The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) unanimously approved Thursday an incentive program to draw filmmakers to the Range.

An initial fund of $800,000 will be used to reimburse up to 20 percent of production costs spent in the region. Filmmakers already are eligible for a 15 to 20 percent state rebate for their expenses. Proponents expect the combined incentives to bring more movie business to Minnesota, which has been bypassed in recent years in favor of states with sweeter deals.

"It puts us right in line with where we need to be to compete with other states," said IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich, noting that "Gran Torino," the 2008 Clint Eastwood film, was originally set in Minnesota but got shot in Michigan when that state offered a rebate of more than 40 percent.

"It's give a little, get a lot," said Riki McManus of Duluth, who works with the Minnesota Film and TV Board to promote upstate film production. She cited the $5 million brought to the area by the Charlize Theron film "North Country," partly shot in and around Eveleth in 2004.

Movies can bring not just a spate of temporary jobs, McManus said, but also more permanent prosperity of the kind experienced by Natural Harvest food store in the Iron Range town of Virginia during and after "North Country."

"All of a sudden, the local people found out the stars were being seen there, so everyone started going there, and found out they liked healthier food, so business remained high even after the film crew left," she said.

Several producers with Minnesota ties are already perusing the Range as a primary location, including Minneapolis-based Christine Walker and her business partner Shawn Lawrence Otto, who wrote the screenplay for the 2003 Oscar-nominated drama "House of Sand and Fog." The two recently met with IRRRB members to persuade them that such an incentive program would allow them to shoot an indie film within their relatively modest $5 million budget.

Another project planning to shoot on the Range, titled "Thanksgiving at Denny's," was written by film producer Josh Blum ("Margin Call"). A local company, Griffin Productions, is in the process of raising finances for it.

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046