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Alaska increasing draw for TV, film productions

Posted: Sunday, February 20, 2011

ANCHORAGE — The real Alaska has finally joined the A-list.

Corey Arnold / Corey Arnold
Corey Arnold / Corey Arnold

Long a bit player in the entertainment world, the 49th state increasingly is sought out by TV and film producers for its unmatchable lure of spectacular beauty and peril, of wild adventures and dangerous jobs.

And they’re actually shooting in the nation’s largest and most remote state instead of locations dolled up to portray Alaska, as multiple projects have done.

Alaska’s new film production tax credit program has only amped up the state’s evolving Q quotient, attracting several dozen projects since it was launched in 2008.

“People are curious about Alaska. They’re curious about Alaskans. They’re curious about Alaska jobs,” said Alaska Film Office manager Dave Worrell.

Most of the productions are based in TV reality: “Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers,” “Gold Rush Alaska,” “Alaska State Troopers,” “Flying Wild Alaska” and, of course, the recently concluded special eight-part series, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” to name a few.

Palin’s reality show, which aired on TLC, was among productions that tapped the incentives program. It was approved for a tax credit of nearly $1.2 million after spending about $3.6 million in the state, according to film office documents.

There also has been a noticeable uptick in interest from feature filmmakers — where the big money is.

A major production starring Drew Barrymore, “Everybody Loves Whales,” and a supernatural thriller starring Jon Voight filmed in Alaska last year, adding to a trickle of feature films over the years with actual footage in Alaska.

Still, Alaska’s incentive program is in its infancy and movies set in Alaska continue to be filmed in other states and foreign locations such as British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada, which has a well-established incentives system.

“I think Alaska theme shows are going to entice more feature films to Alaska because they’re going to see all of the different, great stories that Alaska has to tell,” Worrell said. The new film office offers incentives including a 30 percent tax credit to qualifying productions spending at least $100,000 in the state. Added incentives for Alaska hires, as well as offseason and rural shoots, boost credits to a maximum of 44 percent.

To date, the $100 million program has approved a total of $6.1 million in tax credits for 16 productions — including 11 reality projects and three feature films — that spent a total of $18.5 million in the state. Another 30 projects, including eight feature film productions, have signed on for the credits.

The program is set to expire in 2013, but some state lawmakers are determined to keep it going. Among them is state Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat who is a sponsor of bill that would extend the program by 10 years and another $200 million.

He believes the program takes precedence over addressing such industry challenges as a limited number of experienced crews in the state and a lack of infrastructure like a soundstage. Keeping the incentives alive are a critical first step, he said.

“We have to make sure that we have certainties for the movie industry so they can continue coming up here,” he said.

For producers of the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch,” the tax credit is just an added perk. Alaska itself is the draw, said Phil Segal, president of Original Productions. The Burbank, Calif.-based company also produces the History channel’s “Ice Road Truckers,” a popular reality show about Far North truck drivers.

“Deadliest Catch, a documentary series about dangerous crab fishing in the Bering Sea, was already a hit when the incentive program began — and for good reason if you ask Segal. For many viewers, he said, the state represents the allure of the unknown, akin to Old West wagon trains heading to an uncharted destination.

“We’re in Alaska for one reason and one reason only. It is an amazing, cultural den that has so many stories to be told,” he said. “It is this incredibly rich final frontier that is an amazing backdrop for storytelling.”

“Alaska State Troopers” on the National Geographic Channel holds the same mystique. The series, which just completed production for a second season, features various troopers in multiple settings across the state, covering vast jurisdictions dotted with isolated villages, often in brutal weather and terrain.



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