- by Don Hubbard
Ships-in-bottles have finally made the big time. They are going to appear in a new movie by Robert DeNiro entitled, “The Good Shepherd.” The movie should hit the theaters sometime in late 2006. For those who follow the stars this new flick will feature DeNiro, Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon and Eddie Redmayne (The last two will be doing the bottling). Also starring are Timothy Hutton, Alec Baldwin, Joe Pesci and William Hurt.
Here is the synopsis. The movie follows Matt Damon’s life (as Edward Wilson) for 40 years during the early years of the CIA. At home, Edward Wilson has a hobby of putting ships into bottles. The time period is about 1935 to 1961.
Now to answer the questions. How come I know all this stuff? Well. In late June, I received an e-mail from one Russell Bobbitt, the property master for the picture, wanting help with props for the bottling scenes. I talked to him for a bit, sent him a copy of my book, and then set my own mind to whirling. How could we help this guy? It is funny how serendipitous things happen, but just the next day I received an email from Terry Butler, our lady builder in Tennessee, telling me that she was going to progress into scrimshaw for a bit, but not before she finished bottling some twelve models that she had in various stages of completion. Yippee, I thought, just what is needed. God is being good to me. So I called Terry. Told her not to complete the models and asking for permission to have Mr. Bobbitt get in touch with her. Step one complete!
Step Two: June 22 her phone rings. Mr. Bobbitt is on the line. Would Terry rent the studio her personal ship-in-bottle collection and sell them all models in progress? Could she come to New York with some models ready for bottling and show Matt Damon how the procedure worked, and by the way, could she make three models of the Flying Dutchman for the show? Deadline: a couple of weeks for that time. Bless her courageous heart, she agreed and hopefully she thought she could have things ready to go on time.
(Two things she did to help speed things up. She contacted our president Jack Hinkley, who made the masts for her first three ships, and Charlie Long, in Texas, who made a putty tamper and knot tying tool which she used on the set.)
One immediate reward, they gave her extra dough to buy some new tools to use while making the show. Of course, the movie folks didn’t have a bottle chosen, so she took off flying in the blind. As all of you know, the three rules of ship bottling are: neck size, neck size, neck size! Flurry, flurry, time to hurry. The order of battle: get some idea about the Flying Dutchman form the web, look in The Ship, the big tome by Bjorn Landstom which has drawings of all types of ships dating from earliest time, find a good image of a Dutch Merchantman, make plans from it and then get building. Work, work, work; worry, worry, worry, worry, worry, insomnia, insomnia, but from little acorns – you know the rest. Then a blessing arrived. Damon is on another set so her New York arrival date is delayed. Breathing time! Phew!
Step Three: August 9, the first trip to New York with husband, Buck, and carry all the paraphernalia needed to set up bottling demonstrations and carry along her first three Dutchman models – the larger ones to be used for the close-up shots in scene two. New York City is where the filming will take place. The flight is delayed, but on arrival the guy with the sign “Terry Butler”, is still waiting, and they are escorted to their hotel. Terry is on payroll and the hotel room is pleasant and convenient. Within an hour it is off to the City Stages (being rented for the pre-filming activities such as costume screen tests), which Terry found crowded and hectic. Introductions all around and then on to demo the ship-bottling art for some of the actors and the film crew. Not surprisingly she began making friends with all hands and even became a minor celebrity among celebrities. Matt Damon was genuinely interested and a good student, even with no prior experience, so the sessions went smoothly.
To home again on the August 11th and a wait now until September 9th. Time to start five smaller Dutchman models to be used for scene two. Duplicates were made to keep the scene moving in case of breakage from all the takes and retakes. She also had to make four of a different model for a scene later in the movie. Terry has designed bottles to be blown in California (at a cost of $600 each) to fit the models in scene two, but two weeks later it was discovered those plans were lost in the mail and the bottles hadn’t even been started. This was a frustrating period. Time was running short and all suggestions are missing the mark. Russell Bobbitt is overworked and getting growly, Terry is getting upset, bottling time is drawing near – what to do? A few days before leaving the newly blown bottles arrive – DISASTER! The three bottles are terrible. Thick glass walls, lopsided, wrong size, bad job all around, unusable. Telephone calls back and forth to New York, Property Master grumpy and no help. Terry wanting to quit – but then she diplomatically e-mailed him and suggested that they go out together when she returned to New York and find a bottle there. Surely somewhere in the Big Apple there had to be a bottle shop. So on return they did just that. No luck!
But now I want Terry to tell you in her own language. This was an email she sent on returning home: “Now about the studio stuff. Friday they shot the 2nd ship scene (not the Flying Dutchman models I spent so much time on). That scene was with Eddy Redmayne doing the ship insertion and Matt (as his father) talking him through it. That scene needed a rewrite and they had me do it! They used the lines I gave them with one addition from Russell of ‘Watch the Bowsprit’ – a phrase he picked up from me when I was protecting the first three ship models on my first visit a month ago, in a very crowded studio. It was kind on fun rewriting part of a script. That scene went so well, and should look absolutely awesome on screen. The Waterwitch models for that performed flawlessly and were very photogenic from the side.
We thought that scene 2 would need to be postponed due to the bottle woes, since Mr. DeNiro didn’t like the bottles that were blown (neither did I). However we were able to resolve the problem in an unusual way. I had one of my ship models there that they had rented (along with my whole ship-in-bottle collection) that happened to have a wider opening. It was a larger apothecary bottle I found years ago and it already had a finished model IN it. For the sake of the scene, I cut away the forward rigging and got the ship out of the bottle (breaking the masts slightly in the effort) to clear the bottle for scene 2. That bottle was beautiful, already prepped, and it worked. However, we still had to use the slightly pared down models for the insertion scenes that were shot over and over. The larger models were used for the close up shots. They had to shoot that scene in small segments due to the model being far less cooperative for the actors and because it was a tighter fit, but it worked out. I still need to go back to N.Y. later to do some insert shorts showing just the bottle and the model (no hands), being finished up in the bottle. The shoot yesterday lasted over 15 hours and everyone was too tired for that sort of shot. Each segment was very time consuming. I had to stay put for most of the time, and barely was able to find time to eat or for bathroom breaks. It was a very busy day – mostly just tedious repetition. However, I think they got some very good takes that should fit together well and make for a decent scene all in all, after they get the insert shots to show a better finished model.”
This article appeared in The Bottle Shipwright, 2005-4 edition. The Bottle Shipwright is a journal of the Ships-In-Bottles Association of America, Inc.