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Cage, Cusack may star in film about Alaska serial killer

Kyle Hopkins
While participating in a massive search on the Knik Flats for signs of missing prostitutes and topless dancers, Trooper Cadet Ray Jennings found a white bracelet in the sand. Troopers were unsure if it was linked to any of the missing women.
Anchorage Daily News archive
Criminal investigators search for bodies along the Knik River in April, 1984.
Paul Brown / ADN
Criminal investigators search for bodies along the Knik River in April, 1984.
Paul Brown / ADN
Criminal investigators search for bodies along the Knik River in April, 1984.
Paul Brown / ADN
Criminal investigators search for bodies along the Knik River in April, 1984.
Paul Brown / ADN
Megan Emerick (undated photo)The Seward Police Department contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children this summer to look into the case of Megan Emerick, a 17-year-old girl who vanished in 1973. Cold case investigators say she was one of Robert Hansen's early victims.
Anchorage Daily News archive
Lt. Pat Kasnick of the Alaska State Troopers and Leon Steele of Fish and Wildlife Protection Agency helped to conduct the search of the Knik Flats for bodies of missing prostitutes and topless dancers.
Anchorage Daily News archive
Convicted serial killer Robert Hansen with the horns from a record Dall sheep he killed. Daily News photo, October 1971.
Anchorage Daily News archive
Convicted serial killer Robert Hansen.
Anchorage Daily News archive
Robert Hansen leaves court during a hearing on multiple murder charges in 1983.
Jim Lavrakas / ADN
Up to 70 searchers with dog, air , land and water vehicle support combed the sand bars in the Knik Flats after the bodies of two women were found in the area by hunters. No other bodies were found that day.
Anchorage Daily News archive
Criminal investigators search for bodies along the Knik River in April, 1984.
Paul Brown / ADN

Nicolas Cage and John Cusack are in talks to star in a movie about a real-life Alaska serial killer that will film this fall in Anchorage, producers say.

Filming on "The Frozen Ground" is scheduled to begin Oct. 10 and will likely last about seven weeks, said producer Randall Emmett ("Rambo," "16 Blocks").

"Creatively and then financially ... it made sense for us to do the whole film in Alaska," Emmett said in a brief phone interview Wednesday. The producers plan to scout locations in and around Anchorage next week.

The film tells the tale of Robert Hansen, the so-called "Butcher Baker" of Anchorage. Hansen is believed to have killed up to 21 women in the 1970s and '80s and is now serving life at the Spring Creek prison in Seward.

Cusack will play the killer, Emmett said. Cage is set to play an Alaska State Trooper investigating the murders.

The movie marks the second major production to film in Alaska in the past two years as industry boosters and lawmakers seek to lure filmmakers with a generous state tax incentive.

"We are thrilled to have a large production coming back," said Dave Worrell, manager for the Alaska Film Office.

Worrell said the state is preparing to pre-approve the movie for the state film incentive program, which allows filmmakers to recover as much as 44 percent of their spending.

"I don't think this one is going to be quite as large a production as 'Everybody Loves Whales.' But nonetheless it is a significant production with a named cast, so that's really exciting news," Worrell said.

The entertainment-industry magazine Variety reported details of the project Tuesday night, pegging the movie's budget at $27 million.

Emmett declined to talk in detail about the film's spending plan.

The filmmakers plan to open an office in Anchorage in September to begin pre-production, said Emmett, who has served as producer or executive producer on dozens of movies including Nicolas Cage vehicles such as "Wicker Man" and "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call -- New Orleans."

Emmett said the inspiration to film in Alaska came from an unlikely connection.

The producer spends time in Palm Springs, Calif., where Alaska furrier Perry Green goes during the winter, he said. The two became good friends and Green kept telling the prolific movie producer to take advantage of Alaska's tax credits.

"This one came along and it just was the perfect fit," Emmett said of the serial killer tale. Another producer on "The Frozen Ground," Mark Ordesky, said it's too early to talk about many of the production details such as how many extras or crew members might be hired in Alaska.

"We just put a casting director on the movie, literally, last week," he said.

He deferred questions about the movie's script -- is it merely inspired by events or meant to be an accurate account? -- to first-time director Scott Walker, who was not immediately available.

"There were a lot of people up there that were touched by these killings. We want to be extremely respectful," said Ordesky, who is best known as executive producer for the "Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy.

Reports from Variety and movie-industry news site deadline.com name multiple executive producers for the Alaska project, including rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson.

The Alaska tax incentive is among the most generous in the nation. But when compared to competing locations such as Vancouver, British Columbia, the remote state has a small pool of experienced crew members for work on major movies.

"As many (crew members) as we can hire from Anchorage, we will, and then the rest will have to be brought in," Emmett said.

"The Frozen Ground" filmmakers originally considered splitting the production between two states -- perhaps shooting exterior shots in Alaska but filming interiors in Louisiana or Michigan, he said. Walker, the writer-director, wanted to keep the production in Alaska.

"After running the costs and looking at how good your (tax) incentive is, we just made the decision to shoot the whole thing there," Emmett said.

Hansen, the killer whose story inspired the movie, was a pilot and baker who preyed on prostitutes and dancers. He confessed in 1984 to killing 17 women in Anchorage and the surrounding area.

The crimes are the stuff of horror movies. Hansen often raped his victims before he shot or stabbed them. He confessed to flying some of the women to the Knik area, turning them loose and stalking them in the woods, according to news reports following his arrest.

Now 72, Hansen is serving a 461-year sentence at Spring Creek Correctional Center.

The writer-director did not meet with Hansen during his research, Ordesky said.

Here's how the producers described the plot of the movie in an email Wednesday:

"The Frozen Ground is based on the events surrounding Alaska's most notorious serial predator, Robert Hansen, a respected family man who for over 12 years, systematically abducted more than 24 women and flew them into the Alaskan wilderness to be hunted. But when one principled and dedicated Alaskan State Trooper finds Hansen's only surviving teenage victim alive on the street, she becomes the vital key in an unlikely partnership that finally brings Hansen to justice."


By KYLE HOPKINS
khopkins@adn.com