Netflix One Piece Interview: Director Marc Jobst on Adapting the Iconic Manga

ComingSoon Lead TV Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with One Piece director Marc Jobst about the Netflix adaptation of Eiichiro Oda’s internationally beloved manga and anime series. The director discussed bringing the stylistic and cartoonish world of One Piece to live-action and his work with Marvel.

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Spencer Legacy: When it comes to One Piece, what was it about the franchise that really drew you in to direct? Did you have any experience with the manga or the anime, or was it even just the concept that was appealing to you?

Marc Jobst: No, I read the scripts. I read the manga, and I read the scripts, and I was just drawn into this world of joy and positivity and sunshine and a world of, “Yes! Let’s just do it!” It really felt, to me, like the world needed this at this particular moment. It needs a show that is optimistic, and the lead character in One Piece — Luffy — is just an inspirational kind of character. He just wants you to believe in your dreams. He wants you to believe in being who you are, and he wants to help you become who you are. He wants to go and have an adventure. We all need to go and have an adventure from time to time. We need to put down our phones and put down the screens and get out into the world and see the world for all the joy and beauty that it is. And that really appealed to me.

Absolutely. Another thing about One Piece is with all that joy, it’s also very stylistic and very cartoony. Were there any challenges that came with kind of taking that and putting it in a more real-world visual setting?

Yeah, you’ve put your finger on the challenge, probably. (Laughs). The biggest challenge is always to take a two-dimensional comic book or a manga, and the anime — which is also incredibly famous for One Piece — and turn it into something that works in live-action. I’ve had some experience doing that with the Marvel shows — Daredevil and Luke Cage and The Punisher, and also with The Witcher. The Witcher, after all, is a game, but it’s also essentially two dimensions. So the challenge is to turn these characters into something believable. People who you can fall in love with. My key thing was, in a sense … the showrunners had written scripts that, I felt, were so true to the manga, and yet were full of character.

So what we wanted to do was create a show that sat alongside the manga and the anime as additions, not as replacements. So if you love One Piece, then you love the manga, and you love the anime — which adds to the manga — and you’ve got the live-action, which hopefully will add to those other two too. And in the process of that, what you want to do is create characters that have fully emotional lives. Because in the end, it doesn’t really matter how wonderful a world you create if you don’t fall in love with the characters and people that world. You don’t stay with a show just because it looks good. You stay with a show because you’re rooting for the characters. So that was the key approach to how we wanted to realize this famous manga in three dimensions in live-action.

That makes a lot of sense. You also did an episode of Black Sails, so you have a lot of pirate experience. Did doing that series help in any way with One Piece, since they have similar subject matter?

You know what it did — it’s a great question. In many respects, it’s the complete opposite of Black Sails. Because Black Sails is pretty dark and visceral, with water and mud and blood … it’s a real deep dive into the stinkiness of being a pirate. And in One Piece, these pirate ships … we had to paint one pirate ship pink because it’s Alvida’s pirate ship, pink with hearts. So the funniest thing was that that same ship that we’d been shooting Black Sails on we were now painting pink with pink hearts on it. (Laughs). So it was a crazy opposite. But of course I knew how to work the ships. I’d shot on the ships before I knew how you could put green screens around it.

Where it did help is that, when you’re shooting Black Sails — because the ships are actually a kilometer away from a motorway. They’re nowhere near the sea, so you’ve got green screens all around it. So having shot on those ships, I knew how to shoot with the green screens around you. Also because the winds in Cape Town are so severe, there are times when you can’t put the sails up because it’ll just blow the ship over. All those kind of things, I learned from Black Sails and you learn certain angles and you learn certain ways to shoot the ship. So in that respect, it was a tremendous help.

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That’s really interesting. Between One Piece and a lot of your other shows, you’ve done a lot of work with Netflix. What is it that makes you and that platform such a winning combo, in your eyes?

Well, from day one when I first started working with Netflix, they’ve always been very supportive and encouraging. So as a director … when you come into shows, quite often, a show is already set. So the big question is, how do you as a director come into a show like that, follow what the show is, but also express yourself? In a way, that’s up to each individual director to find their way.

