ABOUT THE MOVIE PRODUCTION
Comments on the film by
Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski, part 2
Return To The Bahamas
Following three tough, sweaty weeks of shooting the Singapore sequence, the company flew back to Grand Bahama Island in late September 2005 for the continuation of “Dead Man’s Chest” water-shooting in the massive tank and on the open seas, with marine coordinator Dan Malone, picture boat coordinator J. Wilfrid “Will” White and their respective teams on dozens of support craft keeping everything afloat. Following a Christmas/New Year break, the company returned to the Bahamas one last time in the second week of January 2006. First, back on the tiny sand spit of White Cay in the Exumas, Verbinski filmed the “Parlay” scene with the big guns of Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy and Tom Hollander (interspersed with final scenes of the “Dead Man’s Chest” threeway swordfight, which had not yet been filmed to conclusion).
“The Exumas, which we used in both movies, was very difficult but unbelievably organized,” says first assistant director David H. Venghaus, Jr. “It should have been a lot more miserable than it was. We went back three times to that location to accomplish the work, and it was an extraordinary crew that really pulled it together. The transportation and marine departments once again put two huge barges off of White Cay as a basecamp, and we took the cast and crew to the island on smaller craft. The crew accepted the challenge, and then rose to it really well.” Then it was back to the tank on Grand Bahama, with shooting alternating between the final sequences necessary to complete “Dead Man’s Chest” once and for allnearly one year after the cameras first rolledand then the required, and very numerous, water sequences for AT WORLD’S END.
The weather on Grand Bahama had now cooled considerably, enough so that parkas had to be donned for night shooting. The late-winter weather also kicked up the seas considerably, as Verbinski and the company learned the hard way on the night of February 2, 2006, as they attempted to shoot an exciting AT WORLD’S END sequence in which Elizabeth Swann and a group of Chinese pirates escape imprisonment on the Flying Dutchman by climbing a rat line connecting that ship to the EmpressCaptain Sao Feng’s flagship junkwhich is being towed behind. A stiff wind whipped the waters into a whirlpool, with the Dutchman and the Empress tossed about like toys, and the smaller support craft even more so. “That night was surreal,” recalls stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge.
“The stuntmen had to negotiate a 150-foot-long rat line, hand over hand, while alternating their leg holds on the rope as they went. The physical demands were already extreme, but what we didn’t anticipate was bad weather and rough seas. We’re not talking just rolling waves…we’re talking about a churning cauldron of wickedly unpredictable, rough water. The seas became too rough for the pickup boats to navigate, the rat line itself was heaving up and down as much as 10 feet. Conditions couldn’t have been worse. We ended up using another vessel that had a roof to get the stuntmen off the rope. The roof had to be reinforced, as it wasn’t meant to carry the weight of people on top. The stuntmen had to time their transfer from the heaving rope to spotters on the boat’s roof. The real stunts were performed behind the scenes that night!”
As the incredibly brave stunt players climbed the rope between ships, and the marine department crafts desperately tried to remain afloat without capsizing (although at least one did, with no one hurt), executive producer Eric McLeod noted, “Take a good look at this. You’ll never see moviemaking on this scale again. Soon it’ll all be done with blue screen. This is movie history being made.”
The supporting cast, depending upon when they were needed for filming, would come and go from the Bahamas with regularity. “That was a great luxury,” notes Jonathan Pryce, who plays Governor Weatherby Swann, “because since we started shooting I did both a West End play and Broadway musical in between my work for ‘Pirates.’ It’s always nice to come back, see some friends, visit for a few days or a couple of weeks, then go off and do something else.
“It means people are very pleased to see me when I arrive,” adds Pryce with a laugh. “I’m full of admiration for the crew, the majority of whom worked on all three films, and their energy never diminished, nor has Gore’s enthusiasm and inventiveness on set amongst this huge machine. Gore always finds time for the actors and the acting, because he knows that’s ultimately what the audience focuses on. In a film of this size and success, there’s no sense of complacency. It’s a bit like doing a musical where there is no place for cynicism. We laugh a lot on ‘Pirates,’ but when you’re doing it, you’re doing it for real.”
Strangely enough, the very last scene to be filmed for “Dead Man’s Chest,” on February 7, 2006, was Johnny Depp’s very first appearance in the film as Captain Jack Sparrow, popping out of a casket which has just been hurled into the Turkish sea. At last, Gore Verbinski could concentrate solely on AT RETURN TO THE BAHAMAS WORLD’S END.
Much of AT WORLD’S END is set on the sea, and in addition to the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman, Rick Heinrichs had even more ships to design for the film. The Empress and the Hai Peng are both Chinese junks, but a real study in contrasts. The Empress is the elaborately decorated flagship of Chinese pirate Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat), the Hai Peng a much more modest affair, a junk that really looks like junk, composed of rotting, decrepit wood and thatched roofing on its deck structure.
“For the Empress, we were taking off on the idea of Captain Sao Feng as something of a peacock,” explains Heinrichs, “so there are design elements which reflect that, such as the long arc of its shape which seems to almost swoop up into a tail on the rear of the ship. There are sail extensions on the sides of the ship which are almost like feathers that help to drive the ship forward.” Sao Feng’s elaborate cabin on the Empress was separately constructed on a Walt Disney Studios soundstage, layered with sensual fabrics, a multitude of burning candles which created atmospheric lighting, and a moon gate entrance. “It really takes great craftsmanship to make a ship like the Empress,” says Chow Yun-Fat.
