Alaskan Screenwriter Pushes for Homegrown Stories on the Big Screen
He's written a script that could bring Hollywood to Point Hope in the Northwest Arctic.
The film industry has been making Alaska its backdrop more and more lately: “Everybody Loves Whales” ... “Ghost Vision” ... “Baby Geniuses.”
But an Alaskan screenwriter wants to see more homegrown ideas on the big screen.
Dave Hunsaker splits his time between Juneau and Santa Monica.
And he's written a script that could bring Hollywood to Point Hope in the Northwest Arctic.
Hunsaker sat down with aspiring screenwriters Monday night at Out North in Anchorage, courtesy of the new non-profit organization 49 Writers.
"Nobody can tell Alaskan stories except Alaskans, really. It's a unique place, and I think particularly as you get out into rural Alaska, get into the Native communities and the fishing communities and all of that, I think people are dying to hear about it."
Hunsaker started out a quarter century ago with a script based on a Yup'ik legend about an ancient warrior from Toksook Bay.
The script was accepted for development by the renowned Sundance Institute.
But once the option got picked up by Columbia Pictures, the dream died.
"And before I knew it, I was in script meetings in Hollywood and they were saying, ‘well, we could get Toshiro Mifune to play the old Eskimo guy, the old shaman, and Lou Diamond Phillips -- he looks kinda Native, so we could get him, maybe.’ And of course it has to be in English, and the whole thing was getting, you know, to the point where I couldn't imagine going back to Toksook Bay and facing the elders who had told me the story."
But the experience got Hunsaker an on-set, story editor job on the Robert Redford-directed film "The Milagro Beanfield War," and he has been in the business since, co-writing 1994's "Samurai Cowboy" and acting as script doctor on other films.
Hunsaker has been working at this a long time, personally, but he admits he may be profiting from the momentum in the growing Alaska film industry, as well as the recent prominence of the state itself.
Now he's turning his attention to a classic Alaska story, based on the book "The Firecracker Boys" by Dan O’Neill of Fairbanks.
It's the story of Edward Teller, the so-called father of the H-bomb, who planned to create a new harbor at Point Hope through nuclear detonations.
"He was essentially stopped by the village, the people of Point Hope themselves."
Hunsaker had just read the book when he and actor Leonardo DiCaprio talked about making an environmentally themed movie in which the good guys won.
"So we tackled it, and Dan has been a very good sport about letting us take his really serious and serious-minded book and turn it into a kind of 'Dr. Strangelove'-like comedy. I mean, Edward Teller is a pretty funny character, and I guess he was the basis for Dr. Strangelove, so we're not too far off field there."
With DiCaprio on board as producer, and a $16 million budget, it appears the film will go forward once it's cast by Canadian director Bronwen Hughes.
At least some of the film will be shot in Alaska.
"For a variety of reasons, we've been in the news a lot lately, and I think it's an obvious extension of that notoriety that we'll have films made about Alaska, so why not made by us?"
Hunsaker is working on two other potential Alaska-based films -- an adaptation of a Jack London story and a tale about a bear hunt.