Once upon a time…
The feature that just won’t quit. It’s so popular, the budget allows for episodes 2 and 3 to be made in the same year. Any and all on this production become consumed with this Pirate lifestyle. Pirate jewelry can be bought on set. Skeleton rings are popular and almost everyone wears one. Pirate flags are hoisted above the trailers at basecamp. The closer or deeper you go on set, the more real it gets.
My job allows me to see all phases of production. The preparation begins with construction of the sets. Once that happens scenic artists age it to look ancient. Then come the props, while set lighting pulls 4/0 cables from generators to distro boxes. You can never have enough power on sets this large.
The transportation department alone eats up over a thousand amps, set lighting, effects, catering-all need juice!
A show like this is self-contained and can film basically anywhere in the world. The producer, Jerry Bruckheimer has all the credit you need to open doors no one else can. When in Hollywood, their job becomes much easier. That’s why Universal gets attached to every Pirate episode. We have big stages and a huge backlot. We have had Pirate battles all over it, from our cobblestone European streets to lighthouse set up at Falls Lake.
One of my favorite sets ever on Stage 12 is the Singapore Harbor set. This stage is our biggest, and that set covered almost every square inch inside. I can walk you through there some other time. You will not believe the details and Chinese decorations; you will feel like you’re in ancient times as soon as you shut the stage door.
The Tortuga Bar set on the backlot was a relatively quick build for a show like this one. The morning after the all-night fight was classic, broken bottles were everywhere. Stunts were performed efficiently, and you probably woke up with a hangover, not from drinking-just being there as bottles full of syrup were everywhere you turned. This brawl was completed in one night, how’s that for professionalism?
As fast as it was put up, it came down. The bar was built in the courtyard of an already existing set, so hardly any materials were used. The bar itself was destroyed; I salvaged the Lion Heads that were headed to the dumpster. They lined the bar and are plaster. You can see them in my bar picture, just below the counter.
In the big picture, this was a small scene for this crew. But be forewarned-even the smallest scene on a show starring Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp–IS HUGE!
I wish J.D. well in his legal predicament that has America glued to Court TV. Stand up for what’s right, Captain Jack!
In 1995, the world watched in anticipation as the O.J. Simpson verdict was announced. Universal was in complete shutdown mode on every stage and set when the verdict was to be announced on his murder trial. It was like a Murder She Wrote episode, but better.
Not only everybody at Universal watched, but the entire country took an early lunch for the outcome. I was in a gold room on Stage 12 and watched on a black and white rabbit ear TV set with set lighting personnel rigging the stage. We were shocked at the verdict, just as shocked as when we heard he was arrested back on June 13, 1994.
A driver friend Gene was with us and shared a very recent experience he had with O.J. on the set of Frogmen. In that film, Gene was driving for the show and was chauffeuring O.J. from the set in Malibu to his house in Brentwood. O.J. plays a Navy Seal in this film. On the way back home, he had Gene detour so O.J. could visit a store in Santa Monica that sells knives and swords. Nothing was thought of at that moment in time-but fast forward and then think backwards. Coincidence…?
You can read between the lines yourself. The role of a Navy Seal requires superior skill with weapons, and he received technical military training prior to what took place in Brentwood.
I met O.J. of all places-on the California incline in Santa Monica. He was running uphill with the Olympic Torch, as he handed it off, I high- fived him. I had chills it was so cool.
After all, he was #32, The Juice– back then…
I close with these legal memories…One, the O.J. trial, Two, the John Landis trial involving Vic Morrow, Three, Johnny Depp and his interesting situation, and Alec Baldwin’s debacle. Every 20 years something big happens to our unfathomable heroes.
Written and lived by…Donnie Norden
2 thoughts on “A Tortuga Bar Story”
Thank you Donnie for your recall of these sad and tragic moments in time.
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