Before we get started here, just a quick thanks to Diane B. Rooney. Who so graciously offered up this “Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest” set report (which previously ran over on the Compass Rose discussion boards) for reprinting on JHM.
Also — for those of you who don’t want to know too much about this eagerily anticipated Walt Disney Pictures release prior to its release to theaters in the summer of 2006 — not to worry. “Dead men (and Diane) tell no tales.” What follows is a spoiler-free article. As in: It steers clear of revealing plot points and concentrates more on what it was actually like to be on the set of this Jerry Bruckheimer production.
Okay. Enough with my long-winded intro. Let’s get to Diane’s report, shall we?
They took off from day jobs as waitresses, security guards, even lighting directors. They postponed trips to China or drove three hours each way. Those without cars spent hours navigating Los Angeles’ public transit system. Most were experienced, some were novices. Some had been seen at December’s open casting call, others had already been registered with Sande Alessi Casting. They wanted to work for Gore Verbinski, or be on the same set as Johnny Depp. They came to be part, even a small part, of a few scenes in the making of Pirates of the Caribbean II.
I was fortunate enough to be one of them. What I’d like to do here is to share my experience as a novice film extra on a project as exciting as Pirates II. I won’t describe the scenes I saw being filmed, most of all because the folks at Walt Disney don’t want that stuff leaking out from people like me, but also because I’ve no idea where in the story these scenes might occur or to what extent they’ll survive the editing process.
To answer your most burning questions first: Yes, I did see principals Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Kevin McNally, and director Gore Verbinski, stood or passed within feet or even inches of them, and yes, that was a huge thrill.
While I’ve been on stage many times, this was my first experience on a film set. There’s a lot that I didn’t know how or when to do. I dread these situations, because I hate feeling stupid and because I know my ignorance exasperates or makes work for other people. I did ask a lot of questions and do some research, but if I use an incorrect term or title here, I ask forgiveness in advance.
Getting the Call.
The phone rang on Friday afternoon, March 4. It was Nina from Sande Alessi Casting, calling to confirm that I would be working on Pirates of the Caribbean the following week! Even though I had been fitted for a costume back in early February, I know that a lot of things can happen. I was a complete novice – perhaps they’d decide it would be better to use someone with experience?
Filming took place Wednesday through Friday (March 9 -11) on the backlot at Universal Studios. I don’t know why a Universal set was used or if it was used in the first film. I can only suppose it was because the set had the right look and was available for that window in the production schedule.
I was told to report at 9:30AM on Thursday at Universal Studios. Security there, as at all studios, is tight. Trying to get in just to see the set or a celebrity is hopeless. No one gets through the gate without a studio ID or, in the case of temporary workers like me, unless you are on a list for that day. On my first day, I wasn’t on the list yet, so, with a few others, I had to call in and be verified. I was scared – what if they didn’t have my name? To have come so far, and then not get in!
But my name was found and verified, the guard alerted and a parking pass issued. From the garage, I took a shuttle van, together with other extras and some production crew members, through the Universal backlot to the Pirates’ location. The van passes not just famous sets like Universal’s western towns but also the cottages that house independent production companies like Dino Di Laurentis and Imagine. I saw Sam Mendes’ parking space. There’s even a lakefront set and one with a steam locomotive!
On arriving at an area with trailers and tents, I checked in, giving my name and number (the number of my costume/character), and filling in a session form so I could be paid for the day. Then I picked up my costume and headed inside.
Wardrobe, Hair, Makeup, and Aging.
The changing area (women’s anyway) is a mad whirl of people getting dressed, with plenty of wardrobe professionals tying chemises and skirts and lacing corsets. You keep all your hangers together with the tag with your name and costume number and loop over it a large zipper bag for your own clothes and personal belongings. At the end of the day, items like your shoes, stockings, jewelry, and corset go back into the bag. Photos of each extra in costume, with her number, hang in the dressing area, so your look can be compared to the photo from the costume fitting to make sure it matches.
Next, hair and makeup. This area also has photographs of each person, numbered, in costume. The hair professional locates your wig if you have one. Your own hair is carefully pinned up and a skullcap or net is placed over it. The wig goes on top of this, and can then be styled with a curling iron. The wig’s forehead line and the sides by the ears are secured with a type of glue (which comes off with alcohol) so the wig doesn’t get out of place during the day. Then your hat is pinned on top of the wig.
Once your hair or wig is styled, you proceed to the other side of the room for makeup. Again, pictures are checked to ensure you look exactly the way you should. Makeup includes face, hands, and body, to make the character look dirty and disheveled (it’s Tortuga, after all), and even includes tooth makeup to make teeth look stained.
With all the extras needed for these scenes, hair and makeup was a busy area. Picture three aisles of hair and makeup professionals, their work stations, mirrors and kits lining each side, and people to direct us to an open station to keep the process moving.
Many of the male extras had grown their hair and beards long and did not need wigs or facial hair. Their hair was still dressed and styled, however, and they still had makeup applied to complete their look, in some cases, to make them look older, fiercer, or more battle-scarred.
Unlike the men’s coats, most of the women’s skirts did not have pockets, so it was difficult to stash cell phones, glasses, medicine, or smoking materials. I took my phone, note pad, and ID in a small bag I left in the extras’ waiting area off the set. My glasses I slid into the top of my stocking so I could pull them out to see in between shots. This strategy didn’t work that well long term and they eventually broke from being bent so often.
The last stop before proceeding down to the set was aging. Here wardrobe technicians carefully “aged” or distressed the costumes, applying to them what looked like dust or dirt in a cotton or muslin bag. (I’ve read that what’s often used to distress costumes is fuller’s earth, clay, or ground up chalk). They wore masks to keep from breathing in the material.
At the end of the day, the process is reversed. You change, re-hang your costume, put the loose pieces in the zipper bag, return your wig, and turn in your costume for re-racking. You take your session form to sign-out, where your hours are recorded and you’re given a copy for your records and join the line for the van back to the parking structure. Professionals become expert at this. I was still wrestling with my last skirt and the bunch of hangers, looked around, and saw the room was nearly empty.
