Group wants changes to state tax credit law

Ron Holmstrom, left, Screen Actors Guild representative for Alaska, is shown during a news conference Nov. 16 in Anchorage. He is a member of the Alaska Film Alliance, a group that formed to seek changes in the state's film incentive program, which will be considered for reauthorization during the next legislative session. On the right is another alliance member, Jan Welt. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)


ANCHORAGE (AP) — A coalition of Alaska filmmakers and support personnel want changes to the state's tax incentive law, which is already credited with bringing two major movies to the state.

The Alaska Film Alliance outlined broad changes during a news conference in Anchorage on Wednesday, just a few blocks from where finishing touches are being put on the Nicolas Cage feature film "The Frozen Ground."

The group would like to see changes in how tax credits are distributed. Currently, the state is part of a broker system, where studios or producers sell — or broker — their tax credits to companies that have a tax liability in the state.

Alliance spokeswoman and member Berndadette Wilson said it would be simpler to just cut a check to the producer. That, Wilson said, would also go a long way toward achieving another of the group's goals: more transparency within the film office.

"The program needs to be transparent, competitive and good for all Alaskans, and we will work toward having a bill that will best serve our state," said another member, Ron Holmstrom, the Screen Actors Guild representative for Alaska.

Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, is the sponsor of SB 23, a bill reauthorizing the tax incentive program.

The House Finance Committee earlier this year held off a decision to extend the bill. It would add another $200 million to the tax incentive program and extend it for another 10 years past its 2013 expiration.

The bill provides for incentives including a 30 percent tax credit to qualifying productions spending at least $100,000 in the state. Added incentives for Alaska hires, as well as offseason and rural shoots, boost credits to a maximum of 44 percent.

"If they feel like in the past that their voice hasn't been heard by other private sector groups, their voice is being heard and has been heard by the Legislature and by me, in particular, and I am working with them and the drafters and attorneys to come up with language to incorporate any of their good ideas into the legislation," Ellis said.

The alliance also is calling for more Alaska hires, and using part of the tax credits to build more infrastructure, like enclosed sets and sound stages, in Alaska.

The group would also like to see a film board or commission oversee the state's film office instead of a small staff with an equally small budget.

"They're a pretty lean operation at the film office, so I think some of the people in this new trade group have been frustrated there's not a more robust effort on the part of the film office," Ellis said.

The idea of an overseeing board has merit, Ellis said, but might be a tough sell in the Legislature or Gov. Sean Parnell's administration. But that will be part of the bill's vetting process during the legislative session, which starts in January, Ellis said.

Addressing another concern, Ellis said a program will start in the next few months that will help train Alaska tradesmen like carpenters and electricians to work on movie sets. The Legislature provided $486,000 over three years in the capital budget for the training.

"Productions will not come here if there aren't qualified, trained workers," Ellis said, adding that many Alaskans received good training during last year's filming of the Drew Barrymore movie, "Big Miracle."

"Between major motion pictures, reality TV shows, documentaries and TV commercials, which are very lucrative, I think people can piece together jobs and a livelihood in the state of Alaska," Ellis said.

11/17/2011 - 8:50am