Arizona film industry pushes to bring back tax incentives

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The film industry is working to bring back tax incentives for film productions, a practice that officials say will bring significant revenue to the state.

Phil Bradstock, the commissioner for the Phoenix Film Office, says tax incentives are very enticing to production companies, particularly companies with tight budgets. When Arizona offered a transferable tax credit for film productions from 2006 until 2010, $110 million was brought into the state from film productions, compared to $11 million since the program ended in 2010.

Amanda Melby-Crisalli, executive producer and actor in a current production being filmed in Arizona called “Raising Buchanan,” says a lot of the bigger productions are going to states that do have tax incentives.

It’s frustrating to watch filmmakers fly over Arizona and go to New Mexico to film because Arizona doesn’t have any incentives, says Bruce Dellis, writer and director of “Raising Buchanan.” Dellis says if Arizona wants to see film ever come back to the state like it used it, it will need to bring back incentives.

TED SIMONS: Arizona is not exactly what you would call a hotbed for Hollywood productions which is surprising considering our beautiful weather and proximity to Los Angeles. Producer Shanna fisher and photographer Rob McJannet find out why the spotlight is not shining brightly on our state.

Video Reporter: This looks like a typical film set. Director. Assistant director. Camera man. And actor. But this is a rarity in phoenix. Amanda saw has been acting in the valley since 2004. She said she has been able to find steady work in commercial and theater but future films is another story.

Amanda Melby-Crisalli: There aren’t a lot of projects that come here from other states.

It is part of the reason Melby Casserly joined forces with writer, director Bruce Dellis and created this project, Raising Buchanan.

BRUCE: Raising Buchanan is about women who typically makes poor decisions and found herself in a position to steal the body of President James Buchanan who is historically the worst president we have had and is concerned when it seems nobody is particularly interested in getting him back.

Reporter: It took them about three years to bring Raising Buchanan to this point. Both acknowledged one of the biggest obstacles was finding finances which is true for many independent films no matter where they are made. But Arizona's film economy is in a different predicament than other states.

Amanda Melby-Crisalli: There is not a tax incentive so a lot of the productions will go to states that does have a tax incentives.

Reporter: Once upon a time, Arizona did offer a tax incentive. From January 2006 to December 2010. In that five year period, phoenix film commissioner Phil Bradstock said Arizona saw around $110 million spent in the state as a result of film and commercial production. He explains how the tax incentive worked.

Phil Bradstock: A tax incentive that we used to have here in Arizona, it was called a transferrable tax credit meaning based upon the amount of dollars spent you would get a percentage back from the state in the form of the certificate and you would use it as a tax liability. If you are talking about investors, it is a way for theme have somewhat of a guarantee some money is coming back even if the movie is a flop. If you don't have tax liability or not enough for the full amount you could sell it on the open market.

Reporter: Without the incentive, Arizona Bradstock says Arizona averages around $11 million per year or half of what it was with the incentive. Bradstock says the issue isn’t just about a tax incentive we also don't have a large infrastructure with regard to studio sets. Bradstock is encouraged when it comes to commercial productions with nearly 1,000 project as year that create roughly 4,000 jobs. He said our biggest selling point in that case is Mother Nature

Phil Bradstock: They are looking for place with depending weather and phoenix has blue skies and 70 degrees. We are just automatic for them plus we have a lot of geography that can look like anywhere in the U.S.A.

Reporter: To reinstate the tax incentive would require a vote by the state legislator and according to Bradstock it is not a priority, but it could be time to look at it again. In 2009, during the national economic crisis. The film piranha 3d was filmed in Lake Havasu City providing a lifesaving economic boost.

There were welding companies that were going to be laid off and they kept them on. The hotel staff, restaurants, dry cleaners and more because that town was greatly affected. Here comes in between $15 and 19 million dollars and that welding company didn’t have to let go of their employees. The hotels were able to keep the staff.

Reporter: They agree for Arizona to be a serious contender in the big budget world of feature films there is one sure fire way to sweeten the deal.

Interview: If we are trying to draw people from other locations we need to provide incentives. It is probably is very frustrating for a lot of the people who make a living doing this watching Los Angeles cruise and Los Angeles talent just flying right over Arizona to go to New Mexico or Georgia because those are where the incentives are.

Ted Simons: Bradstock says more states are turning away from offering incentives because they are no longer seeing financial benefits but the studios will always consider a location first if it does offer incentives. Tomorrow on Arizona "Horizon" it is the journalist roundtable. The 2018 legislative session gets underway with the governor's state of the state address and Joe Arpaio announces he is running for Jeff Flake's open U.S. senate seat. That is it for now. I am Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

VIDEO: Arizona "Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Amanda Melby-Crisalli: Executive producer, actor, "Raising Buchanan"
Bruce Dellis: Writer, director, "Raising Buchanan"
Phil Bradstock: Film Commissioner, City of Phoenix

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