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I Was A Pirate (For A Day)
I Was A Pirate (For A Day)

The alarm clock woke me at 7am. I am not a morning person. The night before, I had flown from Portland to Los Angeles for a three day Disney media tour. In the next three days I was going to go from Pirates to Jungle Book and then finish with Meet The Robinsons, all within the span of three days. I shuffled upstairs to the hospitality suite (basically a check-in room with breakfast and coffee) and met my fellow journalists who would accompany me on my three day journey.

There's a commonly held misconception that 'junkets' are fun. Sure, on paper they sound fantastic. A studio flies you down to Los Angeles, puts you up in a hotel and you get to go to some sort of party or event to commemorate the release of a film. The truth is they are grueling, exhausting trips that are much more work than they are ever fun. Except for this one. As I glanced at the itinerary for the day I felt a childish glee, for I was to be a pirate for a day, complete with sword fighting lessons, grappling, full costume and make up, and even lessons on how to talk like a pirate.

Joining me on this summer camp for adults were a number of journalists from around the world including several from Spain, Brazil, the UK and even Australia. We all piled into a cramped van and shuttled through Los Angeles rush hour traffic from Hollywood all the way out to the Roy Rogers Beach north of Santa Monica. If you ever want to understand my frustration with trips to LA, spend a few hours driving across the city and I guarantee you'll be driven to madness.

With the ocean in our sights and the vision of a sandy beach, the stress of the rush hour crawl across town began to fade. Then, like an oasis, a Pirate village came into view. Disney literally built a small pirate village for our day's events, complete with a pirate band (shouldn't all great occasions have one?) and a large crew of people who would host us for the day. At most media events people are hired as scenery; they often have no idea why they are really there or why they're promoting the film that's being promoted. This was not the case with the Pirates of The Caribbean event, where the people we encountered through the event were the very same people who did wardrobe, makeup and stunts on the film.

As I walked along the beach it hit me. I was going to REALLY get to play pirate for a day. This wasn't some lame, "here's an eye patch now say 'arrr'" event - this was complete immersion into the world of putting on a pirate film.

Sword-fighting
The first stop for me on this amazing adventure was sword fighting and stunts instruction. Four of the stuntmen and the stunt coordinator for the Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End greeted us and then demonstrated a sample fight from the film (complete with flying punches and clashing swords). "OK, now it's your turn". At this point you have to understand, we had just witnessed a three or four minute fight routine with professional stuntmen. It looked amazing. The experience would be like going to see Rachel Ray cook a phenomenal dish and then have her turn to you and say "OK, now it's your turn."

Reluctantly I picked up my Sabre and went over to my assigned stunt coordinator. As we began to go through the various sword positions he described how a choreographed sword fight for a film was different from a 'regular' sword fight. It went something like this:

For the film it's all about the camera. We're constantly thinking about how it will look for the camera.
He swiped his sword at my head, and I blocked.
As stuntmen we're always working to help our fellow stunt person, so if I am going to be attacking from the left...
He does, and I parry.
...then I look towards the left so you know where it's going to be coming from.
He looks right and then proceeds to attack on my right. I block.
Now when you hit me, it's less about how close you get to me, and more about how I react.
He stands there looking at me. Am I supposed to hit him? He nods and I take a swing. Before my hand gets close to his face he's flying back. Wait, did I hit him? Damn, he's good. Wait, he's back on his feet and going to take a swing at me. He does, I jerk and his hand misses me by a mile, but damn, doesn't it look good.
You see, to the camera it would look perfect.

He continues to walk me through the various sword positions and movements. My favorite is a "hero's pose" that has the sword arching over your head. I was starting to feel like a pirate. Now the moment of truth came. It was my turn to have a real sword fight.

I was pretty amazed at how quickly I could pick up sword fighting for the screen. I wasn't going to quit my job and become a stuntman, but I had a better understanding of how they put fights together, especially on such an epic scale as they did with Pirates of The Caribbean. "A lot of the times if you're in the background you just need to improvise a fight, and with these moves and where you look you can put something together pretty easily." Then one of the other stuntmen chimes in, "But always remember to die in a comfortable spot, because you may have to be there for hours". What followed was a fascinating discussion between the stuntmen about the highs and lows of doing stunts for a big film. "I still cringe when I hear someone call 'Bring on the wind, bring on the rain'." For several of the key battle scenes the stuntmen spent days with water being dumped on them and wind blowing in their faces. "The day I went without a wetsuit was the coldest day of my life," remarked one of the stuntmen.

