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Party Planner Tries to Crash Alaska’s Filmmaking Party?

When I moved to Alaska more than twenty years ago, I was expecting something like the TV show Northern Exposure. I figured Alaskans would be really happy and proud that the show “put them on the map,” as it were.  Invariably, when I mentioned it to anyone who had been in Alaska for a while, I got a big fat eye roll. “Yeah, they film it in Washington. They don’t even film it here. And we don’t have crickets, and we don’t have raccoons, and it doesn’t get dark in June…” They would have a list of all the mistakes that got under their skin.

Feature films, too, seemed to suffer the same affliction – “Alaskan” themed movies on the big screen were shot in British Columbia, or Colorado, or Washington state, or Massachussetts of all places!  It was a humiliation not to be suffered lightly.We wore our movie martyrdom on our sleeves.

But all that seemed ready to change. Alaska’s new and generous film incentive program passed by the legislature gives financial breaks to films that decide to shoot in Alaska!  The state picks up about a third of the tab to keep filming in this out-of-the-way corner of the country from being prohibitively expensive, and to compete with other states with similar incentives.

This means lots of roles for extras and small speaking parts for Alaskan actors who are quickly building up their resumes. And it also means the hire of prop people, caterers, seamstresses, and crew; plenty of booked hotel rooms; lots of money pouring into restaurants and stores; some great PR for the state; and a bit of excitement here on the Last Frontier.  Last year it wasn’t unusual to spot Ted Danson, or Drew Barrymore enjoying the delicious delicacies at Ginger downtown during the filming of Big Miracle (formerly Everybody Loves Whales). This fall, John Cusack and Nicholas cage have been out and about in town filming the story of Alaska’s infamous serial killer Robert Hansen for the film Frozen Ground.

It’s a new industry, a big bold future for Alaska where locals learn new skills, we get to show our real face to the world to entice tourism, local businesses reap the monetary benefits, and (let’s face it) it’s pretty cool. Everyone benefits and everyone is happy, right?

Of course not!

A disgruntled group called the “Alaska Film Alliance” is not happy.  Rather than to seed an exciting new fledgling industry in the state, that has already provided hundreds of jobs to Alaskans, and a huge influx of money into the local economy, they think that we need to rethink this. We just might be giving too much away. They might not be hiring all the Alaskans they could. We need to tweak this.

Now, I’m no expert on film industry incentives, but the following is enough to give me pause.

Who, you may ask, is the one chosen to speak for this group? Who is the public face of these seeming party crashers? Ironically, none other than Mayor Sullivan’s party planner, the lovely Bernadette Wilson.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the talents and abilities of Ms. Wilson, you can refer back to my piece The Strange Tale of the Mayor and the Party Planner.

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan and his paid party planner Bernadette Wilson. Photo from Alaska WTF.

From late night volunteering, and licking stamps for the mayor’s campaign, she rose to success quickly. First, she ran the show at the mayor’s inauguration, and was soon given the paid gig of planning parties (a job which previous mayor Mark Begich had done in-house). Even with no apparent previous party planning experience, she was seen in City Hall with her very own office and phone and everything. When questions were asked, and things became uncomfortable, Ms. Wilson disappeared for a little while, other than an occasional appearance on someone’s Facebook page…

Assemblyman Adam Trombley, and Bernadette Wilson at a Republican Christmas party

…or being a yes-woman for conservative right-wing radio host Dan Fagan. She described herself as being “the tender age of 25” and we wondered if this might be the sad end of her promising nascent political career.

We had almost written her off when, with no apparent political experience other than the aforementioned licking of stamps the planning of parties, and the flapping of gums, she showed up as the head of the Prop 2 Parental Consent campaign, and THEN as the Chair of  Joe Miller’s senate campaign! Wow! Talk about upward mobility!

I know, right? Her career has really blossomed impressively. Here she is celebrating victory with her future boss on primary night.

