AK: A show more real than ‘reality tv’ comes to Sitka

The filmmakers plan to use framing, wide shots, and shadows to evoke the feelings of living in a remote community. (Driven Equation image)

A pair of producers is hoping to put together a show that reflects a more authentic Alaskan experience than what is prevalent in reality television nowadays.

The Sitka TV Show is just entering development, and its creators want to combine Hollywood know-how with local talent to produce a six-part anthology series that redefines how viewers see Alaskans.

By now most Sitkans have seen the movie The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.

And if you haven’t, well it will always be there for a rainy day. As a work of fiction, The Proposal is entertaining — and as a work of fiction its connection to reality, especially in Sitka where the story unfolds, is minimal. This scene where Betty White performs a Tlingit song by Sitka composer Ed Littlefield is a close as it gets.

Except for some b-roll, the entire film was shot on the East Coast.

“The main theme will be healing,” Thomaseto explained. He and co-producer Helena Sardinha want to explore the stories of six characters whose lives intertwine in Sitka. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

“That’s why it’s so important for us to shoot it here,” said independent producer Helena Sardinha in remarks to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce. “Not to shoot it in Massachusetts and pretend that it’s here.”

Sardinha and her partner Rafael Thomaseto are originally from Brazil, but are now Los Angeles-based independent filmmakers. The Sitka TV Show will be a work of fiction, but it is one they want to feel very grounded in the community. Sardinha describes Sitka as a character in the story.

“There is a sense of honesty on the screen that will come through when we have actual Alaskan people working with us,” Sardinha said. “The vision that I have from Sitka, being from another country, is completely different than some of you guys here that live and breathe this air every day.”

The project is scaled as an indie: Low budget, but with high expectations. The filmmakers want to assemble a cast and crew of about 20 people — half of whom are industry professionals — and about 50 extras. Their budget for the pilot episode is $291,000.

The format, says Thomaseto, is anthology. Character studies of six individuals in an intertwined storyline.

“We’re aiming to shoot a pilot now,” Thomaseto said. “And in the pilot we’ll have those six characters, five-to-six minutes for each, where their stories are interconnected, and then throughout the other episodes in the season, every episode is about one character only. And then the last one — sometime in the fall — would be about Alaska Day, and everyone comes together and we make a conclusion for the season.”

The producers have hired a screenwriter to develop the stories, which should touch on themes like global warming, discrimination, crime and punishment, and women’s empowerment. So whatever the Sitka TV Show turns out to be, it won’t be Ice Road Truckers. Sardinha and Thomaseto came to Sitka at the invitation of family friends — Patricia Buak and her husband, Tony, who bought a restaurant here in 2015 and are backing the development of the show. Patricia Buak is billed as the show’s executive producer.

In their presentation to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce, Sarhinha and Thomeseto were candid about the benefits of local sponsorship.

“If we get the money from Hollywood or other international investors that we might connect with,” Sardinha explained, “that honesty that I was talking about before, and that realness, is not going to be on the screen.”

The pair say their goal is to have their pilot episode purchased by a cable television network or a streaming service, which would fund the production of five more episodes over the course of the year — and create an  altogether different kind of proposal for the real town of Sitka.

Robert Woolsey is the news director at KCAW in Sitka.

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