After the surprise success of "Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl," Disney quickly put a plan in place to create two sequels back-to-back.  Gore Verbinski directed both of the sequels, and I spent time with him during the editing of both pictures. 

Towards the very end of post-production on "At World's End," we spoke at the ADR stages, and I've never seen someone who looked more tired.  He was so exhausted that Disney wouldn't allow him to drive himself anywhere.  And when he got those films across the finish line, it didn't surprise me at all that he just kind of dropped off the radar for a little while.  It's an unreal amount of work to pull off something like that.

Without Verbinski directing the fourth film in the series, and without Dick Cook at Disney to help shepherd the film, the prospect of "Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" seemed daunting at first, but eventually, Disney hired Rob Marshall, and they've wrapped photography on the film now.  My guess is that things went very, very well, better than Disney even expected.

How do I know? 

Because HitFix can now exclusively report that Disney has begun quietly telling cast and crew to set aside a major block of time in the very near future so they can shoot "Pirates 5" and "Pirates 6."  And, yes, once again, they will be shooting them back-to-back as one giant film, and then they'll release them as two films.

It's a bold plan.  Doing it once is risky, and that risk absolutely paid off for Disney in the long run.  But "Pirates 4" is already the single highest greenlight budget of all time, and it must look like the only sound way to get another trilogy out of the franchise, shooting two films together.  At this point, I don't think there's any doubt that Captain Jack Sparrow will be the defining role of Johnny Depp's career.

We know he's committed to "Dark Shadows" and "The Lone Ranger" for 2011, so that raises the question of when they'll shoot these sequels.  A shoot like that could take the better part of a year, but the great part about shooting in Hawaii is that you can easily shoot right through the winter.  It's December 2, and I'm sitting here in my hotel room in Waikiki with the balcony door open, and it's a lovely 70-something degrees.  I have a feeling Disney will want to get Depp back in his "Pirates" duds as soon as he's done playing Tonto for them, but I can't swear to the schedule.

What is certain at this point is that there's a whole lot more Jack Sparrow in our future, and that Disney considers this one of their most important properties.  I'm curious to see if they reach out to buy more material like the Tim Powers book that is the source material for "On Stranger Tides," or if they're going to try to get Rossio and Elliott to build the next two chapters of the franchise from scratch.

Either way, I'm sure we'll start hearing more about these sequels during the promotional push for "Pirates 4," and I am curious to see what sort of waters Disney will steer this ship into in the future.

"Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" will open in theaters everywhere May 20, 2011.