Alaska incentives ample; film workers are scarce

Posted: Wednesday, December 22, 2010

FAIRBANKS — A generous tax incentive program has brought dozens of film productions to Alaska during the past two years, but the state is short of film crew workers.

A pair of movie productions in Anchorage this fall — “Everybody Loves Whales” and “Ghost Vision” — took virtually all of Alaska’s qualified on-set workers, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

“We ran out of people, which doesn’t look good for the state,” said Dave Selle, a set-lighting worker on “Whales” and the owner of Grayling Media in Fairbanks.

A producer interested in filming a commercial in Alaska while “Everybody Loves Whales” was shooting feared there wouldn’t be any local film employees, so the commercial was shot elsewhere, he said.

“We will not have a sustainable industry here if we don’t have a work force,” Selle said. “They won’t come up here.”

In 2008 the Legislature approved an incentive program, although the benefits can vanish quickly if large crews have to be imported.

The state offers a 30 percent transferable tax credit to film productions who spend more than $100,000 in Alaska. The credit can be as much as 44 percent if incentives for local hire, remote locations and winter filming are also used.

A dozen films have qualified for the credit so far, with another 30 in earlier stages of work.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks theater department wants a new film studies major to train workers for the fledgling industry.

Courses already are offered on campus to make a viable degree program, but they can’t currently be put under the umbrella of a film major, said Assistant Professor Maya Salganek. Among them is a cinematography class offered during the winter break.

Producer K’Dee Miller, who was raised in Anchorage and has a company in California, is also seeking an Alaska work force development grant to launch an apprenticeship program.

She figures Alaska has about 30 skilled crew members, not enough to fully staff a single large movie, but she doesn’t think it would be difficult to expand that base.

“It’s not rocket science,” Miller said. “It takes a little bit of education about the industry and what the hours are like and the expectations.”

Dave Worrell, development specialist at the Alaska Film Office, said there are employees capable of secondary work and commercials, but an apprenticeship program could prepare them for key positions on movies.

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