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Tucson works to reclaim leading role in movie production

AZ lawmakers consider film incentives
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Posted at 8:20 AM, Mar 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-28 09:21:59-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — When you watch the Oscar night glamour, did you know Tucson’s been a major player in the movie industry? Now there’s fresh hope Tucson could be a star in the movie world again.

If you know where to look you can find plenty of signs of the days when Tucson was a center for TV and film production. Trail Dust Town for instance was originally built as a movie set and now there are efforts to bring some of that energy back into film production in Arizona.

Matt Welch has been part of that Tucson movie history since his first role in a movie shot here more than 50 years ago.

He says, “Right on through from the 60s to oh, the end of the 70s, Tucson was second to Hollywood in regards to film production and commercials and everything. It was just the hottest spot next to Hollywood.”

For our interview Welch wore a costume for western gunslinger Doc Holliday—and westerns have been a big part of the movie work here.

Old Tucson Studios was built as a movie set.

So was the artificial town known as Mescal.

But Welch says Tucson has enough visual variety to be the location for a wide range of stories.

“You want a Boston look? We can find your Boston look. If you want a Florida look, we can send you over to Rocky Point and give you a Florida look. You want an old Pueblo in Mexico. We can do that. You want a high tech industry. Go out to the Tech Park,” Welch said.

But Arizona’s share of the movie business took a steep fall when other states started offering rich incentives to attract productions. Other states even got the business for movies about Arizona.

Now state lawmakers are considering a bill to let Arizona offer the sort of incentives other states used to grab movie productions that could have come here.

Even with a decision on that bill still pending, Tucson’s combination of good locations and closeness to Hollywood has been attracting movie shoots. An HBO series called Duster is set in Tucson and is shooting here.

Welch says if incentives add fuel to Arizona’s movie business Tucson has acting and technical talent ready to get to work.

“The reality is the production people, the writers, the directors, and the actors never left Arizona," Welch said. "They've been here, they've been going to the other states to get jobs and to work. They are here. They are top quality. They are union labor. They know each other. There's a good network here.”

And he says those Tucson crews would be ready right away to let those cameras roll.

Craig Smith is a reporter for KGUN 9. With more than 40 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.