“The only problem was that because I was born into a family of farmers, I never went on ships. So when I was on the Empress I got seasick after I went on board! So although the ship was beautiful, I didn’t have any feelings because I was too dizzy!” Fully half of the Endeavour, Lord Cutler Beckett’s imposing East India Trading Company flagship, was constructed for filming in Grand Bahama Island, with the remainder to be added by CG imagery. Beckett’s cabin on the ship was built in the studio, its design reflecting his vaunted view of himself as someone making over the entire world.
“There’s sort of a Chaplinesque Great Dictator aspect to Beckett,” says Heinrichs, “which we can see in the huge globe that’s in his cabin, kind of a counterpart to the big map of the world that’s in his Port Royal office. On Beckett’s desk in the cabin are toy ships and navigational devices which intentionally resemble instruments of torture. He not only has the world in a vise, but he’s going to flay it as well.” Spending that much time at sea, particularly as fall turned it both cooler and choppier, tested the mettle of even the hardiest “pirates.”
“I mean, you’re on a boat 10, 12, 14 hours a day,” notes Martin Klebba. “There’s no way to walk away somewhere and collect your head. You’re on a boat with another hundred or so people all trying to make the movie the best they can. They kept us plied with lots of water and food, brought boxed lunches to the ships, but you have no control of the sea tossing you about, mentally you get drained, and finally you go back to the hotel, wake up eight hours later and do it all over again. And even in your bed at night, or sitting at a computer, everything is still rocking back and forth. It’s like being on a roller coaster.”
“The terrible thing about filming out at sea is that you are used to doing your work, sitting down, and maybe having a coffee and a read,” adds Kevin R. McNally, who plays sea salt Joshamee Gibbs.
“Every time you sit down somewhere in the Black Pearl, some guy says ‘Excuse me, I have to move that cannon’ or ‘Hold on, I just have to pour some blood over this guy.’ So you just basically spend 10 hours a day circling the boat like a cat trying to find somewhere to settle. It’s exhausting.” Two days before the company wrapped on Grand Bahama Island, thus completing its Caribbean shoot, it all seemed to come full circle during the filming of a climactic sequence for AT WORLD’S END in which the pirates of the Black Pearl unfurl the Jolly Roger and raise it high over the masts.
A speaker blared Hans Zimmer’s huge, stirring music written expressly for this scene, and goosebumps started to appear on the arms of virtually the entire company. This was what many civilians think moviemaking is really like: sort of like watching a film, only live. An apt phrase, to be sure, especially when describing how the Black Pearl was shipped, lock, stock and barrelsliterallyin a gigantic float-on/float-off yacht carrier called the Super Servant 3, from Southern Florida, through the Panama Canal, and to Ensenada, Mexico.
The Pearl then sailed on her own steam to Los Angeles after shooting finally wrapped on Grand Bahama Island on March 1, 2006, for more AT WORLD’S END filming back in the Los Angeles area when shooting resumed in August, following the tough post-production schedule on “Dead Man’s Chest,” the film’s massive Disneyland premiere, and its smashingly successful domestic and international openings. The Flying Dutchman, having completed her duties on the second and third films, was sailed from Freeport to Disney’s very own Castaway Cay in the Bahamas, where it now provides amazing encounters for Disney Cruise Line passengers. By the time the company went on hiatus, approximately 35 percent of AT WORLD’S END had been completed, difficult and challenging, but by no means was the company over the hump in terms of what was still required.
Truly Salty Sailors
In Utah, And Back To California And the travel wasn’t entirely over for the company, either.
The resumption of AT WORLD’S END shooting on August 3, 2006, would see the company jetting to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for a couple of ruthlessly hot days, with temperatures in the dry heat hovering at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping to the codeGore Verbinski’s, that isthe tough location was nonetheless perfect for scenes in which Captain Jack Sparrow is slowly losing his mind in Davy Jones’ Locker. Of course, “Pirates” being “Pirates,” the bad-weather curse followed the company even up to Utah. “
Two days before we started shooting we discovered that it was raining in the flats,” recalls first assistant director Dave Venghaus.
“And when it rains, it doesn’t get deep but becomes a gigantic reflecting pool of water. We panicked, because we wanted the dry element of the desert and not the wet-salt look. When we got there, we drove through a couple of inches of water on top of the salt on the way out to our location some 10 miles into the flats, but thank goodness the water dried out pretty quickly and we were able to get the work done. It didn’t surprise me, because no matter where we went, somehow or another, water would affect us.”
Confirms executive producer Eric McLeod, “We shot in August, pretty much the warmest month of the year in that part of Utah, and we got an inch of water two days before we arrived, which luckily mostly evaporated. But if you want a weather-pattern change, have the ‘Pirates’ movie show up and you’re going to get one!”
