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Adventures in Dominica
So little known is the "isle of beauty, isle of splendor,” as its national anthem justly boasts of the Commonwealth of Dominica, that some personal effects equipment of the company wound up in the more familiar, but very far-flung, Dominican Republic! Only 29 miles long and 16 miles wide, with a population of 71,000 souls, the former British colony—wedged between the French islands of Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south—has become an exciting new destination for adventurous eco-tourists, but is hardly developed for mass tourism…or, for that matter, filmmaking on a grand scale.

But after scouting the magisterial visual sites of the island, Gore Verbinski was determined that Dominica would provide the majority of the land-based Caribbean backdrops for DEAD MAN'S CHEST, and Jerry Bruckheimer was willing to back his director up so as to give the film a completely fresh look.

"We selected Dominica as a major location because it's beautiful and virtually untouched,” notes Bruckheimer. "Because it has such a jagged coastline, they can't get cruise ships in, which prevents the island from becoming overly developed. You're not seeing the same landscapes, jungles and mountains as you have in other movies. Dominica is one of the most picturesque places in the world, but totally undiscovered by filmmakers.” Verbinski and production designer Heinrichs decided that Dominica would serve as location for two major settings in DEAD MAN'S CHEST: the humorously terrifying native island and Isla Cruces, both wholly fictitious settings located only in the imagination of the filmmakers.

A large amount of the DEAD MAN'S CHEST action sequences take place on those locations, which meant that actors and stunt players would be performing their daring feats in difficult environments and intense heat. Perfect for a pirate movie!

"Dominica is a gorgeous island, but some of the amenities aren't there,” explains Jerry Bruckheimer. "We employed a lot of people on the island, and they were brilliant and wonderful to work with. But if a piece of equipment breaks down, it takes at least two days to get it replaced from off-island, so we had daunting production challenges. The hotels weren't exactly fancy, but everybody bonded together. It was like going to camp. A lot of cast and crew lived in cabins, slept in mosquito netting and had dinners on the beach. We really had to make do.”

"If Gore found a location that was inaccessible, that was usually his favorite one,” laughs executive producer Bruce Hendricks. "Dominica is what the Caribbean looked like 200 years ago. You needed the wildness and natural beauty that some of the more offbeat and remote places, like Dominica, offer. Gore, like any great director, pushes you to go a step beyond. The great ones have to be leading the charge up the hill, they have to be the ones with the vision to push frontiers and boundaries, both artistically and technically. A rational person would not go there, and they wouldn't take along 500 of their closest friends and hundreds of tons of equipment. It takes a purpose and single-mindedness to pull something off like that, and Gore is all of that, and more.”

"Dominica doesn't have a history of big film production,” adds Caribbean production supervisor Tom Hayslip. "They've hosted documentaries and nature films, but in terms of being able to handle the amount of people we had to bring in—just the accommodations alone—was a challenge for the island.” Adds first assistant director Peter Kohn (who later handed the reins of that position to second A.D. Dave Venghaus when the time came close for his wife to give birth to their new child), "Dominica has its own weather system. It rains in one part of the small island, and not in the other, and somehow it always seemed to rain on us!”


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