Hollywood comes to Fairbanks for movie

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - A man-eating mutant polar bear is terrorizing bikini-clad supermodels in fishing lodges around Fairbanks, but before every sourdough grabs his gun and jumps up to defend those helpless victims, don’t worry - it’s not real.

The mutant polar bear is nothing more than an animatronic creation on the set of a Hollywood movie filming in Fairbanks. The movie, with the working title “Unnatural,” has been shooting principal photography in Fairbanks since Jan. 8.

The movie stars - aside from the animatronic polar bear - a number of Hollywood actors making their Fairbanks film debuts, including Sherilyn Fenn of cinema and “Twin Peaks” fame; rising star Q’orianka Kilcher; Graham Greene, a “Dances With Wolves” Academy Award nominee; and James Remar, who has appeared in numerous stage, television and film roles, most recently as Harry Morgan on the hit show “Dexter.”

The plot follows a photographer and his entourage of models who fly to a fishing lodge in the Alaska wilderness for fun and photos, only to have their enjoyable work vacation cut horrifically short by the arrival of the aforementioned polar bear.

“Unnatural” is the first Hollywood movie to film in Fairbanks in January, according to producer Ron Carlson.

The crew has been filming along the frozen Tanana River for just over two weeks. The weather has been surprisingly accommodating for part of that time, so much so that it might ruin some of the crew’s street cred for filming in Fairbanks in January. Luckily for their credibility - and unluckily for their Southern California acclimatization - the weather was classic Fairbanks their first weekend of shooting when temperatures fell below minus 40.

During that time the crew experienced some uniquely Fairbanksan film struggles. They lost a set of high-quality camera lenses to morphing from weather fluctuations between walking inside and outside during filming. High-end camera lenses - apparently - don’t take well to rapid 115 degree temperature changes. Other than that, and the crew dealt surprisingly well with the weather, filming eight hours outdoors straight through the cold spell.

“For some L.A. boys, we’re pretty proud,” Carlson said, “but Big Rays has definitely seen an (increase) in profits from our team.”

Carlson singled out the heroism of the two female actors who, despite the negative temperatures, frolicked through the snow in nothing but bikinis for a scene involving a modeling shoot.

Remar, too, filmed a scene where he zooms down the river on a snowmachine in an all-too-thin jacket before jumping from the vehicle and actually plunging his hand beneath the surface of the river.

“It’s like being in outer space,” Remar said. “The environment dictates everything … You mess up with the cold here and it can permanently damage you if not kill you.”

Despite the obstacle of the weather, though, Remar said it adds an element of reality to the film that could not be recreated on a sound stage.

“In other ways it’s an asset because at least I don’t have to fake being cold, fake that I’m feeling challenged by the elements - the challenge is real, so that just embodies the whole thing,” Remar said. “You’re just going to have all these wonderful running shots of the Alaskan wilderness just running by and you just can’t fake that. You can’t buy it. You can’t CGI it. It’s really something that you can only get by being here.”

Not all of the crew come from sunny Southern California, however. Some are Fairbanksans themselves. Fairbanks resident Jon Huff and his crew were hired to do much behind-the-scenes work. Ron Martino, a Fairbanks doctor, and Fleur Roberts, a local attorney, are both producers on the film as well, in partnership with the production company, August Heart Films.

“Unnatural” is August Heart Film’s third or fourth feature film, according to Carlson. It has a budget of about $1 million and is expected to release sometime next winter.

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