The troupe traded the tropical heat and humidity of the Caribbean for the desert conditions of the otherworldly, barren expanses of the Salt Flats, which stretches over 30,000 acres and is famed as the site of rocket-powered land vehicles setting all kinds of speed records. Except for a brief sojourn to the beaches of Santa Maria, on the central California coast, the company blessedly stayed closer to home for the duration of the AT WORLD’S END shoot, filming more sequences on Rick Heinrichs’ gloriously gloomy Flying Dutchman and lavish Endeavour captain’s cabins on Walt Disney Studios soundstages, and aboard the Black Pearl in the waters off of San Pedro and Redondo Beach.
This presented its own headaches in more ways than one, as the load-in at the Redondo Beach Pier is a public facility and obviously the production drew an enormous amount of attention from the public and media alike. Hundreds of fans descended upon the basecamp day after day in a way that the production had never before seen, accustomed as they were to the more remote locations in St. Vincent, Dominica and the Bahamas where, frankly, the local populace had more urgent matters to attend to than getting movie stars’ autographs.
“I only realized how huge ‘Pirates’ had become when I went to the premiere of ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ at Disneyland,” notes Kevin R. McNally. “It was like being a Beatle for a moment. Then, when we were shooting off of Redondo Beach, people were just going crazy. It was amazing. It’s a real honor to be in something that has such wide reach and that so many people love.”
Ironically, after shooting in the often-rough open waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic, some of the most turbulent seas the production encountered were right off the coast of Rancho Palos Verdes, as high swells twisted the Pearl this way and that and, along with it, the stomachs of cast and crew. More than one stalwart actor or behind-the-scenes worker heaved over the rail on those days, and weren’t embarrassed either. The ultimate crowd-pleaser and fan-appreciator, Johnny Deppeven after 12- to 14-hour days on the Pearlstill devoted up to an hour and a half on most nights signing autographs and taking pictures in Redondo Beach with an ever-growing army of devotees, many of whom arrived before sunrise in the hopes of even catching a glimpse of their hero, let alone shaking his hand or getting a hug and kiss.
“I think Johnny is the best thing since sliced bread,” says fellow pirate David Bailie, who has played the silent Cotton in all three films. “He’s a total gent. The way he treats everyone, and perhaps more importantly, his public, is a wonder to behold. I worked with Laurence Olivier in the 1960s when I was in the National Theatre. He was never offhand with his public. He was always thoroughly polite and he recognized that they were his bread and butter, and I’ve seen Johnny behave in exactly the same way.”
The company then got back into their cars, trucks, SUVs and semis and headed north to the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes on California’s beautiful Central Coast for scenes on the beach involving all four leads: Depp, Rush, Bloom and Knightley. This area has quite a history of its own, having hosted several previous films, including Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 version of “The Ten Commandments”…with some of the sets, having been buried nearly 80 years ago, now peeking out through the dunes in shards of wood and plaster, a mute testimony to Hollywood history. Unlike DeMille and his gang, however, Bruckheimer, Verbinski and company left no trash behind, instead leaving the pristine preserve just as they found it.
The Brethren Court
The last of the fabulous sets built on Disney’s Stage 2 for the “Pirates” trilogy was Shipwreck Cove, where the raucous and divisive Brethren Court of Pirate Lords meets to make a last plan of action against the onslaughts of Beckett and the East India Trading Company armada. “Shipwreck Cove was conceived by Gore as kind of a retirement home for old pirates, comprised of the wrecked hulls of various ships hidden in a volcano,” notes Heinrichs. “The Brethren Court meet in one of those hulls, and outside of the structure we’ve extended the set with a 300-foot-long painted backing which has been beautifully designed and painted in the good, old-fashioned Hollywood tradition.”
The Brethren Court does have some foundation in history, note the screenwriters. “There was a loose confederation of pirates called the Brethren of the Coast,” says Ted Elliott.
“And it’s just such a fun idea to have a whole bunch of pirates sitting around trying to come to decisions. Captain Sao Feng has a line of dialogue in which he says that pirates are either captain or crew, and nine captains charting a course is eight captains too many. We also wanted to get more international in flavor, so the Pirate Lords are from all over the world.” In fact, although Elliott and Rossio cheerfully admit that they often play (“play” being the operative word) fast and loose with history, there are truths to be found amidst the fun.
In fact, most of the Pirate Lords are based on historical buccaneers, and although they didn’t necessarily occupy the same chronological era depicted in AT WORLD’S END, Captain Chevalle, Ammand the Corsair, Gentleman Jocard, Mistress Ching, Captain Vallenueva and Sri Sumbhajee all made their mark on the chronicles of high-seas skullduggery. On Heinrichs’ evocative set, rickety boardwalks connect one rotting old hull to another, with the Brethren Court meeting room gorgeously illuminated by some 3,500 candles.
Figureheads from plundered ships used as decoration are used for target practice by the rowdy Pirate Lords, pierced by an amusing array of swords, hatchets and daggers. The long wooden table at which the Pirate Lords meet was designed by Heinrichs and Cheryl Carasik, and constructed at a Walt Disney Studios workshop. “We also made a chandelier out of an anchor, which looks like iron but is actually fabricated from foam,” explains Carasik.
