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
"When do we go to South Africa?"

That's what John Seale remembers asking when he arrived in Los Angeles last spring for preproduction meetings. "I'm thinking we'll be filming big waves on trawlers around the Cape of Storms with plastic bags over the camera," says the cinematographer. "Everyone looked at me sadly and said, 'No, think Stage 16, Warner Bros., Burbank.'"

"The real rough stuff was on Stage 16," says Wolfgang Petersen. "You can imagine, if we're playing scenes with the Andrea Gail in 100-foot seas and 120-mile-per-hour winds, how many tons of water we had crashing over the actors and into their faces and knocking them around." This abuse was possible because Warner Bros.' Stage 16 is essentially a warehouse built atop a huge basement water tank. For The Perfect Storm, the massive vat was deepened into what is now, Petersen boasts, "the biggest tank inside a soundstage in the world." Containing 1.3 million gallons of water, it's roomy enough to hold full-size mock-ups of the 72-foot Andrea Gail, other fishing boats, and the rescue helicopter that plays a crucial role in the story. For the actors, who spent nearly three months here last fall, this is where the storm's fury hit home. "I've never seen anything like it," says producer Katz. "The dump tanks pouring tons of water, the wave machines, the boat really rocking, and it's raining and four cameras are swirling around on cranes."

"It walloped us," Clooney says of the artificial storm. "It beat the shit out of us." None of the actors suffered more than bruises and scrapes, but there were plenty of close calls; a stuntman broke his knee. "I saw Mark [Wahlberg] get blown off the boat by a stunt wave," says production designer William Sandell. "I've never seen actors put themselves in such jeopardy."

"At a certain point it's not even acting," says Petersen, with a sly glint in his eyes. "If you are thrown by water from this side of the boat to the other side and crawl back to your feet, and I shoot a close-up of you—it looks pretty good."


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