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Getting the props right on a film is extremely important; especially if the goal is to depict a historical period of time. The production team behind the new movie The Rum Diary, written and directed by Bruce Robinson and starring Johnny Depp, took great care as they prepared for shooting the film that takes place in Puerto Rico circa 1960.
“We did a lot of research particularly regarding the photographs and written material. We wanted to get the details right,” says prop-master Drew Petrotta. In addition to the usual reference sources, they used many of the story’s creator, Hunter S. Thompson’s own photographs, many of which featured the writer with his pipe, his typewriter and various bottles of liquor.
The original novel is loosely based on Thompson’s experiences as a journalist in Puerto Rico at the time. “The most important prop in the movie was the typewriter,” says Petrotta. “We probably looked at about twenty different ones before we found one everyone was happy with. There was quite a range of typewriters during that period.
We were looking for something that Johnny was comfortable with, that Bruce liked aesthetically, and that was similar to what Hunter would have used.” “However, I think it is the sunglasses that we notice most in this movie,” says Petrotta. “Johnny came to me with a pair that he liked and we duplicated them many times.
He really has an eye for what he looks good in. Also, the character of Paul Kemp smokes quite a bit in this movie. Johnny doesn’t smoke so we created period packaging and filled them with herbal cigarettes that don’t contain any tobacco.” A key element in the style of The Rum Diary was its use of period cars.
Picture car coordinator Steve Mann was brought in to work with local Rick Gonzalez, and together they assembled the wide array of cars needed. Mann was pleasantly surprised to find that the island had a wealth of cars from that period, in very good condition. “We found a Lincoln Town car, and some really nicely restored old cars,” says Mann.
“Of course we had to age them down a bit to make them look old and dirty, but we cleaned them up before we gave them back to their owners,” he says smiling. “We found the red 1958 Chevy Corvette on the island,” Mann says, “and then had to match it to the 1959 model, which Sanderson drives in the film.
The two models are very similar. There are just some chrome pieces and the hood that are different. It’s got a powerful engine. It’s all made of fiberglass and it goes really fast,” he laughs. “It’s a pretty sexy car and there is a big scene revolving around it.”
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