N4T Investigators: Lights, Camera, No Action - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Lights, Camera, No Action

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Tucson - The new film, "Only the Brave" tells the story of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in the Yarnell Hill wildfire in 2013. But almost all of the movie was made in New Mexico. 

"It's an Arizona story about Arizona heroes. We would have loved to have shot that in Arizona. I won't lie, it's painful that that movie wasn't shot here," says Matthew Earl Jones. He became the director of the revived Arizona Office of Film and Digital Media last year, long after the producers of "Only the Brave" chose not to make it where it really happened.

New Mexico, unlike Arizona, offers filmmakers a refundable state tax credit, 25% for movies and 30% for TV shows. Forty-five states offer incentives to filmmakers, Arizona is the only state in the west that does not offer financial incentives. Last year New Mexico reported its credit resulted in $397 million  in direct in-state spending. 

Shelli Hall, the Director of Film Tucson, says, "The studios have told me they cannot even look at filming in states that don't have incentives."  Hall told the News 4 Tucson Investigators when she first found out that "Only the Brave" was being filmed in New Mexico, she thought, 'Oh, there they go again, choosing a location that's inappropriate, because of tax incentives."

Thousands of movies have been made in Arizona over the years, many big budget and well-known. While smaller budget films and television shows and commercials are still shot in the state, Arizona doesn't get those big budget films much anymore. Its tax incentive program was scrapped in 2010 by Governor Brewer during the recession.  A year earlier the state film office was shut down, after existing under nine governors over 36 years. 

Hall says, "The bigger films, the studio films, they'll spend several million dollars to a hundred million dollars on a film. And the economic impact of that is great." 

Arizona's state film office was revived last year, and Jones, half-brother of actor James Earl Jones, is trying attract filmmakers by offering freebies, discounts and promoting the state's natural beauty. Filmmakers can shoot for free in state parks and the Department of Transportation is offering them free use of state roads. Jones says, "We're also reaching out to the industries that affect out of state production: hotels, rental cars, restaurants," to offer discounts to filmmakers and their crew members. 

Arizona lobbyists are trying to get a bill sponsored in 2019 that would provide financial incentives to the film and digital media industries. "And if our tax incentive was designed to be competitive," Hall says, "they would come."

Not everyone supports a film tax credit or believes the economic impact cited by officials in 45 other states.  The Goldwater Institute, the conservative think tank based in Phoenix, calls it "corporate welfare" that helps filmmakers more than it helps Arizona residents. But Jones says not only do movies made in Arizona help the local economy, they play a huge role in tourism, that pays out for many years.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tipline at 520-955-4444.

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