A little of Juneau found in 'Sweet Home Alabama'

JDHS graduate Doug Eboch wrote screenplay for new romantic comedy

Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2002

Alaska's capital city may not be an obvious feature in the romantic comedy "Sweet Home Alabama," which opens this weekend in theaters across the country, including Juneau. But Doug Eboch, who wrote the movie, said growing up in Juneau proved to be a major influence.

Eboch, 34, lived in Juneau in the 1980s and graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1986. He then moved to Los Angeles to study film production and screenwriting at the University of Southern California.

The Auke Bay bar Squire's Rest makes an appearance in the film in a roundabout way, Eboch said.

"There's a bar scene in 'Sweet Home Alabama' and I got the idea for that roadhouse, good-old-boy bar from Squire's Rest, although officially I was too young to drink then," he said.

The film is set in Alabama but Eboch said he drew on his experiences coming from the relatively small town of Juneau and moving to the world of filmmaking in Los Angeles.

"The most direct thing based on reality is Melanie's aspiration to leave and do something she can't do in her small town," Eboch said, referring to the main character in the film.

"There's the sense of embarrassment sometimes to admit you're from a small town - that people will laugh at you, and people try to hide that. It's silly," he said. "You have to incorporate your past into your new life. That doesn't seem like something you'll have to do, but it is necessary."

In "Sweet Home Alabama," Reese Witherspoon stars as New York fashion designer Melanie Carmichael. Melanie finds herself engaged to the city's most eligible bachelor, (Patrick Dempsey) but her past holds secrets, including her redneck husband Jake, (Josh Lucas), the boyfriend she married in high school. He's refused to divorce her although she left him and her small-town life years earlier. Determined to end their contentious relationship once and for all Melanie sneaks back home to Alabama to confront her past.

Melanie finds that Jake has his merits and that while you can take the girl out of the country, you can't take the country out of the girl.

Although Eboch drew from his Juneau experiences, he did not originally set Melanie's hometown in Alaska - or Alabama.

"I originally set it in a small Oregon town," he said. "I felt if I set it in Juneau it would seem like an Alaska movie. Alaska is such a unique world to people in the Lower 48. I felt Oregon would make it seem more universal."

Oregon was switched to Alabama at the request of one of the producers, an Alabama native who was a major backer of the film. That was fine with Eboch.

"One interesting thing is it didn't have to change that much," he said. "Small towns are still small towns. We just changed what they ate and some phrases and such. I think people in a small town in Oregon may have more in common with people from a small town in Alabama than with people in Portland or Seattle."

Eboch said he gives a lot of credit to writer C. Jay Cox, who went to the South and researched the details to give the script authenticity. Eboch said people have asked him if he was careful to avoid clichés about the South. That wasn't a problem, he said.

"I found easier to write Jake's character; he is more like the people I knew growing up," he said. "I ran the risk more of writing clichés for Andrew, the New York character."

Eboch decided he wanted to write and direct movies when he was in third grade after watching "Star Wars" 21 times and reading about George Lucas and the behind-the-scenes world of filmmaking.

"That was the first time I became aware that people actually made movies," he said. "I thought, naively, it sounded like a cool job; I thought I'd do that when I grew up."

He said that's what gets many people into film school, where they discover it's not that simple.

"It's not exactly what I expected, but it's fun anyway," he said. "It's a lot more work and a lot less interesting being on a set than you would expect. There's a lot of sitting around. There's a famous quote, 'The most exciting day of your life is the first day on a set, and the most boring is your second day.' "

That is not true for one person, Eboch said - the film's director. Eboch wants his career to include directing as well as writing, and he recently finished "The Twenty-Four Year-Old Virgin," a short film that combines those talents. He made the eight-minute film to help advertise his abilities.

"It was really educational and it came out well," he said. "It's an enormous amount of work - go, go, go all the time. I hope to do more of that."

That led to his current writing project, a guide for independent filmmakers taking their films on the festival circuit for the first time. At least 500 non-studio films are produced each year, he said, and that number is growing.

"I found there's not a lot of information out there when you have a film and want to do publicity," he said. "I'm writing it because I want to know."

Oddly enough, Juneau also provided Eboch with his first opportunity to meet a film writer and director.

"John Sayles was first director I met. He came to speak in Juneau and introduced 'Secaucus Seven' at the Orpheum Theater," he said. "It was great for a small town to have a theater programming that material. It was a good education for me to not be inundated just by Hollywood."

Riley Woodford can be reached at rileyw@juneauempire.com.

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