Letter from the Director
Greetings in the New Year,
As December 31 neared and Peter and I worked on this newsletter, we found ourselves reflecting on the many unexpected things that happened at TFO in 2009. We were amused by several and a little bewildered by some. You’d think that after several years here, we’d be used to the ups and downs. Think again. The only thing we know for sure: expect the unexpected. I thought I’d share a few of the more salient surprises of the year with you.
• When our own Davis-Monthan Air Force Base finally appeared on the big screen in the blockbuster, TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, it had been re-located to Washington D.C. -- making it look like the back yard and the bone yard of the venerable Smithsonian Museum. Movie magic…
• We worked with quite an international crowd of production companies crossing the pond to get here - A Danish LAST COMIC STANDING reality series, a travel show from France, a couple of shows from the BBC, an independent filmmaker from Italy, and fashion catalog shoots from both Germany and the UK.
• Out of the blue, a Very-Big-Name-Director’s Assistant called to say that Very-Big-Name-Director (VBND) wanted to fly in the next day to meet with TFO. He would be piloting his own plane in (she didn’t know exactly when), and she would arrange a car. As planned, he came to the office. He loved our location photos and said that he was tired of shooting in New Mexico (music to our ears). VBND’s project hasn’t come to fruition yet, but we keep checking in and have the Google search set appropriately.
• For the first time ever, last fiscal year, over 40 percent of the total production spending in southern Arizona was from Reality Television. Shows like Super Nanny, Man v. Food, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Renovation Nation, Psychic Investigators and cable channels like Sundance, MTV and MTV TRES accounted for 205 production days and over $3.3 million in economic impact. Expect more as they proliferate on cable. Some of them do actually hire local crew and pay well.
• Last summer, there was so little deemed newsworthy (not like these days) that the Arizona Daily Star ran a front-page story with photo about the making of a documentary about Tucson ants. Yes. I was quoted. The program’s called PLANET OF THE ANTS, and it was produced by National Geographic. Watch for it to find out why local ants are special.
• When Sam Mendes’ AWAY WE GO shot here for 4 days in 2008, the company was adamant that Tucson would only be standing in for Phoenix. No one would know that the beautiful desert scenery and the fabulous JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort featured in the film were really located here. I was stunned when I finally saw the film, and the words “AWAY WE GO TUCSON’ emerged on the big screen…followed by our beautiful desert scenery and scenes with John Krasinski and Maya Rudolf at Starr Pass. It’s too bad the movie didn’t do as well as TRANSFORMERS; it’s a virtual 15-minute commercial for Tucson. If you haven’t seen it, it’s currently showing on Cox’s On Demand and is available for rental.
• An independent feature film, LIGHTBULB, shot entirely in Tucson, (which hasn’t been released …yet) won Best Picture and Best Director at the Phoenix Film Festival and was the closing night film at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Watch for it and for one of its main actors, Jeremy Renner, who has Oscar buzz for his starring role in THE HURT LOCKER.
• Last but not least, the Arizona production community, statewide, is dealing with one of the most bewildering surprises of 2009 right now…. The state of Arizona, due to budget issues, closed the doors of the Arizona Film Office and laid off its Director, Harry Tate. But that is another article (below) altogether. Thank you, Harry, for your service.
Thanks to everyone who assisted and encouraged film production and film appreciation in Tucson and southern Arizona in 2009 --– the many local filmmakers, our talented crew, our even more talented talent, the vendors, the location owners, the all important investors, the small businesses, hotels and resorts, the MTCVB Board of Directors, the many City of Tucson and Pima County and other public sector officials, the neighborhood associations and all our partners – particularly Old Tucson Studios, IFASA, the Arizona International Film Festival, the Loft Cinema, the UA School of Media Arts, Hanson Film Institute, Tucson Cine Mexico, the Tucson Convention Center, Tucson Film and Music Festival, Cinema La Placita, Access Tucson, Reel Inspiration, the Arizona Production Association and the Arizona Film and Media Coalition.
Arizona Film Industry S.O.S.
2009 was a year of extremes for the Arizona Film Industry. Our state Film Office Director, Harry Tate, was laid off. The Arizona Film Office lost all of its funding. Yet the AZMOPIC Incentive Program survived (thanks to the Arizona Film & Media Coalition lobbying and an APA commissioned study), and $60 million in unused 2009 film tax credits rolled over into 2010 making this year’s pot $130 million. Unfortunately, due to a few glitches in the program (below) and a dubious state reputation for wanting the program to work, few in the industry are applying for the credits. They say it’s too risky.
