Hollywood came to Chatham last December, to complete shooting Disney's "The Finest Hours", based on a true story of "the greatest small boat rescue" in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The call went out to Cape Codders interested in being one of the 200 extras-- ordinary people with no speaking parts, but needed as "townsfolk" in the background. I answered that call at the Chatham Middle School gym one rainy day last fall and was called within days to come for a costume fitting.
Massachusetts has courted the film industry by offering generous tax breaks and the strategy worked to attract Disney to an enormous warehouse building in the massive Quincy Shipyard. That's where the film's interior spaces were built and filmed. On the day I was scheduled for my costume fitting I was greeted by security at the outer gate and then directed to a cluster of trailers within the complex, one for men and one for women.
It was a bit of a cattle call, harried young staffers organizing the steady influx of extras, eventually teaming us with a wardrobe person who took us to yet another trailer filled with racks of clothing that looked like it came from the Salvation Army Thrift Store. With every sad layer the wardrobe assistant placed on me, my look got worse. I kept thinking once she sees how this piece doesn't flatter me she'll surely say "oh we can do better than that for you", but nope, she took a step back to admire her selections and declared me "cute". My dreary 1950s townsfolk look was decided.
Three weeks later my fellow townsfolk and I stood outside in the freezing cold for four nights in early December. We reported to wardrobe and hair in the middle school-- we were under strict orders not to wear any makeup or nail polish, at 3:00 pm and we were released again at 5:00 am. We were fed cafeteria food, and paid non-union wages of $139. per day, including overtime.
It was fascinating be a part of a big budget Disney film, and to see how the set and lighting designers transformed modern snow-less Chatham into a blizzard bound village circa 1952. They had paid visits to New England car shows throughout the summer and fall, recruiting vintage cars and their owners to be in the streets and on the docks, lighting the way for the crew to find their way back home after rescuing 32 merchant marines stranded offshore. Throughout the week in December, these wonderful cars, sprayed with paper pulp to mimic snow, were all over the lower Cape, a reminder of the big production in our midst.
My part involved moving amongst the cars at the docks as soon as all the headlights turned on. With engines running continuously and car and truck exhaust pipes puffing blue clouds into the sky, we probably shot the same scene 65 times the first night. Other scenes included cheering wildly at the docks when the rescue boat appeared through the mist. We did that about 65 times too.
The funniest episode was not intended to be funny at all, and it was difficult not to combine numb feet and total sleep deprivation and just laugh hysterically. I mentioned we had to cheer like crazy at the docks? Well for several hours more, we had to repeat that in complete silence because the actors had speaking parts as they stepped off the boat and they couldn't compete with our cheers. There we were, waving and silently clapping and mime yelling like crazy.
"The Finest Hours" stars Chris Pine and Casey Affleck and a whole bunch of uncredited New Englanders who stood outside in thin drab clothing for several nights in a row, to witness a little Hollywood history in our town. A release date has not been announced, however earlier reports indicated it would be as early as autumn.
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