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It's tempting to cast the Bill MacCallum career bio in cinematic terms. There is conflict here. Elements of black comedy, too, and some old-fashioned territorial feuding.
MacCallum is director of the Arizona Motion Picture Office. Maybe his movie is a Western, suddenly a popular genre again. To his supporters, MacCallum is the grizzled, peace-keeper type--the town sheriff, maybe--a good old boy who doesn't go by the book, but who manages to keep his friends happy and his territory intact. MacCallum is undoubtedly proud that Arizona is ending its best year ever for film production, with an estimated $60 million in spending by TV and film crews who have worked the state, from Page to Yuma, on such marquee productions as Geronimo, Tombstone, God's Army and The Quick and the Dead. Movies and TV are among the cleanest of industries, using little in the way of natural resources, creating nothing resembling toxic waste. A film company does its business and departs, leaving only money and empty vodka bottles.
It's been a record year: $60 million, clean. And Sheriff MacCallum no doubt had a lot to do with it.
To his detractors, though, Bill MacCallum is a bad guy--an intemperate lout made obsolete by the passage of time. Cue the calendar pages, blowing in the wind. While Arizona rejoices about its $60 million, film and TV production in North Carolina will top $130 million this year, an annual increase of $100 million in the last decade. Florida's numbers are even more impressive, topping $300 million this year.
In the same time period, production companies will have spent more than $140 million in Texas; in Utah, more than $90 million.
A state-by-state comparison of production dollars is a risky proposition. Nobody official keeps nationwide statistics. (The above figures were compiled state by state, with voodoo-economics "multipliers"--used by some states to show presumed economic impact--divided out. Uncounted, but far from insignificant, are the related dollars generated by shoots for music videos, TV commercials and still-photography sessions.)
However, Robert Warner, a Scottsdale-based producer with a long list of film and TV credits (the direct-to-video nonepic titled The Vagrant, shot in 1991 on a side street off Central Avenue, is one of his more recent credits), says Arizona probably once ranked behind only California and New York as a film location.
Today, he says, it ranks out of the Top 10.
And there's a posse of folks that thinks Bill MacCallum had something to do with that, too.
@body:Historically, Arizona has been a film-community favorite--at least for shooting Westerns. In fact, the John Ford oaters filmed here framed the nation's notion of what cowboys should look like and where they should live. In the past, its proximity to L.A. (a quicker trip by air than many Southern California freeway commutes), its widely varied topography (you can shoot everything here but glacier scenes and beach movies, say location scouts) and its right-to-work labor laws have made the state a prime location destination for films as aesthetically divergent as Oklahoma! and Psycho. The Grand Canyon State could be--and has been--called one big back lot. "They know from movies," says Jonathan Zimbert, until last week a producer at Morgan Creek Productions in L.A. "There is some level of crew base there, which is important, and by and large, the weather is good. Hot is not an issue. Rain is. And by and large, the weather is very good." About a decade ago, Los Angeles, forever the capital of the movie business, seemingly began to hemorrhage producers, cameramen, directors and grips. The more than $400 million dropped in North Carolina and Florida this year came from somewhere. The film-biz term is "runaway dollars."
But like a lot about the nation's least-livable piece of paradise, that image is a bit of an illusion. L.A. still hosts more than $5 billion in production a year. (New York is still considered No. 2, at about $3 billion.)
"There is still no single better place to produce a film than in Los Angeles County," says John Evan Frook, who writes about location shooting for Daily Variety. "One of the reasons that there's a lot of production out of state is that there's just a lot of production right now. The United States is making a lot of movies. Almost every sound stage in Los Angeles County is filled by the studios almost all the time. "The bottom line is that the wealth is being shared everywhere."
Savvy states and municipalities long ago began to get truly hip to the share-the-wealth notion. "Historically, if you look at the evolution of film commissions . . . ten, 15, 20 years ago, you would've found the governor's buddy [in the office] who wanted to go Hollywood," he says. "It would be this person who was sort of active in politics or whatever, and they would sort of sit on their haunches and wait until a movie came to town, and then they would sort of schmooze and help secure locations. It really wasn't all that difficult of a gig.
"That's the way it used to work. And now what you're seeing are people who have really added a very sophisticated spin."
@body:"Sophisticated" and "spin" are not the images that come to the minds of Bill MacCallum's critics.