“Then we took several cases of wax candles and dripped them over the top of the chandelier. We must have used thousands of candles to get this effect!” The filming of the sequence, which took place over a momentous seven days in mid-September 2006, was pretty raucous itself. The set was crammed with the film’s stars and the wildly colorful array of Pirate Lords from the seven seas (portrayed by some very distinguished international actors, including Syria’s Ghassan Massoud, who coincidentally portrayed Saladin opposite Orlando Bloom in “Kingdom of Heaven”).
Then there was the matter of who would be chosen as Captain Teague, Keeper of the Code, the Pirata Codex, to which even the most dastardly scalawag must religiously adhere, at the peril of his own body and soul. But the casting was pre-ordained. For nearly a year, rumors flew hither and yon that it would be none other than Keith Richards, legendary guitarist of the Rolling Stones, and a close mate of Johnny Depp…who very admittedly had modeled some of Captain Jack Sparrow’s style and characteristics on his great and good friend. And the rumors, for a refreshing change, were true.
“The sort of connection I made when first thinking about Captain Jack,” says Depp, “was the idea that pirates were the rock and roll stars of that era. Their myths or legends would arrive months before they would ever make port, much like rock stars.” “It’s about freedom, baby,” adds Richards. “Open the cage, let the tigers out. Somebody’s gotta do the naughty work. It’s not so much about destroying the establishment. It’s to prevent them from destroying you.”
Richards was understandably somewhat wary at first of accepting the role of Captain Teague.
“When I first heard about it, I was thinking, oh my God, this is an Elvis Presley thing. You pop in and sing. But when I saw how it fit into the whole scenario, then it felt quite natural to do it. And they’ve also made me a lovely guitar.” Strumming that guitarespecially designed and built for him by the legendary instrument maker Danny Farrington at the request of propmaster Kristopher E. Peckand wielding a mean flintlock pistol, Richards took the company, and the days on which he filmed, by hurricane force. “It was kind of a long shot to even think about getting Keith to do this,” says Depp.
“The fact that he agreed was above and beyond a dream come true. Experiencing his arrival on set was unbelievable. Every single person on the crew, including people you hadn’t seen in months, suddenly showed up. It was a beautiful, perfect symmetry.” As for the unique connection between Captains Jack and Teague, Depp notes, “You get the feeling that there was a real tough-love relationship there. Teague is one of those pirates who would give you a hug one minute, and blow you away the next. Or maybe he’ll blow you away and then give you a hug. You don’t know what to expect from him.”
“It was really interesting to see the kind of mutual respect that Keith seemed to have for the actors and crew, and that they had for him, his artistry and his long, celebrated career,” notes Jerry Bruckheimer. “I think he had a lot of fun. In fact, he didn’t want to quite leave the set. Usually, when an actor is finished with a scene, they go to their trailer until the next setup.
But Keith was hanging around the set even in between his scenes. I think Keith took his personalized chair when he left as a remembrance of the experience, and I’m sure he took his costume. If he didn’t, I hope he did.” “Keep to the Code” is an oft-heard slogan in the “Pirates” films, but it’s only in AT WORLD’S END that the audience actually gets a chance to see the Real Deal…the Pirata Codex, so named in haughty Latin, a mighty volume of overwhelming size which, in reality, was nothing less than an objet d’art of surpassing craftsmanship.
“The Pirate Code book was something in the making for a very long time,” explains “Dead Man’s Chest” and AT WORLD’S END property master Kristopher E. Peck, “and we had many people working on it. It had never been done before, and had to be grand and spectacular. I also wanted to put a lot of detail in it, even if it never ended up on film. But I knew that Gore is very detail-oriented, and I wanted to give him options to shoot.
“We had some trial and error with Gore, and I finally decided that he wouldn’t see it again for approval until we got it right. I got on the phone with two people from San Diego: Tom Mallory, who’s a writer for one of the city’s newspapers, and Mark Van Stone, who’s an expert in ancient calligraphy and manuscripts. I had both of them get in a car immediately and come up to L.A., and after our meeting we worked until two o’clock in the morning in the production office writing the text and setting it down as quickly as we could.
Tom wrote the text based upon what we got from screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, things I’d discovered in my research, storyline points that needed to be factored in. By the time we walked out at two, we basically had the Pirate Code finished.” Previously, Peck and Van Stone had combed through the manuscript archives of UCLA for inspiration. “We walked into the basement, and there was this beautiful, big library room, low-key lighting as if you were going to see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, and there was a 40- foot-long beautiful wooden table covered with manuscripts.
They laid all of these old books out for us to look at, and we studied them microscopically. Mark pointed out little details that I would never have picked up on, like showing that certain parchment were embedded with the follicle hairs of a pig. We spent ten hours there, and walked away with this great archive of researching photos that we wanted to implement. Parchment was scarce back then, so you would see where they would scratch off the ink and write over it, or sew additions on top of the original paper. We tried to put ourselves in the pirate world, wondering what they would be doing, what they would be eating. Maybe there was a parrot on someone’s shoulder, and the sunflower seeds that the bird was eating fell down into the middle of the book, or some ashes from a pipe they were smoking became ingrained into the paper.”
