Pirates of the Caribbean Posters
Shooting in Isle of Beauty, Isle of Splendor
So little known is the “isle of beauty, isle of splendor,” as its national anthem justly boasts of the Commonwealth of Dominica, that some personal effects equipment of the company wound up in the more familiar, but very far-flung, Dominican Republic!
Only 29 miles long and 16 miles wide, with a population of 71,000 souls, the former British colony-wedged between the French islands of Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south-has become an exciting new destination for adventurous eco-tourists, but is hardly developed for mass tourism…or, for that matter, filmmaking on a grand scale.
But after scouting the magisterial visual sites of the island, Gore Verbinski was determined that Dominica would provide the majority of the land-based Caribbean backdrops for “Dead Man's Chest,” and Jerry Bruckheimer was willing to back his director up so as to give the film a completely fresh look. “We selected Dominica as a major location because it's beautiful and virtually untouched,” notes Bruckheimer. “Because it has such a jagged coastline, they can't get cruise ships in, which prevents the island from becoming overly developed. You're not seeing the same landscapes, jungles and mountains as you have in other movies.Dominica is one of the most picturesque places in the world, but totally undiscovered by filmmakers.”
Verbinski and production designer Heinrichs decided that Dominica would serve as location for two major settings in “Dead Man's Chest”: the humorously terrifying native island, and Isla Cruces, both wholly fictitious settings located only in the imagination of the filmmakers. A large amount of the “Dead Man's Chest” action sequences take place on those locations, which meant that actors and stunt players would be performing their daring feats in difficult environments and intense heat. Perfect for a pirate movie!
“Dominica is a gorgeous island, but some of the amenities aren't there,” explains Jerry Bruckheimer. “We employed a lot of people on the island, and they were brilliant and wonderful to work with. But if a piece of equipment breaks down, it takes at least two days to get it replaced from off-island, so we had daunting production challenges. The hotels weren't exactly fancy, but everybody bonded together. It was like going to camp. A lot of cast and crew lived in cabins, slept in mosquito netting and had dinners on the beach. We really had to make do.”
“If Gore found a location that was inaccessible, that was usually his favorite one,” laughs executive producer Bruce Hendricks. “Dominica is what the Caribbean looked like 200 years ago. You needed the wildness and natural beauty that some of the more offbeat and remote places, like Dominica, offer. Gore, like any great director, pushes you to go a step beyond. The great ones have to be leading the charge up the hill, they have to be the ones with the vision to push frontiers and boundaries, both artistically and technically. A rational person would not go there, and they wouldn't take along 500 of their closest friends and hundreds of tons of equipment. It takes a purpose and single-mindedness to pull something off like that, and Gore is all of that, and more.”
“Dominica doesn't have a history of big film production,” adds Caribbean production supervisor Tom Hayslip. “They've hosted documentaries and nature films, but in terms of being able to handle the amount of people we had to bring in-just the accommodations alone-was a challenge for the island. Adds first assistant director Peter Kohn (who later handed the reins of that position to second A.D. Dave Venghaus when the time came close for his wife to give birth to their new child), “Dominica has its own weather system. It rains in one part of the small island, and not in the other, and somehow it always seemed to rain on us!”
Dominica would present massive challenges for Rick Heinrichs and construction coordinator Greg Callas. “The first time I saw those locations, I was wondering how we were going to do it,” admits Callas. “The island is small, but because of the road conditions it can take you three hours to get from one end to the other. Logistically, it was incredibly difficult, but we had to satisfy the wants and needs of Gore. The art department worked very hard to design things that would fit into certain spaces, and then we had to get to those spaces. Because supplies are so limited on islands like Dominica, we had to bring in everything, like an entire hardware store: every nail, piece of wood, sack of cement and plaster, gallon of paint. The equipment we take for granted, like scissor lifts, boom lifts and forklifts, don't really exist in Dominica, so we imported them from other countries in the Caribbean and South America. We implemented a lot of old-school construction, because we didn't have the luxury of the 21st century there.”
“Dead Man's Chest” began shooting in Dominica smack in the middle of a campaign for the island's prime ministry so heated that it made the last U.S. elections look like a polite tea party. “You figure that a remote Caribbean island would be nice and quiet,” says actor Kevin R. McNally. “But on the first night I was in Dominica, I went to bed at about ten at night, and all of a suddenly hell broke loose in the street. They started campaigning at midnight, and continued until 7:00 in the morning with whistles, rattles, music, cars revving up and down the street. Back home in England, there'd be, perhaps, a man in a suit coming around once during the campaign at 4:00 in the afternoon so he doesn't disturb your tea.”
But the film's company had much else on their minds other than whether or not incumbent Roosevelt Skerrit or challenger Edison James would win (by the way, it was Mr. Skerrit who emerged the victor). For cast and crew, the great challenges were defying the island's unpredictable weather, with intense heat, humidity and sudden rain showers and thunderstorms, circumnavigating the perilous, narrow mountain roads, hardly big enough for two compact sedans traveling in opposite directions let alone 16-wheel equipment trucks, avoiding constrictor snakes (non-poisonous but with mighty hugs) and other unfamiliar flaura and fauna.
