JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska's capital city may not be an obvious feature in the romantic comedy ''Sweet Home Alabama,'' which opened this weekend in theaters across the country. But Doug Eboch, who wrote the movie, said growing up in Juneau was a major influence.
''Sweet Home Alabama'' collected $37.5 million to debut as the weekend's No. 1 movie, pushing out two-week champ ''Barbershop,'' which fell to third place behind the $15.1 million opening of Jackie Chan's ''The Tuxedo.''
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 Univer-sity of Southern California.
An 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.
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.
''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), whom 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 relationship once and for all Melanie sneaks back 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.
Originally, Eboch did not place 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. 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.
''I found it 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 clichs 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.
''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.''
Oddly enough, Juneau 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.''
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