'Big Miracle' crew begins filming

September 16, 2010 

Picture the opening scene.

It's a foggy gray morning in Bootlegger Cove. Semi-trucks and guys with coffee cups line 11th Avenue as dozens of people orbit a single home. Everywhere you look are union workers and wires, people walking purposely with clipboards and lights nearly as big as beer kegs stacked on carts.

Get used to that image. Filmmakers on Thursday began shooting the Universal Pictures movie "Everybody Loves Whales" here, launching 10 weeks of filming in Alaska.

The scene shot Thursday on the edge of downtown was a simple one: A California family watches news coverage of the media circus that followed the discovery of three gray whales trapped in the sea ice near Barrow.

To make a Bootlegger Cove house look like one in the Golden State circa 1988, the filmmakers painted all the walls facing the street brown, arranged California-style plants outside the door and hid the plasma TV, said Jeff Congdon, an Anchorage doctor who owns the home.

It's a surreal reversal of the state's usual relationship with Hollywood: trying to make Alaska look like someplace else. Another major movie is expected to begin filming here early next year as the state government attempts to subsidize TV and film productions with fat tax incentives.

"Whales," a fictionalized retelling of the '88 whale rescue attempt, will likely film about 12 hours a day, five days a week over the next 2 1/2 months, said David Linck, a spokesman for the movie.

It generally takes about a day to shoot two to four minutes of a film, he said.

"We're starting real slow this day," he said as the crew circled the house and walked from trailer to trailer between West Anchorage lawns.

"Do you know where the honey wagon is?" one man asked another. (The film industry evidently uses "honey wagons" in the same manner Alaskans use "honey buckets.")

A photographer layered in gear in the soupy morning haze stopped to talk with Linck. "You know, I wasn't expecting to wear all my warm clothes on the first day," he said.

Across the street, a neighbor sat in a plastic chair, holding a mug and a cane as he watched the buzzing production.

"I woke up 2:30 this morning and the place was packed," he said.

On Thursday, at least, the set felt like a construction site. Lots of heavy equipment and hubbub, where no one notices you until you step too close.

Linck, the publicist, shooed a Daily News photographer down from one of the trucks. Insurance liability, he explained.

Moments later, a car pulled up and out stepped Ted Danson ("Cheers," "Becker," "Curb Your Enthusiasm") who plays an oil man in the film. Director Ken Kwapis ("He's Just Not That Into You") put an arm around the actor and the pair walked inside the doctor's freshly painted house.

"He must have just got in," Linck said of Danson. "Because he works tomorrow."

Read The Village, the ADN's blog about rural Alaska, at adn.com/thevillage. Twitter updates: twitter.com/adnvillage. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334.

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