But I would always pitch stuff to Netflix and they would always say, “Yeah, go on.” That’s completely crazy. But if you think you can do it, you do it. And as an artist, as a director, when somebody supports you and encourages you, you become even more responsible because you want to fulfill their trust in you. As we’ve gone along, we’ve pushed each other a little bit harder, and when One Piece came along, it’s a “push as hard as you can” moment, because it’s a really complicated show to shoot. But there was, from the very early days when I talked to them about what I wanted to do with One Piece and how I wanted to realize these amazing scripts that Steven Maeda and Matt Owens had written, they were nothing but supportive. And we did some crazy things.

So for example, in the action sequences, we wanted to shoot those action sequences in a different way to how I’d shot action sequences with Marvel and how I’d shot The Witcher’s action sequences. Because One Piece is a different beast, it has to have a different kind of sensibility. So one of the things that I suggest is, “Well, what if we have one camera operator who works entirely with the stunt team the entire time. So they become like the stunt doubles and the stuntmen. They learn the choreography of the fight with the camera so that they can even suggest things like, “If you just hold that beat for a moment, I can get the camera around over there so we don’t have to make another cut.” And that was a very different way of shooting action. It was one of the things that we did in the sword fight in the pilot of The Witcher, because I didn’t want it just to rely on cuts. When you’ve got actors who are very physical, and we cast actors who were deliberately very physical, it means that you don’t have to keep putting stunt doubles in because you can carry the action with the actor.

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Similarly, in terms of action, you’ve done Daredevil, Luke Cage, Punisher, and The Runaways. What was it like to work in the Marvel Universe and what really stood out to you about that experience?

Well, you know, they, they set a very, very high bar, and it was my first experience, apart from having shot Hannibal for NBC, it was my first experience of working in a genre where there is a dedicated fanbase who know everything there is to know about that I.P. So you have to be really careful about that, but you also have to not let it bear down on you and stop you from being creative. Fear contracts people and confidence expands people. If you get fearful about, “Oh, are you going to please the fanbase?” Or, “Is the fanbase not going to like what you’ve done and all the rest of it?” You end up directing from fear. I always want to direct from confidence, bring people in to expand and be more than they thought they could be.

I think it’s the same with when you’re working with Marvel Studios — what they really want you to do is surprise them. They are incredibly welcoming of innovation and surprise. So your job then is to have the courage to go in and say, “This is what I want to do.” And if you can win the argument on story and character terms, they will back you up 100%. If it’s just to be cool, then yeah, they might push you back a bit.

You mentioned Hannibal — I really loved Hannibal. What was the experience of working on that like? Even to this day, it has such a vocal audience that really loves it.

Oh man, it was terrifying and exciting in equal measure. When you are standing on set with Mads Mikkelsen and Laurence Fishburne and Gillian Anderson , it’s kind of like, “Oh my God, this is why I do this job.” (Laughs). To work with these kinds of people who are just exceptional artists to work with, the writers who write these scripts, which … I remember when I went to go and get a new mobile phone once, I went into the shop and they said, “What was your last job?” And so I said, “Well, it was shooting Hannibal for NBC.” And the guy in the shop said, “Oh my God, that’s … I mean, it’s biblical. The scripts are like reading the Bible.” And they were. Also, it was so dark and so beautiful. You go onto the set and it’s literally dark. I had to have a torch so I could read my script. It was so lyrically lit, but it taught me so much about how you can bring art into shots and how you frame things. Incredible show to work on.

That’s amazing to hear. If the always-rumored Season 4 were to ever happen, would you be interested in being asked back?

My hands up! Yes, please, sir!

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You’ve worked on so many series and franchises that have these beloved characters and stories. Which fans do you receive the most messages and comments from, of all the things you’ve worked on?

Right now? One Piece. Right now, One Piece. What is the most exciting thing for me is the positivity that the fanbase is showing towards the trailer. The thing that we worked incredibly hard on was the casting of this show. We started it on day one. We were casting it for months, seeing thousands of different people. The one thing that we wanted is we wanted the audience to fall in love with the cast, because I think if your audience cares about the cast, they’ll stay with the show forever. The magic that I think these people have, the heart, the warmth that they have comes across on the screen.

There are so many actors who would come into the auditions and tell me, “You have no idea how much this show means to us. It’s seen me through some really dark times.” So as a director, when you are told that, you have a responsibility to this show. You really want to honor the love that these people have for this show. One of the ways that you do that, I hope, is to cast it in such ways that the audience will want to go on this adventure with them. So the feedback that I’ve had from the trailers of what little they’ve seen of these people … they will see it all pretty soon. It’s been fantastic and immensely gratifying.