Pirates of the Caribbean Posters
Beware of Falling Coconuts: Adventures in Dominica
A sequence shot both in Dominica and later, the Exumas, called upon Knightley to take swords in hand and kick some serious Flying Dutchman crewmen butt. “The weather was absolutely boiling, and we were in this amazing coconut grove,” she recalls.
“George and his stunt team were completely fantastic. They're so patient, and really take you through the action one step at a time. I'm a huge believer that if this is something that my character has got to do, then I want to really know how to do it. And if you're shooting an action movie, it's really boring if you don't actually do the action. When you're doing the fight sequences, a lot of the time we're having a full run at it, so you can really get into it, and that's fantastic. It's nice to feel like you're a part of the team. What George and his people do is invite you into the team. And my stunt double, Lisa Hoyle, is absolutely brilliant.”
As were the other stunt doubles for the stars, including Tony Angellotti, Theo Kypri, Zach Hudson and Thomas Dupont, who leapt, fought and achieved truly death-defying feats when common sense (and insurance policies) prevented an often willing Depp, Bloom and Knightley from accomplishing the stunts themselves.
South of the Dominican capital of Roseau is an aerie appropriately called High Meadow, which, along with a nearby spot overhanging the main road called Twin Peaks, were selected as the locations for the richly and wittily designed native village of the “Pelegostos,” a wholly tongue-in-cheek and fictitious creation (as is the island they live on) inspired by pirate folklore.
“One of the great things that Gore and the writers have done with the concept of the Pelegosto village,” says Rick Heinrichs, “is to create this wonderful escape episode, which puts the pirates into a completely absurd but funny set of circumstances which becomes a comedy of errors. Part of the physical comedy is that the village is set way up in the mountains, with the huts on top of different pitons with rope bridges between one and the other. The huts themselves are an organic riff on a skull, with eye and mouth holes, and everything brought up into a bun at the top. It gives a kind of animus to the entire village.
“The overall look of the Pelegostos and their environment is an example of a lot of early-on design exploration and consultation between Gore, Penny Rose, Cheryl Carasik, Ve Neill and Martin Samuel's makeup and hair departments and myself,” Heinrichs continues. “We were exploring a lot of different avenues to go with the natives, and we ended up with this kind of crazy pastiche which is completely imaginary.”
And imaginative. Throughout the film, Ve Neill and Martin Samuel-both of whom were nominated for Academy Awards for their work on the first “Pirates” film-headed large teams of some of the industry's most accomplished makeup and hair artists to transform perfectly reasonable human beings into gnarly unwashed pirates, foppish, bewigged aristocrats and, in the case of the Pelegosto, wildly painted, tattooed and accessorized natives.
Some 130 members of the great Kalinago Nation, the original inhabitants of many Caribbean islands (including Dominica), participated as extras in these scenes, thoroughly enjoying their brush with stardom with good humor and a sense of fun at the film's inventiveness (numerous other Kalinagos worked on the production in various occupations as well).
There was even an invented language for the Pelegostos called “Umshoko” that was developed by dialect coach Carla Meyer and UCLA linguist Peter Ladefogend. “Gore didn't want the natives to be identified as anything in particular,” says Meyer. “So Peter drew from several international languages, mixed with Pig Latin and English words spelled backwards.” A few examples of this brand new tongue? “Rah rah rah fi fi” means “big, big, big fire.” “Bugo” means “please.” “Kamino” means “come back.”
The Pelegosto village is a highly inventive pastiche of primitive designs laced with a mordaunt sense of humor. In addition to the twined branches which compose the native huts, much of the village is constructed and decorated with the materials left over from the Pelegostos' enemies… that is, bones and other residue. Instead of beaded curtains in the entrance of the circular doorways to give their inhabitants some privacy, they're fabricated with small bones instead. Skulls are a major motif, used in all sorts of ways that Martha Stewart never even imagined (but might very well admire).
The long and very rickety-looking rope bridge linking one side of the village to the other looks treacherous-in fact, feels treacherous when walking over it and viewing the sheer 60-foot drop below-but it's a marvelous illusion. In fact, strong steel pilings supported the bridge, making it as safe as crossing the Golden Gate. Construction coordinator Greg Callas actually imported a construction team from Las Vegas which has built suspension bridges at theme parks and zoos throughout the world.
