The Heartfelt Story That Inspired a Film
Starring Shailene Woodley (Fault in Our Stars, Divergent films) and Sam
Before You, The Hunger Games films), ADRIFT is based on the inspiring true story
sailors who set out to journey across the ocean from Tahiti to San Diego.
Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Claflin) couldn't anticipate they
sailing directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded
history. In the aftermath
of the storm, Tami awakens to find Richard badly injured and their boat in
ruins. With no hope
for rescue, Tami must find the strength and determination to save herself and
the only man she
has ever loved. This film is the unforgettable story about the resilience of the
human spirit and
the transcendent power of love.
ADRIFT began with Tami Oldham Ashcraft's incredible true story of
tragedy and, ultimately, the sustaining, healing power of love. She chronicled
events of her 41-day journey from shipwreck to safety in her book, "Red Sky in
True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea." The title is a rueful riff on the
adage, "Red sky at
night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning." But no
mariner's lore could
have prepared Tami or her fiancee, Richard, in 1983 for the hurricane that
shifted course and
bore down on their 44-foot sailboat.
Ashcraft wrote her book ten years after the accident with co-writer, Susea
and it took her four years to complete it. Two of the book's many fans were twin
screenwriters, Aaron and Jordan Kandell. They discovered it when researching
story idea, borne of their love of the ocean.
"We were born and raised in Hawaii and have always been very close to the
grew up surfing, kayaking, paddling and diving. The ocean has been integral to
who we are. I
had the good fortune to train on the Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Hokule'a and that
introduction to sailing and it got me very interested in what it means to be out
in the deep ocean,
how that really cuts to the bone of who you are and how, in those extreme
discover what kind of a person you are," Aaron explains.
"We found Tami's story when we were writing a fictional film about survival
at sea. We
took a very journalistic approach to the research and very quickly came upon
Jordan continues. "We stayed up all night reading it. It is such a powerful,
emotional story, we
instantly knew we had to tell it. We realized her amazing true story was better
than anything we
could have invented. The very next day we reached out to Tami to try to connect
with her, to
hear first-hand from her and to seek out her collaboration and involvement."
The Kandells traveled to Ashcraft's home in the San Juan Islands and she
memories, journals and photographs, giving them a much deeper, more intimate and
understanding of her love affair with Richard and her harrowing experience at
sea. "Tami is
such an inspiring woman and an incredible storyteller. It was important to us to
not only have
her blessing, but to also work closely with her to represent her voice and story
The Kandells set to work writing the script. But the day they started ADRIFT
is the same
day they got hired for a different, yet thematically similar seafaring story, "Moana."
ADRIFT and "Moana" are films that follow a young woman who feels the calling of
the sea and
goes on an epic adventure with a more experienced sailor and gets caught in a
The day they finished "Moana," the Kandell brothers dove headfirst back into
After writing the first draft, they sent the screenplay to their friend,
Shailene Woodley, who they
always hoped would play Ashcraft. "We've known Shailene since her role in 'The
Descendants,' which filmed in Hawaii. We were on set for much of it and
befriended her. Then
Aaron was fortunate enough to be in Pittsburgh the year she happened to be
filming 'The Fault in
Our Stars' there," Jordan explains.
"Just a coincidence but that was also about the time we found Tami's story.
So, while we
were watching Shai come into her own and really blossom as this incredible
actress, we were
also developing this story. And so, we wrote it with her in mind. The second we
met Tami, she
reminded us so much of Shai," Aaron continues.
"Yes, in her strength, her free spirit, her willingness to lead a different
kind of life that
followed her own sort of horizon and her own path. So as soon as we finished,
she was the first
person we sent it to, hoping, praying it would resonate with her and,
fortunately for us, it did,"
Shailene's "On Board"
In fact, Woodley did not respond immediately but for good reason: the
been arrested on Indigenous People's Day for participating in a peaceful protest
Dakota Access Pipeline.
"I got the script via email the day I was arrested and it got lost in my
inbox. Then a
month later, my agents called me and asked me if I knew Aaron and Jordan and I
course! They're my homies from Hawaii.' They told me they had written this hot
script and sent
it to me and asked me if I'd read it and that's when I realized I had completely
missed it in my
inbox!" Woodley recalls.
In the interim, filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur read the script and, like the
only envision Shailene Woodley in the role of Tami Oldham Ashcraft and, with
hope that Woodley agree to star, Kormakur signed on as director/producer.
