Pirates of the Caribbean 3
Pirates 3 In Theaters
3 "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" Featurettes
"The Pirate Lords,"
WATCH All Three Featurettes - Below - And 10 "Pirates 3" Posters
It is a dark time as the Age of Piracy nears to a close. Lord Cutler Beckett (TOM HOLLANDER) of the East India Company has gained control of the terrifying ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman, and its malevolent, vengeful Captain, Davy Jones (BILL NIGHY). The Dutchman now roams the seven seas, unstoppable, destroying pirate ships without mercy, under the command of Admiral Norrington (JACK DAVENPORT). Will Turner (ORLANDO BLOOM), Elizabeth Swann (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY) and Captain Barbossa (GEOFFREY RUSH) embark on a desperate quest to gather the Nine Lords of the Brethren Court, their only hope to defeat Beckett, the Flying Dutchman, and his Armada. But one of the Lords is missing--Captain Jack Sparrow (JOHNNY DEPP), either the best or worst pirate ever, and now trapped in Davy Jones Locker, thanks to his encounter with the monstrous Kraken. In an increasingly shaky alliance, our heroes, including Tia Dalma (NAOMIE HARRIS), Pintel (LEE ARENBERG) and Ragetti (MACKENZIE CROOK) must first travel to dangerous, exotic Singapore and confront Chinese pirate Captain Sao Feng (CHOW YUN-FAT) to gain charts, and a ship, that will take them off to world's end, to rescue Jack. But even if Captain Jack is successfully rescued, the gathering of the legendary Brethren Court may not be enough to hold back the fearsome tide of Beckett, Davy Jones and their powerful Armada … unless the capricious sea goddess Calypso, imprisoned in human form, can be freed and convinced to come to their aid. As betrayal piles upon betrayal, it becomes clear that Jack, Will, Elizabeth, Sao Feng, and Barbossa each have their own agenda, and no one can be trusted. Yet each must choose a side, and make their final alliances for one last battle, in a titanic showdown that could eliminate the freedom-loving pirates from the seven seas -- forever -- "Pirates of the Caribbean 3."
STARRING: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgård, Geoffrey Rush, Chow Yun-Fat, Keith Richards
DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski
STUDIO: Walt Disney Pictures
RATING: PG-13 (For action scenes, and mild language)
Wild About Movies Grade: C-
What could have been, perhaps, an end to a franchise, leaves many questions unanswered and your mind wandering aimlessly. Forget the movie and spend your money on the ride at Disneyland. The best thing that could happen would be for this film to teeter on the bomb level at the box office so no one at Disney is tempted to go for a fourth and extort even billions of dollars more out of a dupable movie going audience, worldwide.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"
Behind The Scenes
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
…And for “At World’s End,” that beginning was as early as April 6, 2005, when the first scenes for the film were shot in production designer Rick Heinrichs’s Tortuga set constructed in Wallilabou Bay on the beautiful and atmospheric island of St. Vincent in the West Indies, giving that tiny country a three for three batting average, having hosted all of the “Pirates” films. And ironically, the sequence was one of the final moments in the film. Of course, shooting this scene was in concert with the simultaneous filming of “Dead Man’s Chest,” and it’s doubtful if the challenge of producing and directing not one, but two massively scaled epics could have been more daunting to Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski, and their collective production teams and company of actors. But the point was, they were up for it, and then some. “Anytime you make a movie it’s a challenge,” says Bruckheimer. “But when you try to prepare two movies at the same time, that’s a serious challenge. You just don’t get the kind of preparation time that you need for the second movie, let alone the first movie.
“But from the producer’s point of view,” he continues, “it was the only way to make the second and third ‘Pirates’ films. You have Gore Verbinski, who is a directing star based on the first movie and his other work. You have Johnny Depp, who has been a star for years, but who broke out into a huge, mainstream audience on ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl.’ You have Orlando Bloom, who blossomed even before the first ‘Pirates,’ and became a superstar after it was released. And then you have Keira Knightley, who’s come into her own right as a phenomenal young actress. To get all of them together for two movies, if you did it separately there would be three or four years in between before you could figure out their schedules and make all of their deals to get slots. Blocking out their time based on two back-to-back movies, as well as Gore and the screenwriters, Ted and Terry—as well as keeping together the rest of the crew—meant that this was the only way to go.”
Although the majority of filming in both St. Vincent and the following West Indian location of Dominica were for “Dead Man’s Chest,” Verbinski also took full advantage of the exotic locales for required “At World’s End” sequences as well. A convoy of production vehicles bumped along half-constructed or barely constructed roads to access St. Vincent’s Black Point Beach, a spectacular stretch of sand and rugged surf. On Dominica, the very first scenes shot on the re-designed and re-built Black Pearl—which had sailed almost 2,000 nautical miles from the Steiner Shipyard in Bayou La Batre, Alabama—were filmed, re-uniting Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush as his old nemesis, Captain Barbossa. Here on Dominica, at Capucine Point, we see the Black Pearl and her passengers approaching Shipwreck Island, one of the most spectacular settings in “At World’s End.”
Despite the fact that less of St. Vincent and Dominica are seen on screen in “At World’s End” than in “Dead Man’s Chest,” executive producer Eric McLeod points out that “in the end, technically, this film was shot in more places than ‘Dead Man’s Chest.’ In addition to St. Vincent, Dominica, The Exumas and Grand Bahama Island, ‘At World’s End’ was also filmed in different locales in Southern and Central California as well as Hawaii and second unit filming in Greenland and Niagara Falls. Gore wants to take the audience on a journey to places they haven’t been to before.”
With the lion’s share of filming during this period going to “Dead Man’s Chest,” followed by a summer hiatus while the huge open studio tank was being constructed on Grand Bahama Island, the next scene to be filmed for the film wouldn’t be until August 31, 2005, with Chow Yun-Fat joining the cast as Captain Sao Feng for scenes shot on Disney’s Stage 2 in Rick Heinrichs’ lustrous sets representing the Singaporean pirate’s cabin on his ship, the Empress. Two days later saw the start of filming of the first major stage setpiece for “At World’s End,” and for many it represented the apotheosis of Rick Heinrichs’ artistry, and that of his entire department: a massive, fanciful interpretation of Singapore in the early 18th century. Constructed on Stage 12 at Universal Studios, this amazing funhouse of a set, comprising some 40 individual structures, was built on top of an 80 by 130 foot tank, and was basically comprised of a harbor replete with Southeast Asian thatched huts and houses built on stilts (known as kampongs), and a swath of the fabled city itself, more formally Chinese in design, including a marketplace, adjacent street where all sorts of dubious business takes place, and a vast bathhouse frequented—way too often, from their looks—by local pirates. Heinrichs even designed and built the low-roofed area underneath the bathhouse in which workers keep the water heated with large furnaces. This was the stage for an early and crucial sequence in At World’s End, in which Will, Elizabeth and Barbossa search for secret charts which could lead them to Davy Jones’ Locker—and therefore to Captain Jack Sparrow, who was sent there at the finale of “Dead Man’s Chest” by the Kraken—from Singapore pirate lord Captain Sao Feng. What ensues is a tremendous action sequence which spills from the town area onto the rickety boardwalks, strung with illuminated lanterns, that connect the kampong houses on stilts above the harbor, pitting the pirates against soldiers of the East India Trading Company.
