Starboy at the Pirates
“You know the man you’re with is a very bad man “. This was the description of my local fixer described by a local policeman. The man in question was a beaten up drug runner from “The bush “. He had allegedly been beaten up by the police on his latest run in with the law.
Things were slow in New York and we had a tip off that Johnny Depp was filming somewhere on St Vincent for a new movie in which he was going to be playing a pirate. I grabbed my luggage and took a flight down. I’d managed to get booked into a hotel that had some kind of landline to be able to send pictures. Back then finding a hotel with a fast line was priority.
Once on Cozumel near Mexico I had been charged $1600 for 6 hours to transmit 20 images, so I had learnt my lesson.
I had picked up a shitty Avis rental car from the airport and was pretty much good to go.
The hotel was far from luxury standards but if you wanted to make any money from the job, the last thing you do is stay in a $500 a night hotel for 8 nights when you might be lucky to even just re coup your expenses should you even get anything.
By sheer luck the hotel had the entire cast of the movie staying in it. Picture all the crew of “Black Pearl” sat at a bar. This is what I walked into!
Everyone was pissed off and disgruntled because they had been holed up in a hotel for 3 weeks. Whoever had planned the shoots had not anticipated it being rainy season.
The locals had taken to stealing everything that was not tied down on the set and in order for the cast to walk around town they would have police escorts because to many people were getting robbed for their money.
Driving around the Island was a bloody nightmare, kind of like a rally course. Driving from place to place felt like an eternity, and driving at night was just like playing Russian roulette.
From chatting with some of the cast I had managed to get an idea of roughly where the film sets were located around the Island.
The sets were pretty tight with security, but they instantly thought I was part of the crew so did not bother me too much.
I found a wooden shack selling Pepsi and decided to stake out from there and watch people coming and going from the set. The general idea was to just get a sense of how it was all working. What cars were bringing in the lead actors, this way I could get license plates and if I saw that car in town, or driving by on the Island I would be onto something.
From the shack you could not see anything, and due to constant theft from the set, security was pretty tight.
Now the last thing you ever do on these jobs is flash a camera at any time. Someone will always see you and word will get back to the wrong person. The basic law of pap was the camera never came out the bag until you saw the money shot!
You do not blow it on a bullshit picture and give the entire game away.
I decided to go take a drive and see if there was a high vantage point. Ideally lots of bush to hide in with a clear shot of the set, I would still need to shoot with an 800mm and crop in on the image but at least I would be able to shoot undetected.
As I was walking away from the shack a man shouts out to me and starts walking in a hurry towards my shitty rental car. “Can you give me a ride down the road? “I was cornered. He jumped into the front seat and spoke with a pure bushman accent. His face was pretty fucked up and he stank of weed.
His first question was “You with the film set? “ . Basically if you were white in these parts they thought you were with the film set.
Driving around I started to quiz him about the set and Johnny Depp and where he might be staying. It’s always worth a go. He had absolutely no idea who Johnny Depp was but then shouted “oh you mean Starboy?“
I described what he looked like and he said “Yer Star boy !“ ,So do you know where he is staying?
Yer of course man! I can show you.
We started to drive down this main road, he then said we needed to take this dirt track road to the left.
Now I’m starting to think, fuck I have no idea where I am and I’m driving down a dirt track into the middle of nowhere with a fucked up beaten faced bushman. Not the smartest play on my behalf.
To my relief, he points to a huge Yacht nestled within a cove. It’s probably about a mile from where we are. Not to many people have massive yachts around these parts so it was pretty safe to say he had just led me right to Star boy.
Their was no way in hell I would have ever found this spot.
So now the question! how do I get a picture of Star boy?
I tell the bushman that I’m a photographer and work for a magazine and have been hired to get some shots of Star boy without him knowing.
He turns around and says that he had done something similar for the British government in the past, helping a man who was hired to get pictures of local government officials. He points out that this man was shot when he was found out. Not the most re assuring.
I’m also worried that he thinks I’m actually a British spy and he does not want a repeat of what happened in the past.
Now the question of cost? The Bushman had somewhat of a reputation on the Island, I was soon to find out. He lived in the Bush and was a major drug supplier. So he was not going to just help me out for free.
We agreed upon $500.
I’d done jobs in the past where we had paid thousands to sources to give up information so $500 was not much to have someone sort everything out. He had already saved me a fortune just by showing me the Yacht location.
We started to put a plan into place.
We both knew that we could not travel by daylight to find a vantage point to shoot down into the yacht so it was going to have to be a 5am trek through a river.
There was a small wooden shack on the hill on stilts and my bushman friend happened to know the owner. He arranged a deal in which we would be able to use the shack in return for a pack of Marlboro Cigarettes. He had obviously read the art of the Deal!
You try doing this in the USA. Everyone thinks you’re going to make a million dollars from the pictures. They start to throw out crazy money figures to use their homes. People may go on and on about paparazzi being scum, but my experiences have shown me just how much that goes out the window when they can make a couple of thousand.
Driving back to my hotel was out of the question. It would mean a 3am wake up playing Russian roulette driving down dirt tracks in the dark.
We decided to pay off one of the shack owners by the cove. They very kindly let me use one of their beds and a bucket in the corner as a toilet. I had a bottle of water for everything else.
Bushman went off to party all night whilst I slept.
When I say slept I mean, one eye open all night worrying about what situation I had put myself into! He fell through the door at around 3am but come 5am he was wide awake and ready to go.
Pretty impressive really.
We started to walk through the river, holding my camera gear above my head until we hit a beach line near the stake out point. We were constantly worried about being spotted by someone on the Yacht.
White kid and bushman with bags walking along a beach at 5am would raise red flags for sure.
We reached the wooden shack and a dread locked man approached us and took the Cigarettes.