Many things about Ashcraft's experience appealed to Kormakur, chief among
opportunity to work with Woodley in telling this specific, female-driven story.
"I had never
done a movie with a woman in the lead before and I liked the idea of a young,
strong female who
is the hero of the story and I thought Shailene was perfect for the role. And I
also thought the
love story was very powerful, especially the way it was told. I had been hoping
to do dramatic
romance and this one explored the intrinsic, sustaining force of true love in a
By this time, Woodley had read the script and was all in. "I was so
captivated by it, by
who Tami is and the love story. I really felt the energy of the divine soulmate
between Tami and her fiancee, Richard," Woodley recalls.
Kormakur was uniquely qualified to direct ADRIFT. He is a world-class sailor
features like his Icelandic movie "The Deep" and more recently "Everest," he has
experience helming cinematic survival stories shot mostly in-camera. Like those
ADRIFT offered more than just a "disaster movie."
"I like to sail and did it competitively when I was younger, so that drew me
material. I liked the distinctive structure, how the past unfolds and affects
the story in real time,
the mirrored juxtaposition of a relationship in the best of times and the worst
of times. I thought
it was an interesting mix of genres - a good love story usually needs an
obstacle and the accident
at sea of course provides that. The element of being in this dangerous situation
and the love that
gets them through it, that was compelling to me," Kormakur explains.
Developing the Story
As the film approached production, Kormakur collaborated intimately with
"She was very involved," Kormakur explains, "we worked very closely together. I
feedback was critical. I knew she could play a strong woman with heart and
depth. But, because
it is a movie about a young woman and I'm a man, a dinosaur - that's probably
the right word
now - I thought it was important to have the support and participation of
someone who has a
better knowledge and understanding of what it is to be a 23-year-old woman."
"Balt is one of the most collaborative people I have ever worked with,"
remarks. "He has a strong point of view and he will fight for what he believes
in, but he will
also respect your choices and wants your input. To have someone like that at the
welcomes everyone's opinion, is a gift. The script was great, but he wanted me
to bring my
perspective to the part. He really solicited my viewpoint and heard me. I was
most keen to
ensure that we took care of and honored Tami's real story. The story was so rich
and had so
much depth to its truth, I wanted to make sure we were honestly depicting what
felt exactly the same way. I am so grateful to him for that," Woodley explains.
To that end, screenwriter David Branson Smith ("Ingrid Goes West") joined the
further honing the screenplay to delve deeper into Ashcraft's story, reflecting
contributions and her discussions with Kormakur.
Ashcraft's charismatic beau, Richard, is the reason for the ill-fated sailing
arguably, Ashcraft persevered because of her love for him. They had a powerful
from the beginning. In her book she writes of their first meeting: "I thought
I'd keel over. Blood
rushed to my cheeks. Oh, not this revealing blush again, I thought. But there
was nothing I
could do to stop it ... He was definitely affecting me in a way no man had ever
"I studied Richard quite a bit," Kormakur recalls. "The Kandells conducted
insightful interviews with a friend of his that weren't connected to the book or
which helped me understand the kind of person he was. He had a quiet strength
but he was also meticulous, a gentleman, sensitive, soft spoken, more worldly.
He was not a risk
taker, he was a planner, a navigator and she was more daring than he was. I
liked the energy
between them - they were very different but played well together. When we began
Sam for the part, he was working in Tasmania, so our first contact was on the
phone, and I felt
like I was talking to Richard. He was totally right for the role."
Woodley and Claflin rehearsed together for two weeks in Fiji prior to
photography which cemented their bond.
"It was so helpful. We immediately felt a fondness for each other and then a
We really just clicked. It was great to get to know him outside the work
environment, to go over
the script. Working with Balt, we went through every single scene to make sure
developed the way we all saw them. There was a truthfulness to our relationship
hopefully a chemistry, based on how we experienced the characters before we even
got on the
boat," Woodley recalls.
She adds, "Sam Claflin is the best. He is hands down, the hardest-working,
generous, compassionate, kind, loving, enthusiastic, beautiful individual that I
have ever worked
with, male or female. The elements that we were working in were not easy,
shooting on a boat in
open water for 14 hours. Never once did he complain. Never once did that man get
only is he incredibly professional, but so creative and so fun to be around."
The romance between Richard and Tami initially attracted Claflin to the
became his touchstone throughout filming. "I always approach the script from the
would be playing, but what was amazing about this was that I began to read it
eyes too, their connection was that intense. I really fell in love with them and
rooted for them.