To Tortuga and the Cantina.
At the bottom of the hill from the trailers and tents is the Tortuga set, and along the streets of the backlot are more trailers for people and equipment, a tent and waiting area for extras and a large meal tent.
Tortuga looks much as it did in the first film. It’s a rather rough place where the residents mostly drink, fight, and carouse. Tortuga’s residents represent a wide range of ages, body types, and ethnicities. The scenes I participated in take place in a cantina or tavern. (You’ll remember the cantina from the first film, where Jack takes Mr. Gibbs for a drink and tells him he plans to recover the Black Pearl – I have no idea if this is the same cantina location.)
Close up, the cantina set is amazing. As in the first film, it’s furnished with wooden benches and tables. On the tables are wooden and metal plates, jugs, and leather and metal cups and tankards. Some items are made from a rubberized material, so they can be thrown in fight scenes without injuring anyone.
Given the time period, the cantina is lit with candles, hundreds of candles, on the tables, in wall sconces, and in overhead chandeliers. Indeed, there were production people going around periodically through the day replacing the candles, and a lot of wax built up on the tables over the two days. The cantina set is roofed with white screening or sheeting material supported by an exterior crane, I think so the lighting can be better controlled (or perhaps to keep people in helicopters from photographing the set?)
The level of detail in set dressing is incredible. For example, the cantina walls and the walls of other town buildings are decorated with handbills and news sheets detailing upcoming pirate trials, promoting shop owners and their wares, or announcing engagements and marriages (no one we know.) Even though it’s unlikely they’ll ever be readable on screen, these details help create the atmosphere of Tortuga.
The number of people present and the amount of equipment on and near the set is astounding. There’s equipment in trailers, trunks of equipment stacked high outside the set, and miles of cable to power lights, cameras and other equipment snaking through the entire set. You have to step very carefully over cables and around cameras, monitors, and other equipment as you move in and out of position, not easy in period costume. Ack! If I broke it, would Disney make me buy it?
Being on set is overwhelming at first – a film version of what historians call “the fog of war.” It’s crowded with people and equipment, hot from the candles and film lights, and hazy from stage smoke being blown in by large fans. The costume feels strange, and the corset restricts your field of motion. Plus, if you’re nearsighted like me, you can’t see very well.
What Film Extras Actually Do
Before going on to the set, we extras were sorted into smaller groups of about 8-15 people each, so we could be directed and managed by assistant directors or production assistants. (Each production person wears an ID tag with his/her name and title, though I couldn’t read them because of my nearsightedness. They are also all connected via walkie-talkies and head sets, and have one or more cell phones at the ready.)
The ADs or PAs place each person in an area of the set and give them specific actions and interactions for the scene. For example, this could include greeting someone, pouring a drink into their cup, clinking cups with them, walking with them from one side of the area to another, and reacting to action taking place nearby. I was impressed with one PA’s direction to our group: He told us to be carousing, but with a bit of sadness because we’re here on Tortuga and not in London. Thought that captured it perfectly!
Each group rehearses its action a few times to make sure it’s smooth. Meanwhile, all the other groups of extras as well as the principals in the scene are rehearsing, so it’s quite busy. Over the two days, we all moved around quite a bit from group to group and from area to area on the set.
While I started out deep in the background of the cantina, in a later sequence I was closer to the principals. I think the production people made a real effort to move the extras around so they’d have at least one or two opportunities to be closer to the main action (and the principals!)
With all the people present, the noise level got quite high, and there were frequent calls for quiet, especially when the principals or stunt people were rehearsing.
All the scenes I observed or participated in had several takes, and multiple cameras were used in each one so the action was captured from different angles. Usually, a few seconds of music would play, someone would call “Background action! (our signal to begin moving) and then “Action!” We’d keep going until we heard “Cut!” Then we’d regroup and get ready to do it again.
I was able to watch Johnny Depp, Jack Davenport, Keira Knightley, and Kevin McNally in several scenes. They worked closely with director Gore Verbinski, trying different pacings, movements, and timings for the scenes in rehearsal. It was fascinating to watch them focus and center themselves before a scene started. Everyone was patient with re-takes, as different inflections, emphases, or sequences were filmed.
After the last take of a demanding scene involving a principal, Mr. Verbinski would call out, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Keira Knightley,” or “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Jack Davenport, all the way from England,” and everyone would applaud.
I watched a sword fight involving about ten stunt professionals, who work with the film’s director and the stunt director. It really is like a ballet, as people enter and exit and change fight partners. Although I ‘m sure they had rehearsed the scene previously until their motions were engrained in their muscle memory, before the cameras rolled they went through it at half, three-quarter, and full speed.
Food, Refreshments and Comfort.
Everyone’s heard about the craft services (catering) on film sets. There is always water, soda, coffee, tea, and snacks including fruit, peanut butter and jelly, yoghurt, bread and bagels, cookies, and chips for the extras, which you can have while waiting to go on the set or on breaks. You can’t bring food onto the set, but production people come through frequently with bottles of water. My big production secret is that you’ll never see how many plastic water bottles there were on the floor of the cantina!
Professionals who are members of SAG have a separate refreshment and break area, except for the main meals, when the food tent is open to all with buffet line service. We had a lunch break on Thursday at 4:30, and both lunch and dinner breaks on Friday. Our dinner break was at about 1AM. We left the set and were greeted just outside it on the streets of Tortuga with a full buffet setup and helpful servers: roast chicken, vegetables, burgers and hot dogs, even dessert.
Efforts are made to keep people comfortable. The extras’ tent is heated in the evening. Makeup professionals give people eye drops if needed.
Continuity is critically important, even for extras. Photographs were taken of everyone on the first day to ensure costume, hair, and makeup would be consistent for the second day. Wardrobe and makeup professionals and production assistants carried plastic envelopes of photos to check consistency. Makeup professionals came around frequently all day and night touching up face, body, and tooth makeup and spritzing us with water both to cool us off and to make us look sweaty.
