"The fishing industry, in which you must include the sea and air rescue teams that
support it, is a more dangerous business than law enforcement, fire-fighting or any other
you can think of," explains director Wolfgang Petersen. "More people die on
fishing boats, per capita, than working in any other job in the U.S. Every journey a
fishing boat makes can be an all-or-nothing risk. It is life at its most exhilarating and
its most terrifying. The Perfect Storm is about a moment in time when a diverse group of
people who work at sea had to summon every ounce of their strength and courage to try to
save themselves from the most powerful weapon that nature ever devised."
"one last trip"
For centuries, Gloucester, Massachussetts, has been one of the major fishing ports in
the North Atlantic. In October, 1991, it is home to a swordfishing boat called the Andrea
Gail, captained by Billy Tyne (George Clooney), a veteran fisherman who has had a run of
disappointing catches. It docks beside the Hannah Boden, captained by Linda Greenlaw (Mary
Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who has been hugely successful with recent hauls.
Bobby Shatford (Mark Wahlberg) has a divorce lawyer to pay off and a new life to build
with his girlfriend, Christina 'Chris' Cotter (Diane Lane). Fishing is the only job he
knows that will pay the kind of money he needs. So, against Chris' wishes, he's going to
sign on again with Billy for one last trip this season. Four other men will join them.
Tyne is convinced that he can change his run of bad luck by going beyond the normal
reach of New England fishing boats to the Flemish Cap, a remote area known for its rich
fishing prospects. Once out at sea, he hears about a storm building offshore. But unlike
Greenlaw, who determines to play it safe, Billy thinks he can beat the storm back to
Gloucester, taking an enormous catch with him. If he doesn't try, his crew will come away
empty-handed on this last trip of the season. It is nothing out of the ordinary for
fishermen to wager their lives against their livelihoods.
What is out of the ordinary is the disturbing weather pattern that emerges once
the Andrea Gail is out to sea. Local TV weatherman Todd Gross (Chris McDonald) tells his
viewers it began with Hurricane Grace, a powerful southern storm front heading up the
Atlantic. Grace is on a collision course with two other weather fronts gathering strength
as they plow forward through the sea. When the three meet, there will be a storm more
terrifying than anyone has imagined, greater than any that has ever been recorded in
"barely have time to send out a warning"
It will come to be called "The No-Name Storm" or "The Halloween
Storm," coming as it does on that legendarily fearsome night. In fact, it will form
with such suddenness that the National Weather Bureau doesnít have time to call it
anything. They barely have time to send out a warning to all vessels at sea.
The crew of the Andrea Gail never receives that warning. They never know what is about
to hit them.
While the Andrea Gail and other boats, including a giant tanker, a cargo ship and a
32-foot sailboat, struggle to make their way back to shore, another set of personnel
carriers are following a course directly into the storm. These are the Air Force and Coast
Guard plane, helicopter and cutter rescue teams who are fully and frighteningly aware of
what they are up against.
Petersen became fascinated by Sebastian Jungerís best-selling nonfiction book when
he first read it. "Iíve always been drawn to the sea," says the director,
who won two well deserved Academy Award nominations for his breakthrough film, the
submarine drama DAS BOOT (Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay). "I think maybe
itís the last frontier for people to go out and have adventures. Itís an unknown
world thatís constantly changing. I grew up around boats in Hamburg, Germany."
Faced with the challenge of putting the story of such power and scope on screen,
Petersen realized he would have tremendous hurdles to overcome. He says, "This is a
story with many characters, all of them heroic in their own way, all of them with
individual stories that play out at the same time: some at sea, some on land, some in
helicopters, many on different boats. And, of course, the storm itself is a major
character. We were fortunate to find writers who could weave all those storylines
The filmmakers realized that what they wanted to do, from a technical standpoint, had
either never been done or never been done successfully. "We had to create a storm at
sea that was absolutely believable," Petersen explains. "Weather - especially
water - is the most difficult to make look realistic on film. So, we came up with a plan
that we thought could avoid many of the complications that have affected other water
movies. And, with a little bit of luck, we were able to successfully follow that
Petersenís vision for The Perfect Storm hinged on creating a cinematic experience
on par with the staggering reality of what the storyís true life characters lived
through. Unsatisfied with the digital simulation of water that has thus far been seen in
movies, Petersen knew that the production would have to cross one of the last frontiers in
visual effects in order to bring to life the most powerful and dominating character in the
piece Ė the storm-swept ocean.
A crew of computer graphics artists used groundbreaking techniques to bring to life the
dynamically simulated weather phenomenon at the heart of the story. This stunning
innovation, an enormous leap forward in visual effects, is what convinced the filmmakers
that The Perfect Storm could be made.
Australian cinematographer John Seale was Petersen's first choice. Seale's camera
department of eight worked with the special effects department to create the storm on the
sound stage, and with ILM, which created the computer generated imaging of the storm.
"And to be able to shoot a film about 70 foot fishing boats and 32 foot yachts in a
storm that created 80 to 100 foot seas and 100 - 120 mph winds, and do it on a sound stage
in Los Angeles - and to convince the audience that this is real - is pretty awesome."
Several items of special camera equipment were designed and built over months of
pre-production, says Seale, including soft waterproofing for cameras. Some of it was vital
for a sequence shot by the second unit, on the actual site of the real storm.
The people of Gloucester had a proprietary interest in this particular movie. In fact,
the book had become required reading in some of the local public schools and Junger
himself had become somewhat of a regional icon.
"The Perfect Storm Foundation"
In addition to maintaining regular contact with the friends heíd made in
Gloucester, after the author relocated to New York, he created The Perfect Storm
Foundation from proceeds of his book sales. The Foundationís purpose is to provide
opportunities for children of fishermen to find work outside this dangerous, and steadily
declining, field of endeavor.
The families of the Andrea Gail crew, as well as other Gloucester residents interviewed
and described in the book, also embraced, and were embraced by, the production.
(June 29, 2000)