/ Modified jan 27, 2014 11:23 a.m.

Tucson Proposes Film Incentives to Regenerate Industry

Rental discount offered on city property for productions costing $2M or more to stop 'flyover' to NM, Texas.

By Kate Newton, AZPM Intern

The Tucson City Council is offering early support for a local film incentive, four years after a statewide tax incentive for filmmakers expired.

Council members unanimously passed an incentive last week that would discount rent on city-owned or -operated property being used for films with production costs of $2 million or higher. If the city attorney determines the incentive does not violate the state ban on gifts, there could be more reason for filmmakers to come to the area.

Council member Steve Kozachik proposed the incentive and has worked with the Tucson Film Office since the state incentive expired in 2010.

“If nothing else, it was out of a sense of frustration at seeing Tucson and Southern Arizona just become flyover country for some major TV episodics and motion pictures,” Kozachik said.

Now one of only 10 states not offering a film tax incentive program, Arizona was once a sought-after location for major productions. Kozachik said the producers behind the critically acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad and feature film Django Unchained inquired about shooting in Southern Arizona, but passed for states with incentives. Usually, Kozachik said, their reasoning is strictly economic.

“The reason, if you talk to some of the producers, is very simply that we’re leaving about 30 percent of the money on the table right up front when we start negotiating contracts with them, so they have to offer their crew and everyone who works for them substantially less than what they do in these other locations,” he said.

Small productions, however, are still drawn to Tucson, especially when scenery and story converge.

Crews shot a western, Hot Bath An’ A Stiff Drink, at Old Tucson Studios last year after its general manager, Pete Mangelsdorf, offered the production a 65 percent rental reduction. Visit Tucson, the metro area's convention and tourism bureau, also offered a cash incentive. The crew returned to shoot a sequel in the fall, and is developing a third installment.

Kozachik said the first installment alone contributed about $2.5 million to the local economy over 20 days of shooting.

“They go to hardware stores and buy lumber and paint and all this stuff to build sets, they stay in hotel rooms, they rent cars, they employ catering services,” Kozachik said. “So it really touches a wide variety, a bunch of sectors of the economy.”

Despite the current focus on the local incentive, Kozachik said he is among supporters still pushing for the return of a statewide tax rebates for filmmakers, which he said would create jobs and put Arizona back on the movie map.

“It’s our history,” he said. “Out at Old Tucson alone we’ve had over 300 major motion pictures or TV episodes shot out there since they began, and we’re not even on the playing field anymore.”

Meanwhile, the Arizona Senate Commerce Committee will consider legislation Wednesday to reinstate the Arizona Film Office and state film commissioner.

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