Joe Miller, and his future Campaign Chair Bernadette Wilson. She was then heading up the Prop 2 Parental Consent campaign. Photo by Zach Roberts.

I have to question the reason,  judgment and political motivation of the Alaska Film Alliance, if for no other reason than their choice of a divisive, teabaggin’,  ladder-climbin’, opportunist as their ambassador to the world. But, here she is again, telling us all how the evil Hollywood is bilking poor Alaska and not providing enough local jobs. They want too much money.  We need “extensive public hearings” so we can “reform” this giveaway before it does more damage.  This, of course is music to the ears of conservatives who’d love to stick it not only to Hollywood, but the evil Democrat (sic) legislator who spearheaded the program.

Right wing radio hack and friend of the party planner Casey Reynolds was in the audience for her big debut. And Palinbot Rep. Bill Stoltze (R) agrees that this whole thing really needs some close scrutiny.

The Anchorage Daily News notes:

One thing to watch as this battle plays out in Alaska: How partisan will the debate become?

Will it devolve into Democrats supporting the subsidy, which every major movie producer I’ve interviewed said is the only reason they can or would film here, and Republicans seeking to dismantle it?

It certainly seems to be shaping up that way. Why else choose to be partisan and divisive from the outset?


If it hasn’t occurred to you by now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that apparently this crowd has no problem giving away billions of dollars to the oil industry, in which more than half of slope workers do not live in the state of Alaska. They also don’t have a problem sending pallets of money down the giant sinkhole in Cook Inlet that feeds that second Bridge to Nowhere (KABATA). Nope, that’s just fine. But we really need to cut corners, and save pennies, and keep a laser focus on … film subsidies.  Drop, meet bucket.

Critics of the program point to the fact that more money has been paid to non-Alaskans than Alaskans, but fail to note that the program has created almost four times as many jobs for Alaskans as those brought up from the Lower 48.  Unlike the oil industry that continues to hire Outsiders who maintain their residency in other states, the film industry hasn’t had much time to train locals and make sure there’s a pool of local talent who can do the job.  Once there is, you can bet they’d rather use trained locals than to have to ship them up here and pay to house them. And the numbers those who oppose the incentive use don’t even include the latest two feature films Big Miracle and Frozen Ground.

They also complain that Alaskans only get the lower-paying jobs, not the ones that make big bucks. At which point I’d remind them that actors, producers, and directors tend not to live in Alaska, just like the CEOs of BP, Exxon, Conoco, Anglo American, Northern Dynasty Minerals and PacRim coal.  I’m not sure how much tourism and feel-good excitement is generated by the latter group either, come to think of it.

At least we know that the ranks of the unemployed do not include our favorite party planner. Who knows? Maybe hobnobbing with this crew will inspire her to launch a career in the film industry. It might be a nice change from the dirty business of politics.


[h/t Mudflatter HP for the graphic!]



22 Responses to “Party Planner Tries to Crash Alaska’s Filmmaking Party?”
  1. Dale says:

    I enjoyed reading this article and also the comments. I’m gonna follow this site.

  2. jimzmum says:

    Totally, totally OT, and I apologize. However, I just saw “Poster Girl” and I urge you all to find it. Scathing. Heartbreaking. Acres and acres of raw.

    Again, I do apologize. Life is very bothersome right now, but I wanted to get this out to you all. Peace and blessings!

  3. Ndjinn says:

    There’s a few sayings about how girls like get jobs like that, but I’ll leave that to your own research.

  4. JLJarfman says:

    Setting aside Bernadette’s involvement with AFA, their message and that of most of Alaska film’s professionals is that yes, the film incentive is good for Alaska, and yes, it needs tweaking. For example, let’s require film companies pay all their bills in Alaska BEFORE they they sell their tax credits. Some Alaska workers and companies have not been paid for film production work and services even though the producers are long gone and has already sold their tax credit.