Health and Labor
There are lots of people on and around the set you wouldn’t automatically think of. On one break, a gentleman came around asking if any one in the group was a member of SAG (the Screen Actors Guild), as he was the SAG representative for the production and was available if anyone had questions. Also present on set was a medic. One of the men in my group had a bronchial problem and for a few minutes it was difficult for him to breathe. He declined help but on the next break a production assistant came over with a medic, who offered medication and other assistance.
Shop Talk and Pirate Tales.
So what do extras talk about? Well, professionals tend to talk about work they’ve done, or work they’ve heard is coming up. I met several men who had worked on the television series “Deadwood,” and one who’d spent six weeks in Mexico as an extra on “Master and Commander.” They talk about the cost of living, traffic, day to day stuff. Pirates fan extras tend to talk about the films, the stars, the stars’ films, and drop lines from The Curse of the Black Pearl at every opportune moment.
And they talk about the scripts for the sequels. “Well in the second film, what happens is…, but then in the third….” The first several times I heard conversations like this, my ears perked up. But no two stories agreed. I heard people claim to have picked up scripts from trash baskets and copy machines, even one person who claimed to have copies of both scripts in his car. I’m afraid they were used more as pick-up lines than confidential disclosures.
Not that the plot lines discussed weren’t interesting. I especially liked the suggestion that the Black Pearl was a real character the ship had been named for, and she’d appear in one of the sequels. I also liked what I call the George Lucas treatment, in which it’s revealed that Elizabeth is Governor Swann’s ADOPTED daughter, and her real father is…Captain Jack? Bootstrap Bill? Mr. Gibbs? Whoever. In this version she’d been adopted after some family tragedy back in England, after which her father went to sea. Ah well, sounds like someone’s seen ol’ Darth Vader and Luke a few too many times.
By Friday, I felt a bit more comfortable, since I knew at least a little more of what to do. When I arrived at the gate and gave my name, the guard gave me a big smile and said “You’re in our system!” We were due to report at 10:30AM but I got there very early so I wouldn’t feel rushed. I was able to have breakfast in the big food tent – with a big selection of hot dishes, cold platters with salmon, cereal, juice, bread and pastries, fruit, and a van outside serving egg dishes, wraps, and breakfast burritos. Then back up the hill to wardrobe, hair, and makeup.
Friday afternoon Sande and some of her associates from Sande Alessi Casting visited, chatting with many of us, and stayed for lunch. It was great to see them and they were very interested to hear our stories.
Some of you may be waiting for a call to be an extra on Pirates, or may just want to give being an extra a try. Based on my (limited) experience, here are some things that may be helpful if you get the chance:
1. Try to get a good night’s sleep. Production days can be long. Thursday we were there ’til midnight, Friday til 4:15AM Saturday.
2. Get to your location early, so you allow plenty of time for the security check and can be among the first into wardrobe and makeup. If you’re not rushed, you’ll feel less flustered.
3. If you don’t know what to do or where to go, ask, but try not to be a pain. Almost everyone you will encounter is a professional and unfailingly nice but I’m sure it’s tiring to get the same questions.
4. Conserve your energy. Sit down when you can, drink plenty of water, and be sure to eat on the meal breaks.
5. Listen, follow instructions, and be quiet on the set. Making people call repeatedly for quiet wastes time and energy.
6. Observe and learn from the professionals around you. I would have been lost without the experienced extras I met who gave me advice, rehearsed with me, helped me relax, and even turned me around to face Johnny Depp and the camera.
7. Try not to complain. By the end of the day you’ll be tired, hot, and dirty, your costume will probably be uncomfortable, your feet will hurt, and you may have blisters or red eyes, but remember, there are thousands of people who’d give anything to be where you are.
8. This should go without saying, but maybe not. Don’t speak to or make eye contact with the principals unless you’re directly involved in their action, especially before the start of a scene when they are preparing themselves.
9. Be professional. Don’t even think about autographs or photos on the set. And keep cell phones and pagers off and well hidden.
Several qualities about the people and production impressed me. Here are the top four:
Professionalism: Everyone one I met and observed was a true professional. They took their work seriously and gave a full effort every time. The production people are very mindful of the schedule and what needs to get done each day. There’s a constant sense of focus and the need to move forward.
Energy: Film making is hard work over long days. The amount of energy put out by everyone from the director to the newest production assistant is staggering. Well after 2AM Saturday, there were multiple takes of a scene involving Elizabeth Swann. The director, crew, actors, everyone involved was still going full steam, from checking monitors and camera angles to suggesting changes to repeating sequences, in what, the 17th or 18th hour of their work day. And they still managed to look like they were having the time of their lives.
And while we were released at 4:15AM Saturday, there were many more hours of work to be done to take down the set: Equipment to be packed up, costumes to be racked and organized, tents taken down, trailers moved, water bottles picked up from the set and who knows what else.
Attention to Detail: No detail is too small to get right. Adjusting a costume, touching up tooth makeup, replacing candles, thousands of details that may never been seen, even going through the DVD frame by frame, it’s all important.
Camaraderie: We’ve all seen documentaries covering the last day of production: the hugs, the tears, the goodbye gifts. Well, we extras were there after just two days. By the end of our time on Tortuga we had traded stories, aspirations, work histories, family tales and more.
We were released at 4:15AM. Saturday morning. Some extras were off to bus stops to wait for 7AM buses. I was tired, dirty, bleary-eyed, footsore, and my hair stuck out in all directions from being in pin curls under the wig all day. I’d also had two of the best days of my life. I was so confused it took me about half an hour to find my car. I staggered into my hotel lobby around 5:30AM, where people were already having breakfast and starting their day. I’m sure I looked like an escapee from a zombie party. I slept for about six hours and then headed home, playing the Pirates’ soundtrack most of the way.
Before leaving Tortuga, I exchanged emails and phone numbers with many of the people I’d met. Yes, several of us plan to meet in Los Angeles next July to see the film together and watch for our on-screen appearances.
Do I have the extra bug? Well, let’s just say “Rent” is being filmed here in San Francisco, and they’re looking for extras….
Eyeglass repair: $22
Gasoline for round trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles: around $80
Two days with Johnny Depp and an amazing group of professionals and Pirates fans: Priceless!
