Reality TV comes to Juneau

On the beach of Shelter Island before the cabin, David Bartlett can be seen in plaid beside Hans Moser in the orange jacket. Film crew in foreground with camera and mircrophone. Photo taken last day of filming in September 2015.

On the beach of Shelter Island before the cabin, David Bartlett can be seen in plaid beside Hans Moser in the orange jacket. Film crew in foreground with camera and mircrophone. Photo taken last day of filming in September 2015.

On Tuesday evenings at Louie’s Douglas Inn, two men and a whole lot of other patrons watch an episode of “Building Alaska.” Unlike the rest, however, these two men appear on screen.

David Bartlett and Hans Moser were filmed for the fifth season of Building Alaska, the reality TV show from DIY (Do it Yourself) Network. The show is about the challenges people face when building cabins in Alaska. Bartlett and Moser built a cabin for their friend Steve Box on Shelter Island in the summer of 2015. They’re both general contractors with Bartlett Carpentry, so they’re used to taking on big projects like houses and cabins. What they didn’t realize is how big the project would become when cameras got involved.

Box owned land on Shelter and had wanted to build a cabin for some time. The only problem was that as a commercial fisherman, he spends his summers out on the water. Bartlett and Moser wanted to help, but couldn’t take the time out of their paying contract work. Luck came when Box heard of an interested film crew in November 2014. The friends did a screen test for Orion Entertainment, and in just a couple weeks, it was decided: Moser and Bartlett would go on national television and build their friend’s cabin at the same time.

“It was just the perfect scenario. He got the deal on the cabin and we got to help him out,” Bartlett said.

In April 2015, the building began. They set the foundation and basic structure, then took a break to work on a house in Juneau before returning in July to finish the majority of the cabin project.

“We scheduled it all ahead of time so we’d go out there for two weeks at a time and somewhere in that two weeks they’d show up and stay there with us,” Bartlett said of the film crew. Moser commented that the five person crew, consisting of the cameramen, sound technician and the producer, would travel between the different cabin building sites in Alaska.

They had to work an unusual schedule, stopping construction at certain points when the crew was off filming elsewhere, since the crew wanted to film key moments. The crew also left behind time-lapse cameras when they were off filming others on the show.

“It was extremely unusual at first,” Bartlett said about filming. “There’s these cameras in your face all the time while you’re doing stuff. They really try to let you build stuff but they really don’t. They want you to do things repeatedly. None of us were very prepared going into this. We thought they would just be standing there filming us and we’d be doing our thing.” One time, he said, he had to set a post six times for the camera.

The hardest part was getting work done, they agreed. Every morning, the Orion Entertainment crew set up their cameras and wired Bartlett and Moser for sound, which took between one and two hours.

“Luckily they would get wet and cold, and eventually they’d say ‘we’re going to go warm up, you’re free to do what you want’ then we’d get some work done,” Bartlett commented. Since he and Moser were moving around, it was easier for them to stay warm during the wet summer, he said. The film crew had to just stand around in rain gear and try to keep their equipment dry.

“We were a little guarded because they’re filming you all the time,” said Bartlett. “The other weird thing about doing a show like that is you have these microphones that are on you all the time. They go directly to the sound guy but the producer has his ear piece in 24/7 so even when they’re not around, if we start talking about something they’re interested in, we make some mistake or something, they come running,” Bartlett said. Moser laughed, mimicking the hand signals they developed so they could communicate and get work done without attracting attention.

Bartlett said they were pretty conscious of being filmed which made them careful to try not to say anything “stupid.” Most of the drama from their segment came from the weather in a man vs. nature themed story.

“Dave and I usually get along. We don’t go yelling and screaming on the job. … You’re not going to get much drama out of us,” Moser said he and Bartlett told the producer ahead of filming. ““Obviously we aren’t actors so we can’t fake that. Luckily we had the weather. We had some rough days going out,” Moser said about using the skiff to transport supplies to Shelter.

“I think most of the segment is comedy,” Bartlett said, mentioning how not too much building actually made it into the cut. Out of each episode they were only featured for about fifteen minutes. Box, who came out when he could to assist with building, became the comic relief, filmed carrying a boat down the beach then falling, or cutting a board accidentally with a curve.

“Steve was a good sport,” Moser said of Box.

Besides the group’s goofy antics, what did become a recurring theme was how wild and different Alaska is from the Lower 48.

“Every day they interview you with some real pointed questions about Alaska and different things,” Bartlett said. “They kind of wear you down. They really want to hear how dangerous the water is or how dangerous it is to do this or that. They really grind on you cause they need that stuff for the show.” Bartlett said he understands the show is for people down south, but it isn’t as dangerous and dramatic as it can be made out to be.

“I didn’t realize that many people were interested in what was going on in Alaska,” Moser said, pointing out he was told by Orion Entertainment that the show averages two million viewers per episode. “You kind of take it for granted – you live here. You forget to look at the mountains, the water, and stuff that’s going on, but you know, it’s truly an amazing place. I think it’s cool that people get to see these bits and pieces of Alaska cause I’m sure there’s many crazy ideas of what Alaska is, considering we’re in Southeast Alaska and the rest of the state is so different. We’re just one piece of a big pie.”

Bartlett echoed this sentiment. He had always wanted to come to Alaska as kid, he said. He eventually did in 1993, stepping off an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry like so many before him. He lived in a tent to begin with and eventually built a life here. He even met Moser at the bike shop Moser worked at (Moser had lived in Alaska since 1979) and the two started working together in 2003.

“It doesn’t seem like a big deal to us but it’s a big deal to them,” Bartlett said of people living outside Alaska. “So if the show seems a little exaggerated here or there, it’s more to accentuate how special this place is and that our lives are truly a little bit different than other folks’. They’re real curious…everything is turned to concrete down there. I think there’s something refreshing about these Alaska shows to them.”

Bartlett and Moser finished the 1000-square-foot cabin in September, complete with glass windows and a covered, waterfront deck. They both said they had a good time with the project and became good friends with the crew they worked with. But the completion of the cabin wasn’t the end.

They watched the first episode at Louie’s and made a tradition of returning there for each sequential episode. One of Bartlett’s friends who watched with them visited his mother back east, and found out her favorite show was Building Alaska. Bartlett and Moser hammered and sawed right there in his mother’s living room, on screen. Bartlett said he also had old high school friends contacting him to say they saw him on TV. Moser too, had an unusual experience when he was at Foodland, a grocery store in Juneau, and someone told him “I saw you on TV!” Mostly, though, it’s friends and family that have talked to them about it, they said.

Bartlett and Moser said they’d consider doing another reality TV series in Alaska as long as it’s not too silly in its portrayal of Alaska or themselves — though that’s not on their plates at the moment. They’re content to sit in Louie’s with family and friends and laugh at how their laughs sound on film after long days building in Alaska.

*Jim Wagner and family, of Gustavus, are also on the show, building a “wilderness getaway” in Chicken.

 

• Contact Clara Miller at 523-2243 or at clara.miller@juneauempire.com.

The finished cabin on Shelter Island.

The finished cabin on Shelter Island.

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