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For $6.3 million subsidy, Alaska should have asked for bag of popcorn from makers of "The Frozen Ground'

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Posted: Friday, August 23, 2013 1:59 pm | Updated: 8:21 am, Thu Aug 29, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - For its $6.3 million subsidy, Alaska should have gotten more out of the "The Frozen Ground" than a premiere in Wasilla and no sign of the movie in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and other parts of the 49th state.

How about a bag of popcorn and a candy bar?

Perhaps in exchange for a state subsidy, the movie makers should have been required to show the film in Alaska? 

That would have forced them to make some deal with the big movie theater companies that are probably recalcitrant because the movie was available for on-demand viewing the same day it appeared in Wasilla and a small number of spots Outside. It is a "token theatrical run," as a New York Post review put it.

It will be on DVD Oct. 1, meaning the company has no hopes of a major nationwide run in theaters. In an interview earlier this summer with the Guardian newspaper in London, actor Nicolas Cage said that it is a misconception that releasing a movie directly to video on demand means that it is a failure.

Still, if there is a theater audience anywhere on earth for "The Frozen Ground," it would have to be in Alaska.

But the state-subsidized movie is only showing in Wasilla, where it had its Alaska premiere.

The supporters of the Alaska movie and TV subsidy plan should recognize that this fiasco could mean the end of political support for the  dream of luring big-movie projects to Alaska. That may be a good thing.

I believe that if the state wants to subsidize movies, TV shows and ads,  it should aim at real Alaska productions of high quality. The movie about a mass murderer was defended by a Parnell administration official as being in line with the governor's "Choose Respect:" campaign, one of the most bizarre claims I've ever heard.

For this picture, the state provided a $6.3 million subsidy. As with the other projects backed by the state, we don't really know how much was spent in Alaska and how much went directly to the movie stars and the production executives.

The subsidy takes the form of a transferable tax credit, which the movie company can sell to a company that pays taxes in Alaska. An LLC, which is the structure companies use to make films here, does not have to pay state corporate income taxes.

The movie stars Nicholas Cage and John Cusack and deals with Alaska mass murderer Robert Hansen and how he was brought to justice.

The state paperwork lists $19.2 million as “total Alaska production expenses” for the movie, but that includes at least $10.7 million in wages and salaries to people from Outside.

Subtract the Outside payments from the total and the “Alaska production expenses” for Georgia Film Fund Five LLC are cut to about $8.5 million.

It’s also not clear how much of that $8.5 million was spent in Alaska.

The filmmakers said they spent $5 million on “services,” the details of which were not made public, $446,000 on food and lodging, $790,000 on location fees and facilities and equipment rentals and purchases, $153,000 on instate transportation, $216,000 on interstate transportation and $223,000 on other expenses.

In the personnel breakdown, the company said it had 29 people as “Alaska talent,” along with an Alaska crew of 108 and 558 extras. It said it hired 256 Alaska contractors.

Wages and salaries for the 700 Alaskans totaled $1.3 million.

Wages and salaries for the 110 actors and crew from Outside totaled $10.7 million.


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