In 1997 the major box office hit ‘Titanic’ hit theaters like no other movie had since. Coles Fine Flooring was a proud participant in the making of the famous Hollywood movie as written by Kimberly Gavin of Floor Covering Weekly.
“It’s who you know that counts. Ask Chris Coles an executive with Coles Carpets of San Diego, the oldest retailer in the region. Thanks to Coles’ relationship with Michael forest the British based decorator for the blockbuster movie titanic – nominated for a record 14 academy awards – she and her cousin Marianne Laub were recipients of an unprecedented opportunity to visit the set during filming. The set visit saga began in August 1996, when Forest’s scouts found Coles as a potential source of supply for flooring. The stores appeal was that it carried inventory and could supply product as needed. That month forest purchased about $30,000 worth of carpet.
Because he would be flooding floors regularly during filming Forest needed a fast and reliable source of replacement. He had couriers ready at a moment’s notice to drive to San Diego for new supplies, Coles said. “At one point he had to have something in a hurry so we had to change from blue to green because we didn’t have time to get the blue he needed,” she said. As a way of saying thanks to someone who had become a friend as well as a supplier, Forest invited Coles and Laub to visit the set that October. “It was a rare peek behind the scenes, and we thought it was quite an honor,” Coles Said. They were given a personal four-hour tour of the set, constructed from actual blueprints of the original ship that sank en route to New York on April 15, 1912. They started with a visit to the nearly full-sized mock-up of the ship. “It was simply a three-sided wooden hull that sat above the cliff, but from a distance it looked like it was sitting on the water,” Coles said. “The backside was only scaffolding and cameras, definitely a hard hat area.” The visit was during the day as filming took place mainly after dark
Next, Coles, Laub, and their hosts were hoisted up the sides of the hull in a cage elevator to the top deck. There were actually three decks but each was devoid of interiors. Those sets were located elsewhere. “We were in total awe,” Coles said. “It was so unbelievable. On the ship we really had to watch our step because there would be these big holds cut out and we’d be looking straight down to the next deck.”
The flooding scenes were accomplished with the aid of a giant water tank the size of two football fields that used 17 million-gallons of sea water pumped directly from the nearby Pacific Ocean. The tank, which Coles and Laub also visited, was built atop a rocking hydraulic platform, so when the set was flooded it would mechanically simulate the sinking of the ship in the exact same pattern and timing that the actual events occurred.
The interior design was copied exactly from the original Titanic blueprints, right down to the mother-of-pearl inlaid on the walls, although Forest used a computer-generated look alike. The carpet in the main salon at the bottom of the grand staircase was a woven product made by a company in London that had actually outfitted the original Titanic. Forest showed the two women the furniture, which he had made in Mexico. He also took them through areas where props like china, silverware, and vanity sets were stored. An entire tent was devoted to dozens of washing machines and dryers used to clean the clothing of dummies every time a sinking scene was shot. “We saw stacks of dummies,” Coles said. “All those people in the movie that are in the water are dummies. Everything on the set was so organized.”
Filming of the movie was done in Rosarito Beach, Baja, Mexico. James Cameron, the director, insisted on extreme secrecy to protect his vision, which is why Coles believes she and Laub may be the only outsiders to have been allowed in. Due to its Southern California location, Coles Fine Flooring has been a source of floor for Hollywood, and Chris Coles has been on many a television or movie set, but this was different. “It was absolutely amazing,” she said. “Don’t ask me how they did it; I couldn’t tell you. We just didn’t have time to take everything in.”
On the way out, the set guard asked Coles and Laub what they thought. “We were still in awe. He asked if we got any photos. We said, ‘Oh no, we were too overwhelmed to think of it.’ And he said, ‘Good I would take them away from you.’”