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Tuesday, 27 September 2011 23:24

New Perks from the Old Southwest

Written by  Nathan Hoturoa Gray
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With a vibrant mix of golden deserts, towering peaks and vivid red landscapes, the southwestern states of Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas have attracted a solid history of moviemaking. P3 Update takes a closer look at some of the successes and enticing offerings that this region has to offer the film community, while providing some insight into the stunning vistas flaunted by some of America’s most breathtaking production hubs.

NEVADA 

If your production is searching for neon and glitter, ghost towns, scenic roads, majestic mountains, desert landscapes and picturesque lakes, your cinematic team will find it all in Nevada. When scouring for locations, one is in particularly good hands with the Nevada Film Office (NFO), which prides itself on promptly delivering key information to the production industry. Happy to assist with location breakdowns and scouting, defining and managing logistics, intergovernmental liaisons, resource gathering, materials provisions and problem solving, the NFO serves more than 300 productions annually, ranging from motion pictures, TV series and specials, reality programs, music videos, commercials, documentaries, webcasts and other emerging media. Recent film productions shot in Nevada include Lay the Favorite (starring Bruce Willis and Vince Vaughn), Here Comes the Boom (starring Salma Hayek and Kevin James), Guilt Trip (starring Seth Rogen), The Muppets and The Motel Life.

Each year the NFO publishes its indispensable Nevada Production Directory, which showcases the state’s talented and award-winning professional crews and production facilities. The NFO website allows filmmakers and producers 24/7 access to thousands of diverse locations, averaging 5,000 visits per month. It’s no surprise that the state has housed s slew of hit TV shows, including “The Real World,” “Cake Boss,” “So You Think You Can Dance?,” “Chelsea Lately,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” “America’s Got Talent,” “Pawn Stars” and “What Not to Wear.”

While Nevada doesn’t currently offer an incentive program, the state boasts a competitive tax climate with no corporate, personal, franchise, inventory or unitary taxes and offers free and low-cost permits throughout the state in various counties. This can lead to big saving in production costs without a lot of red tape. Productions from around the world take advantage of Nevada’s unique film-friendly locations, affordable accommodations, over 320 days of sunshine, professional crews and state-of-the-art pre/postproduction facilities. The NFO has generated more than $90 million in revenue for 11 consecutive years, hitting a new benchmark in 2010, and generated over $2 billion dollars in cumulative production revenue since its inception in 1982. This is helped by the state serving as the backdrop for several key commercial brands, including Jaguar, Sports Illustrated, Nissan, Cadillac, Lexus, Range Rover and AT&T.

NEW MEXICO

A land of alluring scenic brilliance, New Mexico is a filming mecca with over 300 days of sunshine per year and an impressive contrast of snowcapped peaks, desert landscapes and film-friendly towns that can double for anywhere in the U.S. as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.

The state’s secret for attracting cinematic features is its ease for producers to benefit from the 25-percent tax-credit program on all direct production and postproduction expenditures. (This includes New Mexico crewmembers that are subject to taxation by the state.) Currently there is no minimum spend, no minimum shoot days, no minimum-budget requirement, no minimum resident-hire requirement, no prequalifying, no brokering and no audit fees — and the most alluring perk of all — a $50 million rolling cap. Eligible productions include feature films, independent films, television shows, regional and national commercials, documentaries, animation, video games and webisodes. Current productions shot in New Mexico include the TV shows “Breaking Bad” and “In Plain Sight,” and the films Gambit (starring Cameron Diaz), Game Change (starring Julianne Moore), This Must Be the Place (starring Sean Penn), Haywire, The Avengers, Cool As I Am, Cowboys & Aliens, Fright Night, Paul and Thor.

“In addition to our competitive incentive package and state-of-the-art studio stages, New Mexico maintains the largest professional crew base between coasts, and a wide array of film-friendly vendors,” says Tobi Ives of the New Mexico State Film Office. The state also offers the Film Crew Advancement Program, an incentive for production companies to help create more job opportunities for New Mexican film and television crews, reimbursing 50 percent of a participant’s wages for up to 1,040 hours physically worked by the qualifying crewmember in a specialized craft position.

