Will Hollywood be heading east to Metro Phoenix?
Tinseltown is about 400 miles west of Phoenix, but a new law will have Hollywood producers looking east to film their next blockbuster hit. Arizona legislators created a tax credit for the television and film industry to incentivize production in the Grand Canyon State.
The Arizona Motion Picture Production Program will begin in 2023 with $75 million in tax credits and will reach its cap at $125 million in 2025. The incentives are awarded as a percentage based off the total costs of production: 15% for projects up to $10 million, 17.5% for companies that spend between $10 million and $35 million, and 20% for expenditures in excess of $35 million.
“That’s the initial base,” explains Stephen Nebgen, entertainment lawyer and president of the Arizona Film and Digital Media Coalition, at an Oct. 11, 2022, panel discussion.
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“If you use Arizona labor,” he continues, “you get another 2.5%. If you use a qualified production facility [in Arizona] you get another 2.5%. And then, if you have a long-term tenant — for example, a TV series — then you get another 2.5%.”
Other states, such as California and Georgia, also have similar incentives available for filmmakers. Peter Catalanotte, director of Film Tucson, says that New Mexico attracts so many productions to the state because of its generous tax credits.
“The only reason ‘Breaking Bad’ takes place in New Mexico is because of tax incentives. The original script was set in Santa Maria, but the producers wanted to find a way to save money, so they took out any references to Santa Maria and put in New Mexico,” Catalanotte notes. “There’s no reason why they couldn’t have filmed in Phoenix or Tucson.”
The lack of incentives has historically made it difficult for productions to choose Arizona to film, especially with California and New Mexico nearby. Before it was cut during the Great Recession, Arizona did have an incentive program, though Nebgen describes it as “flawed” and ultimately ineffectual. Still, Arizona has been represented on the silver screen in movies such as “Raising Arizona,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
Catalanotte adds that J.J. Abrams, co-creator of “LOST” and director of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” recently shot a pilot episode for a new TV series called “Duster” in Tucson. At the time, COVID-19 restrictions were lifting, and productions were flocking to New Mexico, but “Duster” ended up filming in Tucson due to the backlog of projects in the Land of Enchantment.
“[The production] only did the pilot, partially because we didn’t have incentives,” Catalanotte concludes. “Our hope is when [the Arizona Motion Picture Production Program] kicks in, we will get more projects such as “Duster” — and I think we will based on the phone calls I’m getting from a lot of major studios who want to come to Arizona.”