On Deck-Pirates of the Caribbean

Captain Donnie at helm- The Black Pearl
We’re headed out as a cargo ship enters the Port of L.A.
That’s one fine anchor…
Top deck and below deck boasts cannon after cannon. These hatches open as the symphony of gunpowder and cannonballs fill the air. Throw in some crusty old pirates, and we all had a jolly good time.
Rigged for battle…Starboard side
Port side…cannons above and below deck. This is a battleship.
I dare ya!
The crow top…
For whom the bell tolls…
Tortuga-that way!

A view toward the stern…
These light up with candles…
The Bow…
Port side…
What keeps this seaworthy is that it’s built on top of a barge. The rest is art department illusion. This has a motor inside.
Dead men tell no tales
Below deck…explosives, fire hoses and extinguishers, special effects stages from below deck.
This Pirate ship is actually a barge built to look ancient.
These guns work and when stations are manned and the battle commences, it’s as real as it gets!
A below deck-love letter for J.D
Stuff needed- pack accordingly…
Long ride back to shore- be prepared.
White Cap Bay list…
Top deck view, a lighting barge is fastened alongside. This is how this ship gets lit up. We had wind machines on board when we needed strong breezes. The white balloon is a light. It’s filled with gas and would float on its own, so it’s tethered. At the right height, the ship becomes illuminated in a soft white light, like a full moon. It’s quite the sight to see on a dark ocean night.
The special effects supervisor is John Frazier, he is a legend. Every time an extreme stunt is needed, call in John. Joe Pancake is the hands on foreman. Safety and proper timing of explosive devices is critical on shows like this, no team does it better.
John Frazier HOF special effects master, the gray haired gentleman, here seated in the big chair with Michael Bay. That’s a director that can’t get enough pyro effects.
30 support maritime crafts, a flotilla, assisted and wrangled up everything at sea.
Notice, it’s cheaper when your blockbuster intertwines two episodes at once. Resourceful planning reduces the shooting schedule. Due to the major success of the initial film, producer Jerry Bruckheimer enveloped episodes 2-3 in the same production schedule. You know you’re successful when you have that big of a pile of chips.
White Cap Bay is located at Universal Studios, Falls Lake…
White Cap Bay lighthouse…Universal Studios, Falls Lake. A blue screen backdrop with one of three wave makers in the bay. It’s the blue device peeking out above the surface. Another wave making method I’ve seen used here, utilizes a huge rig that rotates, pounding the surface creating large ripples. Power is floated to it on inner tubes. That’s what Universal provides as a rental for ocean effects. Pirates built a state of the art rig. They don’t need us, they’re all things water on this film. The cheapest way to create small waves is a jet ski cutting loose to chop the water right before the director cries out -ACTION
This set, like so many others, was difficult to watch getting torn down. But our water tank is a big rental and gets booked frequently.
The cabin in the background is not part of this set. We blew part of that building up for the film Shooter. The tower in between the bay and the cabin had an explosion as did some small boats that had dummies on board.
This captain’s wheel is all that’s left of one exploded boat. The torch from above the harbor lighthouse and a bottle of rum are left over props from that film. The bottle is candy glass, hundreds of these bottles were used in a bar room fight done on our backlot in the European Street sets. This show used several backlot locations and rented our biggest stages. Disney cannot fit this show on their tiny lot.
Stairs to the beach…
Turquoise filtered water greets you. The rock formations are made of styrofoam.
This harbor had the smaller landing craft boats. The Dutchman and The Pearl were docked in San Pedro.
The lighthouse had a torch lit at night…
Captain Jack wrote this to my daughter…I have nothing but cool things to say about Mr Johnny Depp. When he’s in character, which is the entire time, he becomes this captain. He’s not Johnny Depp while in his time consuming make-up, he transforms. He becomes his character. His make up artist is a woman who looks like she too stepped out of this movie. She stands out. While filming the White Cap Bay, filming was all nights. I vividly remember Johnny, chain smoking, sitting in his folding chair at 3 am, looking like a teenager having the time of his life. He is absorbed into his character, he delivers crisply when in front of the camera. Often, no more than two takes are needed. Chemistry between Orlando Bloom and Mr. Depp is as good as any two stars I’ve seen paired up. I think Johnny was born to be an actor, I can see it in his demeanor- he becomes the part, he is-Captain Jack Sparrow

Next Location, company move to England. Itinerary picture. Pirates 3
Hook – on stage at Sony Pictures, this is the one you rent when you need a pit to recreate a body of water-under any conditions. Arnold Gillespie was John Frazier, before John existed. Techniques developed by the MGM wizard apply to all nautical films.
This was a ship built never to sail, just look pretty…Hook-Our one handed star!
Older than a Flintstone, He’s a Rolling Stone
Quite the savvy pair….cigarette in hand-at all times.

