The Lady Panthers jump for joy after winning a thrilling Region V 2A Championship game in Ketchikan last Saturday night. See story in Sports below. Jeff Brady

‘The Big White’ movie coming to Skagway

Dark comedy to feature Robin Williams, Holly Hunter

“The Big White”, a comedy about a big con, is needing some big snow – and what better place to find snow than the White Pass in April.
The movie, starring Robin Williams, is due to shoot some scenes in the Yukon next month, and a production crew traveled down the Klondike Highway to Skagway last week in search of locations.
After they gathered in Moe’s Frontier Bar later that day, word spread throughout town that a movie was coming to town.
They liked what they saw, and they liked Skagway for a base, Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue reported to the City Council on March 18.
It seems there wasn’t going to be enough snow this spring in Winnipeg, the film’s primary location, so they’ve decided to head north. An advance crew was due back in Skagway this week, with more to follow when shooting is due to begin on April 6. Casting of extras was held in Whitehorse last week, drawing crowds to the High Country Inn for auditions.
Donahue said agreements with Canadian unions preclude casting people from Skagway, but the Alaskan border town will benefit with 80-90 people in town during the shooting’s peak in mid-April. The Westmark Inn is opening up early, as is the Red Onion Saloon. A.B. Hall will be the production company’s satellite office. The city will not be charging them rent, but in exchange will get high speed internet and satellite hookups installed for hosting future events, Donahue said.
Skagway has been in this movie host role before.
Back in 1980-81, when “Never Cry Wolf” was shot in Skagway and on the pass, townsfolks became quite familiar with the stars and film makers, establishing friendships with some crew members that have lasted for years.
And about 10 years ago, Skagway was the base for the TV movie, “The Jim and Jennifer Stolpa Story”, about the couple and their baby who got snowbound in a storm in the Sierra Nevadas. It starred Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser, MD) and Kelly Williams (The Practice).
In addition to Robin Williams, stars rumored to be coming to Skagway this time include Holly Hunter and James Woods. On a movie gossip website last week, the film was said to have been in a “Big Wait” for a “Big Maybe” on a contract with Meg Ryan.
The website described the movie’s plot line as thus: “Set in Alaska ‘Big White’ follows a hapless travel agent whose wife suffers from psychosomatic Tourette’s Syndrome. Convinced a warmer climate might cure her ailment, he hatches a scheme to cash in on a million-dollar life insurance policy by stealing a corpse and pretending it’s his long-missing brother.”
The movie is being produced by Artisan Pictures and has been written by Collin Friesen of Winnipeg, according to the website.
Donahue said there will be some opportunity for host-type work locally - Tina Cyr, for example, was hired as a driver, to get stars to and from the pass.
“Don’t be surprised if we call on you for some service,” Donahue told council members and the audience last week.

SIGN OF SPRING - City worker Dan Rossi sprays the winter grit off the sidewalk along Alaska Street this week with a high pressure hose attached to the city’s new 500-gallon rolling water tank. Jeff Brady

Skagway makes History Channel

A film crew from the History Channel made Skagway their first stop for an upcoming two-hour show on the cable network. The working title of the program is “Alaska-Big America” and will air sometime in mid-July. The four-person crew arrived Monday March 8 to film reenactments from the Klondike Gold Rush and research Skagway’s unique attachment to that “big” piece of history.
Associate Producer Julie Pryor of Moore Huntley Productions fielded questions about the TV show while pouring over photographs from the historical archives at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
“I can’t believe how much they have on record here at the Park Service,” she said. “This is just great.”
Pryor relates that the idea for the show focuses on “Big places, big ideas and big themes. The gold rush is a big thing.” The show will be divided into different segments, all remaining true to the theme. Other aspects of the show will include Russian contact with Alaska, Alaska’s early explorations, the 1925 serum run to Nome, and early aviation in the territory. More modern components of the show will cover the WWII occupation of Attu in the Aleutian Islands, the construction of the Alaska Highway and the impact of oil on the state.
Pryor relates, “It is a sweeping history with larger than life characters.”
Weather is historically non-cooperative in Skagway, and bad weather on the highway prevented NPS historian Karl Gurke from making it to town for a scheduled interview meant for the show. Local Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue stepped up to the plate. Pryor said with a grin, “He fits that bigger than life character.”
Other local characters were used in reenactments that were filmed to bring the show to life. Tom Hall played the part of a gold miner who strikes it rich. The scene of him discovering gold was filmed on the banks of the Taiya River in Dyea. The next scene was shot in the Red Onion Saloon, and follows miner Hall entering the establishment to buy a beer with his newfound wealth and indulging in some local entertainment provided by Madame Spitfire performed by Billi Clem. The flashback scenes were shot in black and white to lend them a more authentic feel.
The film crew also filmed modern Skagway by driving up and down Broadway and plans to juxtapose these modern color images with the old monochrome photos that Pryor studied at the Park Service.
Pryor lives in Boston and was born in New Jersey. She points out, “People have asked why we’re filming now and not in the summer when the weather will be better. We have very little time to put the show together for our July broadcast deadline. There is a lot of work to do in Boston once the Alaska work is done. We had to film now. Tomorrow (Friday) we leave on the ferry to head to Cordova.”
Pryor said the entire crew was impressed with Skagway and its populace. When asked about her overall experience in town she replied, “We’re having a ball.”


Travis Locke, a member of the Skagway Fire Dept. for three years, is now fighting fires in Iraq. He has been in Baghdad since Oct. 3, 2003, and recently sent the local fire department some pictures of fires he has fought, including extinguishing some car bomb fires like the one above. Locke received all of his fire training in Skagway. Photo courtesy of SFD


SPORTS & REC.: Lady Panthers: Region champs, first title in 20 years

OBITUARIES: Jenny Sinka and Ole Slettevold

HEALTH FAIR: Biennial event set for Rec. Center April 10

To read all the stories in the News, including city and school digests, letters and commentary, police and court reports, and view our many advertisers for Skagway products and services, you must subscribe to the real thing. Out of town subscriptions cost $35 per year for second class mail, $45 for first class mail. Send a check to Skagway News, Box 498, Skagway, AK 99840 or call us at 907-983-2354 with a credit card number.