I have a strange love for Alaska. Strange because I’ve never been to the state, and yet it sits firmly on my list of top favorite places of all time to visit.
When I heard that Drew Barrymore’s latest project is being filmed in Alaska this month, I knew I had to do a little write-up and share the good news. The movie is Everybody Loves Whales (later on changed to Big Miracle) produced by Universal Pictures and directed by Ken Kwapis (He’s Just Not That Into You).
The list of stars is impressive. In addition to Drew Barrymore, it also includes John Krasinski (The Proposal), Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Ted Danson, Vinessa Shaw (3:10 to Yuma), and Tim Blake Nelson (Syriana).
The movie has all the ingredients of success for me. Alaska is a dream location. Drew Barrymore is hugely talented and one of my favorite actors. And last but not least, it’s about whales. Who doesn’t love whales? There couldn’t have been a better movie recipe.
BASED ON A TRUE STORY
The film is based on Tom Rose’s nonfiction book Freeing the Whales. It’s the true story of the 1988 international effort to rescue three grey whales trapped in the Arctic water of Point Barrow, Alaska. (See above photo, which belongs to the Anchorage Daily News.)
THE FILMING LOCATION
The Alaska Film Office is thrilled to have the movie filmed in the state. They’re also happy to share that the number of productions interested in filming in the Last Frontier has been rising of late.
Mike Porcaro, CEO of Porcaro Communications, credits this increase to Alaska’s breathtaking and challenging landscapes: “Look what you’ve got, you got this incredible backdrop. When you look at Alaska you see so much, there’s so many possibilities. It can look like so many different places on the globe.”
THE 30% FILM TAX CREDIT
According to the Alaska Film Office, the new film tax credits and abundant local resources help make Alaska a big draw for productions. Everybody Loves Whales is the first major movie to result from the tax incentive program introduced by Sen. Johnny Ellis in 2008. This new program offers 30% tax credit to productions spending at least $100,000 in Alaska. There are also additional credits for hiring Alaskans, and shooting in rural areas and during the winter. As a result, there are currently 25 productions waiting in line to be filmed in Alaska.
THE FISH THAT GOT AWAY
This should more than make up for the number of projects that had slipped from the state in the past few years. Dave Worrell, Alaska Film Office development specialist, states:
“A lot of movies and productions have been set in Alaska and filmed elsewhere, and the Legislature thought that if something is going to be set in Alaska it ought to be filmed here.”
Before the new incentive program, movies that were set in Alaska such as 30 Days of Night andThe Fourth Kind were filmed instead in New Zealand and Bulgaria. Sandra Bullock’s 2009 blockbuster The Proposal - even though set in beautiful Sitka, Alaska - was filmed in Massachusetts.
“SHOOT IN ALASKA”
Carolyne Robinson, owner and executive producer at Sprocketheads LLC, an Anchorage-based film company, says:
“The film executive (of an upcoming movie starring Viggo Mortensen, Liam Neeson and Jeff Bridges) told me flat out that they did a multi-country, multi-state comparison. And calculating in our film incentive program, the bottom line was - shoot in Alaska.”
Clearly, Alaska is working hard to encourage high quality productions to film locally in the state.
“This will not be a short job. It’ll be a 10-year job to build this industry. But it’ll be a lot of fun,” states Mike Devlin, one of the founders of Evergreen Films.
ON LOCATION IN BOOTLEGGER’S COVE
For now, Everybody Loves Whales is currently filming at the Congdons’ home in Bootlegger’s Cove, Alaska.
Mr. Congdon let his daughter Bret skip school so she could experience the filming process going on at their family home. To prepare for the filming, set designers repaint the Congdons house and bring in tropical plants to replicate the feel of a California residence.
“They say they will change everything that we would like back to original, although we think we’re going to keep the door,” Mr. Congdon said.
“This film is a multi-million-dollar production, and ... Alaskans make up between half and two-thirds of its staff,” said Alaska’s NBC News. “The crew is hiring caterers, booking hotel rooms and using all of the other services that a visitor might need for a 10-week stay.”
And even though this one-day shoot at the Congdons house is nothing extraordinary, “just a few cuts depicting a family at home, watching the whale rescue unfold on TV,” to some of the neighbors in Bootlegger’s Cove, it’s possibly an event of a lifetime.
THE ALASKA FILM OFFICE
All of us at Reel-Scout are excited for our client, the Alaska Film Office.
To get the latest updates on all productions filmed in Alaska, visit the the Alaska Film Office’sFacebook page.
UPDATES (September 16, 2011)
Everybody Loves Whales recently has changed its name to Big Miracle.