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Pirates of the Carribbean Set Visit
A Day at Pinewood Studios with Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp
Robert Huttinger

I am at Pinewood Studios, London. On a soundstage to be more specific. As we approach the center of stage B, we see a wooden box-like structure built on steel frames. We walk up stairs onto a patio area and see an entrance surrounded by skulls and bones. The railing, made of skeleton backbones and spines, adds to the chilly atmosphere. Stepping through the entrance, the air inside the set feels cold as ice and we are suddenly transported to a pirate ship from the 17th century. However, the set is not entirely as one would expect, with impressive chandeliers made of human spine bones and hands hanging from the ceiling, an imaginative touch that brings us back to the 21st century. Lights hang from a construction above, adding to the blend of old and new.

As we wait for the actors to arrive for the interview, a large Kino Flo light illuminates a round table and an electric radiator helps to keep us warm. Treasure maps sit in wooden barrels next to the rear glass window of the deck, which displays dancing skeletons and burning flames. Despite the warmth provided by the radiator, it is very cold on the set and our fingers are freezing.

Sam Claflin, a young actor in his early twenties, arrives first. He plays the role of a youthful missionary in the film. Claflin is cheerful and seems natural, as if you just met him on a soccer field. He seems unaware of where he is and why he is there, repeatedly mentioning that he deserves to be there. This may be a way for him to prove to himself that anyone of the millions of other aspiring actors could have gotten the role. Despite being in a state of shock, he maintains a friendly demeanor, wearing a casual striped t-shirt, cap, and jacket.

After Claflin leaves, we are left waiting for another 20 minutes. Finally Astrid Berges-Frisbey arrives, looking a bit disheveled as if she just woke up. A French actress in her early twenties, she is friendly and down-to-earth, despite speaking broken English. She seems to have recently learned the language, and is more comfortable speaking Spanish. Despite her tired appearance, she does her best to keep the journalists entertained. With her experience in big French films, it is clear that she has a strong screen presence and a captivating smile. In her role as a mermaid in the film, she exudes the grace and exotic allure of a fish swimming in the ocean.

Michael Singer, the head of publicity at Bruckheimer Films, takes us on a tour of the various sets and sound stages. We see sets that are still being worked on, sets that have been completed and are being disassembled, and a sound stage with a one million liter tank. On the other end of the water, they’ve built a 17th century London Thames setting complete with stones and stairs leading into the water. It’s warm in this area, with hot fog visible on the surface of the water. Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz spent the previous day in the water filming an action scene.

We continue to an outdoor set that resembles a western town. Located just a few hundred meters away, the set is a recreated 17th century street of London with every detail meticulously thought out. The wood appears to be hundreds of years old. The only thing missing is the sounds and smells of 17th century London. Green screens at either end of the street allow for the illusion to be complete when the Thames harbor with its blue sky and ships is projected onto it.

As we walk to the main stage where filming is taking place, we encounter several clones of Jack Sparrow. None of them are the real Johnny Depp, but the illusion is so perfect that it is impossible to tell the difference from the original unless one stands very close.

On the set of the film, extras dressed in 17th century soldier costumes are waiting for the next scene to begin while playing with their smartphones. The setting is the grand hall of an English palace, with real food on the table including grilled exotic birds and pork. The set is spacious and allows for the filming of action scenes involving people throwing chairs and drawing swords. The atmosphere is festive, with the smell of Christmas in the air and excitement building as we prepare to go on stage. The pyrotechnic technicians have done a great job in setting up the previous scene with lit candles and a few simulated gunshots.

Johnny Depp’s chair is located near the exit of the set, while the director, producer, and director of photography sit in the right corner, all surrounding a 3D camera on a crane. The camera consists of two Red Mysterium X digital cameras that record 4k video, with a mirror separating the left eye from the right eye view. While we sit on Johnny Depp’s chair, Michael Singer walks around and explains the set. We are not allowed to be present during filming, so we go back to the entrance of the soundstage and wait in front of a 3D monitor to watch the scene being filmed. One of Johnny Depp’s doubles is handing out flyers for his concert the next day, as he is also a musician. Then Geoffrey Rush, who plays the role of pirate Barbossa, walks in and stops to give a short interview. He is wearing a full costume and makeup, and looks quite impressive in it, almost larger than life.

Finally, the real Johnny Depp enters the room, greeting everyone of us with a warm handshake and a smile. Despite being in character as Jack Sparrow, he still manages to give a genuine interview, speaking about his visit to the elementary school where a young girl had written to him and his thoughts on the future of film, including the use of 3D technology. His infectious energy and charisma are clear to see, and it’s easy to understand why he is such a beloved actor. With a final smile and a wave, he heads off to begin filming, leaving a lasting impression.

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