THE MONKEY BAR in Mexico

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I designed and built a bar/clubhouse on the Fox Studios lot in Mexico while doing the Art Department Graphic Design on the film Master and Commander.  Called the Monkey Bar, it was a space for the key actors to relax and spend their downtime during a long, hard shoot - far away from their native England. 

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We were all working hard to pull a big film together and the Monkey Bar became a focal point of creativity & excitement. Many crew members from different departments donated their time and expertise.

A Quonset hut was purchased; the design unchanged since WW2 – basically half a tin can.   The furniture was flea market finds, gathered on a weekend road trips to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.  Leftover windows and the ornate ironwork doors from the movie Titanic (filmed on the same lot) customised the space.  Down the back was a pool table and a cage with a parrot, on loan while his owner was away.

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As Art Department Graphic Designer I had been looking for someone who could do naive and charming drawings for one of the characters. I’d distributed some A4 sheets with monkeys up the top, asking people to redraw them.  This took off in an unexpected way – suddenly there was a deluge of unique and wonderful drawings on my desk. The ‘winner’ was Raul, an ex- Mexican wrestler from the Set Decoration department.  The rest of the artworks were coated with shellac and framed, lining the entryway like portraits of Hollywood stars.

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A lot of human energy went into creating the Monkey Bar. It was a very personal space. When I caught up with one of the actors several years ago, he bought it up - “It’s strange” he said “of the six months I was in Mexico, all my memories are of time spent in the Monkey Bar.”

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Ingrid Weir