Moviemaking in Arizona and the Valley is booming. “Arizona is becoming a popular filmmaking state,” said David Drennon, communications director for the Arizona Department of Commerce Film Office.
The growth can be traced to several factors, including:
• New state and federal tax incentives that are attracting more movie producers and investors.
• Growing popularity for independent films by small companies that cost less to make compared with the more expensive productions of major studios.
• Rising numbers of investors who can make either huge profits — or lose relatively fewer dollars — depending on the luck-of-the-draw.
Drennon cites state tax incentives that went into effect Jan. 1 among the major attractions for moviemakers to the Grand Canyon State.
To date, a total $15.2 million in tax credits have been approved for 10 film productions, Drennon said.
However, there are dozens of other production companies making films or preparing for future productions that includes many that are not taking advantage of the new tax laws, according to the Phoenix Film Project, a nonprofit agency that lists film-making activities in Arizona.
In 2005, 25 companies filmed short and feature-length films statewide.
For the first six months of 2006, the number of film and film companies listed is 18, and is expected to break last year’s record, said Chris LaMont, a local film producer and instructor at the Arizona State University School of Theater and Film.
“There has been a resurgence of film making, especially independent films since the federal and state tax incentives,” said LaMont, president of the Phoenix Film Festival.
“Its getting easier to start a film production company, but making a lot of money is not always guaranteed,” LaMont said.
Nevertheless, there are some independent films that strike it big.
“Napoleon Dynamite,” an independent film featuring a geek who has since become a cult hero, cost about $300,000 to make.
It drew more than $70 million at the box office, LaMont said.
Marv Kupfer, a veteran film producer who lives in Paradise Valley, said the growing interest in film production investment in Arizona and nationwide, especially among smaller companies, began in the 1980s and has steadily grown.
The state and federal tax incentives have spurred the interest even more, he said.
“Investing in a movie is making a bet based on passion,” said Kupfer, whose first film starred the late actorcomedian Jack Lemmon.
“Its risky, especially for independent films, but it can be very rewarding,” said Kupfer.
“Arizona is making a real attempt to recapture a share of the movie business.”
Recapture — a key word in the movie industry — reflects the recent move toward foreign countries for film-making.
Ken Chapa, program manager for the Arizona Department of Commerce Film Office, said about five years ago production companies began looking for shoots in places with lower costs.
“Globalization happened,” said Chapa.
He said companies went to countries such as Kazakhstan, New Zealand and Eastern Europe where labor was cheap, as well as Canada, which had tax incentives before Arizona, New Mexico and other states adopted their tax lures.
Now, the bigger companies as well as smaller, independent firms are beginning to return to states like Arizona, which has a long history of film making, especially the early Westerns.
“The future for low-budget independent films continues to look impressive,” said Ed Heisler of Scottsdale, executive producer of a new, independent movie slated for filming in the Valley and Los Angeles next summer.
Heisler, Bradley Gregg, an actor who lives in Scottsdale and his wife, Dawn Gregg, a producer and writer, are hoping to raise about $2 million to produce a drama written by Bradley Gregg and called, “Cedars of Lebanon.”
Bradley Gregg, who has appeared in 20 feature films, including “Stand By Me,” “The Fisher King,” “Fire In The Sky” and “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade,” will direct the new movie about the lives of two latch key brothers.
The film tracks their lives as they mature from early childhood in L.A. in the early 1970s through the 1990s.
“A lot of people will see themselves in this movie,” said Gregg, who has discussed the filming with several prospective investors in Arizona.
Heisler and the Greggs estimate their movie could gross an estimated $37 million, with a net profit of $16 million, but, they are quick to point out, there is no guarantee.