“Singapore is a mélange of different influences and architectural styles that we researched when we were studying what Singapore might have looked like at that time,” says Heinrichs. “In those years, Singapore was not a particularly well documented place until the 19th century, so we looked at a number of other Chinese cities for reference. We took a deliberately fantastical approach, creating something like a Chinese/Malaysian expressionist style of what we think Singapore might have looked like at the time.
“The bathhouse is a nasty example of hygiene that pokes fun at the spa sensibility running rampant today,” continues Heinrichs. “We have a lot of mushrooms and other fungi growing out of the wooden tubs, and in fact, the pirates have spent so much time lazing around the tubs that they also have mushrooms growing out of them! They don’t seem to leave their filthy ways on the ships…they bring it with them into the bathhouse. The whole point of this is to give you a wonderful sense of nausea at what filthy beasts and brutes the pirates are. We’ve added lots of thickeners and color to the water so that it looks unwholesome. Captain Sao Feng has his own ‘hero niche’ in the bathhouse, with an imperial dragon on the wall behind it. One of the fun things that we did was to design the entire floor of the bathhouse to have a meandering, planked look that’s almost organic, so every one of them had to be hand cut.”
Heinrichs’ longtime collaborator as set decorator—someone who shared an Academy Award nomination with him for both “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Dead Man’s Chest” in the Best Art Direction category—is Cheryl Carasik. “I’ve done four films pretty much back-to-back with Rick, and we just have a great relationship,” she says. “Rick starts cooking right away, so I have enough information from the very beginning of prep to focus and fine tune the big picture. Carasik’s set decoration for Singapore, half of which was actually imported from Asia, was an incredible grabbag of baskets, bushels, food products, flickering Chinese lanterns, baskets, crates, barrels, buckets, painted scrolls, hanging laundry, all made of rattan, bamboo (much of which Carasik brought back from the Dominican locations), wood and palm fronds, just as they would be in Southeast Asia. “It was one of the biggest sets I’ve ever done in my career, and probably the most challenging for the amount of time in which we had to do it,” Carasik recalls. “There were little nooks, apothecary and pottery shops, and interiors that all needed to be dressed, because you never know where Gore is going to want to shoot.”
Atmospherically, the Singapore set actually felt like Southeast Asia, with heavy, dripping humidity caused by the thousands of gallons of water in the tank utilized to create the harbor area, combined with the heat emanating from the powerful lighting equipment. There was even a visible fog which could always be seen just above the water level!
At World’s End presented new, and occasionally overwhelming, challenges to stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge, assistant Dan Barringer and their fabulous team of stunt doubles and players, which this time included a large Asian contingent featuring martial arts experts of all caliber. The Singapore sequence, involving Captain Barbossa, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, Gibbs, Tia Dalma, Pintel and Ragetti, Cotton and his parrot, Marty, Captain Sao Feng, Jack the Monkey and approximately 200 assorted Chinese pirates, East India Trading Company militia and various Singaporean citizenry, spills out from a grotty bathhouse, onto the streets and alleys of the city, and then onto wooden boardwalks and walkways connecting thatched stilt houses over the harbor. “The Singapore sequence began as an unknown entity and one line description in a treatment,” notes Ruge. “Without a lot of warning it took on massive proportions, with a rapid evolution into a complex sequence on a very difficult set. We had limited time to prepare, design the action, choreograph and rehearse. Because the sets were still being built and the paint was still drying, I ended up calling rehearsals at very odd hours that often extended into the night.
“The bathhouse portion of the sequence presented a lot of problems,” Ruge continues. “Complex fight choreography was required in a very confined space with lots of people and lots of obstacles in terms of the baths themselves. The set was raked and incredibly slippery, with the steam rising from all crevices. The action was designed to be absolutely character driven, fresh, intricate and crisp. There was literally no room for error with gunfire and swords flying everywhere. Once the action leaves the bathhouse and escalates out onto the streets of Singapore, another set of problems emerged. The action had to be designed utilizing the very narrow wood planked walkways that were elevated above the water by bamboo scaffolding. This required performers taking eight to 14 foot falls into the water, which was only three and one half feet deep with a concrete bottom.”
Ruge’s solution was to sink large sections of black foam rubber and anchor them to the soundstage floor. The problem is that foam rubber’s natural inclination is to float, so holes needed to be cut throughout the foam to allow the water to pool above the submerged pad and hold it down.
Chow Yun-Fat, who had already performed several scenes on Grand Bahama Island, was a major attraction on the Singapore set, especially to those members of the company who had followed him for years as he ascended the ranks of superstardom in Asian and U.S. cinema. “He always said that he was honored to be there,” recalls Reggie Lee, who portrays Tai Huang, Captain Sao Feng’s aide-de-camp. “Here’s a megastar who we all idolize, who in fact is so humble and friendly to everyone. Yun-Fat’s work is spectacular, he has a great work ethic, and having a chance to act with him was just spectacular.”
Also participating in the Singapore battle were some of the now famous non-human performers of the “Pirates” series from animal coordinator Boone Narr of Boone’s Animals for Hollywood and head trainer Mark Harden, especially Jack the Monkey, again portrayed by either Chiquita (female) or Pablo (male), depending upon the required abilities. “At World’s End,” even more than the previous film, really gave Pablo and Chiquita a chance to shine as simian thespians, such as being dressed in little Chinese costumes in the Singapore sequence, stealing a Roman Candle and firing it during the pitched battle with the East India Trading Company troops. “It was a literal blast,” recalls Harden. “Pablo and Chiquita had to handle a lit candle and touch the flame to the wick, and it took over 60 takes to take it right. It wasn’t just the monkeys, it was a harmonic convergence of all sorts of things going awry. But I was really happy. I mean, everybody teased me that it took 66 takes, but I was proud that the monkeys were willing to do it in 66 takes to get it right!”
