Arizona attracting indies and commercials to its impressive vistas

The state welcomes union and non-union productions 

By John Hazelton 15 Oct 2021

Arizona attracting indies and commercials to its impressive vistas
My Little One filmed on the Navajo Indian reservation in Arizona. Credit: Intermezzo Films

The southwestern state of Arizona claims its scenic diversity — which takes in red rock canyons, desert landscapes, alpine forests, lakes, rivers and busy urban cities — allows it to double for any other US state.

However, what Arizona has not offered since 2010, when its transferable tax credit ended, is a film and TV production incentive, although producers can make use of the Reel Savings discount and rebate programme. This is designed to provide out-of-state film and TV projects with discounts on below-the-line, in-state production spending. The programme includes no-fee permits for shooting on state roads and in state parks, cash rebates from equipment vendors paid within 30 days and other discounts from businesses enrolled in the scheme, such as hotels, rental car companies, equipment rental houses and restaurants.

Arizona locations are used most often for commercials, which shoot in the balmy winter months in time for spring and summer product launches, music videos (including Beyonce’s clip for The Lion King song ‘Spirit’) and reality TV shows. Feature films shooting recently in the state have mostly been smaller independent productions, such as US western She Was The Deputy’s Wife, sci-fi thriller The Unhealer and comedy The Bellmen. Swiss drama My Little One shot on the state’s Navajo Indian Reservation a few years ago and Wes Studi western drama Nothing, Arizona is set to film soon.

Arizona is one of around 25 ‘right-to-work’ US states, meaning that workers cannot be compelled to join a union or have employment withheld because they are or are not union members. As a result, the state welcomes both union and non-union film and digital media productions.

And the state’s industry trade organisations, which include the Arizona Film & Media Coalition and the Arizona Production Association, continue to push for some kind of financial lure for incoming productions. Recent, though unsuccessful, efforts have included the introduction of bills calling for reimbursement of sales and use tax to film and TV projects.

Infrastructure and crews

Arizona’s soundstage facilities, which all participate in the programme, include Reel Men Rentals, which is also the state’s largest equipment rental company, in Phoenix; Modern Studios, with two studios and a colour correction suite, in Tucson; Sun Studios, which has two soundstages and an audio recording studio, in Tempe; and Sneaky Big Studios in Scottsdale has two soundstages and other facilities.

In Benson, about 50 miles from Tucson, is Gammons Gulch, an old western town set with a main street, hotel, saloon, jail house and mining camp. The set has been used in productions including Peter Coyote starrer The Gundown.

Arizona production services companies include Blare Films, Navajo Nation TV & Film and Vu West Productions, and among the state’s film schools are Arizona State University, Huntington University, Pima Community College and the University of Advancing Technology. The state’s film and TV workforce is around three crews deep.

This feature is a condensed version of our Arizona filming guide.

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