Where do we begin;

At sea… the voyage begins at a berth in San Pedro, California. An hour away from Universal. I have a thing for Pirates, how can you not. The last Pirate Ship I was on was at Sony for the movie Hook. It would sit in the water tank on stage, but was not built to sail. Just to be admired, inside and out, this was a Pirate Museum. Gold bars were stacked aboard. “gold painted wood blocks.”

It was built in front of a harbor on stage, and no expense was spared on this Peter Pan film. Fast forward, from the twenties, through the eighties, and touch down at the original port of entry of all navigation going to and from Italy for the 1924 film Ben Hur. Distant locations required sailing to the destinations back then. This port area is where needed items were shipped out, and return voyages delivered film that was needed for post production. Now that’s pioneer movie making for you.

L.A. Harbor has long been a player in films. To this day, it’s always in use in some film series.

Things I’ll never forget is the cannon sequences when every hatched door opened with a powerful cannon blast, one after another. As real as it gets. The making of this movie and all the mechanical challenges, combined with sensation make up and costumes, is better than the movie itself. For added effect, fog guns laid a blanket on the sea that wind machines could push around. It helps provide contrast on a dark sea lane.

Usually a second unit goes to the desired location for all the marvelous establishing shots that transport the viewer where their mind should be. Then for costs, and control of activities, the principal sets are built here in Hollywood. For Pirates, Universal filled the bill three different times.

White Caps Harbor took over 3 months of preparation to build, with crews working 12 hour days.

Pirates 1-2-and 3 were done at the backlot that has those Glamour Trams cruising around. Tourists could see this set get rigged from a distance, and very few details were given out due to a family feud between these two studios. We don’t promote them nor do they promote Universal. Never mention the D -word while on our lot as a tour guide. That applies for the other Disney set yonder called Desperate . Housewives.

Disney had more successful shows on our lot than we did!

I remember one night about 3am, I had two shows going on in the middle of the night. Spiderman was on NY Street, the Spider Cam was attached to cables and simulated Spiderman traversing rooftops. New York Street looked like it was the real deal. The entire street was lit up. At the same time, Pirates was filming at the beach set I’m taking you on. We have two mega blockbusters going in the middle of the night –while the city sleeps.

Downtown Las Vegas has nothing on the Universal Backlot that week. This schedule went on for over a week of all nighters. But quickly after the final shots of rafts being blown up at sea and a tower blowing up in a major early evening explosion. It ended like when you wake up from a good dream. I want more…Everything was packed up to head overseas.

One set has a man dressed in a red Spider Costume, the other has a famous Pirate, also in a red outfit. I facilitate the technical needs of each film, so my job is insurance if something goes wrong, power wise. I sit next to Johnny as his beautiful make up artist touches him up. Johnny doesn’t hide away in his trailer, he’s Captain Jack, he belongs at sea, and all things surrounding it. I watch him, as he watches filming of a scene he’s not in. He’s the face of this film and he represents everything you would want in a star professionally. I sat 15 minutes two feet away, slightly behind him, watching his every reaction, inhaling his cigarette, in aww. Admiring how real he looks, from hat full of dreadlocks to those buckled boots and all things in between. Errol Flynn never looked this good.

If thats not enough, the next costumed star I run into down the hill is Spider Man. It’s 3:30 am, and our backlot is in full swing. There is more traffic on the backlot than the Hollywood Freeway.

These two shows overlapped with each other, trust me- these were gigantic production companies. These two sets were far enough apart that we could fit and film these sets at the same time without interference. Pyro must be finished by 10pm on our lot, for our surrounding neighbors. Nights often start with loud goings on and extreme action before settling down for dialogue basic photography.

The location work on that film at sea was augmented with scenes filmed on the backlot. Buildings hit by cannon fire. In Pirates 1, we blew up our European Street, it was being bombed by Pirate cannonballs. Then we built an entire village of Singapore, on Stage 12. That set was maybe the best on Stage 12- ever built.

Keith Richards was on that set, from the band The Rolling Stones I have a lot of history and precious memories from this series and I thought- Johnny could use some love. You know you’re a Pirate when you own your own island and hang with Keith Richards...that brit didn’t even need make up. Mick turned the part down.

As much as movie fans look up to Johnny, he himself looks up to someone. It’s natural, he’s human, Kieth Richard is that guy. The biggest box office star had his own dream come true on a Friday night at Universal, a cameo from a real life life Rolling Stone.

It’s a Pirates Life For Me too- Ahoy!

Written and lived by…Donnie Norden.

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