Also appearing in the film, and whenever and wherever the silent Cotton (David Bailie) appears, are either Chip or Salsa, the macaws who play the pirate’s squawking pet bird. Has Bailie’s relationship with the animal grown over the last three films? “If I had anything to do with it, it would have done, but the bird seems remarkably indifferent to me. People only recognize me because of the wretched creature!”
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 and picture boat coordinator 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” three-way 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 Dave Venghaus. “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 all—nearly one year after the cameras first rolled—and 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 2nd, 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 Empress—Captain Sao Feng’s flagship junk—which 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 walking about a churning cauldron of wickedly, unpredictable, rough water. The seas became too rough for the pick-up 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 mean tot 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 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 Singaporean 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 sound stage, 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, 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 barrels—literally—in 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 1st, 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 3rd, 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 code—Gore Verbinski’s, that is—the 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 base camp 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 Depp—even after 12 to 14 hour days on the Pearl—still 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 Villanueva and Sri Subhajee 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 3500 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 guitar—especially designed and built for him by the legendary instrument maker Danny Farrington at the request of propmaster Kris Peck—and 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 set-up. 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” if 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 newspaper, 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 End”—the massive, apocalyptic battle between the pirate and British East India Company armadas that takes place in a supernaturally-induced storm of monumental proportions—the 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, California—58 miles north of The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank—was 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 2000 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 rigs—each weighing more than a million pounds each—had 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 Raphael Sanchez designed a staggeringly complex grid of 1400 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 close-up, 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 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 shoot—which lasted for nearly four months—was the change in weather outside of the hangar in desert Palmdale…from the raging 110 degree heat of mid-September to the 20 degree Fahrenheit 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 story lines being played out within the epic action.” For this massive final ship-to-ship 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 set pieces 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 set pieces, 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 new 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 Mike (Pop) Popovich and chief lighting technician Rafael (Raffi) 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 toyshop 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, mud cloth 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 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, Africa—plus their entourages. All of the textiles I used were specifically different in each group.”
The Pirate Makers
Make-Up department head and make-up effects creator Ve Neill, along with make-up effects supervisor Joel Harlow and their huge crew, had their hands full once again taking perfectly reasonable looking human beings into their trailer, and then unleashing an astounding assortment of international pirates, soldiers, creatures and more proletarian citizens of the Caribbean, Asia and Great Britain upon the world. “I think at our peek we had, not even counting the people in the make-up trailers, probably about 45 make-up artists working with background players on some,” says Neill.
Some of the biggest and most difficult days were actually on the Universal Studios backlot, where Neill, Harlow and company were weaving their magical transformations for the Singapore sequence. “We did lots of prosthetics for Singapore. When Sao Feng’s pirates are in the bathhouse, they actually have mushrooms growing out of them, so as to make them appear as though they have been sitting in there for months on end. We wanted to give the Asian pirates, like the other pirates, a really aged, roughed-out look. We make them tan, dirty, stipple to give them a more rugged appearance, and lots of dirt. Oh, and don’t forget the rotten teeth. On ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl,’ we were painting their teeth, which became a little bit of a drama. Gore would be getting ready to roll, somebody would go and eat an apple, and all of a sudden they didn’t have rotten teeth anymore. So what we did for ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ and ‘At World’s End’ was to have a traveling lab with us for dental prosthetics.”
As befits his continued deterioration and merging with the ship to which he’s enslaved, “Bootstrap Bill does progress quite a bit in the third film,” notes Neill. “And unlike Davy Jones and the other members of his crew, it’s all make-up on Bootstrap, and no CGI. He’s a progressive silicone make-up in ‘At World’s End’ until he’s pretty much covered up, with very little of his own face left by the time he reaches what we called ‘stage 6.’ “I’ve had great fun,” enthuses Stellan Skarsgård, the distinguished Swedish actor who portrays Bootstrap Bill. “I mean, I spent more time in the make-up chair than in front of the camera.”
“Stellan was really into it,” continues Neill. “What a great guy. He was so patient and willing to sit for hours. He said that it helped him feel the character. But it was really difficult for Stellan to go through all those stages.”
Another actor who got the full treatment from Neill was Chow Yun-Fat, whose handsome, world famous visage was completely altered into a shaven-head, scarred scoundrel of the seas. “Chow was a lot of fun,” Neill says. “We shaved him, and he grew his own mustache and beard, which we then augmented. He also has a fabulous tattoo, which was designed by Ken Diaz, who runs background make-up and is a master tattoo artist.
The stars of ‘At World’s End’ also undergo some changes, except Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack. “Gore and Johnny both agreed that he has to be exactly who he is, without any changes,” continues Ve Neill. It’s great to have Geoffrey Rush back, and he’s completely fabricated. Beard, mustache, sideburns, wig, scar…all appliances. And because Geoffrey isn’t very old, I also do a big aging stipple all the way around so he gets all crusty and wrinkly. Keira has gotten more rugged as Elizabeth. She’s not that beautiful, pale-skinned little princess who we started off with in ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ at the wedding altar. She gets very tan, and dirty like the boys, quite womanly and brazen. And as Will, Orlando has a darker, moodier look.”
Once again, Neill worked in close concert with chief hairstylist Martin Samuel, with whom she shared an Academy Award nomination for their work on “The Curse of the Black Pearl.” “I think we all work together really well,” notes Neill. “It starts with costume designer Penny Rose, and we follow suit from there.” Samuel and his team provide the hundreds, if not thousands, of hair designs, wigs, extensions for a kaleidoscopic array of characters, from the traditional “pigtails” of the Chinese pirates to Admiral James Norrington’s powdered wig.
Special Effects: Maelstroms, Squid-Faced Captains and Blue Balls…
…were all, and much more, within the domain of visual effects supervisors John Knoll of Industrial Light + Magic and Charles Gibson, both of whom shared an Academy Award for their ground-breaking, widely acclaimed work on ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ with animation supervisor Hal Hickel. For ‘At World’s End,” another previous Academy Award winner, John Frazier, also handled many of the film’s massive special physical effects. Knoll, Gibson and Hickel had little time to rest on their Oscar laurels. That was just the eye of the hurricane, for the early morning after accepting their honors for “Dead Man’s Chest” at the Academy Awards® podium, the trio were right back at work at the approximately 2000 visual effects shots required for “At World’s End.”
Even in today’s digital universe, in which every other feature film seems to have complex CGI effects, audiences and critics alike praised the film’s effects as a genuine, quantum leap in what can be accomplished on screen using state-of-the-art technology.
