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Tuesday, 02 November 2010 17:45

Set in the Southwest

Written by  Jennifer Marino
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TexasAlways camera-ready, the Southwestern states of Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas are a breathtaking slice of America. From vibrant red-rock landscapes to Old West ghost towns, the Southwest region offers stunning vistas and high incentives that have a solid history of attracting filmmakers to create a busy production hub.



OnLocArizona3Arizona offers a tax credit of up to 30 percent for productions over $1 million, and 20 percent for productions between $250,000 and $1 million. The rebate applies to all production-related costs, including salaries to Arizona crew and talent. According to the Arizona Department of Commerce, Arizona residents must comprise 50 percent of all full-time employees during production. The rebate is in the form of a transferable tax credit that can be used or sold, and production companies are exempt from paying state sales tax on all production-related costs. Arizona also offers fee-free filming on state land, regardless of grazing or other leases, though a permit is required, which is processed through the Arizona Film Office.

An infrastructure tax of up to 15 percent is available for a person or qualified company that constructs an infrastructure project. To maintain eligibility, the applicant must have spent at least $250,000 on the project within 90 days of pre-approval, and other conditions may apply. The incentive runs through December 31, 2010.

“Aside from our film incentive program offering $70 million in transferable tax credits at a rate of up to 30 percent and a cap of $9 million per project, there are many other factors that make Phoenix a unique attraction for producers,” says Philip Bradstock, film commissioner of the Phoenix Film Office. “We are conveniently located a short 55-minute flight from Los Angeles with 80 incoming and 80 outgoing flights daily. Should equipment need to be transported to Phoenix from Los Angeles, the drive time is approximately 5.5 hours. Our weather is fairly constant with around 220 sunny days a year –– and should rain arrive, it is fairly easy to predict. As far as rates go, we are approximately 30 percent lower than Los Angeles. According to Entertainment Partners, we are classified as ‘Non-Maryland,’ [and] crew depth in this state is currently two and a half deep, but there are over 14,000 residents in Arizona that work in some aspect of the film industry.” Bradstock adds that Phoenix alone has over 59,000 resorts or hotels to choose from that fit every budget, and the state’s 250-plus golf courses are an added perk for filmmakers who manage to take a break away from the set.

Filmmakers may arrive thinking that they haven’t left Los Angeles since Phoenix is frequently used to mimic L.A. “Recently, the Lifetime show ‘Maneater,’ starring Sarah Chalke, utilized Phoenix as a double for Beverly Hills and other upscale Los Angeles locations,” says Bradstock. “‘S.I.S.’ for Spike TV needed a gritty downtown L.A. look and selected Phoenix as their home. [And the film] Middlemen, starring Luke Wilson and Giovanni Ribisi, utilized Phoenix for many other cities, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Houston.” Additionally, Arizona’s Lake Havasu was the setting for Piranha 3D, the popular remake of Piranha. Produced by The Weinstein Company, the film stars Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames and Elisabeth Shue.

“Since 2006, over 2,000 individual projects have been filmed in Phoenix,” notes Bradstock. “Commercials, corporate industrials and still photography make up the bulk of these numbers. Currently, we have four reality shows filming –– ‘Downsized,’ ‘What’s Eating You,’ ‘Inside Rehab’ and ‘Is She Really Going Out with Him?’ –– [as well as] five commercials [for] Scotts EZ Lawn Care, Circle K, Blue Diamond Almonds, Massage Envy and Fulton Homes, and many other projects ranging from indie films to photos for published books. New projects are always coming up, so it is difficult to predict what calls will come in tomorrow. [The] most recent was the Will Ferrell movie Everything Must Go, which shot all over Phoenix and spent three weeks in the same residential neighborhood.”



OnLocOklahomaMountain_Fork_River_SE_OklahomaOklahoma offers much more than desolate highways, wheat fields and lonely gas stations. Not only does the countryside provide picturesque views, but filmmakers can also discover a variety of bustling Oklahoma City locations or venture off to mountains, forests and, according to the Oklahoma Film & Music Office (OF&MO), over 2,000 ghost towns. As for crew, Oklahoma is a right-to-work state and currently offers a predominantly non-union crew base that’s approximately two film crews deep and growing.

The Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate can add up to 37 percent on Oklahoma expenditures and is capped at $5 million per year. According to the OF&MO, film, television and commercial productions must have a minimum budget of $50,000, and the minimum in-state spend is set at $25,000.

Another incentive is the Construction Tax Credit, which applies to investors building film or music production facilities in Oklahoma. The Tax Credit for Construction of Oklahoma Film & Music Facilities states that the OF&MO offers a 10-percent state-tax credit on expenditures starting at $100,000 for the construction of music production facilities, and a 25-percent state-tax credit for projects over $1 million. And for the construction of film production facilities, investors can receive a 10-percent tax credit on expenditures starting at $350,000 and a 25-percent tax credit on expenditures starting at $1 million.