OKLAHOMA

With mountains, forests and over 2,000 ghost towns, Oklahoma's wheat-filled vistas provide ample locations to suit your cinematic epic. The Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate is set at a generous 37 percent, with 35 percent on qualified Oklahoma expenditures and an additional 2 percent available for those who purchase Oklahoma music and/or use Oklahoma music facilities. Currently, there’s a $5 million cap and the minimum in-state spend is set at $25,000. Film, television and commercial productions must also have a minimum budget of $50,000. According to the Oklahoma Film & Music Office (OF&MO), films shot in the state in 2011 include Just Crazy Enough, Yellow and a Terrence Malick film starring Ben Affleck, while productions from 2010 include The Lamp, Heaven’s Rain, A Christmas Snow, Bringing Up Bobby and TV’s “Extreme Makeover.”

“I have often been asked why we shoot in Oklahoma,” says Tracy Trost, director and owner of Trost Moving Pictures LLC. “There are several reasons really. [For] one, the locations are limitless. In one part of the state you have sand dunes, in another prairie land, and another location has rolling hills with trees and lakes. Tulsa is especially a great place to shoot. It has modern architecture right along with turn-of-the-century homes and buildings. The people are open to filming in the area and location costs are very reasonable. The second reason is the state’s film-incentive rebate program. I have had the opportunity to work with the Film Commission on two feature projects, A Christmas Snow and The Lamp. The incentive is very competitive with other states at up to 37 percent, and the Film Commission is easy to work with. It makes sense logistically and fiscally for us to continue to shoot our projects in Oklahoma.”

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

ARIZONA

Conveniently located about an hour’s flight from Los Angeles, Arizona is geographically well placed to pick up the tab for any excess films spilling over from the Californian production pool. And as rates go, the state’s costs are approximately 30 percent lower than Los Angeles. However, no big-picture films are presently being attracted to the serenely scenic state.

“Currently there is no film incentive program in Arizona given the last transferable-tax credit terminated on December 31st, 2010,” states Philip Bradstock, film commissioner for the Phoenix Film Office. “It’s too early to tell when the next tax incentive bill will go through both legislatures; however, we are optimistic that the bill will be heard by both House and Senate and met with favorable support. I’m confident the legislators will be aware of the fact that Arizona has already missed out on a few big-budget film opportunities and the studio phones have now stopped ringing.”

The State Film Office for Arizona is currently shut down due to a lack of a film incentive, but Bradstock points out that regional offices, such as for Yuma, Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson and Prescott, are all still up and running. They’re all able to field questions and make sure all the right connections are made for producers interested in the state’s to-die-for locations.

“For commercials and our bread-and-butter productions, it is business as usual,” Bradstock notes. “And there has certainly been an influx of reality television specials shooting in Arizona, in particular British companies coming in to shoot given the direct flights straight from London.” Over 2,000 productions have been shot in Arizona since 2006, and, in general, the state’s crew depth is two-and-a-half deep, but there are over 14,000 residents in Arizona that work in some aspect of the film industry. The state also has over 220 sunny days each year and offers fee-free filming on state land, regardless of grazing or other leases (though a permit is required). Recent films shot in Arizona include Take Me Home Tonight, Born to Ride and Everything Must Go (starring Will Ferrell).

Located in the heart of Glendale, Arizona’s Sports and Entertainment District, is Glendale Media Center.  It’s located 20 minutes from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport next to the Loop 101, within walking distance of Glendale’s NFL stadium, NHL and concert arena and 10 minutes from Glendale’s MLB spring training facility.

“It’s a first-class television production facility designed by broadcast veterans with one priority in mind: to provide clients with exceptional state-of-the-art production services in a premier location,” says Laurie Berg Sapp of Glendale Media Center. “The Glendale Media Center features two large rental studios with seamless Cyc walls and multi-format HD production for videos, film, advertising and commercials, studio audience shows and more. Studio A is 48x60 with a 20-foot light grid; Studio B at 30x40 features news and talk show sets; the Center also includes a green room, make-up/dressing room with shower, wifi and free parking.” For special P3 Update pricing, go to www.glendalemediacenter.com/P3 or contact Laurie Berg Sapp at 623-930-4510 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and mention P3.

TEXAS

If it’s big, chances are it’s from Texas. This is especially true when it comes to the film industry — the Lone Star State has seen hundreds of films completed throughout the last century. Productions of all sizes can make it huge in Texas by taking advantage of a wide variety of locations, resources and incentives.