As always, though, Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer fully expected Knoll and Gibson to raise the bar a little higher for ‘At World’s End.’ “This is a very large show for us,” Knoll admits. “There will be many more visual effects shots than ‘Dead Man’s Chest,’ and because of the extremely short post-production schedule, I’m supervising some, Charlie Gibson is supervising others, and the rest are distributed among a number of visual effects facilities.
“Usually, when a challenge like that is thrown down,” continues Knoll, “you think about ‘Well, how are we going to execute this, and is there any aspect of that that we can’t do with our current toolset? And if there is, I have to talk to research and development about getting some modifications so that we can do these shots. And that’s a situation that happens pretty often. On almost every film, we do something that’s new, or tools that need to be modified.”
The massive setpieces in which Knoll and Gibson needed to make mighty contributions—Davy Jones’ Locker, Singapore, the Green Flash and of course, the gigantic Maelstrom which climaxes the film—always combined visual with mechanical and “in-camera” effects. Explains Knoll, “Gore feels very strongly, and I agree with him, that it’s important to have real elements in there. As much as you can do real, the more plausible and realistic the final results will be. Gore’s a strong proponent of trying to get practical elements on set, to get these as much on camera as you can and then use visual effects where you really need them. And also, not to rely too much on one technique. So in one shot, for example, you’ll have a background extension that’s a miniature, and in another shot we’re doing something with computer graphics. As long as you’re switching things around a little bit, the audience doesn’t key into being able to see the artifice of one particular technique, and we end up with a better looking result.”
One aspect of “At World’s End” which was not particularly worrying Knoll was Davy Jones, which, as portrayed by Bill Nighy and brought to life by the supervisor and his ILM team of artists, had amazed the world in “Dead Man’s Chest.” For that film, Knoll and ILM created a new motion-capture system which they called Imocap, drastically simplifying what was previously required for such techniques. Rather than needing 16 cameras, Knoll and his team invented a system that was completely mobile, requiring just three cameras and sensor-embedded suits for the actors, without the cumbersome separate sound stage and blue screens that had been the mainstay of the system before their innovations.
“Davy was our big focus in the second film, and I think we have all the look and rendering technology down at this point. Hal Hickel, our animation supervisor, and his team are familiar with the character now, so we’ve got a good repertoire to work from for Davy and his Flying Dutchman crew. In fact, the 16 primary Dutchman crew members created for “Dead Man’s Chest” was increased in “At World’s End,” particularly for the Maelstrom sequence. Says Knoll, “We definitely take some of the characters that were more background in the second film, and shuffle them around to the front to get a little mileage out of them.”
Knoll admits that “of all three pictures, probably the most fun aspect of any of them has been our involvement in the creation of Davy Jones. That was a really great partnership with Bill Nighy, who gave a fantastic performance on set, and all that without any real proof of concept. You know, we asked him to wear the unsettling computer gray ‘pajamas’ on set, and we couldn’t really show him what it was going to look like when it was done, but he dove right in there and delivered these great performances, created an amazing character and gave us fantastic material to work with. The artists back at ILM did a fantastic job modeling, texturing, lighting and rendering, just beautiful animation. I think Davy Jones is a really special character in every way.”
For the extraordinarily challenging post-production process, Knoll explains that “because of the size of the show and the number of shots we have to finish per week, we need to have regular feedback from Gore. So, given that he’s just as busy as we are in post-production, when he’s editing the movie, working on sound, ADR, all of those finishing touches to get the movie done, it’s not convenient for him to fly up to ILM in San Francisco from Los Angeles. And it would be a big imposition on my time to be flying down regularly when I really need to be with my crew at ILM. So we do these video conferences twice a week, at least up until the final weeks. Then, when we get into the final weeks, we do them every day!
“We go over all of our work in progress on a two-way video conference so that Gore can see both the shot that we’re working on. Because a lot of what we do involves hand gestures and that sort of thing, it’s important to actually see each other while we’re doing that.”
Of all the bizarre sights that the “Pirates” company was privy to—and heaven knows, there were many—perhaps one of the strangest was the dumping of some 175,000 lightweight, plastic, blue balls from two nets high above the Site 9 hangar floor in Palmdale, and onto the deck of the gimbal-mounted Black Pearl. The truth is, they only looked like blue balls, but they were, in fact, thousands of skittering, jittery, watery crabs. Or at least, they would be by the time John Knoll and ILM got finished with them.
Explains Knoll, “There’s an important scene during the Maelstrom sequence that involves a hundred thousand crabs which rain over the whole deck of the Black Pearl and sweep away everybody in their path like some kind of crustacean avalanche. Gore came up with the idea of using the blue plastic balls, just like the ones that are in the ball pits of children’s amusement areas. He thought that the balls would literally knock everybody off their feet without doing any real damage because of their light weight.
“I might have been inclined to try and accomplish that effect with digital doubles,” Knoll continues, “and maybe use some sort of wire rig to show the pirates being knocked down. But Gore is a strong proponent of trying to get practical elements on set, to get as much into the camera as you can, and then use visual effects where you really need them.”
“The crabs themselves are computer generated models. We built one detailed version of the crab, and then several variations on it.”
When the balls rained down upon the company from the netting, crew members’ maturity levels seemed to drop to the equivalent, say, of a five or six year old, as they merrily began to pitch the balls at each other in all directions on the Black Pearl…Gore Verbinski perhaps most enthusiastically of all. And considering the fact that it was an exhausting day #252 of the combined shoot, it’s understandable that about three hundred cases of blue balls could be such an instant morale booster. “It’s amazing to see a bunch of grown men and women turn into three-year-olds,” laughs stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge. “You know, seeing Orlando Bloom fling a blue ball at Geoffrey Rush…that’s unique. It was, like, is it time for the parents to come and pick up the kids?”
Ultimately, Verbinski sought to combine the best of the old with a walloping dollop of the new. Profers executive producer Mike Stenson, “’Pirates’ is a unique combination of the ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ days, where you go out there and shoot everything in camera, and the most state-of-the-art technology. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much longer the industry will be able to support that. I think it would be sad if, at the end of the day, we ended up shooting everything on sound stages with green screens and digital effects, as opposed to actually being able to go out and shoot practical material all over the Caribbean. But then again, something like the Maelstrom is so technically difficult, that you couldn’t have shot it on location no matter what amount of money you had. It had to be done on an effects stage.”
In addition to his tremendous work designing and constructing the motion base gimbals for the Palmdale hangar, John Frazier and his team of longtime collaborators were responsible for a bewildering number of other physical effects. “Our function as special effects men as, if it moves or it’s in the atmosphere, we do it,” says the multiple Academy Award winning artist. “It could be smoke in the air, or coming up with the concept for the right kind of rain that Gore wants, or wind, or cannon fire.” In fact, Frazier’s pyro unit provided no less than 982 pounds of black powder for the Maelstrom battle, and fired off the cannons some 1200 times, and the ringing ears of the cast and crew are living proof of the physical effects wizards’ high decibel output!
