Hollywood's 'Alaska' Is Usually Elsewhere Most movies and TV shows set in Alaska are shot someplace else, in part because of the lack of economic incentives to film there. Movie and economic development experts in Anchorage recently scheduled a one-day venting and strategy session.
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Hollywood's 'Alaska' Is Usually Elsewhere

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Hollywood's 'Alaska' Is Usually Elsewhere

Hollywood's 'Alaska' Is Usually Elsewhere

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Here's one thing Hollywood producers can agree on. They love Alaska - spectacular landscape, abundant wildlife, the pioneer mystique. This is a great place to base a film, but often in name only. Actually, most of the movies and TV shows about Alaska are shot somewhere cheaper and warmer.

Now there is word that for a new Disney film starring Sandra Bullock - to be set in the quaint town of Sitka - the role of Alaska will be played by Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Arnold reports from Alaska.

ELIZABETH ARNOLD: The old adage location, location, location is just that - old. It's now all about incentives, incentives, incentives. And Alaska, it seems, is one of the last states to realize this. It's been a painful realization.

Take the Kevin Costner film "The Guardian," for example.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Guardian")

Unidentified Man #1: One hundred miles off the Alaskan coast, six members of a Coast Guard search and rescue team embarked on a mission.

ARNOLD: The movie grossed $54 million. It was filmed in Shreveport, Louisiana because the state offered the film company a rebate.

Deborah Schildt of the Alaska Film Group.

Ms. DEBORAH SCHILDT (Alaska Film Group): What's really pathetic is when you realize that it reached the point that Shreveport, Louisiana can double for Alaska.

ARNOLD: And that's just one movie Alaska lost out on. There's the Disney movie "Snow Dogs," the Al Pacino thriller "Insomnia"; even a movie called "Alaska," all filmed somewhere else. Last Friday, the film group gathered some concerned Alaskans, politicians, chambers of commerce people, filmmakers and others, to hear why the state with so much to offer is losing out.

Consultant Dama Chasle, formerly with 20th Century Fox, says it takes more than natural beauty to lure Hollywood. She told the group Alaska is one of the few states that doesn't offer some kind of rebate, tax credit, no interest loan or exemption.

Ms. DAMA CHASLE (Consultant): You're not giving any financial incentives right now. You're one of the five that are sitting on nowhere land.

ARNOLD: Canada started courting the film business in the early 1990s, and other countries and states began following suit, competing for production companies the way they used to vie for automobile plants.

Ms. CHASLE: We talked today a little bit about the fact that a vampire movie based in Barrow, Alaska was filmed in New Zealand, which has a 15 percent rebate.

(Soundbite of movie, "30 Days of Night")

ARNOLD: And it's not just movies they're trying to lure; television series can be even more lucrative.

(Soundbite of "Northern Exposure" theme music)

ARNOLD: Alaskans were mildly perturbed that the television hit series "Northern Exposure" was filmed in Roslyn, Washington. That was years ago. Still today, tourists visit Roslyn to walk the streets of what's supposed to be an Alaskan town. More recently, Alaska missed out yet again on a TV series supposedly based in Alaska.

(Soundbite of TV series, "Men in Trees")

Unidentified Man #2: And now a sneak peak of the season premiere of "Men in Trees."

Unidentified Man #3: Okay, people, the latest marine weather report still shows the Arctic cyclone passing well to the west of us, but...

ARNOLD: The new "Northern Exposure," "Men in Trees," is being shot in Canada. According to Chasle, the state is missing out on about a million and a half dollars a week for every episode.

Jeffrey Begun of Axium, a film payroll company in Los Angeles, says if Alaska were to offer some kind of rebate and loan program, it could be more than competitive.

Mr. JEFFREY BEGUN (Axium International): Immediately, a number of studios will jump in because they like to jump with something new and when they're going to get something back on it. And the independents will start coming here. I think there'd be a whole move of people.

ARNOLD: Those attending the meeting hoped to capitalize on the attention the state's received from Sean Penn's recent movie that was shot in Alaska, "Into the Wild." Penn, however, is unusual in that he had a huge budget and was committed to authenticity. The film has generated tremendous interest in the state.

Deborah Schildt with the Alaska Film Group hopes it's a start. She says she's tired of seeing what's special about Alaska being duplicated someplace else.

Ms. SCHILDT: It's like, hey, but that's our quirkiness that you're cashing in on, that's our uniqueness, that's our mystique, and why not us? And we all need to look at that and make steps so that the next "Men in Trees" should be shot here. Our men in trees, our women in trees, our dogs in trees - it's ours.

ARNOLD: Schildt and others aim to introduce incentive legislation in the coming months to lure Hollywood north to the real Alaska.

For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Arnold in Anchorage.

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