Filming Titanic was 'really hard work' but it paid off, says stunt co-ordinator



When the actors and crew arrived on the Titanic set in summer 1996, it was clear from the sense of magic and excitement it was going to be a hit.

Filmed at the purpose-built Baja Studios in Mexico, and with a budget of £163million, James Cameron’s tale of star-crossed lovers Rose and Jack on board the doomed liner was already the most expensive movie made to date.

But what no one could foretell was how massive it would become, grossing a whopping £1.5billion to hold the title of biggest ever box office hit for 21 years.

Monday marks 25 years since the UK release of the epic that made megastars of lead actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, then aged 21 and 20.

The story of their characters, aristocrat Rose DeWitt Bukater and struggling artist Jack Dawson, was fictional, but the drama and horror of what happened in one of the worst maritime disasters of all time was sadly all too true.

Simon Crane as 4th Officer Joseph Boxhall (left)
Simon Crane as 4th Officer Joseph Boxhall (left)

Then the world’s largest ocean liner and supposedly unsinkable, RMS Titanic went down on April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. More than 1,500 of the 2,240 passengers and crew died.

Captain Edward Smith ordered “Women and children first!” as he called for people to abandon ship. The onboard musicians continued to play calming music as the vessel sank.

Such moments of bravery still capture the world’s imagination more than a century later – and both became poignant scenes in Cameron’s film, which premiered in the US in 1997.

The scale of the film was unprecedented. The on-set water tank alone cost millions. Cameron broke cinematic ground with his mix of shots of real people and CGI. And even the tiniest details, such as stamping White Star Line on the ship’s china, were adhered to.

Historian and adviser Don Lynch says the resulting atmosphere in the studio was electric.

Actor Simon Crane
Actor Simon Crane

Don landed a cameo as passenger Frederic Spedden, who in real life escaped from the Titanic alive with his wife and son. He recalls: “It was magical. I’d walk around the whole ship and not think it was a film set.

“It was so convincing, it looked like the real thing.

“We could feel that an epic was being filmed. There was just that energy on set.”

Cameron had used Don’s book, Titanic: An Illustrated History, to pitch his movie idea to bosses at 20th Century Fox.

And the author’s dream came true when he got to step on board the replica ship.

Don, from Los Angeles, adds: “I had studied it for so long and now I was walking it.

“When we were all standing around in our costumes it felt like we had gone back in time.”

Actors practicing the water scenes
Actors rehearsing the water scenes

Titanic stunt co-ordinator Simon Crane calls everyone who worked on the movie “a trouper”.

Filming the difficult final scenes after the ship had gone down involved working long hours, six nights a week, submerged in ice-cold tanks.

Simon says: “One thing we all had in common was our hatred for the cold water.

“We filmed it in natural seawater at the purpose-built Baja Studios in Mexico.

“Kate couldn’t wear a wetsuit sometimes because of her costume. And Leo was only partially in [one].”

Between takes, the actors had to sit in jacuzzis beside the set to get warm, he reveals.

Simon, who has also worked on Aliens, Batman and Cliffhanger, remembers Cameron as a tough taskmaster as emotions ran high during the high-stakes production.

His own time on set almost came to an abrupt end when he swore at the director – who also wrote, produced and co-edited – in the final weeks.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Jack and Rose
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Jack and Rose ( Internet Unknown)

He says: “Jim was on one side of the ship and I was on the other side. I heard him start to shout at the stunt performers so I came running over the top of the ship and I fell down through a hole and landed on my balls.

“I staggered to the railing and found Jim screaming at the stunt performers and he then started to shout at me.

“I basically told him to go f*** himself. He then said, ‘You’re fired! and as I started to walk off all the stunt people walked off with me.”

Fortunately, tempers cooled. Simon, of Richmond, South West London, says he and Cameron patched things up the next day, and he was reinstated as stunt co-ordinator.