Props: Weapons, Maps, Rings, or Whatever
Whether it’s the weaponry of all nations, drooping telescopes, Jack Sparrow’s rings, pieces of eight which actually resemble pieces of junk, a Pirate Code book or practically anything else one can imagine being handled in the pirate world, property master Kris Peck and his merry band could be relied upon to, by hook or by crook, come up with the goods. With the aide of armourer Harry Lu and historical adviser Peter Twist, Peck either found or fabricated a multitude of weaponry for pirates of all nations, the crusty Flying Dutchman crewmen and East India Trading Company troops.
As Gore Verbinski himself is the first to point out, filmmaking is a collaborative art. And for the past dozen years, one of the director’s closest collaborators has been James Ward Byrkit, a true jack-of-all-trades who, though unseen and (for the time being, anyway) fairly unknown by the millions of “Pirates” trilogy fans, has made indelible contributions to the films on several levels. Byrkit’s end roll title is the rather enigmatic “conceptual consultant.” He explains, “We had to come up with our own credit, because what I was doing sort of became a lot more expansive than just storyboards. Gore and I started working together when he was directing commercials, and I would storyboard for him. Then, when he started making movies, he would bring me in from time to time and my work expanded. For “Pirates,” we would talk about the script, story, themes, character beats, things that go beyond traditional storyboarding. The best part about films like Pirates of the Caribbean is that there’s lots of room for creative enhancement.”
In addition to the more than 3,000 storyboards for “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” that Byrkit created (he also did three weeks of consultancy work on “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” doing the very first drawing of the Black Pearl and other ships), he also bounced back and forth between departments, such as production design, props and the pre-visualization team, helping with simplified animatics of the overwhelmingly complex action sequences that were a blueprint for Verbinski on set, and later, for Industrial Light + Magic’s visual effects.
One project that truly demonstrates synergy between behind-the-scenes artists is the magical map to uncharted realms that our anti-heroes acquire from Singapore pirate lord, Captain Sao Feng, in “At World’s End” that will take them to…well…not only World’s End, but places beyond, around, and upside-down. “We had this big meeting back in July 2005 for which Gore called everybody in,” recalls Byrkit. “He knew that he needed this great map, but wasn’t sure what form it would take. He just knew that he wanted it to be very special, and something we hadn’t seen before. He also wanted there to be secrets to the map: perhaps it changed form and revealed things. We came up with things as varied as something like a pop-up book in which you grab the center of the map and pull it out like a Chinese lantern, or the idea that if you shone a light underneath the map it would project this whole universe, like a planetarium, on the ceiling or the walls. I actually bought a bunch of Chinese lanterns and tried to paint a globe on them, and spent about a week of research and development trying to see if it would work. And after a week, I just knew that it wasn’t going to work.
“So I went back to an earlier idea that I had about a circular map with rings that represented metaphorical places to which you could travel, which I thought tied into the whole “Pirates” theme. Gore and I had been talking about the notion that “Pirates of the Caribbean” takes place during a time in history in which the maps weren’t yet filled in, which means that anything is possible in the world. There are all these places in the world that are Terra Incognita—lands that are unknown—so they could have monsters, they could have magic, they could have new civilizations. I loved the idea that this map was very old, made before the Enlightenment, before people got so scientific about mapmaking, when they still blurred the geographical realities with metaphorical inner journeys which are as important as physical journeys.
“When I showed the mockup of the circular map to Gore,” Byrkit continues, “he said ‘That’s it! Now, not only do the rings move, but you need shapes to start appearing, and land masses that become shapes.’ I went back and, based upon several conversations and input from Gore, painted a final map which took several months, because it kept evolving. The rings can line up in infinitely different ways, like a combination lock, and each way reveals some new secret, some unknown territory, some unexplored place, some metaphysical place, some parallel universe.
“It took seven or eight months of putting all the elements together, testing them, and making them right. I had several hundred phrases and names of places which I needed to be translated into Chinese calligraphy, so propmaster Kris Peck brought in an expert named J.C. Brown who’s worked on films like “The Last Samurai” and “Memoirs of a Geisha,” to make sure the brushstrokes were right. The original painting was done on washi—handmade Japanese rice paper—that I treated with layer upon layer of transparent washes of watercolors, some acrylic and artist inks. It has a really amazing, transluscent quality to it, and you can tell that there’s a history to it. Over the centuries, pirates have added their own secrets, scribbled notes to each other, just unlimited mysteries that it holds within.”
The final map, burnished with the patina of time, was converted by Peck into an actual prop and created the mechanics that make the rings turn in an entirely “practical” manner, with no CGI enhancements. “The inner workings of the map underneath are really beautiful,” enthuses Byrkit, “like a grandfather clock.”
In addition to such poetic places on the map, depicted in Chinese characters, as “Ghosts of Lost Souls at Sea to be Shepherded Through the Watery Passageway,” “Forgotten Sailors Sleep with Eyes Open Dreaming of a Salt Water Death” and “The Rich Man Finds No More Hope of Continued Life—Death Will Always Be A Stairway Behind,” there are also paintings of several creatures both real and mythological on the map, including a dragon, a tiger and another small creature who looks curiously like an early version of a certain undeniably cute little animal who was to become the world’s most legendary mouse. But when asked about it, Byrkit just mischievously smiles, and says “There are some secrets on the map that are beyond even my understanding!”
As costume designer Penny Rose is the first to point out, Captain Jack Sparrow’s indelible, pirate-bohemian look never, ever changes from “The Curse of the Black Pearl” to “At World’s End.” Well, almost never. Because if one looks at Captain Jack’s expressive, ever in motion hands, one will notice that in between the first and second films, the rings on his fingers (if not on his toes) grew from one to four.
In conversations between Johnny Depp and Penny Rose, the two decided that Captain Jack has had a few ladies in his day, sometimes very rich, sometimes widowed, sometimes with husbands far away. So every now and then, Witty Jack (as Tia Dalma aptly dubs him) gets into their jewelry boxes and helps himself to, shall we say, a souvenir of their romantic encounter. Then it was up to Kris Peck to supply the actual items, which were carefully chosen by Depp according to what he most felt Captain Jack would care to show off as part of his overall couture.
