Get a Grip!

Star-struck Hollywood hopefuls fight to make the scene in Phoenix's filmland fringe.

Since taking over the commission in 1994, she's battled the assumption that her job amounts to schmoozing with Hollywood producers over mimosas at the Chateau Marmont. To her, film is serious business, a tough-as-nails industry where you have to be relentless to get what you want.

"A lot of people have the misperception that this office is about the arts," Warren says. "Well, it's not really. It is an art form, but we're addressing the business aspect of it, so we can expand our economic development in Arizona, in a very clean industry that essentially brings tons of money into our state, drops it, and then leaves."

Even the film commission's one recognition of artistic achievement -- a screenwriting competition with a $1,000 award to the winner -- is based around the stipulation that at least 85 percent of the script must be set in Arizona.

Film extra Doug Brown, left, shares a moment with Ice Cube on the Casa Grande set of Three Kings.
Film extra Doug Brown, left, shares a moment with Ice Cube on the Casa Grande set of Three Kings.
Durrie Parks, president of the nonprofit Arizona Film Society, has been an impassioned advocate for members of the local film community.
Paolo Vescia
Durrie Parks, president of the nonprofit Arizona Film Society, has been an impassioned advocate for members of the local film community.

Although Arizona has many factors that are appealing to filmmakers -- such as desert locales, cheaper non-union labor, special sales-tax rebates, and proximity to California -- Warren says that the low cost of filming in Canada has lured much of Arizona's business away, particularly television production. The issue concerns her so much that she went to Washington, D.C., to discuss it with congressional leaders in September 1998.

"We have noticed in the last five years that made-for-television movies and episodic television has virtually vanished," Warren says. "I think it was in 1996 that we had 10 movies of the week. Those are important productions, not only because of the revenue, but because they tend to hire more locals than major motion pictures."

An estimated 160 film projects were shot in Arizona last year, but most of those were commercials, or very small-scale films. That's why Three Kings' five-month shoot had such an impact for Arizona film workers.

"It was a real coup," Warren says. "All the pieces of this gargantuan puzzle fit together in a very tidy way, and believe me, we pushed very hard to make sure they fit.

"Essentially, they were looking to duplicate Iraq. We have lots of mines in Arizona. Some didn't fit the bill. The one in Casa Grande did. It was close to an airport, close to a major geographic center, the look was fabulous, they had complete authority over that very vast parcel of land. Plus, they had these incredible vacant buildings that could be used for sound stages."

Warren, a native of Reading, Pennsylvania, worked for years as an actress, appearing on the daytime series All My Children and in such films as See How She Runs, with Joanne Woodward. She eventually settled in Massachusetts, and when that state's film commissioner post opened up in 1991, she actively lobbied for the job, believing that she had the right combination of business and entertainment acumen. Three years later, she was hired to take over Arizona's film commission.

She's worked to raise Arizona's profile in Hollywood, but she frets that there's little that the state can do to compete with Canadian incentives.

"Everything revolves around money, and the bottom-line costs are significantly reduced by taking a production to Canada," she says. "So you can't really blame a business that's interested in making a profit for taking its production to Canada. I'm not angry at Canada. I wish this wasn't happening, but, frankly, they've just built a better mousetrap."

Food is a major priority for Doug Brown. He worries every day that he's getting too bulky for plum movie parts, but, at the same time, he can't stop thinking about the stash of Dreyer's ice cream he's got in his freezer. Likewise, whenever he talks about his various experiences as a film extra, it doesn't take long for the subject to shift to cuisine.

For instance, Brown thought that the spread on the Jerry Maguire set was fine the first day he was there, but didn't cut it after that. He was particularly impressed by the buffets on the Three Kings set -- which tended to include stuff like chili or sea bass -- but complains that copper-mine dust would occasionally blow onto the food. He remembers that aside from playing cards and "yakking," eating was the best way to pass the long hours of boredom on the Three Kings set.

It's not just the culinary perks, though, that have Brown hooked on the moviemaking process. He's got stars in his eyes. He doesn't own a car, struggles to pay his modest rent and describes his finances as "rock bottom." But he buys the Hollywood Reporter every week, to keep up with any Tinseltown productions that might make their way to Arizona.

In 1996, when he got hired for three days of work on Jerry Maguire, he took sick days from his job at Motorola. By the time he started working on Three Kings, playing an Iraqi soldier, he had a tech-support job at Sears. When he realized that the film would require a substantial time commitment, he nonchalantly quit his job. Even Brown admits that movie work has severely crippled his bank account.

But, clearly, it wasn't money that motivated him. He says the gig as an extra on Jerry Maguire only paid between $7 and $8 an hour, while Three Kings provided him $100 a day, for days that generally required him on the set at 5:30 a.m., and didn't wrap until the early evening.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets