Hollywood Alaska

The formerly "Everybody Loves Whales," - now called "Big Miracle," the first major, modern movie filmed entirely in Alaska is about to hit theaters. The tale of serial killer Robert Hansen, starring John Cusack and Nicolas Cage, filmed in Anchorage this fall. Other major-studio films are considering an Alaska shoot, even as an army of reality TV camera crews continues to prowl the state. Producers credit the state’s fledgling tax incentive program – one of the most generous such public subsidies in the country – with enticing movie-makers to the Last Frontier. How long will the gold rush last? Is the state getting a big enough return on its investment? Welcome to Hollywood, Alaska.

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Todd Palin joins military-themed reality show - 6/19/2012 9:51 am

PHOTOS: A first look at 'Frozen Ground' - 5/28/2012 6:59 pm

Barrow-based 'On the Ice' hits iTunes - 5/14/2012 4:42 pm

‘Twilight: Eclipse’ director tapped for Alaska-based thriller - 5/14/2012 10:42 am

New group calls for changes to state film incentives

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

A group calling itself the Alaska Film Alliance says it’s organizing to voice concerns with the state’s generous film subsidy program.

That according to a note sent to news media today from Bernadette Wilson, who has worked on a series of conservative campaigns, including the ballot measure requiring parental notification for abortions and Joe Miller's Senate campaign.

The group says it's calling for "extensive public hearings" as the Legislature considers a bill reauthorizing the film incentives.

"Among AFA’s concerns are; reform of the credit/broker incentive system, more support for Alaska based businesses wishing to work with out of state filmmakers, better incentives for hiring Alaskans, the creation of a workforce development program, and using a small portion of the tax credits to build film and media infrastructure in Alaska," the group says in a statement that will be distributed to reporters today.

After an extended honeymoon period, Alaska’s film incentive program is falling under the crosshairs as critics question whether the subsidy program needs to be reconfigured or is the best way to spend public money.

I’ve been reading reports this week from left-leaning think tanks and from right-leaning think tanks both damning state film subsidies programs across the country as bad investments. In Alaska, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner columnist Dermot Cole wrote earlier this month that the bulk of movie wages subsidized by the state are actually being paid to non-Alaskans.

One alarming figure: More than $17.5 million in film-related wages were paid to non-Alaskans so far this year, according to figures provided this week by the Department of Commerce and Economic Development.

Alaskan workers, meantime, have made less than $1 million, according to the Department’s year-to-date figures.

The state foots the bill for at least 30 cents of every dollar paid to those workers -- the people who live in Alaska and the people who come here from out of state -- through the circuitous tax incentive program.

However, state numbers say film production spending under the incentive program led to 464 direct jobs in Alaska so far this year, versus 161 non-Alaska jobs.

Those latest numbers also don’t include the state's biggest movies, “Everybody Loves Whales/Big Miracle” or "The Frozen Ground," and supporters of the incentive say Alaskans are building a powerful film crew resume in production after production filmed in Anchorage. And watch that “Big Miracle” trailer again . It’s easy to imagine some of these films enticing tourists to Alaska, even if it’s hard or impossible to predict that spending.

One thing to watch as this battle plays out in Alaska: How partisan will the debate become?

Will it devolve into Democrats supporting the subsidy, which every major movie producer I’ve interviewed said is the only reason they can or would film here, and Republicans seeking to dismantle it?

Should it be dismantled, or weakened, given that some tax watchdogs say film incentives failed to pay for themselves in states like Massachusetts and benefit producers more than in-state workers. Or, should our deep-pocketed state continue to offer what appears to be the biggest tax incentive in the country in order to seed a fledgling industry?

"The Frozen Ground" is about to wrap filming this week with many Alaskans on the payroll. With a new group emerging as a critic of the existing incentive and hard numbers raising serious questions about the economics of the program, expect the debate to heat up over the winter.

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