“The original ring that I wore in “The Curse of the Black Pearl” with the little skulls was one that I found about 17 years ago in a thrift store or something,” recalls Depp of the piece of jewelry which Captain Jack wears on his right index finger. On the wedding finger of his left hand, the good Captain sports a black and gold ring with three diamonds and a floral design, decidedly feminine and undoubtedly one of the pieces of memorabilia of a one night, or two hour stand with an elegant lady of high or low quality (Johnny Depp decided that she was, in fact, a Spanish widow). What Peck calls the “dragon ring,” a large item with a graceful gold dragon, wings outstretched, embedded in jade, is worn on Jack’s left index finger. However, in “Dead Man’s Chest,” while perusing Tia Dalma’s treasures in her swampland shack, Captain Jack considers exchanging the dragon ring for one with a large purple stone in a solid gold base…then decides to stealthily nick it instead, slipping it onto his left index finger, and moving the dragon ring to his left thumb, thus gracing four of his ten digits with elegant adornments.
This purple ring was artfully re-created by Kris Peck from a 2,400 year old original that was actually owned by Johnny Depp until the Fates had their way, and it tragically went missing during the filming of Dead Man’s Chest. Seems as if it wasn’t only Captain Jack who had a light-fingered touch!
The Wrap of Captain Jack: At Production’s End
On the last day of the combined “Dead Man’s Chest and “At World’s End” shoot, for all of that day, and the one preceding, the usual raucous and explosively noisy atmosphere of filming inside of the “Site 9” hangar gave way to a hushed, almost cathedral-like mood. Only Johnny Depp was working on those days—the hundreds of extras and stunt players that usually populated the set were taking a day of rest, and it was remarkably peaceful and quiet.
On both days, members of the crew had almost confused looks on their faces, as the realization dawned that incredibly, the impending departure of Depp proferred some kind of proof that filming was, incredibly, drawing to an inexorable finale. “It’s not a gig, it’s a lifestyle,” was a refrain often heard amidst the company…you wake up, you get dressed, you go pirating for 12 to 14 hours a day, and you just keep doing it week after week, month after month, and, for that matter, year after year.
Although Depp completed his last scene at about noon, he was put into a holding pattern until Gore Verbinski learned whether or not some footage shot the day before has made it cleanly from the camera to processing in the lab. Six hours later, the word came in that all looked fine…which meant that Johnny Depp was free to leave.
Except that four years, one month and 8 days after “The Curse of the Black Pearl” first commenced filming, Depp wasn’t quite sure that he wanted to.
“The possibility of saying goodbye to Captain Jack perhaps forever is not one I look forward to,” he said about a month earlier while filming in the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes near Santa Maria, California. “But if that is the case, we had a good run. I know Captain Jack will always make me smile.
‘Pirates’ has done a lot for me, and in every way you can imagine. But most importantly, what I’ve felt is this intense, pure joy. Playing this character, and being this character and delivering this character will always bring a smile to my face…always make me happy and proud.”
In the hangar, a large pastry which looked for all the world like the birthday cake for a little boy who’s crazy about pirates, replete with toy figures and little ships, was positioned next to the shooting set, reading:
MAY YOUR COMPASS ALWAYS
LEAD YOU BACK TO US
The group exploded into cheers and applause at Depp’s appearance in the hangar. “I’ll be incredibly brief,” he told his friends and comrades, “because I may weep. You guys have made this the most amazing experience of my life, except for having my kids. I’d go to war with any of you.
“I’m going to call this a break, or a hiatus, or something…it’s happened to us before, hasn’t it? But I don’t feel like I can say goodbye…certainly not to any of you…and not to Captain Jack either.
“Thank you for the ride.”
Hawaii Farewell “Aloha Oe” was the beautiful song of farewell written by Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s still-beloved last monarch. So perhaps it was fitting that the last three days of principal photography would take place on two of the most beautiful islands in the her still gorgeous kingdom. Following yet another Christmas/New Year break, a reduced crew, along with Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, flew off once again in the second week of January 2007 for one final location: the magnificent islands of Maui and Molokai in the exquisite Hawaiian chain. Requiring a dramatic tropical locale, Bruckheimer, Verbinski and production designer Rick Heinrichs decided that it was far easier to find what they were looking for with a relatively quick 5-1/2 flight to Hawaii than spending 10 hours flying back to the West Indies. Very remote locations were discovered by location scouts Laura Sode-Matteson and Val Kim (who, although now L.A.-based, are Hawaiians themselves) both on Maui, and then the nearby Molokai, which is a mere 15-minute flight away from the more heavily populated and touristed island. As usual, unpredictable weather followed the company right to the end, with the skies over Maui darkening dramatically throughout the shooting day, occasionally showering the company with water rather than sunshine. Nonetheless, the rugged coastline selected by Verbinski and the moody clouds formed a perfect backdrop to the scene.
Crew members lucky enough to be seated on the left side of the small prop airplane traveling from Maui to Molokai were amazed at the sight of the world’s highest sea cliffs, and the oceanfront settlement of Kalaupapa, the colony of those stricken with Hansen’s disease (leprosy), still in existence some one hundred years after they were ministered to by the legendary Father Damien, who himself died from the terrible ailment after contracting it from those he so lovingly tended to. Peaceful, traditional Molokai is also a refuge for traditional Hawaiian culture, proudly upheld by its hospitable inhabitants.
The two days in Molokai alternated clouds with brilliant sunlight. However, the beach location, dotted with sharp, black volcanic rocks, was nearly a mile from the nearest road, so access was difficult. So much, in fact, that ace pilot David Paris, who usually flew a helicopter for sweeping aerial shots, now utilized it for cargo duty, hauling the heavier equipment from basecamp to the beach with a net on multiple runs, both at the beginning and end of the filming days. “Gore is always looking for a visual treat,” notes Jerry Bruckheimer, “and he never takes it the easy way. He always wants something that’s really spectacular, something you haven’t seen before. So when we went to Molokai, Gore wanted to find a place in which to shoot that was almost impossible to get cameras and equipment into.”
“It was a good operation, very safe and well done,” adds first assistant director Dave Venghaus. “Everyone pitched in lugging equipment around the beach. It was fun, we got it done, and that’s the way you should do it. It was logistically very difficult, and watching our cast and crw climb up on volcanic rock was both interesting and unnerving.”
But as always, there were no obstacles to Verbinski completing the final, 272nd day of combined principal photography of “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” (that’s 284 days if one counts pre-principal shooting) on January 10th, 2007, just a month-and-a-half shy of two years to the day that the cameras first rolled on February 23rd, 2005. And the finale was celebrated in suitably special fashion when the warm, aloha-drenched locals of Molokai feted the entire company with a real, down-home luau, replete with beautiful flower leis, a whole pig roasted in an imu (underground lava rock oven), such traditional foods as poi and haupia, and a rip-roaring performance by the young and enthusiastic members of a local halau (hula school).