    Here’s another example of a needed change. The current bill reauthorizing the program severely penalizes “non-fiction” productions. As an independent documentary producer with two feature projects in currently in development, I know this provision will seriously hinder my ability to leverage financing for my film, just because it’s a documentary. In the past I have raised a majority of my funding from outside foundations. This is money coming into Alaska to be spent on Alaska above-the-line folks (producers, directors, writers) as well as Alaska crews. Many of the biggest films produced by Alaskans have been documentaries. We don’t rent hotel rooms, but we build infrastructure one film at a time.

    I have been working with legislators to get these and other changes into the bill. I am not ‘disgruntled.’

    And is Mudflats’ loosing its progressive creds? Calling independent film professionals — who are often up against an establishment that has all but rigged the game — ‘whiners’ is like calling Occupy Wall Street protesters whiners.

    I didn’t use the word “whiners.” I used the word “disgruntled.” And yes, I think the Wall Street occupiers are “disgruntled.” Losing progressive cred? I think that this organization has lost all cred with progressives by their choice of spokesperson. AKM

    • JLJarfman says:

      Perhaps the AFA has lost its cred with you, but I would hope that hard-working independent producers and union crews have not lost their cred with progressives. We are taking flak for daring to question this program and trying to make it work better for Alaskans. We need your support.

  5. I don’t know what changed, but Washington state used to attract a lot of business from Hollywood. It’s only a 2 and 1/2 hour flight from LA, after all – very convenient. But other cities and states started offering a better deal and now we hardly see the Hollywood types at all. It galls me to see a film that is supposed to be in Seattle that doesn’t look like Seattle at all – it’s usually Vancouver, BC, with a shot of the Space Needle thrown in – sometimes not even that.

    I actually refused to see the film with Jack Nicholson that was supposed to have some scenes in Lawrence, KS, on the University of Kansas campus. Did they shoot it there? No – they went to the University of Nebraska for Pete’s sake!

    I figure if they want to shoot a movie in a city or state, the state should give them a little incentive to do so, and then should be glad that those people who are in town for the movie are throwing some business the way of hotels and restaurants and maybe a store here or there. But to insist that they hire everyone locally is a tad greedy and unrealistic. Maybe the Party Planner should go back to planning parties, or whatever it was she really did. 😉

  6. Jim McLain says:

    Well that was snarky and implies all those involved in AFA are blindly more interested in Ms. Wilson’s physical attributes than the issues involved with the film industry. That is, of course, an incredibly sexist suggestion. Further, I am a happily married man who celebrated his 35th wedding anniversary last August. All I can guess is that you have nothing to offer other than an ad hominen argument given your lack of anything really constructive. Aside from being a load on manure, the rest of your blog assumes that the film incentive program is perfect as written and the AFA is simply a subversive right-wing group designed to dismantle the film incentive program. This is patently untrue. The vast number of the people involved in AFA are Alaskan filmmakers who feel that the program can be improved.. (I am a screenwriter and have lived in Alaska for more than 30 years.) I am also not a Republican. Oh, and I have long supported the film incentive program, I simply think it can be made better.


    I’m sure it can be made better. Most things can. However, it has lost credibility already because of the choice of a spokesperson. That was the point. If you are concerned with getting thoughtful points across to both sides of the aisle, it’s probably not a good idea to choose a divisive, extremely partisan, and controversial figure who lacks credibility to do it. AKM

    • Dagian says:

      If you are concerned with getting thoughtful points across to both sides of the aisle, it’s probably not a good idea to choose a divisive, extremely partisan, and controversial figure who lacks credibility to do it. AKM’

      You overlooked the word ‘qualified’. But I know you meant to write it!

    • leenie17 says:

      Although the film industry is probably not one of the largest businesses in Alaska, I suspect there are quite a few local professionals who are educated, knowledgeable and experienced in various aspects of the film industry who would be far better qualified (thank you Dagian for bringing up that critical word!) for the position as spokesperson.

