Boosters hope Alaska will be "Hollywood Far North"

Sat Oct 2, 2010 3:01pm EDT
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By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - On a crisp autumn day, as office workers went about their business, one of Anchorage's major hotels became the temporary hub of what state leaders consider a promising new Alaska industry.

The lower level of the Hotel Captain Cook was occupied by a Hollywood film crew that converted rooms into movie sets, makeup and dressing areas and equipment-packed work sites.

In progress was filming for Universal Features' "Everybody Loves Whales," a movie starring Drew Barrymore and recounting a 1988 rescue mounted for three gray whales trapped in Arctic ice.

In a departure from past history, this Alaska-based movie is being filmed on location, rather than in a make-believe Alaska set constructed in British Columbia or elsewhere.

Alaska officials hope this and other projects will help diversify the state's economy from its precarious dependence on dwindling oil production.

"We wouldn't be 'Hollywood North.' Vancouver claims that. We'd be 'Hollywood Far North,'" said state Senator Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat and self-professed movie buff who authored 2008 legislation that established a special tax credit for big film projects and revived a state film office that had been eliminated during a past austerity push.

Ellis' measure entitles film companies spending $100,000 or more in Alaska to transferable credits of 30 percent of those costs, plus 10 percent of money spent hiring Alaskans. Extra credits are given for expenditures in rural areas or outside of the summer tourist season.

Film companies in the past have largely avoided Alaska, citing the state's high costs, remoteness and overall inconvenience.   Continued...