By Amy Silverman
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Once the symposium came and went--with no reply or even significant acknowledgement from any state official--she decided to get off the get-Bill wagon and get on with her career. She estimates that organizing the symposium cost her at least $2,000. More than three years down the road, she says she sees little change at the state level.
"I made em stand up," she says of her efforts. "But they just sat right back down."
@body:Plenty of folks are willing to stand up for Bill MacCallum. Not among them--at least not for the purposes of this story--are Brenda Burns and Ed Phillips, two key members of the governor's film advisory board.
Burns, Republican Majority Leader of the Arizona House of Representatives, is repeatedly cited by MacCallum friend and foe alike as someone in officialdom who strives to understand the importance of film development, in economic terms, at least. But she refused to be interviewed.
Ed Phillips, the TV weatherman turned statesman now serving as chairman of some kind of commerce committee in the state Senate, couldn't do an interview last week because of pain resulting from oral surgery--or so said his Senate office. Phillips, however, was able to carry on with his morning forecasting duties at KTAR-AM without interruption. Out in the private sector, Randy Murray, current 602 Arizona president, did a survey for the City of Scottsdale a couple of years ago when that suburb was reviewing its own film-development efforts. Murray, a TV producer when he's not agonizing about political wind shifts, says he spoke to producers and film people around the world and was somewhat surprised to hear that MacCallum's type--the facilitator versus the marketer, if you will, the hang-out-and-party type versus the striding-briskly-with-the-personal-planner-tucked-under-the-arm type--is still favored by many in the business.
Though some states have been wildly successful trading up to the marketer model, an element of the film-production community clearly prefers someone in place in a state or city who they can backslap with, who can arrange for parking permits and street closures at a moment's notice and who, at the end of the day, can tip a 12-pack or two. All of the Hollywood-based producers contacted by New Times--including those responsible for movies like Young Guns II, City Slickers and the Kevin Costner version of the Wyatt Earp story now filming in New Mexico--gave high marks to Arizona and its film office.
"I'm not trying to butter the man's bread," says Ron Nix, a veteran Arizona stunt man who has built his own Old West movie set out near Lake Pleasant, "but everybody makes mistakes."
@body:And nobody should forget that despite its many obvious topographical attributes, its excellent location and its weather, there are legitimate reasons for a film production to bypass Arizona. "What it doesn't have is a big city, and a lot of movies are contemporary and involve big cities," says producer Jonathan Zimbert.
"If you're gonna do a big urban movie, you can't do it in Arizona. Be it Tucson or Phoenix, there's not an urban downtown skyline that you could sell in a big shot or a tight shot. Places like Pittsburgh or Atlanta become more interesting, or even places like Vancouver or Toronto, where you know you can double New York.
"I think Arizona is thought of more in terms of needing wide expanses and more of a rustic, Western feel. Whether it's contemporary or period is less the issue."
Other problems: ù Arizona's labor situation isn't as rosy as it seems. Some producers have had union trouble here in the past (including middle-of-the-night shotgun blasts at one production's rented "honeywagons," the rolling toilets that double as dressing rooms). ù Arizona lacks some key technical facilities. Film crews can't get their film developed here, for instance. Undeveloped reels are couriered to the West Coast every day, then returned as developed film for daily review. ù Arizona lacks a full-scale film studio. Old Tucson is as close as the state comes, with one large, air-conditioned, soundproof sound stage. Though attempts have been made to float small-scale studios around the state (a small sound stage has been in operation in Carefree for a while, and former makeup man C.J. Smith has financed a ministudio west of Phoenix), old warehouses around town are occasionally pressed into service as places to build interior sets.
ù Finally, there is Arizona's tax situation. Seemingly improved in the past few years by the passage of a 50 percent sales-tax rebate for productions spending more than $1 million, the pitch for production companies probably isn't as enticing as it could be. (Lots of states have enacted similar tax breaks. The revenue loss typically means little to the state, which recaptures the money through payroll taxes, and not much more to film companies. "It's just a good gesture," says one producer.)
A few productions reportedly have found that the Arizona rebate isn't being offered on petty-cash expenditures, a significant entry in any operating budget, and that the accounting hassle necessary to recover the rebate doesn't justify the return.
@body:And sometimes, movies just get made elsewhere. Producer Irby Smith used Arizona for Young Guns II, had a little union trouble, but didn't keep his subsequent Western--City Slickers--out of Arizona because of anything that happened to him here. New Mexico "was right for the movie," he says. Kevin Costner's Earp movie went next door for similar reasons. The film scouted here, according to Tucson's Tom Hilderbrand, but most of the good southern Arizona locations were already tied up by Tombstone, the Earp saga starring Kurt Russell.