Special thanks again to Ms. Rooney for offering to share this great set report with JHM readers. For those of you who’d like to thank Diane for her great coverage and/or anyone who has additional questions can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s that? You’re hungry for even more “Pirates” related news? Well, you can check out this great article that Diane did about the “Dead Man’s Chest” casting call. Or — better yet — this fun feature that Ms. Rooney filed about her “Pirates II” costume fitting. Which might give me a better appreciation of the whole process involved in film-making.
And let’s not forget about KeeptotheCode.com, the official fan site for Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Which finally officially went live last week. There’s lots of piratical fun to be found there.
Anyway … That’s your “Dead Man’s Chest” update for today. Your thoughts?
“Indiana Jones and the Search for Indiana Jones”
News came late last week that NBC was cancelling the “Magnum PI” remake. This series (which obviously took its inspiration from the Tom Selleck show that originally debuted on CBS back in December of 1980 and then went on run on that network for 8 seasons. With its final episode airing on May 8, 1988).
Anyway … Over 30 years later, CBS decided to remake “Magnum.” This version of the action drama debuted on September 24, 2018 and ran for four seasons before then being cancelled. NBC picked up the “Magnum” remake where it ran for one more season before word came down on June 23rd that this action drama was being cancelled yet again.
FYI: The second half of Season 5 of “Magnum” (10 episodes) has yet to air on NBC. It will be interesting to see when that final set of shows / the series finale gets scheduled.
This all comes to mind this week – out ahead of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” because … Well, if CBS execs had been a bit more flexible back in 1980, the star of the original version of “Magnum PI” (Tom Selleck) would have played the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Which was released to theaters back on June 12, 1981.
That’s the part of the Indiana Jones story that the folks at Lucasfilm often opt to skim over.
That Harrison Ford wasn’t George Lucas’ first choice to play Doctor Jones.
Auditions for Indiana Jones – Harrison’s Not on the List
Mind you, Steven Spielberg – right from the get-go – had pushed for Ford to play this part. The way I hear it, Lucas showed Spielberg a work-in-progress cut of “The Empire Strikes Back.” And Steven was so taken with Harrison’s performance as Han Solo in that Irwin Kershner film that he immediately began pushing for Ford to be cast as Doctor Jones.
Whereas Mr. Lucas … I mean, it wasn’t that George had anything against Harrison. What with Ford’s performances first in “American Grafitti” and then in “A New Hope,” these two already had a comfortable working relationship.
But that said, Lucas was genuinely leery of … Well, the sort of creative collaboration that Martin Scorcese and Robert DeNiro. Where one actor & one director repeatedly worked together. To George’s way of thinking, that was a risky path to follow. Hitching your wagon to a single star.
Which is why – when auditions got underway for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1979 — Mike Fenton basically brought in every big performer of that era to read for Dr. Jones except Harrison Ford. We’re talking:
- Steve Martin
- Chevy Chase
- Bill Murray
- Jack Nicholson
- Peter Coyote
- Nick Nolte
- Sam Elliot
- Tim Matheson
- and Harry Hamlin
Casting a Comedian for Indiana Jones
Please note that there are a lot of comedians on this list. That’s because – while “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was in development — Spielberg was directed his epic WWII comedy, “1941.” And for a while there, Steve & George were genuinely uncertain about whether the movie that they were about to make would be a sincere valentine to the movie serials of the 1930s & the 1940s or more of a spoof.
It’s worth noting here that three of the more ridiculous set pieces found in “Temple of Doom” …
- the shoot-out at Club Obi Wan in Shanghai
- Indy, Willie & Short Round surviving that plane crash by throwing an inflatable life raft out of the cargo hatch
- and that film’s mine cart chase (which was not only inspired by Disney theme park favorites the Matterhorn Bobsleds & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but some of the sound effects that you hear in this portion of “Temple of Doom” were actually recorded after hours at Disneyland inside of these very same attractions)
… all originally supposed to be in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I’ve actually got a copy of the very first version of the screenplay that Lawrence Kasdan wrote for the first “Indy” movie where all three of these big action set pieces were supposed to be part of the story that “Raiders” told. And I have to tell you that this early iteration of the “Raiders” screenplay really does read more like a spoof of serials than a sincere, loving salute to this specific style of cinema.
Casting Indiana Jones – Jeff or Tom
Anyway … Back now to the casting of the male lead for “Raiders” … After seeing virtually every actor out in LA while looking for just the right performer to portray Indiana Jones, it all came down to two guys:
- Jeff Bridges
- and Tom Selleck
Jeff Bridges as Indiana Jones
Mike Fenton was heavily pushing for Jeff Bridges. Having already appeared with Clint Eastwood in 1974’s “Thunderbolt & Lightfoot” (Not to mention that “King Kong” remake from 1976), Bridges was a known quantity. But what Fenton liked especially liked about Bridges when it came to “Raiders” was … Well, at that time, Jeff was just coming off “Heaven’s Gate.”
Mind you, nowadays, because we’ve all now had the luxury of seeing the director’s cut of this Michael Cimino movie, we recognize “Heaven’s Gate” for the cinematic masterpiece that it is. But 40+ years ago, that honestly wasn’t the case. All audiences had to judge this movie by was the severely truncated version that United Artists sent out into theaters. Which – because “Heaven’s Gate” had cost $44 million to make and only sold $3.5 million of tickets – then became the textbook example of Hollywood excess.
Long story short: Given that being associated with “Heaven’s Gate” had somewhat dinged Bridges’ reputation for being a marketable star (i.e., a performer that people would pay good money to see up on the big screen), Jeff was now looking to appear in something highly commercial. And the idea of playing the lead in a film directed by Steven Spielberg (the “Jaws” & “Close Encounter” guy) and produced by George Lucas (Mr. “Star Wars”) was very, very appealing at that time. Bridges was even willing to sign a contract with Spielberg & Lucas that would have then roped him into not only playing Indiana Jones in “Raider of the Lost Ark” but also to appear as this very same character in two yet-to-be-written sequels.
