediterranean standing in for the Indian Ocean), Morocco and Massachusetts (in Lincoln and Sudbury). 

The scenes from Captain Phillips that was filmed in Virginia Beach, Virginia are the ones involving the dramatic rescue by the Navy SEALs. Scenes that were filmed in Massachusetts includes the ones with Tom Hanks shot at Matlock Farm on Old Lexington Road in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo is from here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo is from here.

On his decision to film on a real-life ship in the open sea, Paul Greengrass said:

“I really wanted the experience of shooting on the ocean. Part of that was personal, my father was in the Merchant Marine and was at sea all his life so I wanted to explore his world. But also from the film point of view, I felt it would be a more authentic film if we all shot it together on the ocean and we had the real ships. ... We were on the sister ship [to Phillips’ ship, the Maersk Alabama] ... it was an identical ship, it had a crew, we could draw information from the crew, and draw information and veracity from the actual environment. I think it made it an endlessly fascinating experience [and] a richly creative one from a filmmaking point of view.”

Film Office Director Andy Edmunds is fond of the entire filming experience. “Superb cooperation from the United States Navy and the City of Virginia Beach, along with financial incentive support from the Commonwealth brought this important film to Virginia,” said Edmunds. “Other stateside Naval installations and coastlines were under consideration by the producers. Major feature films such as this one require a great deal of teamwork and Captain Phillips shows what this kind of collaboration can achieve.”


Why Captain Phillips Chose to Film in Virginia

The decision to film in Hampton Roads, Virginia was mostly due to the Navy’s power of persuasion and accommodations. 

“A high-ranking admiral met with us in Los Angeles and made a promise to me: If we brought the movie to Norfolk, Va., he’d get me - in his words - everything I needed,” said Gregory Goodman, executive producer on Captain Phillips.

“We hadn’t considered going to Norfolk because it is not a film production center. Everything needed to shoot would have to be brought in from outside the area. But after looking at our limited options, it was clear - we were going to Norfolk. Once all the equipment was brought in, which was a massive undertaking, it was a great place to shoot.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Above is a production still from Captain Phillips.

PHOTO CREDIT: Above is a production still from Captain Phillips.

Another reason Captain Phillips decided to film in Virginia was the availability of the Navy cast. The Halyburton, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate involved in the real-life rescue four years ago, portrays itself in the movie.

The other ships were recast. The Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, stood in place for the Boxer, the ship that was part of the Navy’s anti-piracy task force.

The Truxtun, a guided missile destroyer, played the Bainbridge, one of two ships, along with the Halyburton, that trailed the Somali pirates who kidnapped Captain Phillips.

“The Navy wanted to be involved from the get-go because this film reflects them as sober-minded professionals,” said Dana Brunetti, one of the film’s producers and a Virginia native. “They wanted it to be an accurate representation of the way they operate and they knew we couldn’t be as robust about it if we did it on our own. Their duty was, of course, a higher priority than supporting a movie, but they absolutely did not want us to make the movie without them, on our own. The question was whether we could work around their very understandable limitations. Moving a Navy vessel is very complicated, dangerous and difficult.”

“The Navy ships have to operate 7 miles out of port, and moving them in and out of port was beyond question. It takes hours,” Brunetti shared. “So instead, our crew piled into small boats each morning, leaving Norfolk before light and not returning until after dark. Each of us had to transfer over to the ship, stepping one by one over the side and climbing a ladder in ocean swells, carrying all the gear for the day. Some of us didn’t have our sea legs yet. Still don’t.” 

Tom Hanks thoroughly enjoyed his experience filming in Virginia. “I had a great time in Norfolk,” he said. “It’s the Navy town supreme. That’s what I expected, and that’s what I found. I got to tour aircraft carriers and submarines, and that, in itself, was a great experience.”


The Economic Impact of Being a Film Location

Captain Phillips was awarded a $300,000 grant from the Governor’s Motion Picture Opportunity Fund. The project spent $2.6 million in Virginia for a total economic impact of $4.6 million. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo (from here) features director Paul Greengrass on the set of Captain Phillips with Barkhad Abdi and other actors.

PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo (from here) features director Paul Greengrass on the set of Captain Phillips with Barkhad Abdi and other actors.

The film industry in Virginia plays a major role in the state’s economy. In 2011, the total economic impact of the film and television industry in Virginia was $394.4 million, a 14.5 percent increase over 2010. Not only that, 3,817 jobs were created in 2011 because of productions filming in the state, up from 2,651 jobs in 2010. 

For more information about Virginia’s film industry and Virginia’s locations available for filming, visit the Virginia Film Office’s website.

Captain Phillips premiered last year on September 27, 2013 at the New York Film Festival and continued on to the London and Tokyo Film Festivals.

And not surprisingly, Captain Phillips is now heading to the Academy Awards on March 2, 2014.

We’re proud to share that both the Virginia Film Office and the Massachusetts Film Office are Reel-Scout clients.

PHOTO CREDIT: Production still from Captain Phillips.

PHOTO CREDIT: Production still from Captain Phillips.


Banner image of Captain Phillips via Google.