After Peck, Mallory and Van Stone completed their “first draft,” conceptual consultant James Ward Byrkit became involved in the process, drawing illustrations and creating other materials. “Jim came up with some wonderful stuff,” says Peck, “like how to attack a ship, or a castle. We have all kinds of things in the book, including recipes for beer, or where you can find the best brothel in Singapore. Jim helped us lay in the character and texture of the Pirate Code. We have wine stains, blood stains, sunflower seeds, wax stamps and seals, and addendums actually sewn onto the parchment pages.” The final dimensions of the Pirata Codex were 20" x 28", with the embossed covers an inch bigger, and the “hero” version of the book weighed some 80 pounds and contained a thousand pages of textured parchment. “
So we had to make two books,” Peck continues, “because we had these two little old men in the film, sort of like a 90-year-old ZZ Top with beards down to here, playing the pirate librarians, who have to carry it. And since Captain Teague, played by Keith Richards, is the Keeper of the Code, we wanted to give him something easier to work with. So the second version only weighed about ten pounds.”
For the climactic “Maelstrom” sequence of AT WORLD’S ENDthe massive, apocalyptic battle between the pirate and British East India Trading Company armadas that takes place in a supernaturally induced storm of monumental proportionsthe filmmakers had to find a facility in which they could build full-sized replicas of both the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman from the decks up, as well as various other set pieces.
The only such structure anywhere near Los Angeles (or perhaps anywhere else, for that matter) was Building #703 of the enigmatically named “Site 9.” This elephantine 600-foot-long, 300-foot-wide and 70-foot-tall hangar in the desert community of Palmdale, California58 miles north of The Walt Disney Studios in Burbankwas built by Rockwell International in 1983 for the assembly of 100 B-1 bombers, and had, over the past few years, been used as a shooting stage for a number of films, including Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal.”
“This is one of the most elaborate and ambitious action sequences I’ve ever seen conceived for a film,” notes Rick Heinrichs, “and it requires coordination of several departments, including ours, visual effects and special physical effects. If it’s even 85% of what we hope for, it will be off the charts.” Adds executive producer Mike Stenson, “You walked inside of that hangar, and it was like Area 51.” Inside of “Site 9,” Rick Heinrichs worked in synergistic conjunction with another Academy Award® winner, special effects supervisor John Frazier (“Spider-Man 2”), to construct the Pearl and the Dutchman, decks up, mounted on massive, highly sophisticated motion bases, surrounded by gigantic blue-screen backings. “John Frazier is the best special physical effects supervisor there is,” says Stenson.
“Nobody else could have pulled off the physical elements of the special effects that we do in this movie.”
Frazier and his team designed and built the motion bases for the two key prop ships, as well as another rig for both the scene in which the Hai Peng goes off the edge of the world, and the “Green Flash” sequence, in which the Black Pearl passes between worlds by turning completely upside down in the ocean. “What we decided to do on AT WORLD’S END that has never been done before on any motion picture,” notes Frazier, “was to put a tower at each end of the two ships which allowed us to heave them up 15 feet. And by doing that, we were able to get the actual realistic movement of a ship in the ocean. Normally, we pivot it in the center, but ships don’t do that. In this case, we pivoted the ships on each end to bring the bow up and down, and then we had two hydraulic rams on the either side of the ships that allowed them to roll.”
The construction of the full-sized Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman on Frazier’s motion bases was a huge collaboration between several departments. “We built the motion bases in three months, but in stages. Greg Callas’ construction department built the ships on top of our truss. Then we built the towers on each end of the ships which make them move up and down. We then designed a computerized system to operate them from sort of a mission control. We had 150 special effects welders on the project, and we were working 24/7. They never stopped. The day guys would cut the pieces and lay it out, and the equally talented night guys would weld it all together. All 150 people who worked on this project gave us 150 percent. It’s a long, long process to tune these motion bases with the computer, and requires a lot of patience. It’s like watching paint dry, but our computer team had the necessary patience, and were terrific at their work.
They didn’t turn the system on until every bar was synched up, and every graph was there. “The hydraulics team also stepped up to the plate,” continues Frazier. “There are over 2,000 feet of hydraulic hose that runs to the motion bases. There are over one million pounds of steel, some of which didn’t exist, so we had to have a special run made. Nobody had ever done this before, and it was a big honor for us to be chosen for this project. “In the amount of time that we had to design and create this monster, three ships built on three motion bases in three months is pretty much unheard of,” Frazier admits. “Previous to this, the biggest motion base we built was for the U.S.S. Oklahoma for Jerry Bruckheimer’s ‘Pearl Harbor,’ and we said that we would never build anything bigger than that.
Then along comes AT WORLD’S END, and it’s absolutely the biggest thing we’ve ever done, and I can’t imagine that it will happen again. This is the Super Bowl of motion pictures.” When the ships and gigantic rigseach weighing more than a million pounds eachhad to be moved from one position to another inside of “Site 9,” simple-looking but high-tech air bearings were called into play, something like mini hovercraft capable of carrying 60 tons. “It’s the best way to move a million pounds of ship,” explains John Frazier.
“If you could imagine an air hockey game that’s upside down, that’s what we’re doing…taking the table and putting it on top, and letting the hockey puck move it around. The biggest thing about moving the ships isn’t the moving, but stopping them. Once you take that million and build up that inertia, it’s hard to stop it. So we take these big 12,000-pound forklifts and we chain them right to the motion base so it can’t get away from us. We could literally just move the bases, and the ships, anywhere in the hangar that we wanted.” For the special lighting required of any blue-screen sequence, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski and his gaffer Rafael E. Sanchez designed a staggeringly complex grid of 1,400 space lights, as well as some 40 lights around the 60-foot-tall blue screen that surrounds the ships and at least eight 10,000-amp truck generators, as well as 60 miles of cable and 3,000 frequencies for the dimmer boards.
