How ‘For All Mankind’ Pulled Off That Pirates of the Caribbean Needle Drop

Executive producers Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi tell TheWrap how that Disney Parks Easter egg came to be

For All Mankind
Apple TV+

On the fourth episode of “For All Mankind” Season 3, while the three-way race to Mars is at its most heated, NASA deploys previously unmentioned solar sails, which billow towards the heavens (and give them a competitive advantage on the race). And just to add a little salt to the proverbial wound, they broadcast some music for the other ships to hear – music from the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park attraction. Specifically, the “Pirate Overture” by George Bruns, an iconic piece of music that served as the theme of sorts to the original 1967 Disneyland attraction, is blasted on the soundtrack.

TheWrap quizzed “For All Mankind” executive producers Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi about how they pulled off this magical musical moment and how much they’ve thought about Disney within the show’s alternate timeline.

“That was something that started in the writers’ room where it was this idea of it just felt like a natural connection of unfurling these sails and there’s this pirate thing,” Wolpert said. “And we talked a lot about ‘Master and Commander,’ the movie, as we were writing, because it had that sense of adventure and that sense of kind of being out, but on your own.” (It should be noted, also, that in the alternate history of the show, iPods have already been devised by the show’s 1990s setting.)

Nedivi said that they listened to countless sea shanties trying to find the one that would properly fit the moment in the show. In the end, only the Pirates of the Caribbean “Pirate Overture” would do.

“I’ve heard so many sea shanties and none that even came close to working as well as that one,” Wolpert said.

But the idea of licensing the Pirates of the Caribbean music seemed too insurmountable. In an act of desperation, Nedivi even suggested that he and Wolpert write their own sea shanty. “Because the song that’s in there was actually sort of a placeholder. It was sort of like: Yeah, OK, we’re doing that. We’re not going to actually use that. We can’t use that!’” Nedivi said. “But then what happened is the more we saw it cut together, the more we saw the flare, then we’re like, ‘Nothing works like that. Nothing captures the moment like that.’ And we fought for it.”

Disney and Apple have been close in the past, with the former purchasing Pixar from Apple godhead Steve Jobs (and former Disney CEO Bob Iger, in his memoir, suggesting that if Jobs had lived longer the two companies would have likely merged). But since the Streaming Wars really erupted, the companies have found themselves on opposite ends of the great direct-to-consumer divide. (Iger was forced to step down from Apple’s board ahead of the launch of Disney+ and Apple TV+.)

When we asked what it took to license the Pirates of the Caribbean jig, Nedivi and Wolpert said they didn’t know specifics. (Clearly, Apple has the budget to clear whatever they want, even something as difficult to pry away from Disney as beloved theme park music.) “There were some machinations, but they’ve always been very supportive with the music,” Wolpert said. “And when we said, ‘This is really what we want it to be,’ then they were very supportive.”

The introduction of Pirates of the Caribbean music into “For All Mankind,” of course, opens up a lot of questions, especially since the show takes place in an alternate timeline when Russia beat the United States to the moon and space exploration – and colonization – has fueled much of the cultural and technological development of this version of the 20th century. Did Walt Disney live beyond his mere 65 years? Was EPCOT actually built in Florida as a futuristic city of tomorrow?

“We haven’t thought that far down the road about the ‘Disney’ of it all in terms of the theme parks, but there is actually another Disney connection to the show,” Wolpert teased. In an early episode of the series, they play a clip of Wernher von Braun, the former Nazi scientist who immigrated to America and worked on the embryonic space program as part of Operation Paperclip. The clip, as it turns out, was produced by Disney, as von Braun appeared on a number of Disney television programs, in part to stoke America’s interest in space travel.

“There’s this weird confluence of the early space program and Disney,” Wolpert said. “He was a big part of sort of promoting the idea of traveling to Mars and living in space and selling von Braun’s ideas to the public. So it did feel like kind of a natural fit.”

And just because they haven’t thought about Walt Disney’s relationship to the history of the show doesn’t mean that they aren’t keenly constructing the alternate timeline and how it differs from our reality.

“Well, it’s an interesting challenge because early on in the show we had in our writer’s rooms, on the walls around us, there was, an alternate timeline. And we had a lot of fun. Whenever we were like, ‘OK, let’s take a break,’ we  would talk about little events or alt events that are happening,” Nedivi said. “I think by the time we get to Season 3, the alternate history is changing so much more from our history than it was in Season 1. The challenge for us is we like to keep a foot in the real history and a foot in the alt history. I think it helps ground the show. Like in the music, you hear a lot of ‘90s hits that you’re familiar with, in the way people dress. We wanted to keep that alive – also because Matt and I happened to come of age in the ‘90s.”

Their goal is to never become too sci-fi, to always keep things feeling real. (Nedivi pointed out that flying cars are always a bad idea.) If it becomes too wacky, after all, the emotionality of the show will get lost.

“This promise of a future from sci-fi is usually overreached,” Nedivi said. “And I think in our show, because we have the opportunity to actually show change as it happens, we’re able to, as much as possible, ground that change.” Meaning that if you’re going to dramatize Russia reaching the moon first and prolonging a bitter space race, it’s important to make sure people know that Pirates of the Caribbean still exists back home. Yo ho!