LIGHTS! CAMERA! INACTION!BEHIND-THE -SCENES BACKBITING THREATENS ARIZONA'S CHANCES OF FILMMAKING STARDOM
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.
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Milwaukee Brewers
TicketsFri., Jun. 9, 6:40pm
All You Can Eat Value Pack - Mercury v Sparks
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:00pm
Phoenix Mercury vs. Los Angeles Sparks
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:00pm
Phoenix Rising Football Club vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2
TicketsSat., Jun. 10, 7:30pm
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.
Rather, it is the image of a hot-air balloon.
Among the many things for which MacCallum takes heat is the state film office's balloon, purchased a few years ago for the reported price of $50,000 or more.
Though the balloon has made appearances in some of the movie office's print ads, its effectiveness as a marketing device has been ridiculed almost since its first flight.
"I like your balloon," says one producer, imitating a mogul looking up at the balloondoggle. "Can I come spend $10 million in your state?" MacCallum has been directing Arizona's film- and TV-development efforts for about two decades.
Prior to that, he worked as a grip, both locally, on a Dick Van Dyke TV series shot for a time in Carefree, and on the island sets of Hawaii Five-0. A definition of grip, provided by an industry source: "He held things."
MacCallum at first agreed to be interviewed for this story, but backed out under orders from higher-ups at the Arizona Department of Commerce, which oversees the movie office.
Don Harris, a former Arizona Republic reporter turned DOC spokesman, also offered to answer questions before spinning an about-face.
"Nobody from Commerce, including Bill MacCallum, is authorized to speak to New Times," he said, after both MacCallum and Dave Guthrie, deputy Commerce director, had scheduled interviews.
Harris wouldn't say who unauthorized them. On second thought, perhaps a Cold War propaganda film would be the more appropriate vehicle for this story. @rule:
@body:MacCallum's critics have been worked up recently not over the film-office balloon, but rather by an attempt by the director to save the state some money.
The movie office has for years published its own directory of state film workers. City-funded film-development offices in Phoenix and Tucson sponsor similar pamphlets, which are mailed to producers who inquire about the local talent pool. In recent years, a privately produced pamphlet has been published by a nonprofit organization named 602 Arizona. This summer, MacCallum decided to end some of the redundancy and fold the state's directory, officially replacing it with 602's booklet.
According to 602 president Randy Murray, MacCallum agreed to purchase for the state a $2,500 back-page ad in the directory, plus monthly data-base updates (to fax to particularly anxious producers) for an additional $2,500.
While working out the deal, MacCallum told Murray that killing the state's directory while turning the job over to 602 would likely save the movie office more than $15,000 in clerical costs every year.
(The movie office's budget has held at just under $500,000 the past three years--on par with most of its direct competitors around the country. The staff size is five.)
Reaction to the move, at least among a segment of the local film community, was not immediately positive.
"I'm a taxpayer," says Gay Gilbert, a Scottsdale-based casting director. "I want to know why Bill MacCallum had the right to turn the state book over to 602 without a bid.
"The point isn't whether 602 has it or not. I have nothing against 602. I want to know as a taxpayer, let alone being in this business, why this person can take a state contract and give it to someone without a bid."
Also wanting to know was Tom Hilderbrand, director of Tucson's movie office. His objections: Despite outreach efforts on 602's part, southern Arizona has been underrepresented in the independent book; only about 10 percent of the addresses in the directory are located south of the Gila River. Hilderbrand was immediately vocal in his opposition to the fee schedule used by 602. In the past, movie craftspeople have had to pay dues to the group, plus an extra $50 or so to have their credits "verified" by 602 volunteers (who Murray says actually sit around a table for a whole day and check rsums). These verified listings run in the book in bold type. Unverified free listings always have been accepted, but are displayed in faint type among the bolder, paid entries.
"To turn it over to an outside organization that says we're gonna charge you $50 to do it, well, then I get to questioning just why are we doing this," says Hilderbrand, whose Tucson booklet neither verifies entries nor charges for listings. "There's a lot of things that almost force you to pay the dues to this organization and join it. And I have a problem with that."
Finally, Hilderbrand questioned the need for the state to buy a $2,500 back-page ad in the 602 booklet. "If the guy's already called to get the book, he's already thinking about Arizona," he says. "Why put an ad in it?"
Adds Hilderbrand: "It went from the state producing a production manual to this, basically overnight." Very recently, it went back. A meeting was held October 29 to discuss MacCallum's decision. Reportedly present were Jim Marsh (then the departing state Commerce director), MacCallum, 602's Murray, Hilderbrand and a few supporting players.
The meeting was held in the law office of one Robert "Bob" Fannin, son of a former Arizona governor. The younger Fannin now presides over the Arizona Governor's Motion Picture and Television Advisory Board, more about which in a later reel (preview: "They're dilettantes," says one observer). 602 president Murray says he left the meeting feeling positive about the deal's prospects.
