Spike Lee came to Arizona State University on January 25th, 2012 and spoke to its students. Lee lamented that one of the major issues for many independent filmmakers is financing small films. “Woody Allen makes most of his films in Europe, because he cannot get films [Like Midnight in Paris] financed unless it is a comic book or television-based franchise”, he said. This may discourage a young filmmaker, but there is actually a silver lining in the midst of this greed on the industry’s part. Like music, filmmaking is more democratic than it has ever been before due to the off of the shelf technology. In the midst of this, the industry is in serious financial trouble, because film attendance is decreasing. According to the website Box Office Mojo has seen a 10% decrease in tickets sold over the past two years. Now, this may be due to the economic downturn, but audiences are not interested in what Hollywood is turning out. Now, 2012 might see an upturn in ticket sales that might be dramatic due to the release of The Star Wars series in 3-D, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, and The Hobbit. But, all of these are franchises and are competing for audience’s attention with video games, torrents, Netflix, social media, and a multitude of other factors, which are much cheaper, competing for the attention spans of audiences of all ages.
If you are an aspiring filmmaker, whether you live in Phoenix, Oklahoma City, or Louisville, filmmaking, as with other forms of media, lends itself to Neo-Localism. All artists draw from their own hometown experience, so a Local Arts movement simply makes sense. Because, our comedy and our tragedy emerges from where we were raised and lived. There are a plethora of stories that can be told about every city, town, and hamlet throughout the United States. However, Phillip Bradstock of the City of Phoenix Film Office said, “It’s very difficult to maintain financing for film projects in Phoenix. Most of the work that comes here is often Reality Television and often bring their own crews. You may get an occasional production assistant hired who knows the area.” The total economic impact of the film industry last year was $13,130,233. “Our biggest goal is to see growth in production with companies that hire local professionals.” Most of the work that is being done in the local area are photo shoots, corporate and industrial training, and commercial work. Bradstock said that the biggest production time is between October and April where companies get their summer commercial stock ready. Many production companies in Phoenix are temporary and fold once the production is complete.
Film Festivals, like music festivals, are growing as a new local outlet for distribution to shop independent films as an alternative to the standard industry distributors. There are a variety of film festivals that take place in Arizona, which is the same case with cities in other states that support local filmmaking. There is the Almost Famous Film Festival, The Arizona Student Film Festival, there is also the No Festival Required that facilitates lesser known films from local, national, and international filmmakers. And, of course, there is The Phoenix Film Festival that may take place at the Scottsdale 101, but is still located in Phoenix proper. Outside of Phoenix, you also have The Tuscon Film and Music Festival, The Sedona International Film Festival, which starts this month, and The Flagstaff Film Festival. There is surprisingly no shortage of film festivals and if you have a strong work of cinema, the festival circuit is the first step to marketing independent films. Plus, there is The Phoenix Film Society that facilitates the Phoenix Film Festival and provides ample opportunities to see new and offbeat films.
Unfortunately, there is such an association with filmmaking with Hollywood or New York. What a young filmmaker needs to understand is that when John Cassavetes made Shadows, it was a film that he made with an Arriflex 16S with local actors about the city that he lived in. This local notion is the same inspiration that drove Scorsese to make Mean Streets and the same type of stories can be made in any town. Now, it’s easier than ever as long as you have a good story to tell. In Arizona, in particular, between Tuscon and Flagstaff, there are untold numbers of film and video professionals that populate the state of Arizona. There is no shortage of professionals that range from photographers, editors, actors, costume makers, graphic designers, etc who also have their own tools and materials to bring. The problem? The problem is that there is no center of locus that is able to bring these artists, craftspersons, and technicians into a single organization. Phoenix already has a collection of successful production companies that are in The Valley that Include Image Ave. Studios, Great Scott Productions Inc., True Story Films, Quantum Leap Productions, and many more that are located in the valley. The Valley would be the ideal place for many established production companies to farm out pre-production and post-production responsibilities that can be prepared and shipped off to locations that do not have to be located in Arizona.
But in all reality, it is tough to get productions together and draw financing. In 2006, there was the The Motion Picture Tax Incentive Program, which drew productions to Arizona for reduced costs. However, that program expired in December 31st, 2010. However, over the last few weeks, Senate Bill 1170 “The Multimedia Incentives Bill” has been proposed in the senate to foster more film and media production in the state of Arizona. It passed on February 2nd and is now going to the Arizona House for consideration. Bradstock said, “It passed the senate, but whether the Speaker allows it to go forward in the house is his decision. Over the last two years, it either was not introduced by the speaker or did not get out of committee.” There are film offices and commissions throughout the state to support and advocate for film productions in Arizona that would benefit a great deal from such legislation. The very same elements that drew filmmakers to California in the early 1900′s is in Arizona with environments that vary from desert to temperate climates. In addition to this, there are spaces throughout Phoenix, particularly in the Warehouse District. However, Bradstock says, ” Most of those spaces are not ideal for sound stages without refurbishment, because you need ceiling spaces at least 30 feet high. In addition to that, because Phoenix is in a flight path and along the train, it makes those spaces problematic.” The ideal place to build a sound stage would be either in North Phoenix where you have the space. Currently there are two sound stages being built, one that is in Avondale and the other is being built in Mesa, which is well on its way. But, there are a great many professionals out there who need to make a living and so much pro bono work going on as it is. But, there are many tools in for an ambitious filmmakers who have a good story to make films that’s are cinematically unique to Phoenix and Arizona at large.