In June of 1998, when Warner Bros, moved into Gloucester to film Sebastian Junger’s immensely popular book The Perfect Storm , everyone in town took a wait-and-see attitude. With its centuries-long history, Gloucester didn’t need Hollywood to put it on the map. After all, one resident said, “Movie people are all about make-believe. Folks in these parts don’t hold much with make-believe.”
But almost immediately, the whole town—or so it seemed—was pretty well won over. “Everybody, and I mean everybody, George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, the camera people, all of them were really wonderful,” says Gregg Sousa, the 37-year-old owner of the Crow’s Nest, a popular watering hole prominently featured in both book and film. “They’d come in after work, sit around, have a beer or whatever, talk with everybody—no problem at all.”
“We didn’t really know what to expect,” adds Viking Gustafson, the no-nonsense manager of Gloucester Marine Railways. “We’re right here on the waterfront, so they wanted to use us as their base, and they took up a lot of space. But they were all very considerate. They set up shop in early summer, but filming didn’t start until September. When they left in October, we were sorry to see them go.”
The film opened in Gloucester in June 1999. The town’s movie house was too small for the gala event, so despite some local reluctance, it was moved to the multiplex in the Liberty Tree Mall over in Danvers. But the party that followed was held at the Cape Ann Marina Resort on Route 133 in Gloucester. The festivities lasted until two in the morning. As Donna Chamberlin, the Marina’s manager, can attest, this was “the greatest party of the year. Any year.” Sixteen hundred people attended, a cheerful mix of Hollywood and locals.
But what of the film itself? It did after all deal with a human tragedy: In October 1991, when the 70-foot Andrea Gail and her crew of six were lost in the storm Junger so vividly described, the people of Gloucester were numbed. To see not just themselves but their dead loved ones portrayed by actors who had not the slightest personal connection with those events could, understandably, evoke resentment, indignation, and reawakened grief. But if such was the case for a few, most received the film with approval. “It was a good job,” says Sousa. “They worked hard to get the details straight.”
“Of course,” admits Viking Gustafson, “they had to change some things, like building up good guys and bad guys, to make the story work. But for the most part I think folks around here were upbeat about the job they did.”