Better yet, because “Heaven’s Gate” had temporarily dimmed Bridges’ star status, Jeff was also willing to sign on to do the first “Indy” film for well below his usual quote. With the understanding that – should “Raiders of the Lost Ark” succeed at the box office – Bridges would then be paid far more to appear in this film’s two sequels.
That seemed like a very solid plan for “Raiders.” Landing a known movie star to play the lead in this action-adventure at a bargain price.
Ah, but standing in Mike Fenton’s way was Marcia Lucas.
Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones
Marcia Lucas, who had seen Tom Selleck’s audition for “Raiders” (And you can see it as well. Just go to Google and type in “Tom Selleck” and “Indiana Jones.” And if you dig around for a bit, you’ll then see a feature that Lucas & Spielberg shot for “Entertainment Tonight” back in 2008 [This story was done in support of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”]. And as part of this piece, George and Steve share Tom’s original audition for “Raiders.” And what’s genuinely fascinating about this footage is that Selleck’s scene partner is Sean Young. Who – at that time, anyway – was up for the role of Marion Ravenwood) and kept telling her husband, “You should cast this guy. He’s going to be a big star someday.”
And given that George was smart enough to regularly heed Marcia Lucas’ advice (She had made invaluable suggestions when it came to the editing of “American Graffiti” and the original “Star Wars.” Not to downplay George Lucas’ cinematic legacy, but Marcia Lucas was a world-class storyteller in and of her own right), Lucas then reached out to Spielberg and persuaded him that they should cast relative unknown Tom Selleck as Doctor Jones over the already well-known Jeff Bridges.
Now don’t feel too bad for Jeff Bridges. When he lost out on playing the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Jeff then accepted a role in the very next, high profile, sure-to-be-commercial project that came along. Which turned out to be Disney’s very first “TRON” movie. Which was eventually released to theaters on July 9, 1982.
Back to Tom Selleck now … You have to remember that – back then – Selleck was the handsome guy who’d already shot pilots for six different shows that then hadn’t gone to series. Which was why Tom was stuck being the guest star on shows like “The Fall Guy” and “Taxi.” Whereas once word got out around town that Selleck was supposed to play the lead in a project that Spielberg was directed & Lucas was producing … Well, this is when CBS decided that they’d now take the most recent pilot that Tom had shot and then go to series with this show.
That program was – of course – the original “Magnum PI.” And it’s at this point where our story started to get complicated.
“Magnum PI” – Two Out of Three Say “Yes”
Okay. During the first season of a TV show, it’s traditionally the network – rather than the production company (which – in this case – was Glen A. Larson Productions. The company behind the original versions of “Battlestar Galactica” & “Knight Rider”) or the studio where this series is actually being shot (which – in this case – was Universal Television) that has all the power. And in this particular case, the network execs who were pulling all the strings behind-the-scenes worked for CBS.
And when it came to the first season of “Magnum PI,” CBS had a deal with Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television which stated that the talent which had been contracted to appear in this new action drama would then be available for the production of at least 13 episodes with an option to shoot an additional 9 episodes (This is known in the industry as the back nine. As in: the last nine holes of a golf course).
Anyway, if you take those initial 13 episodes and then tack on the back nine, you then get 22 episodes total. Which – back in the late 1970s / early 1980s, anyway – was what a full season of a network television show typically consisted of.
Anyway … The contract that Selleck had signed with Glen A. Larson Productions, Universal Television & CBS stated that he had to be available when production of Season One of “Magnum PI” began in March of 1980. More to the point, Tom also had to be available should CBS exercise its option to air 22 episodes of this new series on that television network over the course of “Magnum PI” ‘s first season.
Which then made things complicated for George Lucas & Steven Spielberg because … Well, in order for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to make its June 12, 1981 release date, that then meant that production of the first “Indy” movie would have to get underway no later than June 23, 1980.
But here’s the thing: Production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was scheduled to run through the first week of July of that same year (1980). So in order for Tom Selleck to play Indiana Jones in “Raiders,” he was going to need to be wrapped on production of “Magnum PI” by June 22, 1980 at the absolute latest.
So Spielberg & Lucas went to Glen A. Larsons Productions and asked if Selleck could please be sprung from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligations by June 22nd. And they said “Yes.” Then Steven & George went to Universal Television and asked executives there for their help in clearing Tom’s schedule so that he’d then be available to start work on “Raiders.” And they say “Yes” as well.
Spielberg & Lucas now go to CBS. But instead of the quick “Yeses” that they got from officials at Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television, it takes those suits at the Tiffany Network weeks before they then decided to say “No, they couldn’t release Tom Selleck early to go work on ‘Raiders’ “ because …
I’ve never really been able to get a straight answer here as to why CBS execs dug in their heels here. Why they flat-out refused to release Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation and allow him to go shoot “Raiders.”
Payback from “The Star Wars Holiday Special” Trash Talk
That said, it is worth noting that “The Star Wars Holiday Special” aired on CBS back in November of 1978. And given that – in the years that followed — Lucas wasn’t exactly shy when it came to saying how much he hated that two hour-long presentation (Or – for that matter – how George really regretted caving into the requests of CBS execs. Who had insisted that television stars long associated with the Tiffany Network – people like Art Carney, Harvey Korman & Bea Arthur – be given prominent guest starring roles in “The Star Wars Holiday Special”). And I’ve heard whispers over the years that CBS executives preventing Tom Selleck from appearing in “Raiders” could be interpreted as the Tiffany Network getting some payback for what George had said publicly about the “Star Wars Holiday Special.”
Harrison Ford Comes to Rescue “Indiana Jones”
Anyway … It’s now literally just weeks before production of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is supposed to begin and Spielberg & Lucas have just learned that that they’ve lost their film’s star. CBS is flat-out refusing to release Tom Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation. So Steven & George now have to find someone else to play Indy … and fast.
The real irony here is … The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists would go on strike in the Summer of 1980. Which then shut prematurely shut down production of the first season of “Magnum PI.” (As a direct result, the first full season of this action drama to air on CBS only had 18 episodes, rather than the usual 22). And because this job action lasted ‘til October 23rd of that same year … Well, this meant that Tom Selleck would have actually been free to start shooting “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on June 23, 1980 because production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was already shut down by then due to that AFTRA strike.
