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No sign of another 'Big' movie production for Alaska soon

Victoria Barber
Bill Roth

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For those interested in Alaska filmmaking, there is one big question -- whether there are more motion pictures on the scale of “Big Miracle” and “The Frozen Ground” coming.

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That question did not exactly get answered at an Oct. 21 Chamber of Commerce meeting on the Alaska Film Production Incentive Program. In fact, Kelly Mazzei said, it can’t be answered, at least not by the state.

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“Our hands are tied,” said Mazzei, who is executive director of the Alaska Film Office in the Department of Revenue.

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That’s because recent legislation – SB 23 – reorganized things so the tax incentive program is run by the Department of Revenue (promoting Alaska as a production destination falls under the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development).

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In the Department of Revenue, details of tax credit applications are largely confidential. But, Mazzei said, that might be a good thing.

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“I think it’s a selling point and it’s actually bringing out producers that might not have wanted to be a part of program if [information about their applications] was published,” Mazzei said.

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There is a hint, though, that a big celebrity-driven project is not on the horizon for this year. When major motion pictures apply for the credit they can request a liaison from the state to help with the process.

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There are about 10 applications on the table for the coming year. They have yet to be reviewed, but so far none of them have requested such a liaison.

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That doesn’t mean the film industry isn’t bringing in money. Alaska continues to be a hotspot for unscripted shows (“reality” television shows that now include everything from welders and gun shop owners to women looking for love) and other small and mid-sized productions that capitalize on Alaska’s landscapes and wildlife.

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Films that have already been produced and will be showing soon are BBC Earth’s “Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie” – filmed in Southeast Alaska and Girdwood, among other locations – coming out around Christmas, and Disney Nature’s “Bears,” which will open in theaters April 18.

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While there isn’t much specific information on films entering production this year, Mazzei and Roberta Graham, assistant commissioner in the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, had information on what the film incentive program has brought in so far.

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As part of a legislative audit, the net economic benefit of the program was calculated by Northern Economics to be about $18 million. As of April, films receiving the tax credit:

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- Generated $37.4 million in spending with Alaskan vendors

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- Paid $10.5 million in wages for Alaskans

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- Employed 1,138 Alaskans across different types of productions

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 “It’s a very decent return on investment,” Graham said.

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 Graham said the incentive program has opened the door for training. The Department of Labor created a workforce development program that has trained 300 people to work in the film industry, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks has created a film degree program.

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 Graham said the Department of Commerce is seeking out a consultant to market Alaska in Los Angeles and organize outreach within the state.

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“It’s been going perhaps a bit slower than we’d like to see but we’re confident with our new contractor the activity will pick up,” Graham said.

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By VICTORIA BARBER
Anchorage Daily News