If you’re reading this, like me you’ve always had the dream of working on a big Hollywood movie. It’s dream that many have, but only a select few achieve, so when I heard a talented young woman I went to Uni with had gotten on a gig on the production of the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, I had to know all about it! Luckily for all of us, Lara Cawsey (go on, IMDB her!) was kind enough to share her experience with So Is It Any Good‘s readers too.
So, without further ado, here’s Lara’s take on life on the set of a Hollywood blockbuster!
I was fifteen when Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was released and I loved it… I still do. Most of my friends in the industry were brought up on Star Wars and Indiana Jones but I naturally gravitated towards female characters and I thought Elizabeth Swan was a badass! I remember watching the behind-the-scenes footage on DVD and thinking “how amazing would it be to work on something like that?”
Years later, there I was working on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales! It was a highlight of my career and the biggest film I have worked on to date… it doesn’t get much bigger. I was the assistant to the Executive Producer, Joe Caracciolo Jr, so I was part of the pre-production, production and some post production of the project. My job was basically to make sure the communication channels between Mr. Caracciolo and the rest of the cast and crew ran smoothly.When you have a crew of around 200 people on set and another 200 off-set, then cast, production company representatives, studio representatives, and agents who need everything now, you need amazing communication skills to be able to manage all of that. Joe sold the role to me as being his ‘business partner’, I needed to know the script inside and out, schedules, budgets, call sheets, storyboards, previs… you see where I am going, I was basically a second brain and I didn’t get much sleep!
One of the beauties of this film is that it drew on some of the most talented cast and crew from around the world, so I ended up working with and learning from the best in the business. I remember counting that we had six Oscar winners on set one day! I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Bruckheimer himself during the shoot, along with Chad Oman. I also had the honour of assisting screenwriter, Jeff Nathanson. As a writer myself, I have long admired his previous work on Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal.The scale of this film blew me away (actually, I think it blew everyone away). We had an incredible amount of locations from rainforests to remote tropical islands. Production Designer, Nigel Phelps, was the mastermind behind the look of the film. The team built several full-scale pirate ships from scratch, an entire town in Helensvale with several streets, along with multiple sets on stages at Village Roadshow Studios in Queensland. I really had to pinch myself occasionally. We did have our challenges, like facing torrential rain and mud up to your knees, but it was worth it.
Captain Salazar’s ship, The Silent Mary, is truly something to be seen. It was really creepy to be standing on board during shooting, particularly as Mr. Bardem loved to jump out and scare the living daylights out of me for kicks. The Aussie crew is an incredibly well-oiled machine (and family) with many Oscar winners peppered among them. These guys have done it all from The Matrix and Star Wars to most of Baz Luhrmann’s work. They are forever pushing the boundaries and making the impossible possible; it is nice to be a part of that.There is a beautiful camaraderie that forms when you first approach a film with over ninety shoot days; it is terrifying and exhilarating. I am incredibly proud of the number of female crew on this film. I am pleased to say that the Production Manager, most of the production office, coordinators, the Production Supervisor, Assistant to the Directors, half of the Assistant Directors and myself were all female, not counting the art department, costume and make-up.Wait! But what about Johnny? There is truly nothing like watching Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, and Javier Bardem perform. Behind all of the press, fame and celebrity madness these actors return to the thing they do best, act. It is phenomenal to witness. I have never seen anyone improvise the way that Mr. Depp does, he is a master. They make it look easy but after seeing how hard they work behind the scenes on accents and character you can understand why they are so good. I had worked with Mr. Rush twice before, but to see Barbossa in real-life, even if it was standing on a pirate ship at 4 am on a freezing Friday morning, I was knocked out by the genius behind the mask.
It was a wonderful job and one that I will always remember.For anyone aspiring to crack into the business, my advice to you is… don’t give up! This industry can be incredibly frustrating at times but hard work and persistence pay off. Believe me, everyone you aspire to has been through it. There is no bad place to start… just get your foot in the door and work hard.
I worked in TV through my teens and then studied at Charles Sturt University in Australia and then film in the US which gave me amazing hands-on experience. I am now working my way towards being a writer and director and am always searching around for the next opportunity with the goal of pushing myself to the limits. One day I hope I can make the kind of films that blew me away when I was a kid.
I have learned that nothing is impossible. Take it from the girl who was sitting in her living room watching behind the scenes documentaries at fifteen and dreaming of something bigger, don’t take no for an answer.
Makes you want to run off and find a film set immediately, doesn’t it? Do you have an on set story that you’d like to share? Hit us up on Facebook or Twitter, or email firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story with our readers too!