“We created 108,000 kilowatts of power,” noted executive producer Eric McLeod, “enough to literally light 500 homes.”
Frazier and his team of technical experts also designed a system of piping and rain heads installed into the ceiling of the hangar which poured down hammering showers onto the ships (and the actors, stuntmen and crew), driven by several gigantic fans capable of blowing winds up to 100 miles per hour. The rain had to be carefully calibrated and developed by John Frazier and his crew.
We started by testing rain heads for weeks, and finally got the look that Gore wanted,” notes the special effects supervisor. “Then we have to change the heads, because when Gore is shooting a closeup, you don’t want big raindrops falling on people. You need something finer. So we switch out the rain heads depending upon whether it’s a long shot or closeup.
“Because of the size of the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman, we were probably pumping somewhere around 25,000 gallons of water a minute. This is more rain than has ever been created on a motion picture soundstage. We put tanks outside of the hangar, hooked up the pumps, filtered and heated the water, so basically what we have is this big revolving waterslide. We pump the water in, it goes up 80 feet, rains down on the set, hits the stage floor, goes into the utility corridors that were originally built into the floors, back into the tanks that we have outside, and, recycled, back in again.”
Gore Verbinski and his crew donned protective gear to allow the water to roll off their backs, as much as possible anyway. The stars and stunt players weren’t so fortunate.
Says Keira Knightley, “You get into costume. You’ve got a wet suit on underneath, which obviously makes going to the toilet really tricky. Then they turn the rain on, and you’re drenched within 10 seconds. I just feel sorry for the crew because they’re in it all day long. The rain is so heavy at times that you literally cannot see. When the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman are side by side, we’re working on a 15-percent slope, in which you’re running uphill doing a swordfight in torrential rain, with an entire camera crew coming at you. It’ll look great, but it’s definitely a hard one to work on.”
“I wouldn’t call it acting, I call it survival,” laughs Orlando Bloom. “It’s kind of brutal to stay wet from eight in the morning until eight at night. Even though they turn off the rain machines between takes, you’re still soaked all the way through, and I’d be lying if I said it was fun. But it’s hard on everyone, not just the actors. And ultimately, we all have a lot of confidence in the destination, and know that it’s worth the effort.” “The Maelstrom is like the biblical whirlpool from hell, and we’re shooting it the way Cecil B. DeMille probably would have,” says Geoffrey Rush. “It’s absolutely massive.”
“We were running away from hurricanes in the Bahamas,” adds Johnny Depp, “shooting in Dominica during the rainy season in a rain forest, and then we went to the desert, in Palmdale, filming in a torrential downpour and about 75 knots of wind inside of a massive facility on a ship tilted to a 15-percent rake on the gimbal. “Once again, this is another one of those situations where it’s so weird that you just don’t question it anymore. ‘Johnny, we’re going to drive you an hour and a half up to the desert, you’re going to climb aboard the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman built on gigantic rigs, and we’re going to drench you in high winds while you swordfight at a steep angle.’
“And you just kind of go, ‘Okay, fine. No problem.’” One aspect of the Maelstrom shootwhich lasted for nearly four monthswas the change in weather outside of the hangar in desert Palmdale…from the raging 110-degree heat of mid-September to the 20- degree nighttime chill of early December. Not so bad if one could stay indoors all day, but basecamp was outside, which one had to pass through to a second hangar which housed 50 makeup stations for background players, as well as seating for meals. Sooner or later, the drenched actors, stunt and background players had to expose themselves to the elements, whether hellishly hot or bone-chillingly cold, not to mention the sometimes-fierce desert winds whipping across the landscape.
“Obviously, the Maelstrom climax was the most spectacular and challenging for us on AT WORLD’S END,” notes stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge. “All of the principal cast were involved, and there were multiple storylines being played out within the epic action.”
For this massive, final ship-to-ship 38 THE MAELSTROM showdown between the pirates and the East India Trading Company, Ruge coordinated stunt sequences both in the Bahamas and inside of the massive “Site 9” hangar used for shooting in Palmdale, California. “Because the ship setpieces on Grand Bahama were not particularly designed for stunt rigging opportunities, we had to be very creative to pull off the creative action,” says Ruge.
“These ships and the pirates on them take heavy cannon fire. We used multiple air ramps and wire/ratchet work to create the illusion of our stunt pirates taking this fire. And because these were floating setpieces, we had the luxury of selling this action all the way to the water in many instances.
“Inside of the Palmdale stage, we at least had the luxury of being indoors and not having to worry about the elements, but we faced a whole new set of challenges because of the immense number of visual and physical effects required for the sequence.” The stars finding themselves clinging onto the edge of the Black Pearl for dear life on John Frazier’s “tilt rig” for the Green Flash sequence became major stunt players themselves. “It was actually really scary,” admits Naomie Harris.
