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After 'Whales,' Alaska searching for next movie

Posted: Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ANCHORAGE - With the motion picture "Everybody Loves Whales" completing its work in Alaska, state economic officials are wondering what the next big Alaska movie project will be.

Whatever the plot, one thing is sure: Movies filmed in Alaska bring money to the state.

A survival thriller starring Liam Neeson and planned for 2012 release has been looking at the state, but the team has also been exploring Vancouver, British Columbia.

Among the first tests of the new Alaska film incentive program, "The Grey" may be the one that got away.

State Commerce Department officials say filmmakers haven't said for sure where the movie will be shot. But the producer expressed concerns about the lack of winter sunlight and the absence of a soundstage to film indoors.

Carolyn Robinson of Anchorage-based production services company SprocketHeads doesn't want "Whales" to be a one-hit wonder.

"Until cameras are rolling, the state of Alaska - I'm hopeful - will not give up on their quest to get 'The Grey' back in Alaska," Robinson said.

Some more promising possibilities include a movie based on the true story of mushers who relayed diphtheria serum to Nome in 1925. Filmmakers say they want to shoot the story, known as the Iditarod origin tale, in Alaska.

"Gavin Hood (director of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine") is attached to direct, and while the film is not officially ready to go, our current plan is to shoot the film in Alaska," said Brooke Wilcher, a spokeswoman for production company Walden Media. "We've looked at Alaska due the fact that the original story takes place there and for the tax credits."

The film would be an adaptation of the book "The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic" by Gay and Laney Salisbury. It's working title is "Kings of the Trail," Wilcher said.

It's the same project Robinson talked about at a September business lunch. Without naming the genre or title of the film, she said when filmmakers were talking to Neeson, Viggo Mortensen and Jeff Bridges about a role in the movie.

Robinson says it's a coincidence that Neeson is the actor slated to appear in the wolves-versus-oil-workers movie, "The Grey." No actors are currently attached to the mushing movie, Wilcher said.

About 30 productions have pre-qualified for the state subsidy that allows producers to recoup up to 44 percent of their spending in the state. That includes roughly a half dozen since "Whales" began filming in September, said Alaska Film Office manager David Worrell.

Much of the interest in Alaska comes from producers of reality television, a genre that can create fewer long-term jobs than feature films or scripted series.

One of the latest, and most high profile, is "Sarah Palin's Alaska." A production employee for the show said it pre-qualified for the state tax credit program but declined to say how much money it might save.

Alaska's tax incentives are among the most generous in the country, but industry boosters say more work is necessary to win projects from other movie-hungry states and provinces.



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