Our days began at 4 a.m., when an open speedboat would pick us up for the one hour ride to the set. It was actually a nice way to wake up. One morning the engine failed about half way and we needed to be rescued by another boat in the pitching sea. Real scary pirate stuff! As we neared the set the morning light would just be coming up, so the bay filled with old sailing ships and the recreated pirate town of Tortuga seemed amazingly real.
But it wasn't. All of the stone bridges and forts were plywood with a sheath of cement coating, the imposing Governor's Office only had one real wall. And one of the ships was painted differently on each side, allowing it to be used one way as a Turkish fishing boat and the other way as an East India Company trading vessel. Ahh, the movies!
After hair and make-up we headed towards the set. I was a merchant seaman, surrounded by pirates, sailors, harlots, innkeepers, fishermen, and British soldiers. Awaiting us were hordes of cameramen, set designers, directors, assistants of every stripe, gaffers, riggers, caterers and more. We crashed together and the day began. I was immediately grabbed by an assitant something or other and told that I was to be a stand-in for Paddy, the map painter. Sounded exciting until I found out that a stand-in just, well, stands in for the actor during the lighting and scene set up (so that the real actor doesn't have to stand in the hot sun for an hour). I was so bummed, until I realized that I would be standing right next to the director and cinematographer and would be able to watch close up how a movie gets made. It was really exciting to see the movie minds at work, figuring out the best angles for lighting, to get across the subtle message of power, etc. I was also able to ask questions to my heart's delight about the process, and everybody from the director on down was open and friendly. I even spoke at length to one of the writers, who told me how they create a script, and even how the movie ends (can't tell you!).
I also realized that while we were filming in that air-conditioned Governor's Office, the other extras were waiting outside, trying to find some shade and basically being bored to tears. So being a stand-in wasn't such a bad way to start my career after all.
The next day I was able to put my sailor skills to use as we filmed shipboard action, such as coiling ropes, raising sails, swabbing decks, and raising and lowering a cannon off the ship. Unfortunately, the guy who was actually lowering it didn't understand my real commands and wanged the cannon into the side of the ship and almost dropped it into the drink. But at least it looked authentic!
On the third day, all of the pirates were ready for filming. I looked longingly towards the snarly, gnarly group. I really wanted to be a pirate! So I gathered up my courage and sailed straight for the casting director. I asked politely to be a pirate, then begged him until he finally said yes. They sent me back to costumes and make-up, and the handsome sailor became a scarred and scary pirate in 45 minutes! I even got a cutlass and a pistol.
The scene was to be Johnny Depp and two floozies coming down the dock to board the Black Pearl. I was set up as a drunken pirate just waking up. We did the scene several times when the assistant director went off the dock for something. We took a water break, but I stayed (swayed) in character. When the AD walked past me I lurched and launched a mouthful of water in front of him, pretending to be sick. He leapt back, looked at me in surprise and said "That was great, let's put that in!". So my career as the "Pukin' Pirate of Tortuga" was born. They let me evolve the character and end up staggering off the dock. At the end of the scene the cast and crew gave me applause. One of the AD's asked where I got my great acting skills. I told her that I was just reliving my college experiences, so tossing my cookies and staggering was easy. Hey, play to your strengths!
As we headed for the next scene of the pirates boarding a ship, I was pulled aside by an assistant. "Sorry, you can't be in this, you've already gotten a lot of face time on the camera". What a cruel blow! But the AD assured me that my special scene would definitely be in the movie and not end up on the cutting room floor. So I spent the rest of my life as a pirate deep in the background, as a citizen of Tortuga.
Suddenly, Keira Knightley approached me and said "Dean, those chocolate covered beans were absolutely smashing! You are brilliant!". A quick hug from a beautiful young star left me reeling and smiling like a schoolboy, albeit a naughty one. I had brought Java Drops renamed "Black Pearl Grapeshot" as a gift for the cast and crew, and a hug from Keira was more than adequate payback (sorry, the rest of you will have to pay by check or credit card).
Thus ended my short but brilliant film career. O.K., so it wasn't all Errol Flynn, but I had a great time, learned a lot about the making of movies, made some new friends and replenished my tan. Not bad for a coffee roaster turned pirate!