“The only thing that stopped me from screaming was the fact that I was roped down and no one else was screaming, so I would have felt stupid if I had…but I really wanted to.”
The Green Flash was a combination of material shot with the actual Black Pearl gimbaled in the tank on Grand Bahama Island by special effects coordinator Allen Hall and his crew, a Pearl setpiece mounted on John Frazier’s tilt rig in the Palmdale hangar, and underwater shooting in another tank in the Falls Lake section of the Universal Studios backlot. The Hai Peng’s descent over the edge of the world was also a matter of putting together a complex cinematic puzzle that had been evolving over months. “It began, filming-wise, by shooting from tugboats in Greenland going through ice fields,” explains executive producer Eric McLeod.
“That sequence alone was shot almost two years before. We also shot plates in Niagara Falls. And from there, we had a motion base specifically built for the Hai Peng that can take 100 feet of the set and tilt it at 90-degree angles. We filmed the dialogue portion about four feet off the ground on the full-sized Hai Peng, then had a large crane come in, set up the Hai Peng setpiece onto the motion base, strap the cast in with safety lines on them and the crew, and then tilt the set. It’s a little nerve-wracking when you have your cast up there dangling.
At first everyone’s a little timid and reserved, but after a while, you could take them anywhere. It’s like, ‘Oh, you have to jump out of a boat, rappel down a cliff, and hang from a ship at a 90-degree angle and have chairs and barrels fall down on you from the deck,’ and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, okay, that’s great. I can deal with that.’”
Riding the waves, sometimes literally, was director of photography Dariusz (Darek) Wolski, who, along with his team of camera operators, clappers, loaders and assistants, as well as key grip J. Michael (Pop) Popovich and chief lighting technician Rafael (Raffi) E. Sanchez, met every impossible challenge with a high degree of extemporaneous imagination.
“We’ve had an amazing opportunity on these films to experiment and do different ways of filming,” says Wolski. “
We’ve shot pretty much every possible thing: in the jungles, on the water, under the water, in dark holes, on soundstages, in super-bright salt flats. In terms of scale, I will never be able to top ‘Dead Man’s Chest.’To go any farther, you’d have to completely go in the opposite direction.” In the post-production phase, it would be up to John Knoll and his team at ILM to provide the environments, including the churning, turbulent sea and terrifying, mile-long whirlpool that threatens any ship that comes too close to its vortex.
“Visually, it’s a very bold idea,” says Knoll, “but there’s not really anything that you can shoot practically for that. So all the water has to be computer-generated throughout, and it’s very difficult to do that very realistically. We’re going to end up with approximately 400 visual effects shots in that sequence, with rain, giant waves, whitecaps, foam and spray. These are all challenging things to execute believably. “What’s happening in the foreground is pretty complicated as well,” Knoll explains.
“There’s a huge battle between the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman, so we have computer-generated characters in the midst of rain, atmospherics and splintering wood. Not to mention hundreds of pirate and EITC ships that are seen in the sequence.”
Dressed For Success
Costume designer Penny Rose, who amply demonstrated her prodigious talents on both “The Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Dead Man’s Chest,” went beyond the Farthest Gate on AT WORLD’S END, helping to extend the pirate world well beyond that depicted in the first two films. “We’d done Caribbean pirates to death, and now we were going to have some new ingredients,” explains Rose. “We got a lot of pictorial and editorial information about piracy in different parts of the world. I prepare the films in London, which is a very good base to do that kind of research.” Rose and her crew literally combed the world for fabrics and materials from which to create the thousands of costumes required for AT WORLD’S END.
“I spend three or four weeks intensively shopping at textile fairs, or with antique textile dealers,” she says. “I go to Rome, Madrid, Paris, New York, and buy myself a great, huge store of stuff. Then it travels everywhere we go…we have workrooms on all of the islands and locations where we shoot, so that everything is within the room. It’s like I have a toy shop here, and when the actors come in I can offer them options and let them choose, because I like everything here anyway. It’s really important for the actors to become involved.
“The moment in the dressing room with the actors is the high point of the work. Far more important and exhilarating to me than how much money the film makes is to send the actors away having visually found the character they’re playing. That’s what I’m here to do.” For AT WORLD’S END, the story and character developments go hand in hand with their costume changes. Except, of course, for Captain Jack Sparrow. “Jack can never change,” insists Rose.
“He doesn’t have a closet full of clothes. He is Captain Jack, and the clothes make the man. Same with Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa. So in terms of the two of them, it was simply a question of remaking more, more, more, which was in itself quite a challenge because it was difficult to find the original textiles.
“For example,” Rose continues, “Captain Jack’s sash was made by a hill tribe in Turkey, and I had to send someone to Turkey to persuade that tribe to weave me some more of the sash material. Because we tried to print it on old French hemp and linen sheets, but it just wasn’t the same. So the hill-tribe people made me another hundred yards. “We see a more confident and powerful Will Turner and a new and exciting Elizabeth Swann,” informs Rose.
