Lights, cameras bring opportunity

Posted: Sunday, January 09, 2011

Alaska's film industry has received much notice lately thanks to two feature films that have recently finished production here. Alaskans love watching as Hollywood discovers our state. We love the economic impact, too -- including jobs, spending on hotel rooms, rental cars and other goods and services -- that comes when hundreds of people become our neighbors, if only for a short time.

Through the leadership of Sen. Johnny Ellis, the concurrence of the Alaska Legislature, and the support of Gov. Parnell, the state's recently implemented film industry tax credit has been instrumental in spurring the growth of this new economic sector. The film industry has the potential to provide diversity and meaningful contributions to the state's economy. When the film tax incentive bill was passed in 2008, the law provided a base credit of 30 percent to companies that film in Alaska and spend at least $100,000 during a 24-month period. Additional credit could be earned for wages paid to Alaskans, as well as for productions made in rural areas or shot between Oct. 1 and March 30.

Tax credits have been a standard part of economic development strategy for years, as they stimulate additional investment and bring new businesses into the marketplace. Alaska offers similar incentives for mineral exploration, certain types of oil and gas production, and value-added salmon product development.

In the case of the film industry, attracting Hollywood north will help the state to accomplish several outcomes:

* Encouraging and protecting a new industry in Alaska;

* Enhancing the economic viability of film projects attracted to Alaska;

* Boosting Alaska businesses and creating jobs for Alaskans; and

* Increasing interest in Alaska tourism from Outside audiences who are inspired to visit after watching movies filmed here.

From a competitive standpoint, it is important that we continue to build the physical infrastructure and human capital necessary to host major motion pictures and television programming. Growing this industry to the point that it is self-sustaining may take years to come to full fruition. But look what has already happened in the 30 months since the tax incentive was implemented:

* Two Alaska children are lead actors in two major feature films that will be released in 2012;

* Dozens of other Alaskans have earned speaking roles;

* Hundreds have signed on as extras and/or crew members;

* Private industry is planning for a soundstage, a fundamental piece of infrastructure that will make Alaska more attractive to production companies;

* Films made by Alaskans are being screened at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival;

* Alaska's own film festival is growing rapidly;

* Film production management companies are starting to develop;

* Alaska cinematographers are working side by side with Hollywood's best directors of photography; and

* Alaska producers are busy working on films large and small.

What's next? We need to work hard to attract more productions and create paths of opportunity for Alaskans. The Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, which houses the Alaska Film Office, needs to ensure that a trained workforce is ready for action. We are working to develop job-training programs for as many Alaskans as possible, in conjunction with the private sector, other state agencies and the university system.

These aren't going to be overnight "just add water" accomplishments. We're nurturing this industry with plans for it to develop and contribute to Gov. Parnell's vision for a legacy economy that provides opportunity for this generation and beyond. It is time. For years we have watched as other locations, pretending to be Alaska, stood in our spotlight and reaped the benefits of jobs, spending and invaluable promotional exposure. No more. Alaska is ready for its close-up.

Susan Bell is the commissioner of the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

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Information about the state's film industry tax credits can be found at

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