Arizona film commissions lack state support despite rich history

Screenshot from John Ford’s The Searchers filmed in 1956.

In Arizona, city film commissions are on their own when it comes to bringing in major films as the state lacks marketing and incentives to bring in large film productions.

“Arizona does not have incentives and so larger productions can get more tax breaks in other states,” said Heather Ainardi, marketing and public relations manager for the Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau.

She added that because of these lack of incentives, larger productions can get bigger tax breaks in other states. Arizona has seen less major films taking place within the state but a growth in commercials and documentary films, especially in the northern region, according to Ainardi.

“We get more commercials or documentaries than we do large, major film productions,” she said. “There is a growth in that because more and more people are increasing their budgets again.”

She added that when Flagstaff is used as a secondary production location, it helps the city economically.

“It’s great for Flagstaff because we get an economic impact for a week to a month at a time without the physical impact of large productions being in town for a month or half a year,” she said.

That means the glory days where John Wayne made his famous calvary charges in many of John Ford’s films at Monument Valley and Clark Griswald’s wacky family vacation have become stored inside DVDs. Other famous films that have been shot in Arizona include Spaceballs, Revenge of the Nerds, Can’t Buy Me Love and Raising Arizona.

Because of its unique diversity –Southern Arizona is notable for the Sonoran desert and northern Arizona is known for its greenery and snowfall — both westerns and other genres have been filmed in the state.

“Many times, a film will want to get a different looks from desert all the way to glacier,” says Ainardi. “Flagstaff fits that non-Arizona concept since we have a ski area, a historic downtown and Route 66 icons as well.”

Similar to Monument Valley, Southern Arizona has been the backdrop of many notable westerns including Tombstone, Rio Bravo, which featured John Wayne, and many others.

One of the major film locations that has been used is Old Tucson Studios, located 20 minutes outside of Tucson.

P.J. Lawton, a pyro technician at Old Tucson Studios, says that it was constructed in 1939 for the movie Arizona, which featured John Wayne.

Lawton said one of the reasons Old Tucson Studios has drawn many films is its authenticity to the Old West. He added that the studio has done more than 500 productions in its history. But the studio had a drop off in 1995 when a fire destroyed 40 percent of the studio, according to Lawton.

“It’s been a struggle since then, but we’ve slowly seen it come back to life as a movie set,” he said.

He added that Old Tucson Studios is already in works with a 10-part television series and have plans for two movies scheduled for filming next year.

“It’s coming back to life and I don’t expect it to be too much longer before they got back to the way it was,” Lawton said.

Chris Real is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News Service, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at chreal@email.arizona.edu.

 

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