“We’ve given Orlando an embossed buckskin vest, a dark, wine-colored shirt and a beautiful mudcloth coat. I think it’s important that in the third film, you’re slightly confused as to whose side Will is on, so we needed to help his character look a little bit darker, metaphorically. He has a rather wonderful dark, dark midnight-blue coat made out of mudcloth, which looks very romantic and mysterious.“
Keira gets to wear a Chinese courtesan costume, with a heavily jeweled and ornate headdress and matching collar piece, a tasseled vest and a completely embroidered silk gown with what would probably have been a skirt, but which, for practical reasons, we turned into a culotte so that when she gets to the fighting sequences, we could lose the vest and the other accessories and go straight into action mode.” Rose also designed an astonishing costume for the legendary Chow Yun-Fat, who portrays Captain Sao Feng, which weighed a grand total of 35 pounds in its entirety. “Yun-Fat is the Laurence Olivier of the East, and it took less than 10 minutes of the fitting to know that this fellow really knows his stuff,” says Rose.
“Yun- Fat knows how to envelope himself into the character, he knew we were here to give him the visual, and he did everything possible to help us. It very quickly evolved into a joint decision-making process about what’s happening in that mirror, how we could progress and make it a bigger and better work. Chow Yun-Fat has a powerful presence in person, but we needed this Chinese pirate captain to be terrifying.”
Rose also had an opportunity to design a costume for Bill Nighy in a flashback scene in which the audience can see what Davy Jones looked like as a man “before he was under the sea for years and years and barnacled up. We finally get Bill out of those gray CGI reference pajamas, for which he’s very, very grateful,” she says with a laugh.
“We really set out to and made a fabulous costume for Bill, because he was so relieved to be out of gray. I bought some linen damask from a mill in Umbria that we hadn’t used yet, and dyed it beautifully. We just thought that since Bill is a very elegant man, Davy Jones could, perhaps, in his past have been quite a snappy dresser. So we made him a square-cut coat from that damask linen.”
For the film, Rose also designed costumes for buccaneers from all corners of the globe: Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Primary among this group are the Pirate Lords who convene in Shipwreck Cove, and chief among them are the Keeper of the Code, Captain Teague…played by the artist also known as Keith Richards. “I was fortunate enough to give Mr. Richards a fitting in July 2005, when he was in Los Angeles just prior to the band rehearsals,” recalls Rose.
“And it so happened that it was a week when Johnny Depp was not working, so I asked him to come with me, which he very kindly did. I must say, it was fairly hilarious to see the two of them together, because once Keith was dressed in costume, you really could believe that the two of them were related. “It was a bizarre moment,” continues Rose, “because how often do you get to costume a rock icon? [Well, actually, Rose has done it before…for Bob Geldof in “Pink Floyd: The Wall” and Madonna in “Evita”.] But Keith was dying to be a pirate. I mean, he wanted to go out that night dressed in the pirate costume! So I think he really enjoyed the process.
“Every single one of the Pirate Lords had a different identity based upon where they’d come from China, India, France, Spain, Africaplus their entourages. All of the textiles I used were specifically different in each group.”
© Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Pirates of the Caribbean Collectibles and Toys
2007 All rights reserved. Free Movie Entertainment Magazine. All rights reserved.
Just when he’s needed most, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), that witty and wily charmer of a pirate, is trapped on a sea of sand in Davy Jones’ Locker. In an increasingly shaky alliance, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) begin a desperate quest to find and rescue him. Captain Jack’s the last of the nine Pirate Lords of the Brethren Court who must come together united in one last stand to preserve the freedom-loving pirates’ way of life. From exotic Singapore, to World’s End and beyond, from Shipwreck Island, to a titanic battle, this adventure’s filled with over-the-edge action, irreverent humor and seafaring myth and magic. Everything has led to this twisting, turning, wild swashbuckling ride in this final chapter of the Pirates Of The Caribbean trilogy.
• Actors: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport
• Directors: Gore Verbinski
• Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Special Edition, Widescreen, NTSC
• Language: English, Spanish
• Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
• Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
• Number of discs: 2
• Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
• DVD Release Date: December 4, 2007
• Run Time: 165 minutes
Pirates of the Caribbean -
Dead Man's Chest
(Two-Disc Collector's Edition) (2006)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom Director: Gore Verbinski
Captain Jack Sparrow's life is in debt to the legendary Davey Jones, Captain of the Flying Dutchmen who are supernatural warriors out for blood. Facing possible eternal damnation, Jack must save himself with help from Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, who must come to Jack's aid.
Pirates of the Caribbean -
The Curse of the Black Pearl
(Two-Disc Collector's Edition) (2003)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush Director: Gore Verbinsk
From producer Jerry Bruckheimer (PEARL HARBOR) comes PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, the thrilling high-seas adventure with a mysterious twist. The roguish yet charming Captain Jack Sparrow's (Academy Award(R) Nominee Johnny Depp) idyllic pirate life capsizes after his nemesis, the wily Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), steals his ship, the Black Pearl, and later attacks the town of Port Royal, kidnapping the governor's beautiful daughter Elizabeth (Keira Knightley). In a gallant attempt to rescue her and recapture the Black Pearl, Elizabeth's childhood friend Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) joins forces with Jack. What Will doesn't know is that a cursed treasure has doomed Barbossa and his crew to live forever as the undead. Rich in suspense-filled adventure, sword-clashing action, mystery, humor, unforgettable characters, and never-before-seen special effects, PIRATES is a must-have epic on the grandest scale ever.