"Fool's Gold" is set in the Caribbean and the original plan was also to shoot the movie there. However, certain logistical concerns, not to mention the impending hurricane season, forced the filmmakers to change the plan. They eventually found everything they needed in and around Queensland, Australia. Filming took place in Port Douglas, Lizard Island, the Whitsundays and the Gold Coast.
Production designer Charles Wood notes, "Andy had his heart set on the movie being set in the Caribbean. So once we knew we would be filming in Australia, I had to replicate the look of the islands there. We looked for similar environments on the coast of Australia and then a major part of my job was to capture the essence of the Caribbean."
Andy Tennant comments, "As a director, you have to trust that a production designer is going to somehow interpret your vision, and Charles Wood was equally invested in all the details and the nuances of the story. He is as meticulous as you could ever want a production designer to be, and he has the talent to back it up."
Wood traveled to St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John islands to research the designs and to get a feel for the overall atmosphere there. To design the Queen's Dowry, he also spent a considerable amount of time at the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum in Key West, Florida, which boasts an extraordinary collection of treasures, documents and other relics dating back hundreds of years. The designer says the visit was invaluable because "I could see actual Spanish treasure and understand exactly how it would look. It's all been very well documented through illustrations and photography, so it allowed us to make the treasure as detailed and accurate as possible."
Real-life treasure hunters spend much of their time exploring the ocean depths, so much of the action in "Fool's Gold" takes place near, on or under the water, which came with its own inherent set of challenges. Tennant remarks, "Everyone told me working on water is tough, and it is. The weather changes in an instant, the skies change, the water changes, things can even sink. You've got to anticipate that things will go wrong and be prepared. In these situations, the team you put together makes or breaks you and I was extremely fortunate to have (director of photography) Don Burgess, who worked on films like 'Cast Away' and 'Forrest Gump' and knows about working on water. He was an incredible asset."
Donald De Line, who was on set throughout production, adds, "I think the biggest challenge in moviemaking is filming on water so that was a major concern. You can spend lots of time planning everything, but in the end you're at the mercy of the elements and things don't always go right. We were shooting from boat to boat, from air to boats, from land to boats…every variation you could think of. Everything had to be carefully choreographed. Luckily, we had an amazing marine coordinator named Lance Julian."
Julian was responsible for gathering the flotilla of boats used in the production, including the few seen on camera, as well as the dozens more that were utilized as camera boats, transport boats and dive boats. One of his most important finds was the 140-foot yacht that doubled as Nigel Honeycutt's luxurious Precious Gem. The right ship was ultimately found in Fiji, and Charles Wood says it fit the bill perfectly. "We needed it to have multiple decks and have a diving area off the stern and this one had it all. It's not easy to find boats of that scale that are available for this kind of work, so we were lucky to find one that was close to Australian waters and one that the owner would allow us to film on."
"I know if I owned a yacht like that, the last thing I would do would be to let a movie crew on board," Tennant laughs. "It's a beautiful boat and we really appreciated that they let us take it over for all that time."
For the cast, working on water meant the first order of business was getting their diving certifications. Veteran stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell (the "Matrix" sequels, "Superman Returns") offers, "We had extensive water sequences, so everybody had to go through the certification process. The biggest thing was to teach them the basic mechanics and walk them through all the safety procedures so we could get their comfort levels up to a certain point, which was different for everybody. Matthew is a natural athlete and a very quick study. He really can do everything that's asked of him. For a stunt coordinator, he's a godsend. I had never worked with Kate before, but she's a good listener and asks all the right questions. She learns what needs to be done and then goes right at it."
McConaughey, who already had his dive certification, took it to the next level, earning his advanced certificate during the course of production. For most of the cast, however, it was a new world.
Hudson remarks, "It was a great bonding experience for the actors because we all got to dive together, which was pretty cool. It's one of those situations where you have to learn to trust one another in an environment where you really need to trust somebody the most."
Dive master Tye Zinck, who oversaw the film's diving operations and water safety, reveals, "They all turned out to be good divers, which was a little surprising because we were taking people with little or no diving experience and pretty much throwing them into an underwater setting. Matthew, of course, was already a diver and very strong in the water--no worries about him at all. Kate was a little apprehensive at first, but as soon as she saw what was down there, she was totally exhilarated. She made it look like she'd been doing it all her life."
"I thought it was going to be easier than it was," Hudson admits. "When I had my first real dive, I was terrified to get into the water, but the marine crew and all the dive masters were amazing. And once you get down there, it's just incredible. I mean, to be able to do my first dive on the Great Barrier Reef is mind-blowing. The sea life is phenomenal. It was like being in a whole other world. Now I'm in love with diving; I can't wait to get back in the water."
On the other hand, Kevin Hart contends that he was satisfied to admire the sea life…from afar. "The ocean is not my home. It is the home of sharks, jellyfish, stingrays--things that can basically kill you--and I do not want to trespass in their home. That's how I look at it. I don't care if everyone says it's the most beautiful water they've ever seen in their lives. I can see it from on top of the boat. Always on the boat," he says only half-jokingly.
Of course, safety was a top priority, and the cast was always surrounded by professional divers ready to move in at the first sign of trouble…or unwelcome aquatic sightseers. In fact, an unexpected influx of the deadly Irukandji jellyfish, which are native to northern Australian waters, did force everyone out of the water and halted filming for a time. When the jellyfish showed no intention of leaving, the production briefly moved to real Caribbean waters to complete those scenes.
"You never know what Mother Nature is going to do when you're out in the middle of the ocean," McConaughey attests. "As beautiful as the locations are, there is also danger, whether it's the wind or the waves or those dreaded jellyfish. But there's nothing you can do about it, so you just have to work with it."
Nevertheless, certain underwater sequences in the film required a more controlled environment than the open ocean could provide. Unfortunately, there was no water tank in Queensland, so the decision was made to build one. Wood notes, "I've done some underwater work, but nothing on this scale so building the tank was new territory for me. I worked very closely with my art director, Peter Russell, who has a strong engineering background and was incredibly helpful in the process. We also worked in conjunction with several local contractors who came in and gave us great advice."
The first question was size. Wood explains, "What initially set the scale for the tank was the sinking of Finn's boat, the Booty Calls, which was one of the first scenes to be shot in it. We knew the boat was 40 feet long and we needed 20 feet on each side of it to give ourselves enough clearance."
The resulting dimensions of the tank were 140 feet long and 100 feet wide, with a minimum depth of 16 feet and a maximum depth of 21 feet. It could hold 7.2 million liters of water, making it, by Wood's estimation "the largest tank in the southern hemisphere and one of the largest in the world."
The construction of the tank was only the beginning. "The maintenance and running of the tank was far more complex," states Wood. "The filtration and heating systems were huge issues in their own right. I mean, we could build whatever we wanted in the tank, but if the water wasn't clear enough to film in it, it would be problematic for all of us."
"Having the tank was amazing," states Tennant. "One day, we shot the sunken boat at the bottom of the tank. Then we went away and came back and there was an entirely different set ready to go. Then the actors got in and I got in and we all got to play under water," he smiles.
"Part of the reason I love making movies is the opportunity to have new experiences, and on this film I was able to do so many things I've never done before," the director reflects. "I got to work in Australia and shoot under water and do some big action sequences. It was a great time."
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