The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

Movie crew moves into Seward


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

"Sugar Mountain" director Richard Gray.

The advance team for Yellow Brick Films has been busy scouting Seward for the upcoming filming of an independent movie called "Sugar Mountain." The declared budget for the production is $1.2 million and Australian director Richard Gray expects to spend about $400,000 of that in the Seward area over about 10 weeks. The up and coming filmmaker, speaking at Friday's Seward Chamber of Commerce luncheon, also praised the State of Alaska's film tax credit, commenting that he only found about it by accident.

His first visit to Alaska was to participate in the promotion of another independent film, "Mine Games," at the Anchorage Film Festival in December. The production for "Sugar Mountain" practically turned on a dime upon Gray's exposure to Alaska's scenery and production resources as well as his chance discovery of what he characterizes as one of the best unknown deals in the film business. According to Gray, the tax credit played no small part in the decision to transplant the production of the movie to Alaska.

Last week Gray returned to Alaska on the heels of wrapping up production on a thriller entitled "The Lookalike" starring Justin Long and Gina Gershon, among others. The film was completed by YBF on a budget similar to "Sugar Mountain" by largely the same team that has set up shop in a local home-based inn. With that movie in the can and on its way to release, Gray has explored locations around the Seward area, some of which he says will make it into the film with their real names intact.

The jist of the story turns on two brothers down on their luck who fake a disappearance in the wilderness so they'll have a great survival story to sell. However, as the script goes, the hoax turns out to be more real than the brothers planned. To get a sense of the vibe that the production is aiming for, YBF references movies like "Fargo," "A Simple Plan" and "Into the Wind." On the other limb, however much drama the thriller gets up to, producer Kim Bernard says that there will be no scenes involving wood chippers.

Indeed when screening other work that he and his company have produced, Gray was briefly apologetic to the chamber audience over the some of the R rated scenes and dialogue shown, explaining that "Sugar Mountain" intends to be more of a straightforward thriller with an engaging story and not a horror film or a teen sex caper. When asked about who will be starring in the movie, Gray said an announcement will be made before the end of the month. He added that the leading cast members will be familiar film actors.

With shooting scheduled to begin March 3, and more cast and crew on the way, local businesses will have some new regular customers until local production wraps up in mid-April. Gray and his cohorts are already able to reel off names of their favorite Seward restaurants, drinking establishments and coffee shops.

Tina King, who along with husband Allen King, has provided location support for prior filming expeditions to Seward including production for "Christmas with a Capital C." The entry for the 2010 direct-to-DVD movie, notably starring Daniel Baldwin, reads like a who's who of Sewardites headed up by the casting of Linne Bardarson. King recalls encountering Hollywood attitude from the cast and crew and some even more memorable encounters during a more recent reality TV shoot.

On the other hand, Gray and company come across as much more down to earth than some might expect from professionals who work around the world on big budget features with A list actors and actresses. However, as producer Bernard explained, the members of the crew do most of their paying work out of New Orleans, Washington State and New York. They're not really from Hollywood. Gray commented that "Sugar Mountain" is a production that they are working on for the love of the craft. It could almost be called a paid vacation if your definition includes working to a schedule.

These days New Orleans has been badged "Hollywood South," supporting combined movie budgets totaling in the billions. Gray says that's largely because Louisiana has made moves to welcome film production including financial incentives and tax credits. He says that the locations available in Alaska along with the production credit offered through the Alaska Film Office could make the Last Frontier a destination for more movie makers. If the larger filmmaking community only knew about it.

However much creative freedom it allows, a limited budget only goes so far. Producer Jamie Houge, the facilitator, is active in the Seward Freecycle group on Facebook. Her most recent request is for a short term donation of, preferably non-winterized, RVs. She has a short list of other items the team would like to borrow or otherwise make use of during the remaining eight weeks or so of their local production schedule. For information contact YBF via

Sewardites with stars in their eyes have no small chance of making it into scenes as background players or even in a handful of speaking roles. The producers hope to find enough local talent to fill the balance of minor roles that would be expensive to cast out of state. There's also a demand for crew members such as production assistants and drivers. Resumes, selfies, demo reels and requests for information should be sent to


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