But no one knew – in May of 1980, anyway – that this job action was going to happen in just a few weeks. All that Steven Spielberg & George Lucas knew was that they now needed a new lead actor for “Raiders.” And circling back on Jeff Bridges was no longer an option. As I mentioned earlier, Jeff had agreed to do “TRON” for Disney. And – in the interim – Bridges gone off to shoot “Cutter’s Way” for MGM / UA.
So this is where Harrison Ford enters the equation. As he recalls:
In May of 1980, I get a call from George Lucas. Who says ‘I’m messaging a script over to you this morning. As soon as it gets there, I need you to immediately read this script. Then – as soon as you’re done – I need you to call.
So the script arrives and it’s for ‘Raiders.’ I read it and it’s good. So I call George back and say ‘It’s good.’ And he then says ‘Would you be interested in playing Indy?’ I say that it looks like it would be a fun part to play.
George then says ‘ That’s great to hear. Because we start shooting in four weeks. Now I need you to meet with Steven Spielberg today and convince him that you’re the right guy to play Indy.’
Of course, given that Spielberg had been pushing for Ford to pay Indy ever since he had first seen that work-in-progress version of “The Empire Strikes Back” … Well, Harrison’s meeting with Steven was very, very short. And just a few weeks later, Spielberg, Lucas & Ford were all at the Port de la Pallice in La Rochelle. Where – on the very first day of shooting on “Raiders” (which – again – was June 23, 1980)– the scene that was shot was the one where that Nazi sub (the one that Indy had lashed himself to its periscope by using his bullwhip as a rope) was arriving at its secret base.
And all of this happened because Harrison immediately agreed to do “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when the part of Indy was first offered to him in mid-May of 1980.
Before “Star Wars” was “Star Wars”
So why such a quick yes? Well, you have to remember that “Empire Strikes Back” wouldn’t be released to theaters ‘til May 21, 1980. And no one knew at that time whether this sequel to the original “Star Wars” would do as well at the box office as “A New Hope” had back in 1977 (FYI: “Empire” would eventually sell over $500 million worth of tickets worldwide. Which is roughly two thirds of what the original “Star Wars” earned three years earlier).
More to the point, the four films that Harrison had shot right after “A New Hope” / prior to “Empire Strikes Back” (i.e., “Heroes” AND “Force 10 from Navarone” AND “Hanover Street” AND “The Frisco Kid”) had all under-performed at the box office. So to Ford’s way of thinking, taking on a role that Tom Selleck was no longer available to play – one that had the potential of spawning two sequels – seemed like a very smart thing to do. Especially after three years of cinematic stumbles.
By the way, whenever this topic ever comes up, Harrison Ford is very gracious. He always makes a point of saying that he’s grateful to have gotten this career opportunity. More to the point, that he still feels kind of bad that Tom Selleck never got the chance to play this part.
Tom Selleck After “Indiana Jones”
That said, we shouldn’t feel too bad for Tom Selleck. After all, the original “Magnum PI” proved to be a long running hit for CBS. And in an effort to smooth over any residual bad feelings that may have resulted from Tom being forced to give up “Raiders” back in May of 1980, Selleck was eventually allowed to create his own production company (i.e., T.W.S. Productions, Inc. As in Thomas William Selleck Productions). Which – after the fact – was then cut in on some of those “Magnum PI” -related revenue streams.
More to the point, while “Magnum PI” was on hiatus following its second year in production, Selleck flew off to Yugoslavia. Where he then shot his own Indiana Jones-esque film for theatrical release. Which was called “High Road to China” in the States, but – overseas – was promoted as “Raiders of the End of the World.”
FYI: Warner Bros. released “High Road to China” stateside 40 years ago this year. On March 18, 1983, to be exact. It didn’t do all that great at the box office. $28 million in ticket sales versus $15 million in production costs.
And over the years, there’s even been some talk of finding a way to maybe set things right here. By that I mean: Finally finding a way to officially fold Tom Selleck into the world of Indiana Jones.
Could Tom Selleck Work with Indiana Jones?
The way I hear it, between the time when “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was theatrically released in May of 1989 and when “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” debuted in May of 2008, there were a number of ideas for Indiana Jones sequels tossed around. And from what I’ve been told, there was at least one treatment for a fourth Indiana Jones film written that proposed pairing up Harrison Ford & Tom Selleck. With the idea here being that Selleck was supposed to have played Ford’s brother.
Obviously that film was never made. And – no – I don’t know what state Indiana Jones’ brother was supposed to be named after.
Will “Metro” – that “Cars” Spin-Off Which Disney Developed – Ever Get Made?
First came “Cars” in June of 2006.
This Pixar Animation Studios production did so well (Of all the high grossing films released that year, “Cars” was No. 2 at the box office. Only “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” sold more tickets in 2006) that Disney execs asked John Lasseter to develop a sequel.
“Cars 2” came out in June of 2011 and also did quite well at the box office (It took the No. 7 slot in the Top-Ten-for-ticket-sales that year). Which is why Disney then asked Pixar to prep a follow-up film.
“Cars 3” would eventually arrive in theaters in June of 2017. But in the meantime, Disney & Pixar began exploring the idea of expanding this film franchise. Largely because the amount of money that the Mouse was making off of the sales of “Cars” -related merchandise was … To be blunt here, mind boggling.
Don’t believe me? Well, then consider this: In just the first five years that the “Cars” film franchise existed, global retail sales of merchandise related to these Pixar movies approached $10 billion. That’s billion with a “B.”
So is it any wonder that – while Pixar was still trying to get a handle on what “Cars 3” would actually be about – the Mouse (through its DisneyToon Studios arm. Which produced home premieres like those “TinkerBell” movies) began actively looking into ways to expand this lucrative franchise?
