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Alabama film industry gets boost from April premieres of 42, Space Warriors

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – After a record year for entertainment production projects, the Alabama film industry is ready for a cinematic close-up with the April premieres of two movies shot in the state — 42 and Space Warriors.

42, the Warner Bros. film about trailblazing baseball player Jackie Robinson that was filmed partly in Birmingham, had its national debut Friday (April 12), after a screening the previous night in the Magic City. Space Warriors will debut April 25 at Huntsville’s U.S. Space & Rocket Center, where the film about a group of space campers attempting to save the International Space Station was shot.

“To have two major feature films released in one month is thrilling for us and shows that Alabama has come a long way in this industry. This is a proud moment for all of us,” said Kathy Faulk, manager of the Alabama Film Office, a division of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

42 set an opening weekend box-office record for a baseball movie, taking in $27.3 million, according to a report in USA Today.

42 focuses on Robinson’s dramatic rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, when he broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Chadwick Boseman stars as Robinson, while Dodger general manager Branch Rickey is played by Harrison Ford.

Film crews shot portions of 42 at Birmingham locations. The Tutwiler Hotel was used as Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Hotel in a scene where the Dodgers are turned away because of Robinson’s race. Birmingham’s Rickwood Field doubled as major and minor league parks from the day.

Space Warriors centers around a group of middle school kids who get caught up in a mission to rescue astronauts stranded on the International Space Station. It stars Dermot Mulroney, Josh Lucas, Mira Sorvino, Danny Glover, and Thomas Horn. The film directed by Sean McNamara, who also made “Soul Surfer,” was shot primarily in the Astrotrek building at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

Jason Netter of Kickstart Productions, one of the producers, said the facility was the ideal spot for filming. “If we try to recreate this anywhere, it would be tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

Faulk said she expects 2013 to be a busy year for film production in the state, building on the momentum created last year. In 2012, production companies spent $33.5 million on entertainment projects in Alabama, an increase from $22 million in the previous year.

“Each year, the activity gets a little bigger,” Faulk said.

Production activity in Alabama has been rising since the state Legislature in 2009 approved incentives in the form of rebates aimed at attracting movies and television shows. The Film Office last year rebated $9.5 million in expenses spent on qualified productions in Alabama, just under the $10 million granted by the Alabama Legislature.

In fiscal 2013, the figure rises to $15 million, making Alabama even more competitive for productions that are credited with creating jobs, stimulating tourism and providing an image boost.

“I am encouraged about the future because we have the support of the Legislature,” Faulk said. “That tells me this is not going away. We want to do this right.”

Alabama can offer production companies an advantage few others can match – a program from AIDT, the state workforce development agency, that provides classes to train crew workers. EMPACT courses include set construction, camera techniques and lighting.

AIDT also has equipped a 48-foot long tractor-trailer  with industry-standard lighting and grip equipment for mobile training purposes. The EMPACT rig also offers an 80-square-foot editing suite/production office with first-rate equipment such as Apple Computers and Canon DSLR cameras capable of shooting 1080p video. AIDT officials say there is nothing else like it anywhere.

“The EMPACT program has been helpful in growing our crew base,” Faulk said. “That is really key.”

The 31 projects that filmed in the state in 2012 are credited with supporting more than 3,000 direct jobs. The Motion Picture Association of America says industry wages in the state top $134 million annually. State officials say the effort to attract film productions to the state will translate into more jobs in the business for Alabamians and create economic ripple effects.

“Visiting filmmakers and their crews are spending money locally, and Alabama-based crews are able to live and work at home,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Another plus: Local people often end up in the production. 42, for instance, hired 600 to 700 local extras during Alabama filming.

Besides 42, significant productions made in Alabama during fiscal 2012 included the documentary Muscle Shoals, which focuses on the north Alabama city’s music scene and was shot in and around there, debuted this year to a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival.

TV reality series including Biggest Loser, Bamazon and CMT’s Sweet Home Alabama were also shot in Alabama last year, as well as commercials for Hyundai and other major companies.

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