Act one, scene one. Interior, Heim family room, night. Fade in on a family of four about to press play on the DVD menu of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. A mom, Erin, and a dad, Rich, are talking to a young girl, Sammy. “We’ll tell you when there’s a scary part so you can close your eyes,” says Erin. Sammy is in first grade and about seven years younger than the suggested PG-13 rating, but she watches every second of the high-budget, large production pirate film and a buccaneer is born that night.
Sammy, of course, is me. I had begged and begged my parents to let me watch the movie and after watching it first, they approved it for six-year-old me to try. They told me when I should shut my eyes and I ignored them so I wouldn’t miss a second of the adventure. I always needed to know what was going to happen next. My dad even tried to cover my eyes with his hand to protect me from particularly scary moments, but I would duck and dodge him every time, and instead of nightmares, I was given inspiration. I had never been a kid who showed more than mild interest in any one thing. I enjoyed princesses and cartoons and puppies as much as any other first grade girl, but I loved pirates. I thought they were the coolest. I wanted to be a pirate for Halloween every year, I carried a plastic sword around Disneyland instead of a princess wand, and wore my favorite hat everyday, a pink baseball cap with Jack Sparrow on it. If that hat still fit me today, I would probably be wearing it. However, the effect that the movie had on me was more than just a passion for the pirates themselves. I became interested in stories about or with pirates and I wanted to start telling my own.
The first piece of fiction I ever wrote was about a young female pirate captain who gets marooned on an island of cannibals and has to blend in with the natives. I was in second grade and eagerly awaiting the second film of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and learning everything about it before it came out. I learned from the trailers that in this movie, Dead Man’s Chest, Captain Sparrow has a run-in with a tribe of cannibals, which is where I drew the inspiration. It wasn’t the violence that resonated with me, it was the promise of an exciting adventure. Pirates showed me everything a good story needed: suspense, action, romance, and a diverse cast of characters. I hadn’t quite reached an age yet where I could understand that the on-screen romanticization of pirates wasn’t a historically accurate portrayal. I didn’t care that pirates hurt people and stole things because that’s not what those movies were about. In the last century, pirates, especially those of ‘the golden age of piracy’, have become symbols of freedom, adventure, and strength. My core values as a person are still centered around those things today, fifteen years since the first time I was immersed in the fantastic world of Disney pirates.
Every year, a new film in the franchise was released, I loyally saw every single one right away- even as critics and mainstream audiences fell out of love with them. I’m the first to admit that the later films in the franchise are not cinematic masterpieces like the original, but I could never stop loving these movies. They have always served and will always serve as inspiration for my writing. Over the years, I continued to write stories of pirate girls which eventually evolved into fanfiction directly related to the films, and it was through fan sites dedicated to the movies that I started sharing my work with other people. There were people out there who were just as into Pirates as I was and they gave me a platform to share my writing and grow as a storyteller.
About ten years after the original film was released, I took my first screenwriting class in my freshman year of high school. On our very first day, my teacher, Ms. Levine, passed around a few pages of a script that she said was a great introduction to the basics of screenwriting. Lo and behold, it was The Curse of the Black Pearl. She explained how the structure of the film could be considered a ‘perfect’ script in that it demonstrated everything she was going to teach us about the foundation of a good screenplay. The act structure, plot pacing, scene writing, and other screenwriting basics were all, in her exact words, “near flawless.” So imagine how easy it was for me to fall in love with screenwriting. I was already a storyteller, I was immediately taught how to write a script by studying my favorite film, and I was given a new medium to bring my passion to life.
In that class, I wrote my first feature-length script about a girl with a proclivity for telling fantastical stories and a longing for adventure who gets swept up in a race for pirate treasure. She learns how to handle a sword, read a map, and sail a vessel, but most importantly she learns that self-confidence will carry her further than any ship can. That’s not the actual logline I used to pitch the movie to my class, but it is the most straightforward way to show how I mirrored my own life and view of myself into my writing- and ‘pirate fantasy’ was the obvious genre choice.
Cut to: interior, bedroom, afternooon. Twenty-one-year-old Sammy sits at her desk, Jolly Roger tattoo visible on her shoulder. She’s typing furiously on her laptop. Above her desk is a framed movie poster- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. She pauses her writing for a moment, scratching her head, and leaning back in her chair. A glance up at the poster, a small smile, and inspiration strikes her again. She continues writing. Fade to black, roll credits.