We need to fix it, and we need the political will, from the Governor’s office on down, to make it work. Following are the 2010 legislative changes that the Arizona Film and Media Coalition is pursuing this session which began January 11, 2010.
Since the AZMOPIC sunsets Dec 31, 2010 (i.e. disappears), this is it, folks. We need your help now, this session. Suggestions for actions you can take are at the end of this article.
AZMOPIC Incentive Program – Needed 2010 LEGISLATIVE CHANGES are underlined:
1) AZMOPIC sunsets December 2010 - Extend the program an additional 5 years.
2) AZMOPIC’s “50% Full-time Employee Residency Qualification” is a huge stumbling block; the studios and producers don’t believe Arizona has enough crew to fulfill this requirement, especially if more than one production is shooting in the state at one time. Since Arizona has lost much crew to other states, they are right. - Lower the Employee Residency Qualification to 25%.
It’s important to note to legislators (and even to the many Arizona crew and talent who disagree with the 25% lower requirement) that an incentive to hire residents already exists -- there is a 20 to 30% tax credit on all Arizona residents’ wages. Also, out of state crew and talent pay Arizona payroll taxes while here. Bottom line - if we can’t get the industry here, then no one works.
3) It is taking over two years for studios and production companies who go through the program to receive their tax credits - Craft a reasonable time line for the AZ Departments of Commerce and Revenue to complete the post approval process.
4) Encourage TV series to shoot in Arizona because of their longer production cycles thereby increasing economic impact and job creation - Place TV series, or series based on pilots, shot in Arizona in the front of the line for Arizona tax credits in all subsequent years after the first year of filming
Lastly, stress to the Governor and your legislator that they need to re-instate an Arizona Film Office as a line item in the budget – an office that works closely with the Governor’s office and the Departments of Commerce and Revenue to market and facilitate the Arizona Motion Picture Tax Incentive Program.
What you can do –
Join the lobbying organization for the incentives, the Arizona Film and Media Coalition, - made up of SAG, IATSE, Teamsters, APA, talent agencies, small business and more. Also join the Arizona Production Association which publishes the annual statewide directory of crew and resources (get listed!).
As a crewmember, filmmaker, extra, talent or business that benefits from film – you can support the AFMC mission by donating money to the cause. AFMC has been raising money and paying for lobbyists for the last five years. We really need your help. This year we need $50,000 to hire lobbyists, host a “Day at the Capitol” and to produce a short film about the economic impact film has in Arizona. If everyone of you gave $50, we could spend more time at the State Capitol lobbying and less time fundraising.
You say you want the industry here – put your money where your mouth is. Pay pal accepted here.
Write to your state officials and/or visit them at the Capitol or at their offices here in Tucson – tell them that you want a working Incentive Program to attract film to Arizona. Write the Governor too. Be a strong voice for why film is good business in Arizona. Listen to their objections and note them. Remember that they are facing a $1.4 billion budget shortfall and have competing priorities. Remind them that Louisiana and New Mexico, the first U.S. states to implement aggressive incentive programs 7 years ago, have booming film industries now.
If you believe, like I do, that a working Arizona Motion Picture Incentive Program would bring much needed jobs, revenues and millions of dollars in economic impact here – in a much shorter time frame than any other industry – please join, donate and advocate for the program now.
Tucson On the Big Screen
Tucson was seen in glorious widescreen in theaters all over the world with the release of two blockbusters which used our city in a supporting role: Away We Go (directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes) and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (directed by box office titan Michael Bay, pictured). Both films chose locations here which made their stories shine, backed up by Tucson’s abundant crew base. We were beyond delighted to have worked with both of these fantastic productions, and now we’re proud as peacocks to know audiences around the world are seeing spectacular Tucson scenery frame by frame.
Meanwhile, two independent films which shot in Tucson last year have been racking up prestigious awards on the festival circuit: Lightbulb (directed by Jeff Balsmeyer) won Best Feature and Best Director at the 2009 Phoenix Film Festival, and Jackrabbit Sky (directed by Andrew Bergmann) won Best Feature Film at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival. Doubtless, it was the talents of these two exceptional directors which garnered the raves, but we think the cinematic beauty of Tucson probably helped a little as well.
Our proficient local filmmakers have been as busy as ever, producing many notable great-looking features such as the gut-busting comedy Trade In (directed by Jackie Lee James) and Good Boy (which director Patrick Roddy shot in Louisiana yet utilized much of Tucson’s crew base). Both flicks are making the festival circuit and we wouldn’t be surprised to see them receiving audience adulation at every stop.