Friday, April 17, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Whidbey Island Becoming Popular Filming Site

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

These are the kind of Californians that most Puget Sound islanders don't seem to mind so much: the ones from Hollywood.

A crew from Universal Pictures is turning historic buildings near Coupeville into sets for Ethan Hawke and Sam Shepard in "Snow Falling On Cedars," based on the David Guterson best seller. It's the second film production this month to invade the quiet, picturesque Whidbey Island town.

Last week, a Warner Bros. crew painted all the downtown Coupeville buildings white for Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock and Aidan Quinn to traipse along the sidewalks in "Practical Magic."

And though some residents grumble that it's all more trouble than it's worth, most locals are basking in the Hollywood glitz and the monetary bonus for their seasonal economies.

"There's been a lot of benefit and a lot of fun, too," said Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard, who estimated the studios dropped more than $100,000 in town since arriving earlier this month.

Coupeville is supposed to be a small New England town in "Practical Magic," about two sisters who discover their witchcraft heritage and use their newfound powers to fix their love lives. The movie is directed by Griffin Dunne ("Addicted to Love"). Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing co-star. The filming has moved to Friday Harbor, where the crew is expected to stay into mid-May.

Scott Hicks, Oscar-nominated for "Shine," directs "Snow Falling On Cedars." It's about a journalist who encounters racism and his childhood love while reporting on the murder trial of her husband, a Japanese-American fisherman, just after World War II.

Filming on Whidbey Island was expected to begin in about two weeks, after scenes were shot in Port Townsend and Cathlamet, Wahkiakum County, studio publicist Julia Frittaion said. The movie is due in theaters in December.

Puget Sound islands have become a film set of choice for Hollywood lately. The first major movie filmed in Coupeville was "The War of the Roses" in 1989. In 1992 and 1994, Friday Harbor hosted the orca-epics "Free Willy" and "Free Willy II." Last year, Kevin Costner filmed part of his big-budget embarrassment "The Postman" just off Whidbey Island at Deception Pass State Park.

And now this.

"Everyone's star-struck," Friday Harbor Mayor Gary Boothman said with a twinge of cynicism. "Nicole Kidman is on the island and people are all agog about it."

Boothman and some others said they aren't as glitter-eyed over the whole thing. One small group unsuccessfully tried to block the film crew from using San Juan Island County Park.

"I just hope people remember that when this all goes away, this is still going to be Friday Harbor," Boothman said. "We're not a movie set, we're a town."

Ian Ith's e-mail address is:

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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