Swashbuckling

From sword fighting we moved on to another station where we were harnessed up and told to climb a rope netting (like you'd find near the mast of a pirate ship) and then zip line to the ground below. As one of the safety crew was cinching up my harness, I gathered he was a man of few words. As the strapping began to entomb me and squeeze like an anaconda I realized his job was a simple one - make sure these bonehead journalists didn't do anything stupid and hurt themselves. I was happy to have someone look out for me, but as I began to climb the rope netting I just wasn't feeling very piratey. Then came the zip line:

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! (What more can I say?)

Talk To a Pirate

Our next stop was a talk with actors Lee Arenberg (Pintel) and Martin Klebba (Marty) who play two of the key pirates in the Pirates of the Caribbean Series. They spoke about life on the set, shooting a movie with Johnny Depp, and the evolution of the series over the three pictures.

Luckily I was able to record the interview so you can hear their thoughts on the films. Listen here:

Dress Like A Pirate

The next stop on our pirate adventure was wardrobe. I was amazed to see that they had actual wardrobe from the films. Each item looked weathered and aged but was in perfect condition.

As I was handed the costume I was to wear, I began to doubt if these rags would really make me look like a pirate. A deep dropped V-neck shirt with a vest, sash and stocking socks. Small moccasin shoes that looked almost Indian. As I went into the 'dressing room' (a thinly veiled curtained off area), I really wondered if I was going to emerge looking like a pirate or just a big dork.

As I emerged, the head of wardrobe exclaimed "Oh! I have the perfect hat for you." As I sat looking in the full length mirror I began to feel a lot more piratey. As I was getting the finishing touches of my wardrobe I spoke to the wardrobe crew about the challenges they faced with the film. "The biggest issue was the water. You can't just put these in the dryer at the end of the day or they will shrink, so we had an elaborate system that actually baked them at the end of the day to get them to dry." As I watched the wardrobe crew transform our small group of journalists, I began to imagine having to costume literally hundreds of pirates. "OK, you're good, off to makeup!"

Hair and Makeup

"Oooh! I'm going to give you a scar!" - the first words out of the mouth of the makeup artist as he lead me to my seat. He took a small putty knife and sliced it through some 'scar goo' and began applying it to my face. His hands danced around the side of my face like he was the lead contestant in 'beat the clock,' only the judging was not just on how fast you could go but what the finished product looked like.

As I sat there having my face transformed, I felt connected to all the actors who had to sit sometimes for hours a day in the makeup chair. My time in the chair was infinitesimal compared to theirs, but as the makeup began to pile up I began to feel the discomfort. Now, could you imagine going out onto a set and getting rain pelted on your face?! Not a pretty picture.

As soon as he felt my face looked piratey enough, I was ushered over to another station where a hair piece was smacked down on my head. Clips began digging into my skull as the hair stylist tried to transform my short haircut into a long piratey mane. I've had a lot of hair cuts in my life and I can tell you that I'd rather have hair taken off than have it put on - ANY DAY OF THE WEEK. Let's just say, the next time someone says they're going to put a wig on me, I'm going to pass.

I Am A Pirate! Arrrrrrrg!

Head stinging, eyes burning (from the eye makeup) and with a gigantic scar on my face, I emerged from hair and makeup - A PIRATE!

Arrrrrrrrg! The thing that struck me the most wasn't that I looked and felt like a pirate, but that so many people had been involved in that transformation. The best thing about this event wasn't that I got to play pirate for a day, but that I got a glimpse behind the scenes at many of the people who make blockbuster movies like Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End but who rarely get the accolades and the visibility of the actors and directors.

Sadly at the end of the day we had to surrender our pirate gear. After some joking with the makeup guy about wearing my scar back to Hollywood, I decided the makeup was irritating my face so much that it was better to lose it.

No Longer a Pirate

So my day as a pirate ends and I return to the world of being another entertainment journalist. As the van pulls away from the beach I look back at the oasis of the pirate village at the beach. Once in a while something like this happens that makes it all worth while... and this was it.

- Geoffrey Kleinman

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