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Tucson's film industry not what it once was

Posted at 11:29 PM, May 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-31 02:29:36-04

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Old Tucson Studios was filled with actors and a film crew last week. An independent film called Tombstone Rashomon was shot there. 

Tombstone Rashomon retells the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral but from many different angles.

While movies are still made in Tucson, some say the industry in Arizona has ground to a halt.

"It has slowed down considerably, and that is an understatement," said Eric Schumacher. He is cast in Tombstone Rashomon, he is also a film producer, director, and has worked in the film industry in Tucson for years.

Schumacher says Old Tucson generated millions of dollars in its heyday thanks to big budget films, many of them popular westerns with stars like John Wayne. In recent years, those big budget films have not returned. One of the last major movies shot at Old Tucson was Tombstone in 1993. Schumacher says that has hurt the local economy.

"Whenever a film is made, a lot of people are employed," Schumacher said. 

Frank Baden could be one of those people, he has a small role in Tombstone Rashomon. Fewer films, means fewer opportunity for local talent in the industry.

"There is not as much work as there should be," said Baden. "Also it's very competitive, everybody is vying for what few opportunities there are, I feel fortunate for whenever I was able to get involved in something like this."

Tucson was once second only to Hollywood in film production according to some. Local filmmakers say that is not the case anymore.

"It is exceedingly hard to make it as a film maker in this region, close to impossible frankly. Most everyone has to do other things to survive," said Schumacher.

He added that when a large movie production comes to town, they spend money which benefits the rest of the local economy. For example, a film crew needs to eat.

Schumacher and Baden blame Arizona state tax incentives, or a lack thereof, for a dwindling film industry. Nearly 40 other states in the U.S. have them to try and lure filmmakers. 

Schumacher wrote in an email, "It’s a tough argument to an investor or a big studio when they see the 39 other states with state film commissions and a 30% tax rebate at the state level and a much larger, highly trained workforce, sound stages etc, all of which are a result of tax incentives that have stimulated an industry and the growth of support services."

"The state legislature has its head in the sand as far as providing a statewide incentive to this industry. It is a complete no-brainer, getting us back on the map with a statewide incentive, we start out 30 percent behind the surrounding states so we make ourselves flyover country when it comes to the film producers," said Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik.

Schumacher says many films in search of a southwest backdrop have gone to New Mexico instead of Arizona for this reason.

Tombstone Rashomon finished filming at Old Tucson studios. There is no release date yet. The next film to be shot at Old Tucson is called Jael: A Western Tale which is described as a female driven Western steam punk adventure feature film.