The ferry system is an Alaska institution, yet there’s a lot of history people don’t know. Writer Lynne Lott says that the story of Alaska’s Marine Highway is not just one story, it’s the story of many.
It was an exciting project to part of. The ferry system is an institution in Alaska. There are so many stories. The history of Alaska as a state and the history of the marine highway are pretty intertwined. It was the marine highway that made so much of Alaska sort of connect in ways that they never had before. Trying to get that story on the page and then on the screen was a challenge because there’s not one story.
It’s the story of a lot of people and a lot of years and a lot of trial and error in what would work and what would best serve Alaska and serve Alaska’s communities.
It was fun to see so many of the people who were on the ferry from really the very beginning or in those early years, reflect on that time and sort of tell the story of how it came to be because in many ways it’s the story of Alaska. One of my challenges was trying to get all of that information into an hour. You know you can’t do that. You only have an hour, but you can hit on the highlights and that’s what I certainly tried to do.
One of the best things you can do in storytelling is give a story context. What really makes it a richer story is watching how it came to be. So we spent a fair amount of time finding that balance of introducing something and then going back look at historical documentation and historical footage.
The historical footage and historical photographs that we were working with makes the stories of the past come alive and they also lend meaning to the stories of today because you have that context of how it all happened. We were so lucky that we were able to get our hands on all of that historical footage because it’s just fun to watch. It’s so full of nostalgia. I wonder what it’s going to be like in another 50 years when people look back at this show.
I used the University of Alaska Fairbanks library extensively in my research. There was a lot of great documentation in the past. They’ve put out everything from promotional ‘ride the ferry’ brochures and booklets. The library also had a lot of reports, studies that had been done–feasibility of having these different routes. I tried to consume as much of that as I could. When you’re writing it, you don’t want to miss something. You want to make sure that you’re writing from the most educated place. That’s a big part of anyone’s job as a writer is to say ‘I consumed everything there was to consume about this subject and here, I brought you this, these things that I think were the best of what was offered and these other things that I think you need to know about this subject.’
I do a lot of writing for print publications and doing a show like this so different because it really truly is a team effort. You could write the best show in the world, but if it doesn’t have the video footage to back it up or it’s not edited well or the project isn’t managed well it won’t come out as a really fine project. I was so lucky to work with people who are really great at what they do. Every person, every part of this project, people contributed something. More than really any other type of media, doing a documentary like this is a team effort and I think that’s a really exciting part of it.