OnLocOklahomaTexas_County_OklahomaAccording to Abby Kurin, the development coordinator of the OF&MO, there are 38 different Native American tribes residing in Oklahoma, and some offer additional incentives for filming on their sovereign lands. “There is a wide range of production in Oklahoma,” says Kurin. “Everything from feature films, reality television and commercials are currently being shot in the state. In 2009, Oklahoma had a total of 1,589 productions, which translated to an economic impact of $25.6 million. Fiscal years 2010 and 2011 look to surpass that number significantly.”



OnLocNewMexicoEli-HighwayOffering one of the most generous incentives in the nation, the key word for New Mexico might as well be “No”: There is no minimum spend, no cap, no minimum shoot days, no minimum-budget requirement, no minimum resident-hire requirement, no prequalifying, no brokering and no audit fees. And, to top it off, the state offers a 25-percent tax rebate on all direct production and postproduction expenditures, including New Mexico crew. All this may be why New Mexico is attracting television shows like USA’s “In Plain Sight” and AMC’s Emmy Award-winning drug drama “Breaking Bad.”

According to the New Mexico Film Office, expenditures are subject to taxation by the State of New Mexico. Eligible productions include feature and independent films, television, regional and national commercials, documentaries, animation, video games, webisodes and postproduction (including standalone postproduction). Nonresident actors and stunt performers also qualify under a separate tax structure.

According to Jon Hendry, business agent for the IATSE Local 480, New Mexico’s rebates apply to productions of all sizes. “We have the largest crew base between the coasts and most major vendors are represented here,” says Hendry, who works with both domestic and foreign films with big and small budgets. “Obviously, New Mexico has a unique look that would be hard to duplicate anywhere in the world. [It] also has locations that can fill in for many other countries, notably Iraq or Afghanistan.” Hendry describes the current film industry in New Mexico as “maturing,” adding that the state is “consistently busy, but not so much that there is a shortage of anything.”



RedSandsNearElPasoTFCAccording to the Texas Film Commission, the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program offers qualifying feature films, television programs, commercials, video games and standalone postproduction/finishing projects 5 to 15 percent of eligible Texas spending. This incentive program is in addition to Texas’s sales-tax exemptions, and both live-action and animated projects are eligible.

Dallas Film Commission Director Janis Burklund reports that a slew of top-notch productions are currently filming in Dallas locales. The Fox Television comedy “The Good Guys,” starring Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks, is set in Dallas, while the new NBC series “Chase,” produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Warner Bros. Television, utilizes Dallas as a stand-in for a Southwest U.S. Marshall’s office, and the new Fox drama “Lone Star,” starring Jon Voight and David Keith, has Dallas doubling for Houston and Midland, Texas.

Filmmaker Eric Steele also sees Texas keeping busy with production. “We filmed [the short] Topeka in Texas last year, specifically in East Dallas at the Gold Rush Cafe,” he says. “Topeka was a finalist at the USA Film Festival and won Best Debut at the Route 66 International Film Festival and Best Texas Film at the Hill Country Film Festival. [Filmmaker] Clay Liford shot both his Sundance film My Mom Smokes Weed and his [South by Southwest] film Earthling here in Texas as well. We are currently working on two feature films in Texas. I am producing, along with Executive Producer Bala Shagrithaya and Producers Adam Donaghey and Barak Epstein, Clay Liford’s Wuss, which features Tony Hale [from the upcoming film] Arrested Development. Immediately following Wuss, we shoot my film Uncertain, TX, also produced by Donaghey. … The film is shot in never-before-seen Caddo Lake, a gorgeous swampland in East Texas.”

Steele believes that Texas is epitomized by the “spirit of the people.” “Texas is a fiercely independent state. … I think with the independent spirit comes a willingness to do it yourself. We all help each other out. I am working [on films made by] many of the same people who helped me make my films. On Wuss alone, we had guys like David Lowery, [who did the film] St. Nick; Toby Halbrooks; Daniel Laabs; Yen Tan, [who did] Ciao; and Chris Simpson –– all great filmmakers. Also, people here are friendly and will allow us to use their locations. I’ve heard it’s very difficult to lock locations in L.A. and New York City, and here in Dallas it often takes a good relationship and that’s it.” Steele also notes that Texas offers great resources, like MPS Studios, Lucid Post and Post Asylum. “Specifically, Dallas is set up to scale to major productions, so it’s all here.”

We all know the slogan “Everything is Big in Texas.” Well, this especially applies to filmmakers, as productions of all sizes can make it big in Texas and every state in the Southwest region by taking advantage of a wide variety of locations, resources and incentives.

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