By KYLE HOPKINS
As "Everybody Loves Whales" ended a second week filming in Anchorage, a consensus began to emerge among the onlookers, extras and hired hands orbiting the $30 million movie production.
Drew Barrymore is smaller than you'd think.
But the flock of workers that follows the production as it moves from location to location across the city? The entourage of trailers and equipment carts? Bigger than expected.
"It's almost like an anthill," said Amy Anderson of Anchorage, who is working as a medic on the set. Only when the cameras roll does the commotion stop, she said. "The entire ant farm just freezes in time."
For first-timers like Anderson, watching "Whales" has been a study in movie-making 101, a taste of the cafe star sightings, nomadic trailer parks and traffic-clogging productions that local movie boosters hope to make increasingly common in Anchorage.
Anderson stopped to talk Thursday along D Street, a block from the day's scene, where filmmakers had invaded an old tourist shop on Fifth Avenue. For the day, Bruce's T-Shirts, between Ginger restaurant and Club Paris, played the role of a Reagan-era Greenpeace office.
In the film, Barrymore is an activist fretting over the three California gray whales trapped beneath sea ice near Barrow in 1988. On the street Thursday afternoon, there was no sign of the actress as black fabric covered the windows of the street-side set.
Actor John Krasinski, who plays a small-town reporter, rode by behind tinted windows. Everywhere else: activity.
Along D Street, Kaladi Brothers Coffee handed out free mochas and "sludge cups" to cast and crew from a mini-trailer decorated with hot-rod flames.
"The director drinks soy cappuccinos four times a day," said Kaladi "coffee guru" Paul Rasher.
In one nearby truck is a mobile darkroom, where film shot during the day is packaged for shipping to L.A., said David Linck, the movie publicist who patrolled the sidewalk in a Dodgers cap and Sean John jacket.
In another trailer worked Nick Mestrandrea, whose job is to provide between-meal snacks during the crew's 12-hour days. A Los Angeles resident, Mestrandrea said he spends as many as 50 weeks a year catering movie sets.
Before coming to Alaska, he worked on a Hugh Jackman movie in Michigan called "Real Steel." It's about boxing robots, Mestrandrea said. Jackman favored chocolate protein shakes on the set.
For "Whales," the caterer makes regular runs to an Anchorage Costco, spending roughly $1,800 a visit on pistachio nuts, grape leaves, spinach dip and other fixings, he said.
"Drew likes Tejava," Mestrandrea said, referring to a brand of micro-brewed iced tea.
Along Fifth Avenue on Thursday, traffic stalled.
In order to recreate 1988 on a busy downtown artery, the filmmakers applied for a city permit to disrupt traffic. At least one lane was closed and traffic was stopped while cameras rolled to avoid modern vehicles cruising by the set, said Shane Locke, who oversees road closure permitting for the city.
The filmmakers paid no more than $600 for a single "special activity permit" that covered multiple filming days, Locke said. It's the same paperwork promoters submit to hold a footrace or parade, he said.
Locke was away from work Friday and a list of the days and locations where the movie will be shot along public streets wasn't immediately available from the city. A location manager for the film did not return phone calls.
Linck, the movie spokesman, said there will be few days when filming interrupts traffic because much of the footage is being shot indoors. Despite the Barrow setting, nearly the entire movie is being filmed in Anchorage.
The production also hired off-duty police officers through the Anchorage Police Department to assist during filming -- a job that includes traffic control, said Lt. David Parker, a department spokesman.
The department bills $110 an hour per officer for the service, Parker said. The portion of that fee earned by the officers amounts to their regular overtime pay, he said.
The only cars parked directly in front of the set Thursday were a chipped Chevy truck and a red Suburban with the old-school yellow Alaska license plates. Randy Cantor, head of transportation for the movie, walked among the plastic-covered carts of movie lights. Part of his job this summer has been hunting down vintage rigs for scenes like this, he said.
He arrived in July and sometimes he'd leave his card on promising vehicles. "If I saw a car on the street, I'd just walk up to them and say, 'Hey, do you want to be in a movie?' "
To move the movie's fleet of vehicles around Anchorage, Cantor says he hired more than two dozen Teamsters. They're making more money on the film than they do working on the North Slope, he said.
WEST BECOMES BARROW
The shoot moved on Friday to West High School, where the film crew transformed the library foyer into a Barrow school. The walls read "Whalers," the Barrow mascot, in blue and gold.
"Greatland Conference Champions 1987-1988: Basketball," proclaimed a banner that hung above a semicircle of wooden chairs. In the movie, the setting will be a heated Barrow community meeting about the wayward whales.
On set Friday were Barrymore, Krasinski, Ted Danson, who plays an oil man, plus an actor who was previously announced as part of the cast: Dermot Mulroney. Mulroney ("About Schmidt," "My Best Friend's Wedding") plays a National Guard officer, Linck said.
Another addition is Stephen Root, who has been in everything from the cable series "True Blood" to "No Country for Old Men" but may be best known as Milton, the office-burning, stapler-loving cubicle drone in 1999's "Office Space."
Root is playing the governor of Alaska, a fictional one named Haskell. Among his upcoming scenes is a press conference that will be filmed in about two weeks at the 4th Avenue Theatre, Linck said.
First, West High. The crew planned to shoot there through the weekend and a dozen motor homes lined the parking lot Friday.
The School District is renting the space to the filmmakers, said communications director Heather Sawyer. It's a common practice among businesses, nonprofits and sports teams looking for space in Anchorage, she said, with rentals expected to generate $650,000 for the district this year.
The filmmakers expressed interest in at least three schools and have paid about $28,000 for rental space so far, Sawyer said, though it's unclear what the final bill will be.
Sawyer said the district agreed not to fully disclose when and where the filmmakers are shooting at the public school buildings.
"They've asked us to kind of keep things quiet so they don't have people trying to go onto the set," she said.
Speaking of which, the handmade signs warning kids to "STOP" and "This area closed" in a hallway outside the West High School set on Friday didn't stop a few students from trying to glimpse Barrymore or maybe Krasinski rehearsing.
When was Drew coming out, asked a skinny girl with a camera phone. The actors were in her library, after all. A boy begrudgingly turned back after the publicist told him he'd have to find another route to see his counselor.
About 10 students in the advanced acting class, however, got a look at the set early in the day.
"We saw Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski and Ted Danson through the library. So, got a little glimpse of their faces," said 15-year-old Katelyn Lanier-Moylan.
A junior with braces, Lanier-Moylan said her most recent role at West High was playing a maid in the play "Sly Fox." She could see Barrymore was wearing a scarf just like her own on the movie set, she said.
NOTE: This story updates a blog post about Milton-as-governor and originally appeared Oct. 2.