Currently, the Texas Film Commission has the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program which offers qualifying feature films, TV programs, commercials, video games and standalone postproduction/finishing projects 5 to 25 percent of eligible Texas spending. The tax grant has no cap and the returns are based at 5 percent for below $1 million spent (8 percent on a wage basis), 10 percent for $1 million to $5 million (17 percent on a wage basis), and 15 percent for anything above $5 million (25 percent on a wage basis) — and both live-action and animated projects are eligible. Additional cash grant-incentive percentage bumps are also available for shooting in underutilized and economically distressed areas.

The Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program is in addition to the state’s sales-tax exemptions. Under Texas law, motion picture producers (or their representatives) and game (software) developers are recognized as manufacturers, and they may claim sales-tax exemptions of both state tax set at 6.25 percent and local taxes set at 0.25 to 2 percent on many of the items and services used in the manufacture of the final product. This includes qualified purchases, rentals or leases of qualifying equipment and services that are essential to the making of the master film or tape or gold master. Items used indirectly in production (such as office supplies, accounting software and soft drinks) are not exempt nor are items that are retained for other uses. See http://governor.state.tx.us/film/incentives/sales_tax_exemptions/ for the full list of qualifying items and services.

Many films and TV projects utilize the state’s wide-ranging deserts and sparkling cities, like Dallas, which is equipped to shoot full-scale productions. When it comes to iconic television, Dallas has a long and rich history. According to Janis Burklund of the Dallas Film Commission, that includes 13 seasons of the original CBS series “Dallas,” 8 seasons of CBS’ “Walker, Texas Ranger” and 14 seasons of PBS’s “Barney & Friends” ─ to name a few.  More recently, Bruckheimer’s NBC/Warner Bros.-produced “Chase,” Fox TV Studios’ “The Good Guys” and 20th Century Fox’s “Lone Star,” “The Deep End” and two seasons of “Prison Break” were produced in Dallas.   

Recent pilots include ABC’s upcoming “GCB” and, of course, TNT’s new “Dallas.”   Warner Horizon Scripted Television’s production of TNT’s “Dallas,” an all-new series based on one of the most popular television dramas of all time, is currently in preproduction. TNT ordered a full season of 10 episodes for summer 2012. “Cynthia Cidre and Michael M. Robin, executive producers of the new ‘Dallas’ series have said, ‘We are so excited that we get to shoot ‘Dallas’ in Dallas. The city has changed so much since the original series, and we can't wait to show our audience the fun, the culture, the architecture, the restaurants, the landscapes and the people that make Dallas such a vibrant and cinematic city,’” says Burklund.

Burklund also adds that Reality TV has long been a fan of the “Big D,” as well as some recent shows, including Bravo’s “Most Eligible Dallas” and “Top Chef Texas,” A&E’s “Storage Wars Dallas,” Style Network’s “Big Rich Texas” and HGTV’s “Donna Decorates Dallas.”  The Dallas Film Commission reports at least 32 reality shows have shot and/or cast in Dallas this year with more on the way.

“When other markets have struggled while waiting for the next big feature or perhaps a series, Dallas has remained a strong production center, due to a consistent commercial production market,” says Burklund.  Some recent commercial shoots include Nike: Hungry Man; Pizza Hut: Moxie Pictures; Papa John’s: Film Yard; Dodge Trucks: Directorz; Colgate: Radium; Texas Lottery & Ford Trucks: Sugar Film Productions and multiple Hasbro spots: Stone Core.  

Independent features recently shot include Ghost of Goodnight Lane starring Billy Zane; Mike Norris’ (son of Chuck Norris) I Am Gabriel starring Dean Cain and John Snider and Bad Kids Go to Hell starring Judd Nelson.  Phobia staring Erica Leerhsen (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is currently in preproduction with more on the way.

With MPS Studios, Lucid Post and Post Asylum, the state is well resourced to cater to all your production needs. And given the overarching Texan friendliness, the state’s location sites are just a good relationship away.

For the most part, 2011 has been a solid year for the Southwestern states. With its ongoing range of generous tax incentives, the region can welcome a steady flow of productions for many years to come, especially once Arizona politicians sign off on the latest renewal of their tax incentive regime.

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