Eye of the Storm

Inside the high-risk Hollywood quest to bring Sebastian Junger's true-life thriller to the screen

Jun 1, 2000
Outside Magazine
The evolution of The Perfect Storm from book-publishing phenomenon to multimillion-
dollar Hollywood production was surprisingly swift. Warner Bros. optioned the book in the spring of 1997, just as it started to become a huge best-seller that to date has sold more than 2.5 million copies. Steven Spielberg briefly considered directing it, but when he passed, the job quickly went to Petersen, who set aside plans to make a very different kind of seafaring epic—Endurance, the survival saga of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton—in order to work on The Perfect Storm.

The production arrived in Gloucester in early September 1999 to begin several weeks of location shooting. "I'd never been on a movie set before," says Junger, who traveled from New York to watch the filming, "but there was an interesting interaction between the town and Warner Bros. It's not that hard to piss off fishermen, who are a strong-headed bunch, and a lot of them don't give a shit who you are. But the town made them feel welcome, and the crew conducted themselves really well." Bonding with locals over beers at the Crow's Nest bar didn't hurt, either.

Even so, "there was a somberness on the set," Clooney says, and conjuring up the spirit of the Andrea Gail felt like a séance at times. Lady Grace, a sister ship, had been converted into an exact replica of the lost boat. "When the boat pulled up with 'Andrea Gail' written on the stern after nine years, there was something incredibly eerie about that," says Clooney. "The boat was like a ghost in the harbor," recalls producer Gail Katz.

Decidedly unghostlike, however, was Hurricane Floyd, which roared up the East Coast in mid-September, threatening a different sort of déjà vu. Although the storm eventually weakened and merely skirted the Massachusetts coast, the production took advantage of the heavy seas. "It was just bad enough that we could get out in it and save ourselves about a million dollars of effects money by trying to ride the waves," says Clooney. "We were getting whipped. You can see it in the movie—it's real weather, and it makes a difference."

The actors-turned-fishermen were trained in the violent, treacherous craft of long-line fishing by a number of veterans, including Richard Haworth, a former captain of the Andrea Gail. It was a memorable education. "I didn't know anything about fishermen," Clooney says. "To me fishing meant you go out in a boat and you have a couple of beers and it's nice. But this is a bloodbath. They hook the fish through their eyes and chainsaw their heads off." (That said, no swordfish were harmed in the making of The Perfect Storm. "We had these decapitated rubber fish and mechanical fish that were incredible," Clooney recalls. "These people came down to the dock to protest the fact that we were killing fish, and we were like, 'They're rubber, you dumbass!'")

Perhaps the most emotional moments came during the filming of the memorial service in Gloucester's St. Ann's Church. Among the extras were family and friends of the lost crew who had attended the actual service nine years earlier. "It was mind-boggling to be in the church with those mourners," recalls Diane Lane, who plays Christina Cotter, the bereft girlfriend of fisherman Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg). "No amount of soul-wrenching what-ifs that you put yourself through as an actor can touch the holy of holies, which is the real grief and real-life struggle of these survivors."


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