It was a well deserved final gift of the heart to a company which had endured the extremes of filming conditions, weather, discomfort, geography, time away from family and home, and almost never wavered over the course of nearly 300 days of shooting. “I guess this is what Darwin was writing about,” joked Gore Verbinski as he surveyed the survivors—those faces which remained from the first day of production in February 2005—in the lunch tent on the final day of production in January 2007.
For Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer, the end of shooting just marked the beginning of an unbelievably intensive four-and-a-half month post-production schedule which would see them working 24/7 with film editors Craig Wood and Stephen Rivkin, visual effects supervisors John Knoll and Charlie Gibson, the Academy Award-winning team of supervising sound editor/designer Christopher Boyes, supervising sound editor George Watters II and sound mixers Paul Massey and Boyes (all of whom were nominated in two different categories for “Dead Man’s Chest”), and an army of other technical artists. And once again, as he has for the first two “Pirates” movies and several other Bruckheimer and Verbinski films, Hans Zimmer would again compose the music. “Hans is one of those artists who always comes up with something fresh, unique and different,” says Bruckheimer. “He’s a brilliant composer who has these wonderful melodies in his head. You hear the ‘Pirates’ theme everywhere now, and for ‘At World’s End’ he’s created several new motifs and melodies, as well as a new love theme. It’s wonderful to watch Hans in the recording sessions, when he has 80 musicians and talks to each individual violinist to tell them exactly the pitch, tone and feeling that he wants in every note.”
As for the director’s punishing schedule, “Gore has been on these two movies for so long without a break that I’m not sure if he remembers the names of his kids at this point,” says Bruckheimer, half-jokingly. “He’s a consummate professional and perfectionist, so every little frame receives his complete attention. That’s the kind of director you want to work with.”
Two years is a long time in anyone’s life, and for the cast and crew that made it through all 284 combined marathon shooting days of “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End,” approaching wrap brought a bagful of seriously mixed emotions. “I’m proud of the journey we’ve all made over the past two years on these two movies,” states executive producer Eric McLeod. “It’s been a huge part of our lives, and I think in the end the crew will look back on the sacrifices they made and feel that it’s worth it, because a film like this is not a job. You make it through with a great group of people, and we’ll all be asked about them for years to come. We’ll all be telling stories about what it was like to work on the second and third ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films. To survive these two years, it was about getting along with others and being able to deal with constant change. A lot of people have come and gone on these films…we’ve had over 4,000 people work on both movies, but there was a core group that stayed on the whole time. These were films that could wear you out if you didn’t just focus and keep moving forward.”
Adds unit production manager Doug Merrifield, “Our crew are the top guns of the movie industry, the best of the best. There’s a certain type of crew that you need to be able to pull off these big pictures, and we certainly had that across all departments.” That, of course, included the cast. “It was a very physically challenging picture, and it’s a long time over the course of two years to stay in character,” notes Merrifield.
“It’s been such a chunk of my life,” notes Mackenzie Crook. “It’s not just been a job, like other films I’ve done. This is the ‘Pirates Period’ of my life, like my childhood, or youth. “It’s going to be like breaking up with your girlfriend,” said Martin Klebba incisively just before he wrapped his role. “There are no egos on set, everybody gets on together, and it’s a really nice working atmosphere,” adds Naomie Harris. “With all of the special effects and stunts, sometimes the shooting was really tough, but the nice thing is that everybody works together as a team and pulls together at those moments. It’s also nice to do a movie that my brother and sister, who are 11 and 7 years old, can to go see and enjoy with the rest of the family. That means more to me than breaking box office records.”
“Because I am a fan of the first and second ‘Pirate’ movies,” confesses Chow Yun-Fat, “working with Johnny, Geoffrey, Keira and Orlando was just like a little child walking in dreams. Working with them gave me great pleasure, and I was very, very happy.”
Adds Jack Davenport, “It’s been an odyssey, an experience that’s unrepeatable, the end of an era in terms of filmmaking. It has a kind of ‘Apocalypse Wow’ factor. I think my greatest treasure on this job has been watching the crew conquer the logistical and artistic demands. It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen in any group of filmmakers in my life.”
Once again, the actors had nothing but praise for their fearless leader, director Gore Verbinski.
“I honestly don’t know how Gore is able to be upright after all that he’s done,” says Johnny Depp of his director. “Everything that he retains in his brain…it’s weird. The truth of the matter is that, as an actor, you could almost not read the script at all and just rely on Gore. He’d never steer you wrong. He knows exactly every point that needs to be made. He’s just a wizard. It’s shocking and mind-boggling what Gore is capable of.”
“Gore is one of the greatest directors I’ve ever worked with,” profers Bill Nighy, who should know after his long international career on both stage and screen. “Every actor on the film will tell you the same thing. Nothing gets past him in terms of the authenticity of performance, and Gore knows that no matter how many special effects, wonderful landscapes or ships, what it comes down to are two people communicating. Not only can he spot what’s wrong, but he can really help you. I just can’t say enough about him.”
“Gore never ceases to amaze me with the energy and focus that he has,” says Mackenzie Crook. “On this, which must be one of the most complicated film projects ever undertaken, to make two incredibly plot and character-driven movies simultaneously, so that some days we’d be doing a scene from ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ in the morning and a scene from ‘At World’s End’ in the afternoon, or vice versa, he at all times knows what comes immediately before and after the scene you’re shooting, and where you should be in the scene emotionally, even if you’ve forgotten…which I often did.”
“I would argue that the crew we had on these two movies, many of whom were on the first film as well, is the finest ever assembled in Hollywood,” says screenwriter Terry Rossio. “Everybody is A-list all the way.” Adds writing partner Ted Elliott, “And Gore is a superstar. He’s the heart and soul of the whole production. He has abilities that just seem almost impossible to see. I’ve never seen the right person be in the right place so profoundly as Gore on these films. His ability to multitask, to have expertise in the worlds of acting, screenwriting, cinematography, studio politics, is beyond the capabilities of normal men. The guy is an alien creature.”
“Gore wakes up every day as if it’s day one of shooting,” says executive producer Chad Oman. “So even if you’re 100, 200 days into the schedule, he’s just excited as if it’s the first. He’s running around the set like a kid, cheerleading everyone, trying to get the best out of the cast and crew. Gore’s as smart, if not the smartest, of all the people I’ve worked with in any field. And at the same time, he has a great artistic sensibility. Ted and Terry laid the foundations of the tone, and then it goes through Gore’s filter, with its very interesting intellectual and absurd sensibility.” Adds Mike Stenson, “Gore is absolutely a perfectionist. Any director who gets to that level of success has to have a kind of mini nuclear power plant inside of them that just keeps them going.
