In 1912, actor/director Romaine Fielding Sr. (1867-1927) arrived in Prescott, Arizona, and set up the western branch of the Lubin Manufacturing Company and shot nine movies that year under the Lubin Studios moniker, before moving to Tucson and then Nogales, eventually filming some 96 movies in Arizona, as well as the 1913 Battle of Nogales.
The following year, Augustus Thomas filmed Arizona (the first of three movies with this title) in Arizona. Since then, over 5,000 films and television shows have been made in our state. As the only state to serve as a significant satellite for film production for more than 75 years, Arizona was colloquially known as “Hollywood’s Back Lot” and enjoyed a heyday of production, from westerns to science fiction, documentaries to cooking shows, tourism to local access programs.
The Arizona film industry flourished. Robert Shelton claimed that Old Tucson Studios was the second biggest tourism draw besides the Grand Canyon, with the likes of John Wayne, Ben Johnson and Gary Clarke frequently being seen there. The City of Tucson and Pima County offered, and continue to offer, free permits for filming in city and county limits. The Tucson film office (now called Film Tucson) arranged free office and storage space for long-term productions in the city. Marana opened a film office.
From 2006 to 2010, Arizona offered tax incentives to the film industry but, in 2010, the tax incentives went away. And so did most of the film industry. But some from outside the state have continued to come and Arizona-based filmmakers, animators, commercial and broadcast journalism continued to create and produce projects. Even without state-level incentives, Film Tucson and the Phoenix Film Office continued to assist hundreds of commercials, features, television series, music videos, reality TV shows, travel shows, food shows and more.
In 2016, Matthew Earl Jones was appointed as the new Arizona Film Commissioner by the governor under the auspices of the Arizona Commerce Authority. He hired a staff, started the Reel Savings program (where Marriott and other companies began offering discounts to Arizona film productions) and got Arizona State Parks & Trails and ADOT to agree to offer free permitting. Monsoon Productions began offering a 30-day, 30% cash-back rebate on equipment and services. Tucson Convention Center partnered with Film Tucson to offer its facilities as a sound stage. Arizona enjoys more than 20 film festivals throughout the year. Modern Studios opened its new headquarters in Marana. Sneaky Big opened in Scottsdale.
While we may not currently have tax incentives at the state level (although we are hopeful that a bill currently being heard in the Arizona legislature will pass) we have low sales taxes, local incentives and so many locations, people and reasons to continue to film in Arizona and for those of you outside our state to come and for you in our state to know about in order to help your production. Plus “360 days a year of sunshine”. (But we can get you a rain truck if you need one.)
Part of our mission and one of the reasons for the creation of the Arizona Film Expo is to be a workforce development and economic driver; another is to remind the world that we’re still here and we’re still making movies.
Come play with us!