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Dorsey Pictures’ Crews Wrestle With Dangerous Beast: Alaska

Series shot in the Last Frontier must conquer weather, wildlife, isolation

Alaska is the sort of place that routinely crushes adventurers. The stabbing cold, the not-so-friendly wildlife and more test any outdoorsman’s raw survival skills.

Yet Dorsey Pictures is shooting no fewer than three reality series in the Last Frontier: “Building Alaska,” headed into season eight for DIY, plus “Living Alaska” and “Guiding Alaska” for Travel Channel.

The Denver-based company, long a mainstay in field sports production and wilderness filming, has a network of crews it can send to more than a dozen locations at any one time — a must since it has many adventure-based programs in production at once. Alaska, though, is “a beast unto itself,” says John Burshtan, the company’s VP of production, laughing.

The combination of aggressive animals, extreme weather and isolated locations make Alaska supremely difficult, Burshtan says. Fast-changing weather plays havoc with flight schedules, driving up costs and cutting shooting days. “You had better come there with some creative problem-solving in place,” Burshtan says. “I always wish there was more wiggle room (in the budget).”

Allison Boon, Dorsey’s VP of development, says the company has learned to find on-camera talent who want to live in a remote locale but crave attention and give good TV. Casting often takes months, as many Alaskans prefer to remain offline and unplugged. “It’s a special kind of person who wants to live off the grid,” Boon says.

Cindy Baggish, the company’s head of casting, works hard to earn the trust of Alaskans, getting to know them via email, Skype or telephone. Once an applicant has gone through the effort to set up an Internet connection — a mark of serious interest — Baggish looks for an openness, an ability to pull the viewer into the story.

Burshtan insists his crews be as determined as the on-camera talent to conquer the wilderness, and be ready to handle almost any situation on their own. At the same time, they must build trust with the talent, so they can be themselves when cameras roll.

Burshtan favors one thing in his crews above all. It’s best, he says, to hire people “who still believe they are immortal because we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen there.”

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