But the resolution of the sit-down, revealed to the principals just two weeks ago by deputy Commerce director Dave Guthrie, was that MacCallum had wrongly bypassed proper state procedure (he evidently needed to issue a request for proposals, then take bids) in awarding the deal to 602, and that he'll have to continue producing his own book, for now, at least.
The deal was off.
Says Murray, in the aftermath: "This was a get-Bill issue."
@body:There have been others. The feud between Tucson's Hilderbrand and MacCallum, of which the booklet flap was the latest salvo, is long-running and well-documented.
Tucson Citizen business reporter Kathleen Allen was the first to reveal the dispute, in a 1991 series of stories for her newspaper. For years, Allen's stories revealed, Tucson had sponsored its own promotional booth at an annual L.A.-area location expo--while insisting that it be located a considerable distance from the Arizona state booth. The expo is a big deal. States and cities from around the country use the occasion to tout themselves as tasty spots for lucrative location shooting.
According to expo attendees, Tucson was conspicuous in its annual distance from the rest of its own state's display space. Hilderbrand pleads that he "inherited" the booth problem when he took that job light-years ago. Last year, in a show of diplomacy topped only recently by the Mideast peace accord, Tucson rejoined the rest of the area code at the expo.
Another "continual point of contention" between the Tucson and state movie offices (Hilderbrand's words) has been MacCallum's alleged propensity to show producers or location scouts around southern Arizona without informing Hilderbrand, his purported colleague in the Old Pueblo.
"The state office would bring producers, directors or location people into Tucson and never tell anybody they were there," says Hilderbrand. "Anybody' meaning this office.
"A film company would come into town and never be told that there was a city film office here. And then they would get here and find out that they actually had to deal with us to get street closures and permits, and they always were like, 'We're sorry, we just didn't know you were here.'" The poaching problem spotlighted by the Citizen's Allen began to lessen once the Tucson mayor and city manager collaborated on a cease-and-desist letter to Jim Marsh, buddy of Arizona Governor J. Fife Symington III (and then-Commerce director) last December. "That's been resolved pretty well," says Hilderbrand. "I'd say it's in the 90 percent resolved area."
@body:The true Bill-getting episode of all time occurred in June 1990. Then, some 200 of the state's film-trade workers assembled at the Arizona Biltmore for a "symposium"--actually a privately organized gripe session.
Among the topics discussed that day, either from the podium or in the aisles, were many of the rumors that had been dogging MacCallum for years.
Example: It has been understood that some kind of unholy alliance exists between MacCallum and Film Producer's Warehouse, a busy production house in Phoenix.
To this day, many workers continue to believe they've been overlooked--in favor of Film Producer's Warehouse--when the film office hands out references to in-calling producers.
The critics also murmur about some kind of blood relation between MacCallum and Burke Rhind, president of the production house. The two are widely believed to be first cousins. Baby pictures might prove it. Rhind, asked outright about the alleged tie, says no.
"God, no," he says. "There's absolutely no tie-in at all, of any kind. "In fact, we feed each other a great deal of information and help each other out a great deal . . . but the majority of our work is commercial work they [the film office] don't know about. "There's just a lot of ways in which we can be communicative with each other, but there's no tie," Rhind continues. "I don't think we've ever been tipped off to a job through the Motion Picture Office."
Example two: MacCallum's son, Danny MacCallum, happens to be one of the state's busiest film techies, reportedly a production assistant (gofer) who worked his way up to gaffer (electrician). He must be getting work through his pop, right? Bob Warner, who says he's hired Danny MacCallum a half-dozen times on productions, suspects the younger MacCallum gets so much work because he's good.
"The fact is, Danny is a crack professional, topnotch," says Warner. Example three: Just about everybody says MacCallum parties too hard on the job. Stories of wrap-party excesses proliferate. Tales of liquid lunches abound.
In fact, the organizer of the 1990 "symposium" says she once considered hiding out to videotape MacCallum taking the wheel of his state vehicle after several too many.
Actually, such a photo opportunity could've come a year ago at a retirement function for Robert Shelton, patriarch of the Old Tucson film-studio-slash-theme-park west of new Tucson. The event was held on the studio's sound stage, before what has been described as a "mixed audience." MacCallum was one of the speakers. According to a letter from Tucson Mayor George Miller to deputy Commerce director Dave Guthrie, MacCallum "seemed to be under the influence of alcohol when he made his comments, which included obscenities."
Concluded the mayor: "I felt that since he represents your department, you should be aware of this."
@body:Nothing quite so chemically dysfunctional first set Becca Korby-Sullivan on Bill MacCallum's trail.
Korby-Sullivan, the organizer of the Biltmore "symposium," was a casting director in 1987 who had been hearing from clients about the failings of the state's film bureaucracy when, one day, "someone I know called the film office and asked for a list of casting directors," she says, "and my name wasn't mentioned.