“Planes” – The First “Cars” Spin-Off
The first “Cars” spin-off to arrive in the marketplace was “Planes.” This Klay Hall film (which was set in “The World Above Cars”) was released theatrically in August of 2013, with the Blu-ray & DVD version of “Planes” hitting store shelves in November of that same year.
“Planes: Fire and Rescue” followed in the Summer of 2014. And while a “Planes 3” was definitely put in development (At the Disney Animation panel at the 2017 D23 Expo, John Lasseter not only shared a clip from this film. But he also revealed that this project – which, at that time, was entitled “Space” – was slated to be released theatrically in April of 2019) … This animated feature was abruptly cancelled when DisneyToon Studios was shuttered in June of 2018.
But wait. There’s more … In addition to the aborted “Planes 3,” Disney had other “Cars” spin-offs in the works. One was supposed to be built around boats. While yet another was supposed to have shined a spotlight on trucks.
“Metro” – The World Below Cars
And then there was “Metro.” Which was supposed to have been set in the inner city and focused on what went on in “The World Below Cars.” As in: Down in the subway system.
Just in the past week or so, a few pieces of concept art for “Metro” have surfaced online. Giving us all an intriguing look at what might have been. These preproduction paintings suggest that this “Cars” spin-off would be far grittier than … Say … the sort of adventures that Lightning McQueen & Mater would typically have out in Radiator Springs.
That said, it’s worth noting here that – just in the past year or so – we’ve seen Disney & Pixar attempt to expand the turf that these two characters could comfortably cover. Take – for example — “Cars on the Road,” that nine-part series which debuted on Disney+ back in September of last year. This collection of animated shorts literally sent Lightning McQueen & Mater off on a road trip.
So who knows?
Given that Bob Iger (at Disney’s quarterly earnings call held earlier this week) revealed that the Company now has sequels in the works for “Frozen,” “Toy Story,” and “Zootopia” … Well, is it really all that far-fetched to think that – at some point further on down the road – Disney & Pixar will put yet another sequel to “Cars” in the works?
One that might send Lightning McQueen & Mater off to explore the gritty inner-city world that we glimpsed in all that concept art for “Metro,” that never-produced “Cars” spin-off.
Time will tell.
Park’s Closed: “Vacation ’58” Inspired by Seasonal Closing at Disneyland
This year is the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” Warner Bros. released this Harold Ramis movie to theaters back in July of 1983.
John Hughes adapted his own short story (i.e., “Vacation ’58,” which had run in “National Lampoon” magazine less than four years earlier. The September 1979 issue, to be exact) to the screen.
Key difference between “Vacation ‘58” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” is that the movie follows the Griswold family on their epic journey to Walley World. Whereas the short story that Hughes wrote (i.e., “Vacation ‘58”) follows an unnamed family to a different theme park. The actual Disneyland in Anaheim.
Let me remove any doubt here. Here’s the actual opening line to John Hughes’ “Vacation ’58.”
What’s kind of intriguing about the plot complication that sets Act 3 of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in motion (i.e., that – just as the Grisworld arrive at Walley World [after a harrowing cross-country journey] – they discover that “America’s favorite family fun park” is closed for two weeks for cleaning and to make repairs) is that … Well, it’s based on something that Hughes learned about the real Disneyland. That – from 1958 through 1985 [a total of 27 years] the Happiest Place on Earth used to close two days a week during the slower times of year. To be specific, Mondays & Tuesday in the Fall & early Winter as well as in the late Winter / early Spring.
Want to stress here: Two days a week versus the two weeks each year in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
When Did Disneyland Start Opening 7-Days a Week?
It wasn’t ‘til February 6, 1985 that Disneyland Park formally switched to being a seven-day-a-week operation. This was just four months after Michael Eisner had become Disney’s new CEO. And part of his effort to get as much profit as possible out of Disney’s theme parks.
Which is a trifle ironic. Given that – back in December of 1958 – Disneyland deliberately switched over to an open-five-days-a-week-during-the-off-season schedule in an effort to get Anaheim’s operating costs under control. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Early Disneyland Operations – Ticket Books and Ticket Booths
So let’s start with the obvious: When Disneyland Park first opened in July of 1955, there had never been one of these before. So the Happiest Place on Earth was a learn-as-you-go operation.
So things that are now closely associated with a visit to Disneyland back in the day (EX: Having to purchase a book of tickets before you entered that theme park. Which then pushed Guests to go seek out various A, B, C & D Ticket attractions around the grounds) … Well, that form of admission media didn’t come online ‘til October 11, 1955. Some three months after Disneyland Park first open.
Prior to this, if you wanted to go on a ride at Disneyland, you had to first get on line at one of the Park’s omni-present ticket booth. Once you got to the front of that line, you then had to open your wallet and purchase enough tickets for your entire family to enjoy that attraction. Only then could you go over to the actual attraction and get in line for that experience. Where – just before boarding that ride – you then surrendered that ticket.
Disney Parks Getting Too Expensive
Interesting side note: It’s now an established part of the on-going Disney theme park narrative that “Going to the Parks has just gotten to be too expensive and/or complicated,” what with the institution of Lightning Lane and then forcing people to use virtual queues if they want to experience newer attractions at the Parks like “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind” at Epcot or “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” out in Anaheim.
Walt Fixes “Expensive” Impression
What fascinates me about the parallels here is that … When Walt began to see the same thing bubble up in press coverage for his new family fun park (i.e., All of those Summer-of-1955 stories in newspapers & magazines about how expensive it was to visit Disneyland. How – whenever a Guest visited this place – they were constantly being forced to repeatedly open their wallet), his immediate reaction was “We need to fix this now. I don’t want people coming away from their visit to Disneyland with this impression.” And by October 11, 1955 (less than 3 months after Disneyland Park first opened), they had a fix in place.
Lightning Lane – Raising Prices
Counter this with Lightning Lane. Which was first introduced at Walt Disney World in October of 2021. Which has gotten miserable press since Day One (and is a large part of people’s growing perception that it’s just gotten too expensive to take their family on vacation to WDW). Disney Corporate knows about this (hence the number of times questions about this perception has bubbled up in recent surveys that Resort has sent out).
