Z Nation’s Fort Casey episode to air Friday night

He might cover his eyes on occasion, but Jon Crimmins is planning to be keenly focused on his television screen Friday night.

His anticipation has been slowly building to see the climactic, season-ending episode of Z Nation, not so much for the grumpy zombies or scenes of slow-motion blood spatter but instead for the structures and scenery in the background.

Z Nation’s season finale, which airs at 6 p.m. Friday on the Syfy Channel, was filmed almost exclusively at Fort Casey State Park, where Crimmins is park manager.

He’s spent recent weeks checking out the latest episodes, mostly fast-forwarding through the gore, to see if there was a hiking trail or road he might recognize.

Friday night will be different.

“I’ll probably be watching this in real time,” he said.

The cast and crew of Z Nation, a zombie television series, spent about three weeks in Snohomish and Island counties in September, filming the final two episodes of its third season.

The move was a departure from shooting at the show’s normal stomping grounds near Spokane in an attempt to provide a fresh backdrop for viewers.

They found that in Index for one episode and then on Whidbey Island for the dramatic season finale, where about “95 percent” was shot at Fort Casey, according to Jodi Binstock, the show’s producer.

The episode reunites the cast in an epic battle to save humanity played out atop, around and inside the gun emplacements of the former World War I-era coastal defense fort.

The panoramic view of Admiralty Inlet, held so dear to those who visit the park, will now be seen by the more than 800,000 viewers who typically tune in to the show each week.

“The cliffhanger at the end takes place at the ridge,” Binstock said. “The expanse of being able to look out over the Sound is so dramatic.”

But will that scene mark the dramatic conclusion to the show’s three years of being filmed exclusively in Washington state?

Z Nation was renewed for a fourth season but the uncertain status of Washington’s film incentive program leaves the producers in a bit of a zombie state in terms of where they’ll be shooting next year.

Z Nation’s presence in Washington is largely driven by tax incentives from the state’s Motion Picture Competitiveness Program, enacted in 2007 to help Washington compete better with other states and Canada in trying to entice filmmakers and the economic benefits that come with them.

The program is set to expire June 30 unless the Legislature acts to renew it.

“We want to come back to Washington with all of our hearts,” Binstock said. “We started up a wonderful working machine there. It feels like we couldn’t do the show nearly as efficiently elsewhere. But the incentive program that Washington state put forward is sunsetting (in 2017). It’s in the hands of legislators.”

Washington Filmworks, a nonprofit that manages the state’s film and production incentive programs, has launched a campaign this month to support the continuation of the Motion Picture Competitiveness Program.

The economic impact of the Z Nation production on Whidbey in less than one week was estimated at $30,000, according to Sherrye Wyatt, public relations and marketing manager for Whidbey Camano Islands Tourism.

“The experience was amazing,” Marc Dahlstron, Z Nation’s production supervisor, wrote in an email. “Everyone at Fort Casey and the Washington State Parks Northwest Region Headquarters were incredibly supportive, accommodating and willing to work with all of the requests. Fort Casey is visually unique and fit the creative needs of the episode perfectly. And maybe more importantly, the cast and crew that stayed in Coupeville and Oak Harbor thoroughly enjoyed their time on the island and found great food, friendly locals and wonderful accommodations. I’m sure everyone would love to come back and film more on the westside and would also like to come visit during a break in production.”

Lynda Eccles, executive director of the Coupeville Chamber of Commerce, said she isn’t one to watch zombie shows but was pleased that the production chose Central Whidbey to shoot.

She visited the set and got to be around the crew that she described as “very nice and very hospitable” and got to meet part of the cast, including Kellita Smith, who plays decorated National Guard Lt. Roberta Warren, and Keith Allan, who plays Murphy.

Like Crimmins, she’ll be watching Friday night.

“It will be a new experience,” she said.