Adds first assistant director Dave Venghaus, “Gore brings an energy to the set that’s addictive. He wants the best, not only for the film, but from everybody. I’ve never seen Gore sit down. He’s involved in all aspects of filmmaking. He never runs and hides in his trailer, but is on set from the beginning to end of every day. He’s there in the mix, gets as wet as everyone else, gets as dirty as everyone else. He dives in, and expects you to keep up with him, to anticipate, and to give 200 percent.”
Everyone was also glad to have spent another large chunk of their lives in the world of a Jerry Bruckheimer film.
“Jerry is sort of the Great Protector,” explains Johnny Depp. “He wards off all and any evil spirits. And if anyone had anything really grave at stake in the beginning, it was Jerry. Talk about rolling the dice. I mean, for an actor, you come in, do your bit, and if works it works, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t, and it’s on to the next one. But Jerry really took a risk.”
Adds Orlando Bloom, “It’s funny, because Jerry Bruckheimer is huge, a gigantic force in the industry, but he’s also a mate, a really good guy with a wealth of work behind him, but just a man loving his work and loving life.” Says Lee Arenberg, “Jerry is the last true Hollywood producer/storyteller in that he allows his filmmakers to go for it. He’s like the best poker player in the world, who holds all the cards, but knows when to use them.”
“What’s great about Jerry is his calm,” says Eric McLeod. “I mean, a film like this is its own maelstrom, and Jerry is the calmest person on the set. He’s approachable, you can always go to him with problems. He’s been doing large films like this probably longer than anyone else in the history of film, and he has a world of experience in knowing how things work out in the end.”
Notes executive producer Mike Stenson, “Jerry is like a great NBA coach. He puts an all-star team together, pushes for the best from everybody, and calls the plays. Jerry tends to be more hands-on than most producers, which is why, when you look at his body of work over a 25 year period, there is a certain sensibility to it all.”
“It’s been quite a ride,” mused George Marshall Ruge. “It was an odd feeling to come to the end, because everybody became family, and we’ve poured a lot of emotion and soul into this project. On the one hand, there was relief, because at the pace and with the length of the shoot, we were eventually going to drop. But there’s also great sadness that we’re leaving our ‘Pirates home.’ Hopefully, we’ll be able to reunite many times over the years, and out paths will cross many times. So it was a time for reflection, proud of what we did, sad, happy, relieved and looking forward to reunions.”
“Jerry Bruckheimer came up to me at one point and said ‘It’s pretty big, isn’t it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s all downhill from here. And he said me, with a grin on his face, ‘That’s what they told me when I did ‘Beverly Hills Cop.’”
In the end, as Bruckheimer explains, it all comes down to the fundamentals of what brings people into a movie theatre, which has changed little despite the enormous leaps in technology from the time audiences stared wide-eyed at the Melies Brothers’ special effects spectacles at the turn of the 20th century, howled uproariously at the comic exploits of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, or sat at the edge of their seats at fantastic feats of derring-do by Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn.
“Our biggest challenge for ‘At World’s End’ is to entertain the audience,” says the producer, “and just make sure that they have a great time. The film is even more intricate than ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl’ and ‘Dead Man’s Chest.’ It has enormous battles, character turns, romance and humor. It’s what we all make movies for, and all of the elements of why people have gone to the movies for the past hundred years or so. We want to suck the audience into our magical world on that screen, take them to places they’ve never been before with characters they fall in love with…and in the end feel a little better than when they walked into the theatre.”
* May 28, 2007, Walt Disney Pictures’ epic adventure “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” from Jerry Bruckheimer Films, landed in the global box office record books and laid claim to the biggest opening in industry history, with an unprecedented gross of $401,000,000 in its first six days of release, it was announced today by Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Marketing and Distribution. This figure surpasses the previous record of $382 million set by the six day opening of “Spiderman 3” earlier this year. “Pirates” continues to please audiences around the world with exceptionally strong exit polls. Domestically, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” raised its weekend estimate to $156 million (including Thursday night showings). The film set a new record for the four-day Memorial Day Weekend with its gross of $142 million (including Monday estimates), the film surpassed the previous high of $122.8 million set by “X-Men: The Last Stand” in 2006.
At the international box office, Disney’s latest “Pirates” adventure shattered records from Russia to Japan with its phenomenal $245 million cume through Monday (including Monday estimates). The film had record-breaking openings (figures are through Sunday) in their respective markets in the following countries: Korea ($18.4 million), Japan ($15.9 million; US Productions only), Russia ($13.7 million), Spain ($11.6 million), Taiwan ($4.5 million) and Netherlands ($2.8 million). It also set new Walt Disney Studio records in the U.K. ($26.6 million), France ($17.7 million), Germany ($16.8 million) and Australia ($9.9 million). With its six-day tally of $245 million, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” has set a new international record that surpasses the previous six-day high of $232 million set by “Spiderman 3” a few weeks ago. “Pirates” still has a few markets yet to open including China and India. Commenting on the announcement, Zoradi said, “We knew that audiences all over the world were excited to see Johnny Depp and the rest of the fantastic ‘Pirates’ cast in this latest adventure, but this record-setting response at the global box office has been nothing short of incredible. ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’ now has the distinction of having the biggest opening in movie history, and we’re extremely proud of that achievement. Credit goes to the multitude of talent both in front of and behind the camera. Jerry Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski and their exceptional teams as well as the creative minds of writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have proven to be the perfect recipe for success.”
“Pirates” which rolled out on over 29,000 screens worldwide, showed on a record number of digital screens both domestically (1,064) and internationally (414) bringing the global total to 1,478. The film has already become the Studio’s 54th release to join the $100 million club internationally and the 53rd film to reach the $100 million plateau domestically – unprecedented in the industry. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” picks up where the record-breaking 2006 smash hit left off, with our heroes Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) allied with Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) in a desperate quest to free Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) from his mind-bending trap in Davy Jones’ locker. With the terrifying ghost ship, The Flying Dutchman, and its commander Davy Jones under the control of the East India Trading Company, there is havoc on the Seven Seas. Navigating through treachery, betrayal and wild waters, the heroic trio must forge their way to exotic Singapore and confront the cunning Pirate Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat). Now headed beyond the very ends of the earth, each must ultimately choose a side in a final titanic battle – as not only their lives and fortunes, but the entire future of the freedom-loving Pirate way hangs in the balance.