After doing more research on them, the story became even more compelling to me.
course, I knew it would be easy to fall in love with Shailene, and it was."
Filming & Floating: Pushing the Limits
Kormakur, an avid outdoorsman, approached the filmmaking with his usual
gusto. To underscore the dire circumstances the couple faced, Kormakur was
determined to film
as much in camera as possible - meaning, on a sailboat in the ocean - but he
never asked his stars
to do anything he wouldn't attempt himself, an attribute Claflin particularly
"Baltasar is a Viking. Literally. He is the man you want at the helm of a
especially one like this. He is so passionate about Mother Nature; he was really
in his element.
That's why I think 'Everest' was such a wonderful film because he had those
living the experience. It was amazing and powerful for Shailene and I to be
doing our own
sailing, he really wanted us to know what we were doing, not pretending. He's
really a force of
nature himself, who not only wanted us to experience everything, but he wanted
to be there
experiencing it with us too. He's so resilient and so patient and he made it
look so easy that he
made me more determined to do it too. He really knew what he wanted but also
made space for
our contributions. He also wasn't afraid to push us to our limit - cast and crew
- because he
knew we could. Everyone was on their 'A' game because of him," Claflin recalls.
Throughout much of the movie, Woodley's character, Tami, an expert sailor,
tries to pilot
the damaged boat to safety, even as she is severely wounded. Woodley trained in
principal photography to perfect her nautical skills.
"I am a swimmer and water is something I am extremely passionate about and
connected to. I had a lot of practice with water but nothing with sailing. I
spent about a month
before production in Hawaii learning how to sail on all different types of
boats. When I got to
Fiji, I sailed for about another month before production began."
Mastering Tami's seafaring prowess was only a portion of Woodley's
Ashcraft herself served as Woodley and Kormakur's North Star. "Her book was the
guide. I read it a couple times. I really wanted to understand her perspective
and psyche and the
book helped immensely. It became our outline during production - every day when
about to do a scene, I would check the book alongside the script. We would
reference the scene
to the book to make sure we were being as truthful as possible," Woodley
The Real Tami
About midway into production, Tami herself visited set. "It was amazing to
finally but also, I was hyper-aware of how emotional this experience must be for
her, the trauma
of being stuck out at sea. She's such a profound, strong individual who truly
seemed to embrace
this film. My prayer is that she has found healing as well through this
"One of the first things she said to me was, 'You remind me of him so much,'
really a special moment for me," notes Claflin. "Having her seal of approval was
"To have her around and her embrace of the movie was humbling," Kormakur
was a delicate emotional balance on so many levels - we're not making a
making a film, but we're all human beings. We tried to strike the right balance
cast and crew, felt that she deserved our best effort. She is a wonderful person
and we were
honored that she wanted to be a part of it. I really hope she will be pleased."
"There's a concept in Hawaii called pono, which is righteousness, and that
much to Tami. We felt so fortunate to be the vessels through which to tell her
story to the world.
To get her blessing meant everything," says Jordan Kandell.
Ashcraft describes the process of having a movie made about this life
experience as "emotional and surreal," but ultimately gratifying.
"It was a dream come true, to see all the hard work and dedication and care
Their real dedication to telling my story. It was so wonderful when Shailene
raised her hand and
said she would do the film; she was just perfect and so thoughtful and generous
of spirit to me.
And then when Sam came aboard, he was just great. It's uncanny how much he looks
Richard and he had that charismatic way about him that Richard had. I think the
universe sent us
Sam to play Richard. I stayed in contact with the Kandells on and off for five
years as they
worked on the script. Baltasar was the only guy for this, not only because of
his background as
both a sailor and a filmmaker, but also because he is a kind, accommodating,
being. When I came to set and saw Shailene and the wrecked Hazana boat, it was
an out of body
experience. It just hit my heart. The experience at the time made me understand
that I had a
wellspring of inner strength and a fortitude, a will to live that I hadn't
recognized before. But
seeing everything again also underscored how lucky I really was to survive."
Nature vs. Film: Capturing an Authentic Story
ADRIFT filmed for 49 days, primarily on location in Fiji, with a few weeks on
New Zealand. The bulk of principal photography happened on open water in Fiji.