The shack was basically a bare room with nothing in it except a straw mat.
We settled in with a supply of weed and a bottle of water, pretty much everything you could ever need for a good stake out. The Paranoia alone would be enough to mess you up.
My binoculars were trained in on the yacht deck , whilst Bushman was skinning up ready for his long day ahead.
Now you know for sure they have binoculars, and any smart security team are going to be looking for any threats or paparazzi hiding in a bush.
A few hours go by and we finally start to see some movement on the Yacht.
You never really know what you’re going to see and the last thing you want to do is sweat your ass off in a wooden shack for days. God knows what would happen if bushman ran out of weed!
The crew on the yacht jump onto a small boat and head into the shore line. They literally came about 20ft from our stake out position. I started to shit myself as the last thing I wanted to do was get busted.
They did a pickup of some groceries and then went back to the Yacht.
Fuck there is Star boy! armed with tanning lotion and rolling papers
Sweat pouring from my hands , I stood at the back of the room shooting through the metal grate. Everything was handheld and holding these large lenses on their own for hours definitely gives you a work out. Fuck dumb bells and the gym!
I started to get some good stuff. Magazines would always be keen to have a topless star in their magazines. He is quite a bit of a sex symbol with the ladies so I knew I had a winner. Granted he was not dancing around in a pirate suit but from what I had heard from the crew that was very unlikely to happen with all the set back’s they were having.
A small boat with some kids approached the yacht and Star boy went down to greet them. They were just fans and he took the time to sign some pictures they gave him. This is very rare as most celebrities I know would have just told them to fuck off or better yet have their publicist do it.
In all I managed to get about an hour of shooting completed without being seen. As soon as your spotted they are in control of the shoot. Some embrace it and play up for the cameras and others just play “Duck and Cover“.
Over the years I have seen some crazy shit. The lengths people will go to, not to be photographed.
Star Boy got boarded a small motor boat and took off from the yacht.
Now I would love to say I had a James Bond motor boat chase scene across the ocean but it reality, it was me sweating my ass relieved to have something in the bank, and Bushman stumbling around, fucked out of his brain on some high powered weed.
We left the shack and returned to the car.
Priority was to back up the images on to a laptop, and get them moving to the picture desk in Los Angeles. Anything can go wrong.
From your gear being stolen, to the digital card failing.
I dropped my bushman friend in the town and we agreed to meet ready for the next day. The plan was to try and find the film set and see what we could get. Ideally we wanted some filming to take place.
I spent the night sweating in my hotel room as the infernal heat continued. Transmitting images back to Los Angeles at a snail’s pace, this was dial up after all.
Bugs were crawling up the walls and I was getting bitten to pieces. To say Motel 6 would look like a palace compared to this place was an understatement.
Waking to the sounds of insects I got up to join my pirate friends in the breakfast room. I tried to get some information on what they might be doing that day but from the sounds of it they would be doing night shoots.
So not much chance of getting Star boy in a pirate suit but I decided to go meet my bushman friend and head off to check out the set.
The plan was to try and get general views.
We drove off to where I had been a couple of days prior at the Pepsi shack. Bushman decided to go take a walk around the set and see how easy it would be to get some pictures.
As luck would have it, he just happened to know one of the security guards and for a pack of Marlboro cigarettes the job was a done deal.
It sounded a little too good to be true. He asked If I would give him my little point and shoot digital camera. Now I’m thinking “Fuck that’s another camera gone “
He wandered off, and then sure enough walks back 30 minutes later with the camera. He said check out what his friend had done.
Not only did he take pictures of the set but he had obviously got really into it. He had gone all over. Taking shots of the huge pirate boats, close ups of barrels and props and everything I could have ever dreamed of getting. To be honest you could not have gotten better, short of being the official photographer for the movie.
And all it cost was twenty Marlboro.
Once again my Bushman friend had absolutely killed it. We decided to take a drive as he wanted to show me some other areas of the Island.
We took off along the rally course, then crash!
A car had come flying over the hill, swerved to miss a parked car and smashed my wing mirror off my car.
The car skidded to a halt and two guys jumped out of the car ready to go. They were literally spitting blood. I was shitting bricks! these two were obviously really pissed and my biggest fear was either I was going to get beaten up or shot !
Bushman jumps out the car lifts his arms in a kind of “you wanna fucking go ! “ The two guys jump back in their car and speed off like madmen.
Bushman tells me they were drug runners. They pick up the gear from speedboats ,then rush it in cars to where it needs to go.
“ You need to call the police and report the incident “ obviously not mentioning that they were drug runners but simply a case of hit and run.
The Police showed up and started to pull out tape measures to measure the skid marks on the road. They question me about why I am driving around with the Bushman. I had to come clean and say he was helping me with some journalistic work otherwise it would have been even worse.
The next day we went down to the Police station to pick up the report on the incident should I need it for the rental car company. The chief of police decided to take me into his office and point out “You know you’re with a really bad man “
The job was kind of over for me as my flight back was a day away and I had gotten the best pictures I was going to get from the job. Now it was all about the rental car!
I had realized that in my being cheap, I had no insurance policy on the car. You just know they would completely screw you on those charges.
Oh you need a new side mirror? Yes, we can do that for $5000.
We came up with a plan! Bushman got one of his buddies in town to cut a mirror to the same spec as the mirror that was smashed.
We then bought some super glue and parts and headed off to see some of his mates.
Sat in the projects, I watched four men stand under an umbrella in a pissing down rainstorm fixing my car, to make it good enough that a car rental inspection would have no idea it was involved in a crash with a drug runner.
The men truly delivered!
Whilst they took care of business I went off with my camera taking portraits of all the locals.
The locals were more than happy to pose with their machetes!