      Certainly, in a new venture such as this legislation seems to be, there are always ways to improve and tweak it. However, in order to be taken seriously, the front person for a group analyzing it needs to be someone who can speak about the topic with some gravitas, not someone who’s more known for planning parties and posing for photos with politicians at celebratory gatherings.

      I’ve been an administrator in several agencies in another field. While I have lots of experience in dealing with contracts, staff, budgets, sponsorship recruitment and planning very large regional, national and even international events, I know nothing about making films. I have no doubt that I have far more practical experience in many pertinent areas than Ms. Wilson, but would never imagine myself qualified to run an organization like the AFA.

      She shouldn’t either.

  7. Dia says:

    We do too have crickets. Plenty at the Alaska Fairgrounds in Palmer and some on Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, also, too, is where I’ve seen them.

  8. Rumplestiltskin says:

    My, my, my… Aren’t we avid — (or even perhaps rabid about this…)?

    Why so violent a response to a valid and well-meaning attempt by that group to call for close examination of what’s what about the making of motion pictures in Alaska?

    Although the American film business (I wouldn’t call it an industry) has a yearly worldwide gross that’s less then that spent on women’s make-up, it does have, needless to say, an enormous impact every where it touches. The production of motion pictures in Alaska has been going on for 90 years and it’s now gathering speed, thanks to the film production tax credit now in place. The re-upping it bill (SB23) is now being brought closely into focus and I gather that discussion is alway a good thing.

    Cheers and regards,

    • Thomas says:

      Because this has nothing to do with being “well meaning” or generating some highminded discussion, and everything to do with a partisan effort to stick it to Johnny Ellis. Calling some well deserved snark a “violent response” is also pretty far off the mark.

    • GoI3ig says:

      You need to recheck your facts Rumple. The film industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. There are some very big dollars involved.

      Discussion is one thing. Partisan obstructionism in quite another.

  9. slipstream says:

    Always nice to see the party planner!

  10. Ice Gal says:

    Big movies like Wales and The Frozen Ground employ UNION labor. Stay at UNION hotels.
    They are GOOD for Alaska! and good for working familys!

  11. BigPete says:

    Occupy Hollywood

    The party that wants to starve the gubmint of revenue is worried about giving too much away to “job creators”? Not enough of the old trickle-down for their tastes? They appreciate the economic stimulus but just want a little bit more fairness for the underdog?

    The radical wealth-redistributing socialists at the AFA should keep in mind that the novelty of the Last Frontier won’t last forever. Of course, the lovely, talented, and able Bernadette’s novelty- the enchanting little minx!- should last a little longer. At least one more post.

    • juneaudream says:

      “enchanting little minx”..ah yes..I was only artists do..musing about her designs..if tattoed. Sort of like the elementary children..trace their hand..and then color in..the shape? They sign the back of the design..for..parents night. I was many prints she might have..and..whoall..signed them….

  12. GinaM says:

    Uh oh….Governor Dirty Wig (my new name for your Ex Gov) will not like this! Her show SPAK or as I like to call it SPLAT…got A LOT of money for this and wasn’t there rumors that her wayward daughter also was trying to get the tax credits for her never-to-be-seen reality show? Hmmm….

  13. lilly lily says:

    I was wondering where she would pop up again.

    So her special talents seem to have admirers. (male)

  14. Chaim says:

    AKM, stop bad-mouthing the oil industry. I’m sure lots of people from the lower 48 were coming to Alaska to see the Exxon Valdez oil spill until BP opened a competing attraction closer to home.

  15. joe says:

    The rumored affair with Mayor Sullivan sure died quick. I would try to bring it up on the Dan Fagan radio show only to be hung up on. Dan actually called me back one day and tried to threaten me if I called again and I had the pleasure of hanging up on him

    • GoI3ig says:

      Fagan is an idiot. I’ve never seen a public personality who knows so little about so much.