"I do feel there is a real value in actually experiencing these kind of true
life, man vs.
nature stories. Or in this case, woman vs. nature. I think that kind of
authenticity translates for
the audience and certainly helps everyone, cast and crew, relate to the story,
the emotions. Being
out on a boat in this vast ocean as the waves are hitting, for 12-14 hours a
day, you just can't
fake it. It does give a sense of what it must have been like for Tami and
Richard. Especially for
the actors, it strips them down to the essentials. So I try to do as much as is
safe in the
elements," Kormakur says. Kormakur had a head start in that he is a skilled
in the water as only a person from an island country can be.
Also unfazed by the ocean rigors was renowned cinematographer Robert
whom Kormakur considers a kindred spirit on every level. "I was thrilled when he
interest in shooting ADRIFT. And he really pushed himself - and me - in the best
way. He did
everything he could to get me out in the water on a regular basis, which of
course I loved. It's
completely selfishness on my part - I want to live my life to the fullest, I
don't want to just sit
and watch it at video village - and he was the same. I've probably never shot
with anyone that
close to my own ethos. He was a challenge and a total pleasure," Kormakur says.
Part of the challenge of shooting on the water is that traditional filmmaking
are not always the most effective, which meant that Kormakur and Richardson had
to be flexible
"Yeah, I can't tell you how much camera equipment we lost," Kormakur jokes.
"Truthfully, one of the best shots was done boat to boat. We did manage to sail
out there, but one day it just broke down. It's not like we could re-set with
another one in the
middle of the sea. So Bob said, 'Let's just shoot it, the waves are great,' and
he went handheld
and sat on the prow of the boat and filmed it. He's a passionate filmmaker and
collaborative and literally put himself out there, hanging off of boats and
always upgrading the
shot," Kormakur says.
Kormakur and Woodley matched Richardson's commitment to the "Outward Bound"
adventure of ADRIFT, as exemplified by a river gorge location, a cliff jump, and
influence of nature on filming.
"You have your ideas, you can storyboard all you want but, in the end, you
have to let
nature dictate the filming... and usually something interesting happens. There was
a day we had
planned to shoot an important part of the love story where Shailene jumps off a
cliff into the
river. We had scouted the perfect location and done all this planning but the
water level changes
all the time and as we neared the shooting day, it was clear that it would be
too shallow. So we
found another place. The stunt team thought it would be safe but it was a little
harder to get
there," Kormakur recalls.
"A little harder to get there" is a massive understatement as Woodley
explains. "To get
to the location, there was a 25-minute hike and then we had to white-water raft
down a river, the
entire crew, with hard hats. It looked like we were on a vacation with family
except that the
crew also had to bring bags and bags of gear. We had a safety meeting that went
this: 'Once you hit this boulder, if you flip over, this is how you float down
the river until we can
come rescue you.' It's like what people pay to go do on a weekend. And then we
got there and
they had to build a crane to shoot the scene. We waited on a sandbank, staring
at these whitewater
rapids and these magical canyons. Eventually we continued down the river and got
peak where we cliff dove and shot the scene. I recall changing atop one of the
our epic costume department held towels up...this day was about as roots as it
gets." To get
home, at the end of the night, our unparalleled stunt team strung these ropes
along the rapids for
the whole crew to hold onto as we walked up the river. It felt like some sort of
course...the most beautiful, exhilarating adventure," Woodley explains.
Magical Moments on Location
And then there was the exhilarating jump from the cliff to the river itself.
illustrates Tami and Richard's bond - their different personalities - as he is
reluctant while she is
all in and convinces him to leap into the water with her. Guided by the stunt
Claflin and Kormakur (and even some of the crew) made the leap.
"It was an incredible day and at the end of it, we did these amazing cliff
jumps, three or
four times. The whole crew got involved. It doesn't get any better than that.
That's the beauty
of working with Balt - as much was done in the real environment as possible,"
Nature constantly contributed to the filming experience of ADRIFT in
disarming ways. Says Woodley, "I have so many favorite moments, it's impossible
to pick just
one. Another magical day, we were out on the boat, filming. A pod of what seemed
hundreds of dolphins surrounded our boat and stayed nearby for quite a while.
That was so
profound and so beautiful, one could say even, spiritual. One day, we got to go
on this amazing
hike on this remote island. We had the most insane views of the ocean and the
sea. The whole
thing every day, honestly, was a different type of treasure - even the days that
we were miserably
Woodley also developed a genuine affection for Fiji and its people. "I feel
have gotten to know the Fijian culture, the Fijian community, and I hold much
respect for them.
