“The Pirate captain Toledano” Award-winning Short Film about Jewish Pirates in the Caribbean
BY GUEST: ARNON SHORR
About the Production
Several years ago, filmmaker Arnon Shorr was introduced to a history book with an eye-catching title: “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean”. The subject-matter, Jewish piracy in the wake of the Inquisition, fascinated Arnon, who is a filmmaker in Los Angeles. “The way the book presents it, Jewish pirates were motivated not just by the usual pirate motivations. They sailed the seas when Spain was the maritime superpower, so Spanish ships, with the Spanish gold fleet in particular, were their primary target. These Jews had fled Spain – they were victims of the Inquisition – so there’s a sense of justice that seeps into their narrative in a way that simply doesn’t exist in typical pirate stories.” It was a long time before Arnon seriously considered actually making a Jewish pirate film. In September, 2016, Arnon wanted to develop a short film project for the end of the year. He had just attended a presentation by Amir Giveon, the founder of Jewcer.org, and was inspired to give the crowdfunding platform a try. The idea for “The Pirate Captain Toledano” hit Arnon all at once. “It was a Friday,” Arnon says, “and I was working on another project, when the whole story, cut out of whole cloth, occurred to me. I set my work down, outlined the tale of a refugee stowaway and the pirate captain who finds him, and set the outline aside, determined to get back to work. But I couldn’t work. The story called me back. I pushed off some deadlines and set to writing the short script, working off of my hasty outline. In less than an hour, the first draft was written, and it’s actually very similar to the finished film.”
The story was great, but Arnon was crestfallen. He had just written a period piece that takes place on a tall ship. How could he possibly pull that off without the resources of a major Hollywood production? He was tempted to set the script aside, to try writing something else, something less ambitious. But Arnon couldn’t let the project go. “I had to know what it would cost. I figured that if I knew how expensive this film would be to make, I’d give up on it and move on to something more achievable.” So he started contacting maritime museums on the California coast to inquire about the cost of shooting on tall ships. One of his first calls was to The Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California. They have two beautiful replica tall ships that have been used for films from The Power Rangers to Amistad. The folks at The Ocean Institute were very nice, and quoted a price that would have been reasonable to a major Hollywood feature… but far too big for a scrappy little short film. Even so, Arnon wasn’t ready to accept defeat. He asked the Ocean Institute if they knew anyone else who had a tall ship with a less expensive day-rate. And he sent them the script to read. The folks at The Ocean Institute loved the script! They offered Arnon a HUGE discount, and even suggested that they’d get more deeply involved with promoting the crowdfunding campaign and screening the film. In an instant, the production had hope! But this was still going to be an expensive production. In order to pull it off, Arnon had to raise $18,000. For this, he turned to Jewcer.org, a crowdfunding platform that offers nonprofit status to campaigns that raise money for Jewish-themed projects. Arnon ran a resoundingly successful 6-week campaign on Jewcer.org, and gathered a passionate cast and crew for the film’s production. At last, over the course of a long and thrilling night in December, “The Pirate Captain Toledano” came to life.
Fun Facts & Stories from Behind the Scenes
The Royal French Privateers of Clan Darksail™ (www.ClanDarksail.com) Clan Darksail provided actors, stunt men, props, costuming and more to The Pirate Captain Toledano. Founded in 1998, Darksail is one of the oldest and largest troupes of acting pirates in the Southwest US. Members of Darksail have appeared in Conquest for the History Channel, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Master & Commander: Far Side of the World, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, Assassin’s Creed: The Devil’s Spear and much much more. They perform all over at Renaissance and Pirate Festivals, and are available for hire. In their enthusiasm for this project, they brought their own cannon to set.
Stephen DeCordova’s Kiddush Cup
There’s a narrative beat in “The Pirate Captain Toledano” that revolves around the discovery of a silver kiddush cup among the Stowaway’s belongings. “When I brought in our actor, Stephen DeCordova, to read for the role of The Captain, he brought a small kiddush cup with him. I figured he simply brought the prop from home so he’d have something to work with during the reading of the scene,” says Arnon. As it turns out, the cup had some history. Stephen was born in the USA, but comes from a Jamaican Jewish family. His mother was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and descends from Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition and came to the new world in the 16th century. The cup belonged to Stephen’s grandfather in Jamaica, and has been in the family for more generations than anyone can remember. It’s an authentic piece of Judaica from the heart of the Caribbean. “It was as if Stephen had reached into my script and pulled the prop right out of the pages. I was honored that Stephen even offered to let us use the cup in the film!” (Don’t worry – for the moment when the cup clatters across the deck of the ship, the art department found a “stunt double” so as not to harm the precious antique!)