“For the Pelegosto huts, we had to build a shell, a superstructure, of very lightweight material to get its initial shape,” explains Callas. “Then we manufactured some fiberglass skins to put over the top that looked like roots and tree limbs. Then we wrapped the whole thing with real roots and tree limbs, so these huts became incredibly heavy when we had to move them.” To get the trucks up to the Pelegosto village location, Callas had to build a 15 degree road up the hillside. “There's no road in Dominica that's 15 degrees,” he notes. “That's almost straight up! It's pretty radical, but we got all our trucks and crew up there, we even got portable toilets up there. One of the local Dominican contractors was incredible in helping us accomplish that feat.”
“What goes through my mind when I remember the Pelegosto village is 385 skulls,” laughs Cheryl Carasik. “On a location like that, it just becomes your daily life. It was so beautiful, and the resources were so magnificent, that you just became part of that set. The local people we hired were so fantastic. We had two guys who didn't miss a beat, they were really enthusiastic. We'd say that we needed some vines to wrap on the joints of Pelegosto furniture that we'd made, and off they'd go into the bush and come back two hours later with an armful of them.”
A section of the comedy-action village sequence, in which Will Turner and other Black Pearl pirates are imprisoned in large circular cages made of human bones (which were actually fabricated from latex and foam), was shot in Dominica's remarkable TiTou Gorge, part of the magnificent Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica's south-central interior. The icy waters necessitated the crew to don wetsuits, and matters were not helped when drenching storms threatened to derail the day's filming…but as many pointed out, hey, it's a rainforest! “Just when I was thinking that I had forgotten what it was like to be cold in sizzling hot Dominica, `Pirates of the Caribbean' has a way of granting your every wish,” says Kevin R. McNally. “So for the scene in which the bone cage drops into a gorge, they found the coldest water in Dominica and kept us there for two days! But TiTou Gorge was a fantastic place, only 10 feet wide and a sheer drop from the rock face to the beautiful, clear, cold water that we were in.”
The bone cage scene was another singular event which required the expertise of a whole range of departments, including, of course, stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge. “The reality of putting people into these things, rolling them down hills, off cliffs, swinging between cliff walls, proved extremely problematic. How do you build a cage that's structurally sound but light enough for people to pick it up and run with? There was a lot of research and development, and we came up with various versions of the cage. One made of lightweight foam to run with, another built from more substantial materials for rolling.
“The running joke was that if you're in the cage, you don't come out unbattered and unbruised,” continues Ruge. “It was pretty difficult to navigate with six people and 12 legs sticking out of this thing, but we got it done.”
And then there was Captain Jack Sparrow's mad dash down the beach to escape from a highly agitated group of islanders, which was filmed on Hampstead Beach. “It was utterly exhausting,” admits Johnny Depp. “Two hundred people dressed as natives chasing me down the shoreline on the beach while in full Jack Sparrow regalia. It felt like days and days of that. But the end result was worth it.”
The Indian River, a gorgeous stretch of shallow water flowing into the ocean at Portsmouth on the northeast part of Dominica, “portrayed” the Pantano River, which our (anti) heroes must navigate to reach Tia Dalma's treehouse. The Indian River-which was actually explored by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century-is lined with beautifully gnarled terra carpus officinalis (bloodwood) trees, whose roots sometimes spread up to 20 feet. This is the real-life location which was re-created on the Pantano River set constructed months before on Stage 2 at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. With the art department's contribution of wooden shacks on the banks of the river, the location took on the same feeling as both the stage set, and the swamp area of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride. “We prefabricated those shacks in our warehouse, disassembled them, put them on these little boats, took them out to the locations and set them up in a couple of days,” explains Greg Callas.
Because of the Indian River's ecological sensitivity, all cast, crew and equipment had to be sent upriver in boats which were either manually rowed, or utilized electric motors only (no outboards), taking upwards of 45 minutes to an hour to reach the filming area. Once again, stormy weather interrupted filming, but the skies ultimately cleared enough to allow Gore Verbinski and the stars to complete their designated work. And for anyone heading back upriver at dark after wrap, the massive fireflies doing circle eights in the night sky reminded one again of the ride that started it all.
