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Incentives lure movie business away from Tucson again

HBO’s “Duster” moves to New Mexico
Posted at 7:22 PM, Apr 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-28 22:22:27-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Excitement turned to disappointment as a prestigious TV show started shooting in Tucson, then left after shooting one episode.

It all hinges on whether governments are willing to invest money to entice movies companies to come here and spend their money.

Arizona’s beautiful, varied environment prompts TV and movie production companies to shoot here but not nearly as often as local leaders would like. Besides the beauty of your location you need some juicy cash incentives.

There was a lot of excitement when a new HBO crime series called Duster started shooting in Tucson. Producers liked how Tucson looked on camera. Tucson promoters were excited about the production spending loads of money — and the chance to show tourists they might want to vacation here.

But after shooting one episode Duster’s production packed up and headed east to New Mexico where incentives like tax breaks have been attracting movie productions for years—even if the story is set in Arizona.

Peter Catalanotte of Film Tucson works to bring film productions here. He says Tucson still got a strong payoff from that short spell in the spotlight.

“The project spent $10 million for one episode, which is a huge economic benefit. They hired almost 200 local crew, almost 500 local actors, and they rented 9800 hotel room nights. That's a huge economic impact. The other great thing is to have top tier producers and location people here in Tucson for almost six months.”

Getting those movie professionals familiar with Tucson could lead to more productions here but incentives will still be crucial.

Catalanotte says— Tucson assembled about $6.5 million in incentives for Duster. Arizona lawmakers are still considering a bill to let Arizona offer bigger incentives — more like New Mexico’s but even if Arizona state government does agree to incentives it couldn’t come fast enough to keep the Duster film shoots here.

“They wanted to start pre production in July. And even if we got the film incentives bill passed tomorrow, the program wouldn't really get started until January. So they just couldn't wait any longer. They really want to get moving on this.”

Catalanotte says Hollywood execs know Tucson has a good base of actors and behind the scenes professionals and they know Arizona has good weather and a wide range of shooting locations. They’re holding off to see if Arizona lawmakers will decide it’s a good investment to offer incentive money to convince movie makers to spend their money here.

Craig Smith is a reporter for KGUN 9. With more than 30 years of reporting in cities like Tampa, Houston and Austin, Craig has covered more than 40 Space Shuttle launches and covered historic hurricanes like Katrina, Ivan, Andrew and Hugo. Share your story ideas and important issues with Craig by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.