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Local Film Tweets

On the Set of "The Perfect Storm"

Gloucester resident Beth Tucker takes us behind-the-scenes of a local mega-movie.

By Beth Tucker of InsideGloucester.com

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A still from "The Perfect Storm"

Gloucester, Mass., was in the grips of "The Perfect Storm" for nearly six weeks during the summer of 1999. The film, shot on location in Gloucester and adapted from the book by Sebastian Junger, is due to hit theaters on June 30. Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, "The Perfect Storm" is a true account of the brave Gloucester men and women who fish for a living, and specifically the story of the crew from the doomed "Andrea Gail." The ship was lost at sea in the fall of 1991 during one of the greatest storms in modern history.

In August 1999, about 1,300 people answered an open casting call for the film, turning out on a cool and rainy Saturday to wait in line for up to four hours to have a chance to be a part of "The Perfect Storm." By the end of the day, 900 were chosen for a scene to be filmed at St. Anne's Church in late September. And, for a paycheck of $85.64, this writer was one of the 900.

Setting the Scene

Director Wolfgang Peterson ("Das Boot" and "Air Force One") went to great lengths to achieve authenticity in all areas of filming. Each of the 900 extras was given several pages of typed instructions regarding wardrobe, makeup and hairstyle to ensure that we would be dressed appropriately for a memorial service that happened almost ten years ago, in 1991. We were to "think late '80s early '90s." Hairstyles should not be too contemporary, and women were to have the signature '80s shoulder pads in their clothing. Each extra was also instructed to wear a cross or bring a prayer book.

The mountain of logistics involved in moving 900 people from a holding location into the actual church for the memorial service was amazing in and of itself. Half of us were to leave our cars at Good Harbor Beach, while the other half were told to report to Stage Fort Park. From there, we were bused to the church, where each extra was seen personally by a wardrobe assistant who checked our outfits and makeup. We were sent to wardrobe or to makeup to correct any inaccuracies. Busing and "processing" took almost four hours. And that was just the beginning of a shooting day that went on for nearly 12 hours.

This day in particular was a difficult one, not only for the extras. The movie is, of course, based on a true story. The families and friends of the men who were lost at sea aboard the "Andrea Gail" still live and work in Gloucester. Although the making of "The Perfect Storm" honors the spirit of these men, it also asked a community to live through, for a second time, a terrible tragedy. .

Respecting the Community

Warner Brothers had commissioned a boat maker to outfit two fishing vessels in the exact likeness of the "Andrea Gail" and the "Hannah Boden" (the "Hannah Boden" eventually returned safely to harbor after the storm). The ships were kept under cover until the actual filming began out of respect for the community. Painful memories would undoubtedly surface for crew members' families and friends upon seeing a second "Andrea Gail" sail out of Gloucester harbor. Truth be told, seeing the unveiled "Andrea Gail" replica was like seeing a ghost.

The filming of the memorial service was itself haunting, with family members of the lost men actually seated in the church behind the stars playing them in the movie. The emotional day was at times poignant and harrowing, particularly when Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio delivered a poetic eulogy, backed by a 60-person choir singing the "Navy Hymn: Eternal Father." Peterson and Mastrantonio, who was required to cry something like 15 times in a row (first Peterson felt she wasn't crying enough; then she was crying too much), were walking a fine line, careful to respect the gathered mourners, but intent on getting the scene shot in one day. (The church wouldn't be available at any other time.)

Star Power

It was a long day of filming, with plenty of "cuts!" to rework scenes or adjust equipment. During breaks we watched professional moviemakers at work, trading stories about the stars and local sightings around town. George Clooney stories were the most plentiful, with many firsthand accounts of "George sightings" in the downtown bars and restaurants. It seems that George was researching his role as Captain Billy Tyne and wanted firsthand knowledge of the Gloucester local scene. Ever the gracious star, one story had George paying the dinner bill for a group of women once he heard there was a birthday at the table.

During filming, George playing basketball just outside his trailer was an added bonus. He played every day around lunchtime, with crew members and even some area schoolkids. Women aged 15 to 50 turned out in droves to wait for a chance to get photos or perhaps autographs. George signed autographs whenever approached, but Mark Wahlberg really got into it. The gregarious star came to the sidelines almost every day at lunch and signed whatever was presented to him -- photos, clothing, even skin!

Behind the Scenes

Being an extra in "The Perfect Storm" was a tremendous experience, especially because of the memorial scene we were involved in. It wasn't like being an extra who has to walk a dog past a shop window. We were there all day, hearing direction being given to the featured actors and actresses and seeing the process. It's then that you realize the enormous pressure the actors were under and gave me a new found respect for the craft. We were a part of all that.

"The Perfect Storm" can be purchased at BuyIndies.com. Following the success of his book "The Perfect Storm," author Sebastian Junger established "The Perfect Storm" Foundation, to offer educational and cultural opportunities to the children of fishing families. Warner Brothers recently donated $25,000 to the foundation. To learn more about PSF, please visit the Web site at http://www.perfectstorm.org