The Ancient Ladino Folk Song
During the Editing, Arnon used recordings of Ladino folk songs as temp music. One of the recordings, “Camini por Altas Torres”, as composed by David Ludwig and performed by Choral Arts Philadelphia, felt particularly appropriate for the tone of the film. Out of curiosity, Arnon looked up the translation of the song, and found that the first verse says “I walked among high towers, I sailed through storms..” Sailed through storms? High towers like the masts of a tall ship? This was too perfect. Arnon got in touch with David Ludwig to ask for permission to use the piece. Ludwig, who is a notable composer, and who has composed for films before, responded enthusiastically. “Camini por Altas Torres” now plays prominently and sets the tone at the start of the film.
News and Reviews
http://jewcy.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/ahoy-jewish-pirate-movie “Most pirate stories are tired these days… and Jews breathe new life into a genre that never seems to explore new themes”.
http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/jewish-pirates-make-pirates-more-interesting/2016/11/09/ “Shorr’s enthusiasm for “The Pirate Captain Toledano” is contagious”.
http://www.danapointtimes.com/hands-set-filmmaker-uses-ocean-institute-tall-ships-backdrop-short-film/ “There’s another reason to tell this story, if the anti-Semitics are using it to inspire the hatred, the good guys need to start telling this story and reclaiming it”. http://www.frontpagemag.com/point/264625/jewish-pirates-caribbean-daniel-greenfield “A fascinating exploration of how much of history is lost when legend becomes cliche”.
http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/reclaiming-a-jewish-narrative-in-the-face-of-anti-semitism/ “The very fact that the phrase “Jewish pirate” catches people by surprise is an indicator that this is a type of character that we need to see. It’s a reminder that Jews can share a cultural heritage with more than just Eastern Europe. It’s a reminder that a stereotype (whether it’s positive or negative) is still a stereotype”. http://www.thejewishadvocate.com/news/2017-01-20/Arts/Mass_man_makes_Jewish_pirate_movie.html “I like depicting Jewish characters outside the Hollywood norm…I thought pirates were as far away from the typical trope as you could get”.
http://jewishtimes.com/57779/hebrews-on-the-high-seas/news/ “People are nervous about this idea of connecting Jews and piracy, but what we are afraid of is the anti-Semitic usurpation of this narrative, so we need to make it our own.” http://maxitmagazine.com/2016/11/16/groundbreaking-short-film-about-jewish-pirates/ “It’s astonishing,” says Shorr, “That Jewish pirates are so profoundly absent from popular pirate mythology. Their history is so vibrant, their characters are so rich, and their stories are so full of human drama.
My goal is primarily entertainment, not social activism. I’m an entertainer first. But I can’t wriggle free from the sense that as an entertainer, I still bear a responsibility to serve the people I entertain, to make them better for having been entertained. So I write a script, I raise some money, and I make a film about Jewish pirates. What more can I do?
Cast & Crew Bios
Arnon Shorr, Director: Arnon is an Israeli/American modern-Orthodox Jewish filmmaker who lives and works in Los Angeles. His award-winning shorts and features have screened in festivals across the country.
His work includes award-winning feature films, dozens of shorts, and a Jewish comedy web-series that was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. He is an Israeli/American with a blended heritage of European and North African ancestry, including family that was expelled from Portugal – like his characters in this film – by the Inquisition in the late 15th century.
In addition to making films, Arnon has taught film history, production and post-production courses at several high schools and colleges. He founded the SunDeis Film Festival at Brandeis University in 2004 with Adam Irving (director of last year’s hit documentary, “Off the Rails.”) After he graduated, Arnon saw the festival mantle picked up by Scott Feinberg (now the Hollywood Reporter’s awards season expert).
Arnon is an active storyteller, not an observer of moments. Whether it’s dark or comedic, he thinks the audience must feel a part of the scene, embraced by the story. He thinks movies need to transport us, even if it’s just to the house next door. Where would you like to go? Let him take you.
For more about Arnon, his trademark fedora, vintagewear, and goatee, as well as his recent work, check out these links:
Stephen DeCordova, “The Pirate Captain Toledano” - Stephen became a professional actor in New York at the age of 55, before moving to Los Angeles to pursue his film and TV career. Network TV guest appearances have included: Veep, Frasier, Arrested Development, House MD, General Hospital, Las Vegas, The Bold and the Beautiful, Southland and many others. Stephen first worked with Arnon Shorr as a series regular on Mad Mentsch, the Jewbellish web series, which Arnon directed and produced. He lives in the Hollywood Hills with his wife, Debra, and two Cornish Rex cats.
