We’re still waiting for that close-up, Mr. DeMille - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

We’re still waiting for that close-up, Mr. DeMille

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2012 12:15 pm | Updated: 10:43 am, Fri Sep 28, 2012.

Filmmakers have loved Arizona for decades. And they still do, although they could love it a lot more, to the greater benefit of a state looking for economic engines besides growth and real estate.

Arizona has always been an attractive place to make movies. According to an article in the March 2005 issue of Sedona Monthly magazine quoting his autobiography, a young director named Cecil B. DeMille checked out Flagstaff in 1914, but preferred another town called Hollywood.

But in all the years since the days of John Wayne, John Ford and the classic Westerns, other than during a brief period in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Arizona has been lacking in its effort to lure the big studios to make movies here. The political climate isn’t ripe for tax incentives, which is what is bringing film production to other places in more noticeable amounts. When state leaders talk about bringing jobs to Arizona lately, the movie business is hardly mentioned. More dialogue is needed.

Hollywood and Arizona became acquainted much earlier than the days of the Duke, according to that Sedona Monthly article, which was about the making of the 1923 silent film, also a Western, titled “The Call of the Canyon.”

Even then, it seems, the making of a movie had the ability to prod government to act favorably for the rest of us.

The magazine reported that nearly 90 years ago, an unimproved trail was the only way someone who was southbound could reach Sedona and cast and crew had to lug equipment down this trail into Oak Creek Canyon. But the article went on to say that “in 1923, the year ‘Call’ was made, Coconino County appropriated the money to make a preliminary survey of the possibility of building a ‘highway’ through the canyon.”

And so, we got Highway 89A.

Movies are a high-profile business. They bring in significant economic impact in that a big-budget film employs many people and requires many outside vendors. But it is also the high profile that, like having a big-league sports team, attracts other businesses to a state that have nothing to do with either movies or sports.

This past week, the Tribune published a story by Caitlin Wendt about twin brothers from Mesa whose studio has been doing quite respectably in movie-making for nearly a decade. We need more of that. Not very long ago, we had it.

About 25 years ago, Arizona took a chance that the Hollywood might, once more, find our surroundings not only more picturesque and the weather more reliable, but also more financially attractive for shooting motion pictures on a regular basis.

After all, Arizona was as it is today, a right-to-work state, and studio officials found that many services needed to make a film that were unionized and more costly in California could be provided more cheaply here, a short trip by air from Los Angeles.

A state film commission was established at that time, and for a few years, residents would encounter a good amount of lights, cameras and blocked-off streets from this clean industry. They also saw the beginning of a growing economic impact from shooting movies here, from the rental of trucks and equipment, to caterers to feed cast and crew on location.

One film from this heyday was 1987’s “Raising Arizona,” starring a couple of young and then little-known actors, Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter.

Unfortunately, by the early 1990s a recession struck, budgets tightened and the kind of tax incentives the Hollywood people had grown to expect shrank. A state film office continued on for several years after that, but those that would be defined as “major motion pictures” have dwindled to a handful.

Today, several Arizona cities have film offices that bring in some business. But they lack the power and reach of a statewide setup. And if you look closely at the final credits of many big-budget films today, you’ll see them thanking Canadian film commissions for their assistance.

Candidates for Arizona state offices are talking about creating more jobs. Maybe if more of them started talking about a serious revival of a once-proud cinematic tradition in Arizona, this state could see more of those jobs.

My Sept. 16 column talked about how the media needs to understand more about public opinion polls. Well, that includes me. A sharp-eyed reader with “Ph.D.” after his name correctly pointed out that I erred in saying a poll reporting a 44-43 percent split between two candidates with a plus-or-minus 4 percent margin of error was just as likely to be percentages found elsewhere within that 8-point spread. The correct statement is that as you go up and down the scale that likelihood differs.

• Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

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