And what does the Company do with this info? During the 2022 holiday season, Disney Parks actually raised the prices on individual Lightning Lanes for popular attractions like “Rise of the Resistance” to $22 a person.
Conclusion: Disney knows about all the bad press the Resort is getting lately but doesn’t care. They like all of the short-term money that Lightning Lane is pulling in right now and are deliberately overlooking all of the long-term implications of the narrative getting out there that going to WDW is getting too expensive.
“Spend Dollars to Get People Back” – Disney Cutting Corners on Projects
Which reminds me of something Walt once said when an Imagineer suggested that the Company could save a few bucks by cutting corners on a particular project: “If people ever stop coming to the Park because they think we cut corners on a project, the few cents we saved ultimately aren’t going to matter. We’re then going to have to spend dollars to get those people back.”
That’s what worries me about Disney’s current situation. What’s the Company ultimately going to have to do convince those people who now think that a trip to WDW has just gotten too expensive for the family to come back.
Disneyland Parking Closing on Mondays & Tuesdays
Back to Disneyland Park closing on Mondays & Tuesdays during the off-season … When did this practice start? Let me share something that I just found in the 1958 edition of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. This document (which was published on December 23, 1958) states that:
So – reading between the lines here – in Disneyland’s second year of operation (July 1956 – June 1957), the folks down in Anaheim experimented with keeping Walt’s family fun park open six days a week during the slower times of the year. Which – I’m told – resulted in all sort of angry people at the entrance of Disneyland’s parking lot. Who had to drive down to Anaheim for the day to experience the Happiest Place on Earth only to find said place closed.
Okay. So for Disneyland’s third year of operation (July 1957 – June 1958) on Walt’s orders, Disneyland is then kept open seven days a week all year long. Which proves to be a problem on the off-season, given that there are days in the late Fall / early Spring when there are more Cast Members working in the Park than there are Guests coming through the turnstiles.
Which explains this line in the 1958 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. Which – again – I remind you was published on December 23rd of that year:
So did this change in the way that Disneyland Park ultimately operated off-season ultimately work out? Let’s jump ahead to the 1959 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. In that document (which was also published on December 23rd of that year) states that:
Making it Right for the Disneyland Hotel
Okay. So this change in the way that Disneyland Park operated during the off-season made things easier for Walt and Disney’s book-keepers back in Burbank. But what about Jack Wrather, the guy that Walt went to back in the Late Winter / Early Spring of 1955 and begged & pleaded for Wrather to build a hotel right next to Disneyland Park?
What happened to the Disneyland Hotel in late 1958 / early 1959 when – in the off-season – Disneyland Park goes to just a five-day-a-week operating schedule? At this point, the Disneyland Hotel is the largest hotel in all of Orange County with over 300 rooms.
It’s at this point that Walt personally reaches out to Jack and says “I know, I know. This operational change at the Park is going to affect your bottom line at the Hotel. Don’t fret. I’m definitely going to make this worth your while.”
Extending the Monorail to the Disneyland Hotel
And Walt followed through on that promise. In June of 1961, he extended Disneyland’s monorail system by a full 2 & a half miles so that this futuristic transportation system rolled right up to the Disneyland Hotel’s front door. Which was a perk that no other hotel in Orange County had.
And just in case you’re wondering: The cost of extending Disneyland’s monorail system over to the Disneyland Hotel was $1.9 million (That’s $19 million in 2023 money).
Magic Kingdom Golf Course at Disneyland Hotel
That very same year, Walt had some of his staff artists design a miniature golf course that could then be built on the grounds of the Disneyland Hotel. This kid-friendly area (called the Magic Kingdom Golf Course) featured elaborately themed holes with recreations of attractions that could be found right next door at Disneyland Park.
- Hole No. Three was Sleeping Beauty Castle
- Hole No. Five was Matterhorn Mountain
Other holes featured recreations of popular Disneyland attractions of the 1960s. Among them the TWA Moonliner, the Submarine Voyage, the Painted Desert from Frontierland (this is the area Guests traveled through when they experienced Disneyland”s “Mine Train thru Nature’s Wonderland” attraction), Tom Sawyer Island, the Fort in Frontierland, not to mention Skull Rock as well as Monstro the Whale from Disneyland’s Fantasyland.
This area was specially illuminated for night-time play. Which meant that the Magic Kingdom Golf Course at the Disneyland Hotel could operate from 10 a.m. in the morning ‘til 10 p.m. a night seven days a week.
Additional Disneyland Hotel Expansion and Offerings
It’s worth noting here that – from the moment the monorail was connected to The Disneyland Hotel – that hotel achieved 100% occupancy. Which is why – even after Disneyland Park switched to a 5-day-a-week operating schedule during the off-season – Disneyland Hotel launched into an aggressive expansion plan. With its 11 story-tall Sierra Tower breaking ground in 1961 (it opened the following year in September of 1962). Not to mention adding all sort of restaurants & shops to the area surrounding that hotel’s Olympic-sized pool.
All of which came in handy during those Mondays & Tuesdays during the Winter Months when people were staying at the Disneyland Hotel and had nowhere to go on those days when the Happiest Place on Earth was closed.
It’s worth noting here that the Disneyland Hotel (with Walt’s permission, by the way) on those days when Disneyland was closed would offer its Guests the opportunity to visit Knott’s Berry Farm as well as Universal Studios Hollywood. A Gray Line Bus would pull up in front of that hotel several times a day offering round-trip transportation to both of those Southern California attractions.
Likewise the Japanese Village and Deer Park over Buena Park. It was a different time. Back when Disney prided itself in being a good neighbor. Back when the Mouse didn’t have to have ALL of the money when it came to the Southern California tourism market. When there was plenty to go around for everyone.
Walley World Shooting Locations
And back to “National Lampoon’s Vacation”… The Walley World stuff was all shot at two Southern California attractions.
The scenes set in the parking lot at Walley World as well as at the entrance of that fictious theme park were shot in the parking lot & entrance of Santa Anita Race Track (Horse Track).
Any scene that’s supposed to be inside of the actual Walley World theme park was shot at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
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