Dan Shakad, The Stowaway – Dan is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts where he studied at The Lee Strasberg Film/Theater Inst
itute and at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Relevant theater credits: Boston’s UnderGround Railway Theater’s production of Naomi Wallace’s The Fever Chart, directed by Elena Araoz at the Central Square Theatre (about Israeli-Palestinian relations). His parents moved to Boston in 1974. They moved to the US to pursue the American Dream. Dan is first-generation American and identifies as Israeli-American. Growing up, he spoke both Hebrew and English at home. All four of his grandparents are Holocaust survivors.
Will Beinbrink, The Quartermaster – Will is an American actor whose most recently been recurring on USA Networks Queen of the
South. Also recent films include Free State of Jones with Matthew McConnaghey, I Saw the Light with Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen and Manhattan Nocturne with Adrien Brody. Also was a producer on Manhattan Night.
Will first met Arnon on Benjamin Troubles, a fun feature written by Lee Ross.
Richard Rasner, Brig Guard- is a lifetime actor and stuntman having started as a child actor on Romper Room and growing up through teen dramas and the like before settling into historical roles with Clan Darksail in many popular pirate films of the last 20 years. He was also a Historical Consultant on this film, regarding piracy in the Caribbean, a subject on which he is a published author.
Diana Haberstick, Production Designer and Costumes- Diana has a broad background in theater and has worked in TV/Film for the past 5 years. She bases her designs on script analysis, research, the director’s vision, the audience’s perception, and her own intuition. https://www.dianahaberstickdesign.com
Maybelle Pineda, Art Director- From humble beginnings in the Philippines to the big city of Los Angeles, Maybelle works in leading industries in motion design, video editing and production. She currently works at BOND while trying to do a lot of good at Resume.Works www.Maybellepineda.com
Scott Brown, Production Manager- is a writer, producer, director, publisher and mentor. Having stopped ghostwriting over 7 years ago, Scott has sold and/or optioned 36 scripts under his own name. Scott boarded “The Pirate Captain Toledano” as Unit Production Manager, and contributed the production capabilities of his company, The Indie Vision Project.
Mendel Katz, Cinematographer- Mendel is an LA-based cinematographer with experience in short films, music videos and corporate production. Like this film’s director, mendel doesn’t work on Saturdays. https://www.mk-visuals.com
Phoebe Dawson, Key Makeup Artist- is a Makeup Artist from a small beach town in New Zealand. From doing makeup for the cover of Forbes Magazine, to working on Athletes, chart topping Music Videos or Features Films, Phoebe loves the variety of her job whether it’s helping people look their best or creating a character.
Hillel Smith, Poster Design- is an artist and typography buff. He has painted Hebrew murals in California and Israel, made art commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, and creates posters for the likes of Patton Oswalt.
hillelsmith.info hebrewtype.com The parsha, illustrated!
Quotes From cast and crew:
“My mother was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and I was surrounded by her large Jamaican Jewish family throughout my childhood. When I read Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean four years ago, I realized that many of the pirate names mentioned in the book were surnames from my own family. I am descended from Jewish Pirates! When Arnon first announced his plan to make The Pirate Captain Toledano, I contacted him immediately and pledged my passionate support for the project. Two days later, Arnon offered me the role of the Captain. When we met, I brought along the kiddush cup that had been my family’s in Jamaica for many generations…that is the very cup we used in the film!” “I am thrilled that The Pirate Captain Toledano offers a glimpse at the little-known truth that Jews played a prominent…even dominant…role in navigation, ship command, merchant trade and, yes, piracy, during the Age of Discovery and the settling of the New World. (It’s a refreshing counter to the images of Jews that are too often depicted in popular culture: intellectuals, accountants, victims.)”- Stephen DeCordova
“This movie uncovers and informs the public about an unknown fact about Jewish History that is often overlooked. It truly is a unique story about Jewish Identity that has never been told.“ “I dedicate this film to my grandparents who were all holocaust survivors. This movie is not about Pirates searching for gold- it’s about preserving Jewish Identity, which is exactly what my heritage and family narrative is about- literally.” -Dan Shaked
“It’s a rare glimpse into history most of us don’t know!” -Will Beinbrink
“I’m vested in this project for the fact that, even though it’s fiction, it reveals an important piece of history that has been nearly forgotten.” -Scott Brown
“I think the film should be seen because its different and this story has not been told before, the location was really cool and authentic and I think everyone in the cast and crew did an amazing job! We had a group of “Pirates” playing the crew men that have been Pirates in all kinds of films and brought their own authentic outfits, who knew the proper Pirate mannerisms and how to hold a sword etc! (I didnt even know Jewish Pirates existed, and im sure many others arent aware of this either.)” -Phoebe Dawson
“As a student of Jewish history, I think it’s very important to highlight these lesser-known episodes of Jewish oppression and Jewish resistance, and how they shaped our world.” -Hillel Smith