Shooting for the Alaska Marine Highway project took crew members all over Southeast Alaska, filming from spring until early fall in 2012. Skip Gray, the principle photographer for the project, was there for almost every mile of the way.
We worked with a pretty small team by a lot of television standards. There were usually just 2 or 3 of us out in the field shooting at a time. The whole production team isn’t more than 5 or 6 people for the most part–the core people that were working on it.
Usually, out in the field I was working with Scott Foster and David Waters. Scott Foster was the field producer and David Waters helped with audio and did some of the photography. David Waters is kind of the MacGyver of KTOO and he rigs up all kinds of fun stuff and fun ways to shoot. Some of the more fun creative shots, he helped put together and/or shot. He was always a lot of fun to work with.
Luckily, I’ve traveled all around Southeast Alaska in my job here at KTOO over the years and seen a lot of it and I’ve also ridden the ferries a lot. So I had some pretty good ideas of locations that would work well.
Very early in the process of planning this program, there was one shot I knew I would love to get if only we could get to this location, but it was a very remote location. And I thought we weren’t going to have the budget to hire a plane or a charter boat to take us all the way out there just to get this one shot, so I didn’t really think we were ever going to get it. But as we were coming back from Skagway on one of our trips up Lynn Canal, the captain said ‘well, if you need to be put off the boat anywhere, let me know.” And I immediately thought of this one location and they put down their little fast rescue boat and took us to the beach and we got what I think is one of the most beautiful shots in the show. It wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been willing to go that extra step for us. It really helped make me happy because I was glad to get that shot.
That shot shows the ferry against the background of some the most dramatic mountains along Lynn Canal, which is a long deep fjord. It’s got beautiful dramatic mountains right on the edge of the Juneau ice field. It was immediately one of my first picks for a location to shoot the ferry going by.
We were very concerned for a big share of the summer that we weren’t going to get any decent weather. Weather is almost always a challenge in Alaska. It can change suddenly to the worst-and often does. In southeast Alaska in particular, it can rain nearly all summer long, which it happened to do much of the summer we were shooting this. So we were quite concerned in the beginning that we wouldn’t have any nice days to shoot with. But we eventually found a few here and there that we were able to take short trips with and get beautiful footage.
Even when the weather is less than desirable, it’s always very beautiful, even if it’s raining or cloudy and misty. That is what southeast Alaska is all about. It’s a rainforest. And most of us who live here are used to it and love it the way it is.
There were two things while shooting on board the ferries that make it very difficult. One is just the movement of the boat and the waves and trying to get shots that don’t make people seasick. It makes it look, generally, a lot worse than it really is. Unless you’re trying to show that it’s really rough out, you mostly just want to show how beautiful it is and show the pretty scenery as you’re going by without making it look like it’s in the middle of an earthquake. And then the boats all have a vibration to them that is very hard to get rid of too. There are a lot of shots that we had to toss out just because of for one reason or another had too much unwanted movement or vibration in the shots. Sometimes, you’d be shooting for fairly long periods of time and just nothing would seem to work right—there’s too much vibration or too much movement—and you just keep shooting and shooting ‘til all of a sudden, for reasons unbeknownst by me, everything just smooths out. The boat vibrations, the wave movement all works. You still have movement but it’s a nice gentle movement that works with the picture instead of detracts from it.
While we were onboard the ships we were shooting. If we weren’t eating or sleeping we were shooting. And I don’t think I had a single meal the whole time we were shooting that wasn’t interrupted by looking out the window or door and going ‘oh my god there’s another beautiful shot, we have to go shoot.’ So we’d run out and then come back to our cold meal and eat the rest of our dinner and maybe run right back out again. Because of some of the challenges, we just had to shoot a lot of footage.
Skip estimates that there were more than 160 hours of footage from those few months of shooting. The next challenge would getting it sorted and edited.