The production team spearheaded the creation of an entire infrastructure for the “Dead Man's Chest” company, including towers for cellular telephones and wireless internet. More than 600 members of the “Pirates” crew invaded a welcoming Dominica, which provided some 400 more workers to the company working in a vast array of behind-the-scenes and on-camera positions. And if it's true that an army travels on its stomach, the same could be said for a movie company.
On the biggest shooting days in Dominica, caterer Paul Kuzmich and his hard-working crew would have to feed anywhere from 780 to 840 people. For breakfast alone, the hungry company would consume 1100 to 1500 eggs, 100 to 160 pounds of bacon, 80 loaves of bread, 50 pounds of sausage, 400 pastries and 10 to 12 cases of fruit. And except for some delicious local produce, everything else had to be shipped in from the United States. Meanwhile, it was incumbent upon craft service maestro Ted Yonenaka and his equally energetic assistant Lea Anderson to haul food carts into the most unlikely places to keep the company watered and fortified between Kuzmich's meals.
Filming in Dominica began on Monday, April 18th on the island's Hampstead Beach, a bucolic stretch of sand overlooking a glistening turquoise sea on the island's northeast coast, backed by a lush, tangled jungle and coconut palm groves. In fact, some of it had been created just for the film, with art director William Ladd Skinner bringing in some 7000 plants, primarily non-edible dasheen and transplanted palms.
Several sequences were shot in and around Hampstead, including the three-way swordfight between Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and James Norrington on a huge, runaway mill wheel, which promises to be one of the most complex such sequences yet seen on film. Among the dangers of this remarkable scene was the fact that heavy coconuts were occasionally dropping from nearly 100-foot-tall palms while it was being filmed, with some of the crew donning hardhats, and Gore Verbinski wearing a good, old-fashioned, “Gunga Din”-style pith helmet!
“The wheel was a very difficult set piece for all concerned,” explains stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge. “There were extreme physical demands and a number of safety concerns involved.” The mill wheel sequence is a perfect example of the symbiosis between departments that characterized the entire production. Recalls Ruge, “Many departments and people were involved in making the wheel sequence a reality. I specifically worked in collaboration with the special effects and visual effects coordinators, production designer, art director, propmaster, construction coordinator, director of photography, camera operators and more. But most notably, it was Gore's grand vision, commitment and enthusiasm that inspired the sequence for all of us, and I worked closely with him in every aspect to help bring it to life.”
The wheel was constructed of steel with art-directed layers, weighing more than 1,800 pounds and reaching 18 feet tall. There were two versions, one a “cart” version supported by “training wheels,” with the actual mill wheel pulled by cables on a winch system, with camera platforms built onto the training wheel cart that surrounded it. “The other version,” notes Ruge, “was affectionately called the `paint roller.' The wheel was attached to steel tow bars and literally towed by a flatbed truck that also served as a makeshift camera platform at times.”
To enable the wheel to roll more smoothly, paths were created through the jungle, because if the terrain were too tough, “it made it impossible for the performers to stay on the wheel, or maintain the necessary hand/eye coordination for the swordfight.”
Before the sequence went in front of the cameras, there were several pre-production rehearsals within a five week span, and a series of location rehearsals over the course of three weeks whenever time permitted Ruge to muster the three actors and his stunt team.
“Oh boy, I'll never forget the faces on Gore and George when it was time to load me into that massive wheel,” recalls Johnny Depp. “Gore just started laughing, because it was such an absurd and bizarre request for grown men to ask of each other: `okay, what we'd like to do now is bind you inside the wheel, tether you to the walls of this thing, give you a sword, and as the wheel is rolling you're gonna go upside down several times.'
“It was so bizarre that it was completely appealing,” Depp laughs. “I've done some really obtuse and strange things in this movie, at some point there are no surprises. But because of who Gore and George are, and how brilliant they are at their jobs, you have complete trust, which is the whole key to filmmaking.”
“It's a truly remarkable sequence that only Gore, Ted and Terry could have come up with, and that George could have made work,” says Orlando Bloom. We spent many days harnessed inside of that wheel, doing crazy fights up and down, around and around. It would make a fun ride in an amusement park…if it weren't so uncomfortable.” Also occasionally harnessed inside of the wheel doing 360 degree revolutions were camera operators Martin Schaer and Josh Bleibtreu, just one of the extremely unusual positions in which they and their compatriots often found themselves during the “Dead Man's Chest” shoot.
Jack Davenport points out that although there are CGI elements which enhanced the scene, most of it was live on-camera. “It's a classical swordfight scene with shots which can't be faked. When you see us upside down, with the veins in our forehead popping out, it's real.”
But the boys weren't the only ones who got to have all the fun. The sequences shot in Dominica also gave Keira Knightley ample opportunity to flex her action muscles, and the fearless performer was up for anything stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge wanted to throw at her. “On the first movie, I was begging for a swordfight, but I never got one. This time, I've got two big ones, and two swords as well, so I was very happy.