Film office for Arizona: Panel says, 'Action!'

2014-01-30T00:00:00Z Film office for Arizona: Panel says, 'Action!'By Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 30, 2014 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX — A Senate panel took steps Wednesday to ensure that the next Hollywood film featuring Arizona is actually filmed in this state.

SB 1098 would re-establish the state’s Office of Film and Media, charging it with helping producers and directors to set up their cameras in Arizona. The measure would place the agency within the Governor’s Office and give it an initial operating budget of $612,500.

But while the funding would be a relatively insignificant part of a nearly $9.4 billion state budget, it faces  possible snags.

Aside from having to survive two more Senate committees and the full Senate and House, it also is not in the spending plan Gov. Jan Brewer submitted to the Legislature. And Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said his boss won’t comment on the plan unless and until it reaches her desk.

Sen. Carlyle Begay, D-Ganado, told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Energy and Military that lots of movie producers “salivate” over including images of the Grand Canyon, Sedona or Monument Valley.

“They are often met with disinterest or barriers to produce movies or TV commercials or TV shows here in the state,” Begay said. And that, he said, has an impact.

“This is why movies like ‘3:10 to Yuma’ were shot predominantly in New Mexico,” Begay said. More recently, he said, producers of “The Lone Ranger” did a few background shots in Monument Valley — and then finished the film in New Mexico.

Arizona has had film offices and commissions as far back as the 1970s. But Barry Aarons, lobbying for the Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the last vestiges of that disappeared when Brewer scrapped the old Commerce Department and instead created the semipublic Arizona Commerce Authority.

“Neighboring states have film offices,” Aarons told the committee. “And the neighboring states participate in the trade shows and the film festivals.”

Attendance at those is not limited to feature films. He said producers of everything from corporate documentaries to commercials also show up.

“And they look for those opportunities where they can do what I refer to as one-stop shopping,” Aarons explained.

He said that can be critical when a producer might need permits and permissions for filming from everyone from the state Parks Department to private firms like Freeport McMoRan. Aarons said the lack of that single point of coordination leaves producers to figure out the permits on their own, something that makes them more likely to go somewhere else.

“I look at this bill as a jobs bill,” said Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, who chairs the panel. “It puts people to work.”

Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, also agreed to support the measure. But he questioned why the state should create an entirely new agency within the Governor’s Office rather than add those duties to the Arizona Commerce Authority.

Aarons explained later that those in the tourism and film industry want something with a higher profile.

He said the Commerce Authority is more focused on persuading big employers to permanently set up shop in the state. Aarons said anything short of that will end up “getting lost” in the Commerce Authority.

The bid for a film office is actually far less than the industry has sought in prior years.

Last year lobbyists asked for state tax credits equal to up to 20 percent of what companies spend filming in Arizona, up to $70 million a year.

That plan was rebuffed by lawmakers who noted that prior tax credits produced questionable results.

A study of the 2008 credits showed they generated 317 full-time jobs and $2.3 million in new tax revenues. But the state gave out more than $8.6 million in credits to get that gain.

Aarons said those in the industry feel that creation of a film office is a far more realistic political goal.

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