Atop a ridge with a magnificent unspoiled view of the Caribbean, Verbinski and Bruckheimer discovered another wonderful location as a backdrop for the spectacular three-way swordfight in Vielle Casse, which is situated on the island's northern tip. It's here that Rick Heinrichs designed a ruined, abandoned church and adjacent graveyard on Isla Cruces, and the broken-down mill wheel which becomes a runaway vehicle. “When we were scouting back in October 2004,” recalls production manager Doug Merrifield, “we were literally going all the way around the island with the Dominican Coast Guard. At one point we had transferred into a small inflatable craft, and we suddenly looked up at this fabulous site. Some of us jumped over the sides and swam to shore, and then walked the location.”
“The location is like a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the ocean,” explains Greg Callas. “I asked, `where's the equipment going to go?' They said, don't worry about that, just build the set.'” It took Callas and company four months to construct the dilapidated church, which stands at the height of a six-story building. Forty U.S.-based workers were joined by another 40 Dominican laborers. “What a hard-working people the Dominicans are,” praises Callas. “They gave us everything they had, and were a big asset.”
The fieriest location on Dominica-which is saying something of a place where the mean temperature during filming usually hovered around 93-95 degrees Fahrenheit-Vielle Casse is on the dry side of the island, hence little cloud cover and a merciless sun with nary a breeze coming off the water to offer blessed relief. For many days of filming in Vielle Casse, the heat index sent the temperatures soaring well over 100 degrees. Depp, Bloom and Davenport-as well as Bruckheimer, Verbinski and the entire company-had to grin and bear it, sweating through the sword-swinging action.
To access the Vielle Casse location, one actually had to walk down a 30 degree graded road from the main thoroughfare, which was not accessible by most vehicles. The downhill walk in the intense heat wasn't so bad…but going up again, especially after a 12 hour day of sizzling in the tropical sun, was something else again. “This is all part of the `Pirates' fitness program,” Merrifield. “You don't need a gym membership. You just need to work on `Pirates of the Caribbean.' Gore and Jerry will get you into great shape!”
The physical rigors obviously presented nearly impossible challenges to director of photography Dariusz (Darek) Wolski and his crew, as well as his longtime associates, key grip Mike (Pop) Popovich and gaffer Rafael (Raffi) Sanchez. “Darek is a brilliant artist,” states Jerry Bruckheimer. “I've worked with him a number of times, not only on the first `Pirates' movie, but also `Crimson Tide' and others. He's very quick, gets things done, and does very complex lighting in a minimal amount of time.”
Wolski knew what the challenges were on “Dead Man's Chest,” and faced each one of them with insurmountable energy and true grit, along with his entire crew, which included units both under the sea (headed by Pete Zuccarini), and in the skies above (led by David B. Nowell) .“You just have to understand that you don't have complete control over the elements, and once you accept that you can get creative,” says the cinematographer.. “When you're dealing with forces of nature-the sun going in different directions, clouds coming in, wind blowing-there are just so many variables. You have to be flexible, and maybe come up with an idea at the last minute. There's so much beauty in coincidence. I don't believe in rules. I believe in intuition. No matter how many discussions, storyboards of pre-visualizations were created, we were still dealing with things that we couldn't conceive and we had to adapt constantly.”
Wolski utilized the full panoply of equipment available to contemporary filmmakers, some of which was specifically invented for “Dead Man's Chest.” Richard Jones, a resourceful member of Rafael Sanchez's grip department, designed and built a complex camera platform, mounted on a crane, and capable of holding an entire Super Technocrane. Together, the unit stood at 80 feet tall, right up to the highest mast of the Edinburgh Trader and thereby giving Verbinski and Wolski freedom to film the Kraken attack from any conceivable angle. But Wolski also had no problem scaling down to the basics when the scene called for it. “We're basically using every tool to get what we want, but when it comes to simple performance pieces, we can do a lot of it hand-held, or with a simple dolly move. But then you have shots which are bigger than life, like when Captain Jack falls 300 feet down through three hanging bridges while attached to a pole.”
Following the completion of nearly eight tough but rewarding weeks of filming on the island on May 26th, the cast, crew and their island hosts enjoyed what was humorously called the “Dominica Survivor Party.”
“One of the best things we do in our industry is to travel the world, but we don't do it as tourists, it's almost as if we become semi-locals,” says Lee Arenberg. “Dominica is an incredibly beautiful place, but it's definitely off the beaten path and to find yourself living that way for a few months will change your life and inspire you. It may have been some of the hardest living, because we all like to have a nice bed, a little cable T.V., internet access and the like. But sometimes you've just got to do the best you can, and I think that once we got through that part of the journey, we all realized just how special that was.”