Community and family and friends are the basis of their entire culture, from my
way they really prioritize their shared values and society is extremely special.
The place, of
course, is stunning and we were privileged to visit different remote areas. But
to me the real gift
was their sincere kindness, their desire to help us get to know them, to show us
Filming in Fiji: A Collaborative Effort
The Fijians, of course, are experienced sailors, which was a boon to ADRIFT.
of the nautical requirements, the production included a special "marine
coordinator" in the
person of Neil Andrea who performed similar duties on "Dunkirk" and "Kong: Skull
name a few. On a daily basis, Andrea organized the logistics of filming in open
relied heavily on a ragtag but effective armada.
"We call this analog filmmaking, where it is actually practical boat use. A
would begin by mobilizing the entire crew, everything from craft service to the
department needed to be transported to particular vessels, set up and ready to
go by shooting call.
For ADRIFT, we used a host of local boats to transport gear and personnel. It
was a mixture of
rigid inflatable boats, long boats, pangas skiffs and hard sided aluminum boats.
We also used
local Fijian crew and captains as well as vessels. There was definitely an
advantage to that
because of their experience and knowledge of the location - it wasn't an area
commercial boats, there were reefs and other obstacles that they were very
familiar with, all of
which was especially helpful to us," marine coordinator Andrea relates.
Choreographing the daily shooting regimen involved a complicated dance of
personnel to and fro, allowing the crew to be near enough to do their jobs and
to come to the
hero boat quickly if necessary, but to be far enough so that Richardson's camera
the vast expanse of the sea without the support flotilla hindering the shot.
Plus, ADRIFT was
never meant to be a halcyon boating excursion.
"Our director, Baltasar, is well known for making movies in extreme
obviously 'Everest' and his Icelandic movie 'The Deep.' In ADRIFT, while parts
of Tami and
Richard's sail were beautiful, the movie revolves around a hurricane, which we
tried to recreate
in open water. We weren't recreating a perfect day at the beach; we were
depicting an event that
went terribly wrong so we really needed to push the limits of heavy seas,
weather and the
environment. There's a fine line between telling the story as accurately as
possible and keeping
everyone safe and we managed to do both," Andrea says.
Of course, some of the hurricane scenes and the aftermath were too dangerous
in open water and those shots occurred on stages in New Zealand, later to be
enhanced by visual
effects supervisor Dadi Einarsson and his team at RVX Studios in Iceland. One of
stars in the movie, the doomed sailboat Hazana, appeared in both Fiji and New
Executive producer, Ralph Winter, explains the task of recreating a series of
"We purchased a boat for the Hazana that was a little bigger than the real
one - that gave
us more room to move the camera. More real estate to stage scenes and set
everything up. But
the bad news was we couldn't find a second boat just like it. So we cobbled
versions. We made one in wrecked condition that could look like it was taking on
would function to a minimum extent on the open sea. And then we built an
interior that would
also take on water - we used that in New Zealand where we built an exterior
tank," he explains.
"So we had to adapt these things so that they would work on the open water or
work on an
existing exterior tank. We wanted to see that floor listing, to see gravity, the
water inside the
hull, so either in Fiji or New Zealand, a constant for us on this picture was
being wet. We were
either sloshed around in open water or being soaked on a back lot."
Recreating the Storm
To mimic the roiling sea and punishing force of the hurricane, the crew
various Hazana iterations on a high-tech gimbal against green screen -
ironically, the worst of
the storm was also the driest, in terms of the shooting schedule.
"For the really dramatic, violent moments, we took the Hazana and put it on a
base that allowed us to do repeatable moves on several axes to simulate the
conditions of the storm that we could not have done on the open water. That was
all done on the
backlot, dry for wet ... well, relatively dry," Winter explains.
Einarsson took that footage and added the devastating hurricane, in the
environment. "We had a mixed bag of responsibilities, from Manta Rays and other
creatures to matching skies so the continuity is correct. Our major mission was
to create the
storm sequence and a fully computer-generated ocean. It's a pivotal moment in
obviously. We started with a low-resolution version of an ocean and a yacht. We
with angles and previsualize what the sequence could be but ultimately that
collaboration between visual effects, Baltasar and Bob Richardson," Einarsson
Einarsson has collaborated with Kormakur since 2010 and the two share an easy
shorthand. "The thing about shooting as much as possible in the real environment
is that it
brings a layer of reality also for the visual effects - the hope is that Dadi
and his team had a
baseline which they could augment but it was always tethered to the real world,"
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