If lawmakers kill film tax credits, they'll kill an Alaska-grown treasure in progress

We in Alaska know only too well how a power outage can damage our heating systems in winter. That's why so many of us have generators. The long-term development of the fledgling film industry in our state is currently "frozen" and we need to ensure short-term concerns don't create permanent problems. We need to keep the "generators" running by not supporting Senate Bill 39, which completely eliminates incentives for filming by changing the "freeze" to a "kill."

The best book I read in film school was "Making Films Your Business" by Molly Gregory. Gregory said this process requires vision with a slow, steady build -- and we are getting there. We had to figure many things out along the way, such as how best to utilize the constraints and formulas of the ever-changing renditions of our film incentives; how to balance a star-driven system against regulated spending caps on talent; where to find the balance of local and national crew that would meet the budgetary sweet spot; and which types of stories are uniquely suited to work with these factors.

Sure, the carpetbaggers (reality shows) swept in immediately as they have in other states, but that was not all negative. They left a swath of sharply trained young people and far-reaching ripple effects of publicity for our tourism industry. In recent global travels, I found that reality shows have put Alaska on the map in every corner of the earth from rural Africa to Southeast Asia. It's no accident that so many states combine their tourism and film offices.

While feature films are large and splashy, they leave town in a matter of months at best, and while reality shows do provide training and exposure, we determined that the steadiest form of growth would come with the creation of unique Alaska television: Movies and series that would celebrate and bring light to cultures, landscapes and stories never told. The courting began in 2012 by bringing in producers from ABC, CBS, and smaller venues. They didn't all bite. Some stood in the cold, shivering, praising the view and their halibut lunches, but asking who would be driving them back to the airport. Eventually we worked our way through conferences and networks until we connected.

The five-year plan included starting with Lifetime-like movies, one based on local author Mary Wasche's book, "Escape to Alaska". If all worked smoothly with local crews and the incentives, next up was a television series set in northern Alaska called "Northland," also inspired by local Alaska authors. No one Outside had ever seen anything like it, and they were keenly interested. Our incentives would have made this production possible.

These projects would be a chance to honor our diversity, to develop the infrastructure needed to build an Alaskan film industry, to allow students currently studying film production at University of Alaska Fairbanks and Kenai Community College to actually move into decently paying jobs, and to keep as many as 100 people working nine months out of the year. And that is just one project.

Agents, publishers, writers and producers were all engaged in this machine as it moved forward. It took us a few years to understand how best to drive this industry, but we were ready with application in hand … when the program was frozen.

Let's take a moment to step back, breathe, evaluate these critical steps we are taking under duress and be satisfied to hold. Stand down. Please do not send us back to square one when we have worked so hard to make this program move forward. If we are to continue our good work on the international stage, we need to remain competitive. One of our projects was immediately moved to British Columbia when the incentives were frozen to become yet another Alaska story to be filmed elsewhere.

Many thanks for the tireless efforts of those fighting for this program. We have to remember these same creative, tenacious young people will be tending decisions about elder care and nursing homes for so many of today's decision-makers. When we vote to eliminate programs that nurture the creative souls among us -- whether in schools or the professional world -- it is our day-to-day lives that will pay in the end.

Mary Katzke is the executive director of Affinityfilms.org

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com