July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:52 PM
"I rented the video Snow Falling on Cedars the other night.As you may recall, some of the scenes in the Hollywood adaptation of Bainbridge Island author David Guterson's novel were shot here on Whidbey Island.The trained islander eye will notice the beach at Fort Ebey State Park, the historic Ferry House at Ebey's Landing, a field of strawberries planted by Coupeville farmer Dale Sherman, and some sun-dappled scenes in the forest at Deception Pass State Park.Port Townsend gets its own day in the sun, too, with scenes shot at Fort Worden and a major moment in the movie filmed at the old Port Townsend ferry dock on Water Street. Snow Falling on Cedars is beautiful to look at, but the story is jumbled. Critics panned it and I can see why.If you were here in the spring of 1998, you might remember that it was a heady time on Whidbey Island. There were major movie stars in our midst and money flowing into the local economy. Practical Magic, the other Hollywood production shot here in the spring of 1998, made a huge splash in Coupeville. As soon as the Practical Magic crowd left the island, a crew of about 150 arrived to shoot Snow Falling on Cedars. The producers of that movie were Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, true heavyweights of the Hollywood scene, with movies like ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park to their credit. Their gang pumped money into the Whidbey economy, staying at the Coachman Inn for more than a week and even spending a night drinking at the Blue Dolphin.Ethan Hawke apparently liked the Blue Dolphin. Hawke is the star of Snow Falling on Cedars. I can say I saw him in his underpants. Let me explain.Kennedy and Marshall held a press conference in Port Townsend when the movie came to this corner of the state. The Seattle papers and TV stations were interested, since Snow Falling on Cedars, though fictional, is a story that revolves around the internment of Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest during World War II. I went to the press conference as a reporter with the News-Times. The movie crew was shooting its Port Townsend scenes, then was heading to Whidbey. I asked some questions about why they chose Ebey's Landing as a place to film, and Kennedy and Marshall blanched as if I had revealed a nuclear secret.The Whidbey Island scenes were meant to be a mystery, apparently. Maybe it was people like me they wanted to keep away.I'd like to think I don't get startstruck. I'm just a down-to-earth Pacific Northwesterner. But on the day Snow Falling on Cedars was to film in Fort Ebey State Park, I decided to get up at 7 a.m. and go for a jog there with my dog. You know, just to see.My canine friend and I took some back trails through the park. Just as we descended the wooded bluff trail to the beach, the entire Snow Falling on Cedars entourage arrived. We're talking a dozen semi trucks, support vehicles, you name it. Loud engines and generators. The normally tranquil Fort Ebey beach turned into a bustling industrial center in a matter of minutes.Suddenly I felt like a peeping Tom sneaking a glimpse behind the Hollywood curtain. This sense of awkwardness intensified when I noticed a group of young guys outside a trailer stripping out of their street clothes and putting on battle fatigues. One of these young men was Ethan Hawke. In his underwear. When producers Kennedy and Marshall suddenly marched by and cast a glance at me - the treacherous Whidbey Island newspaper reporter - I was sufficiently flustered that I decided to make my exit.When I watched Snow Falling on Cedars the other night, the Fort Ebey beach was in two or three brief scenes. The Ferry House was in the movie for about 30 seconds. The Deception Pass forest, about 10 seconds. The field that they rented from Dale Sherman and had him plant with strawberries - that was in the movie for about 20 seconds.The incredible extravagance is what strikes me most. I'm sure the makers of Snow Falling on Cedars spent over $1 million coming to Whidbey and filming here, all for minimal screen time.This movie madness brings out the Hatfield and McCoy in Coupeville's Front Street merchants - they're still dealing with fallout from the filming of Practical Magic. But all I know is that a lot of other Whidbey businesses benefit when Hollywood comes to town. And newspaper editors get a column out of it. "