Once called “Hollywood in the Desert,” Tucson has been the location for hundreds of film and television projects since the late 1930s. But the last big-studio production involving Tucson finished work in 2010, and the city’s future as a popular movie-making location seems to hold more question marks than dollar signs.
Tucson Film Office Director Shelli Hall will discuss Tucson’s impressive past movie credits and current problems in a talk at the Arizona Senior Academy next Thursday (Feb 21) at 2:30 p.m.
Her topic is Tucson and the Movies. She will share reasons why Arizona in general and Tucson in particular have been such attractive spots for film-makers, and she’ll cover some of the needed state and local initiatives to put Tucson back on the map for film makers around the world.
In her work, Hall strives to highlight Tucson and Pima County as film-friendly places where exceptional support for all aspects of motion picture production is readily available, including places for creating every kind of content from block buster features to small Indy flicks and TV commercials. With respect to the movies, it seems we should go back to the future.
In the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, Tucson was probably America’s most active filming location for Western-themed features, television and commercials. Back then, myriad movie crews were camped near our rocky slopes and actors (or their doubles) could be spied galloping horses all over Pima County.
This was the heyday of Western films. “Rio Bravo,” “Rio Lobo,” “Tombstone,” “The Way West,” “The Outlaw Josie Wales” and “How the West was Won” were all Tucson-based features. Also the eclectic “Easy Rider,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and “Stir Crazy.” TV series like “Rawhide,” “Little House on the Prairie” and “The High Chaparral” routinely issued from Southeastern Arizona.
But ever since the so-called runaway production phenomenon (filming outside the US) began in the 1990s, Arizona has been unable to rely on opportunities arising through its traditional Hollywood connections. At the same time, other countries, especially Canada, and neighboring states like New Mexico have stepped up to become serious competitors offering a range of powerful incentives.
Tucson is in a race for millions of cinema dollars that will inevitably flow toward interesting locations, reliable logistics support and significant production cost savings. Making film production here attractive has proved progressively challenging, but local movie industry boosters like Shelli Hall continue trying every conceivable gambit.
Permits are granted at lightning speed. City and county facilities are made available at low cost. Tucson hosts half a dozen film festivals that familiarize budding movie makers with the excellence of our locations and support.
Unfortunately, Arizona state tax incentives, enacted around the turn of the century to encourage film making, expired in 2010 and have yet to be renewed. “We’ve not had a feature film shoot here since the program ended,” Hall says. Undaunted by several years of failure to gain assistance from state lawmakers, proponents of a “common sense” film-production tax incentive bill hope to jump-start the stalled legislation early this year.
Shelli Hall has been Director of the Tucson Film Office since 1998. She came to that job with a strong background in all aspects of freelance independent film production. She has also been the corporate communications manager for a major information technology and services firm. Shelli is a UA graduate with a BA in English Lit who minored in Marketing. She’s a member of the Association of Film Commissioners International, the Arizona Film and Media Coalition and the Governor’s Film and Television Commission.
Submitted by Stan Davis, Academy Village Volunteer