"I got fed up," she continues, not just for herself, but for all the "working stiffs" around the state.
As a solo practitioner, she saw the state film office as "my marketing director." By Korby-Sullivan's own well-documented account (still archived in a black, three-ring notebook), she devoted most of the next two and a half years to getting her marketing director canned.
Korby-Sullivan wrote letters to state officials, peppered bureaucrats with phone calls--even applied to serve on the governor-appointed motion picture advisory committee.
(The state has two governor-appointed units that supposedly advise the governor on film- and TV-related matters. One is a small board made up of a couple of lawyers, several legislators and Arthur Loew, grandson of the Loew's theatre chain founder. The other is a larger group made up of a wide variety of types, some of whom--moviehouse magnate Dan Harkins is one--have a connection to the contemporary TV and movie business. Neither outfit is a genuine oversight element that can have much effect on what the state film office does. "They're dilettantes," says local producer Bob Warner. "It's a social event." Board chair Robert "Bob" Fannin scheduled, then later canceled, an interview with New Times.)
Believing she had made no headway by April 1990, Korby-Sullivan wrote in her log entry for that month: "I have decided the only way to get the attention of the people who are decision makers is to call a meeting of all the industry people and let them voice their own concerns in a forum conducive to the truth."
In late May 1990, she mailed an open letter to film people around the state detailing her grievances with the film office, in hopes of rallying some support. A copy of the letter came across the desk of Steven Chanen, then chairman of the governor's board.
In June 1990, Chanen replied to Korby-Sullivan's letter, opening his reply with a complaint that it hadn't been written on any kind of official letterhead.
Noting that MacCallum had in the past served as president of the national organization of film offices, Chanen then wrote that "the Director of the Film Office . . . is well-respected, locally, nationally and internationally," adding that Chanen had attended industry social functions at which he witnessed "unwavering respect paid to Mr. MacCallum as one of the leading film commissioners in the United States and the world."
Unimpressed by Chanen's nine-page missive, Korby-Sullivan rented a conference room at the Arizona Biltmore and held her "symposium." Most in attendance seemed genuinely confused about the film office's role. Was MacCallum running an employment agency? Or a marketing office? Or a social club? Or what?
Most also seemed miffed at a MacCallum sound bite captured by a local TV news reporter, in which the state director supposedly said the state was incapable of fully staffing a major film production.
(The quote, according to MacCallum defenders, was taken out of context, and dealt not with workers so much as the lack of postproduction facilities and technical gear.)
So a parade of speakers blistered the director of the film office, who was invited but naturally didn't attend. In fact, nobody official--except for a couple of low-wattage political candidates--showed. MacCallum did eventually sort of reply to some of the charges leveled at him that day.
"In the 19 years I've been in this position, never in the history of this office, never has anyone handed out or mailed rsums out of this office," he told a writer from a newsletter published by a local film, theatre and television association. "Anyone who has proof, bring them to my office. And about nepotism, this industry is bounded [sic] on nepotism . . . but bring in front of me a director, producer, location manager or any responsible person involved with shooting in this state in the last 20 years whom I asked to hire one of my relatives. I have never asked."
As the article continued, MacCallum admitted that he "has on occasion recommended people, certainly. If a producer calls me and says they don't have time to read the whole directory, but they need a casting person, I will say Bobby Ball [a venerable local talent-casting figure] has been doing business here longer than anyone I know. If they're looking for a location manager, I'll slip open our directory and read the first three names. But just because their name is in our book doesn't mean they're wonderful or poor."
Korby-Sullivan, who had helped cast such local film productions as Raising Arizona and Campus Man before the symposium--and who cast extras for last week's Michael Jordan-Charles Barkley shoot for Nike--says she hasn't worked an Arizona movie since.
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: 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). 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. 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.
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.
Plus, director Lawrence Kasdan and Costner had worked together in New Mexico before, on Silverado. The Earp picture is filming on the very same Santa Fe set used for that earlier Western, says producer Jim Wilson.
Bill MacCallum couldn't have kept Kevin Costner in Arizona. Tom Hilderbrand couldn't have. Nobody could've.
"Bill's been the commissioner for a long time, and like anybody else who has that kind of a responsibility and that kind of a position, he has become more galvanized with the people who always liked him, and more separated from the people who were not sure or who didn't like him in the first place," concludes producer Warner, who has known MacCallum since working beside him on the set of Hawaii Five-0.
"There are a number of people who are Bill MacCallum backers, and a number of people who are Bill MacCallum haters, and nobody is trying to get these people together to make them understand that virtually all of them have the same objective."
And that would be what? Warner sees continuing decentralization of the moving-picture industry, and a chance for Arizona to cash in. Others see Arizona in danger of becoming what Hollywood calls a "fly-over" state. "In that office, we don't necessarily need someone who knows a ton about the film business, or some old grip," says Becca Korby-Sullivan. "We need someone who can sell.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.