It was one of several testing moments during filming. Simon also recalls the huge hydraulic deck on the replica ship breaking down during rehearsals, leaving Leo and Kate stuck 120ft up at a 90 degree angle for several hours.

But, despite the trials and tribulations, the stuntman knew they had a hit when Cameron showed crew the film’s trailer, featuring Celine Dion’s love ballad My Heart Will Go On.

It was clear all the money, the long shivering nights and the drama were worth it – 11 Oscar wins worth it.

Simon adds: “It was really hard work but it paid off.”

Crewman who saved 68 lives

Titanic survivor Frank Dymond is remembered as a hero in his family for saving 68 people.

Frank, then 36, was in charge of the last lifeboat to leave the sinking ship.

He selflessly gave his sweater to another crew member and suffered frostbite in his left hand after holding the lifeboat’s tiller for hours in the freezing cold. His bravery left him with life-long problems.

Great-granddaughter Kathryn Tombs, 57, a chief people officer from Southampton, says: “I believe he was a hero. He saved 68 people in his lifeboat.

“He had severe frostbite in the hand that held the tiller of the lifeboat and would drop a cup because of it quite frequently.”

Relatives remember the hero as being reluctant to talk about his experience of the tragedy.

Hero survivor Frank Dymond
Hero survivor Frank Dymond ( Kathryn Tombs)
Frank Dymond's logbook
Frank Dymond's logbook ( Kathryn Tombs)

Kathryn adds: “He didn’t ever speak about it to his family except when he got drunk. The stories he told to my grandfather were passed down.”

Kathryn says her dad Harry Dymond, 84, remembers seeing Frank drop his cup when he visited his home as a youngster.

Sadly Frank, who was a stoker on the Titanic, lost his official logbook in the tragedy, which listed his travels as a seaman.

But he later received a replacement that included an entry acknowledging that he worked on board the Titanic.

His family had the treasured heirloom restored by a bookbinder in an episode of the BBC ’s Repair Shop in 2021.

Love cut short by tragedy

The real-life love story of Titanic passengers Henry Samuel Morley and Kate Florence Phillips was as tragic as that of Jack and Rose.

Henry had left his wife and child and set sail for a new life in America after falling for Kate, 19 – but their love was doomed.

The couple’s great-granddaughter Beverley Roberts, from Kidderminster, Worcs, says: “My great-grandmother’s story was one of the many true love stories on the Titanic.

Henry Samuel Morley
Henry Samuel Morley
Beverley and her daughter Megan with a plaque for her great granddad which went up in Worcester
Beverley and her daughter Megan with a plaque for her great granddad which went up in Worcester

“She worked in my great grandfather’s shop in Worcester.

“He was a married man but they fell in love and I believe they decided to go away because she was pregnant.

“My great grandfather bought her a necklace in Birmingham before they left. He put it around her neck as she got into the lifeboat and he then went down with the ship.”

After being rescued, Kate stayed in New York for three months before returning home to give birth. After being shunned for being an unmarried mother she moved to London, leaving daughter Ellen Mary in the care of her grandparents.

The teddy bear Kate gave Ellen, the necklace Henry gave Kate on the Titanic and a pic of Ellen
The teddy bear Kate gave Ellen, the necklace Henry gave Kate on the Titanic and a pic of Ellen

Beverley, who with daughter Megan unveiled a plaque in Worcester marking where Henry lived and worked, says: “It was quite a tragic love story, and unlike the movie it was actually fact.

“It would have been nice if the film had been based on one of the real love stories like my great-grandmother’s.”

Kate gave her tot a teddy bear, which the family still have today, in memory of her dad.

But the mother and child had a tumultuous relationship – and after Kate died Ellen sold the precious sapphire and diamond necklace Henry had given her in the lifeboat.

Ellen’s ashes were scattered at sea in 2006 so that she could be reunited with the father she tragically never met.

Auction house floor manager Beverley, 50, adds: “She wanted to be where her father died.”

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