Ah, this one is going to range widely, so bear with me. Or go have a scone and cup of strong, black coffee and come back when I've reached paragraph ten...
Fact: Arizona has no real, honest-to-God production incentives to attract film and other kinds of let-me-write-you-a-check media. My brother, who drives in the far right lane of politics and economics, has no problem with this, although he likes movies, likes to talk movies, and probably wouldn't mind watching Dominic Toretto roar down Route 66 in pursuit of a Russian Pike Class submarine. He just doesn't want his coin jar paying for it.
I've argued not once but twice in this blog that states can have pretty damn robust production incentives and still clock in as pro-business powerhouses. But I've also spent some time trying to understand the counter-argument to incentives. Namely, that it's a giveaway to spendthrift Hollywood studio heads who you wouldn't trust with your 14-year-old niece, and there's no dollar-for-dollar return on investment, let alone a cash dividend. This argument is usually made by hardcore anti-taxxers who would like to see Andrew Jackson replaced on the $20 bill by the Koch brothers, but the same critique was made by Willie Osterweil, a talented writer for The New Inquiry and radical egg scrambler for the working man and woman, who knicks incentives for not only the usual reasons, but adds "speeds up gentrification" to boot--a claim I'm still chasing around my mental keyboard. I listened, but the first time Osterweil used "bourgeois" I checked out--the word sounds like boring-geois and I don't know how to spell it.
Osterweil's argument--and those of the studies he cites--are persuasive, and in a weak moment I'm ready to bow down and lick boots. But, The New Inquiry aside, why is it when people tell me that low corporate taxes, net neutrality, trickle down, government-by-executive-order, and zero incentives are good for me, I automatically reach for my wallet? Maybe because these same people usually net about $300 million more per per anum than I do?
At this point, I'd like to introduce Willie Osterweil to director Howard Hawks. Willie...Howard. Howard...Willie.
A couple of years ago Willie wrote a book called In Defense of Looting, and while I doubt Howard Hawks would endorse his vision of free LGs for the underclass, they might could share a drink to freedom, man to man...and Big Brother can sit outside and suck it. In the late 1950s Hawks came to Tucson to make a movie called Rio Bravo with John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Angie Dickinson. You know the story. Or should. Hawks remade the same flick three time--Rio Bravo, El Dorado, Rio Lobo--all filmed at Old Tucson Studios under the looming rampart of Golden Gate Mountain.
Hawks was a bit miffed at the way director Fred Zinnemann had portrayed frontier America in High Noon, with Gary Cooper unpatriotically begging the townsfolk for help. In Rio Bravo he had Wayne go it nearly along, with "cripple" Walter Brennan and sloppy drunk Martin his only hands. Wayne is loathe to ask anyone for help--in love or war. Dickinson has to kiss him twice because the first time he barely puts his lips together, prompting her classic lines, "it's even better when two people do it" and "Hey, Sheriff, you forgot your pants." Howard Hawks and John Wayne were conservative he-men and as the Wagon Master they brought along Ward Bond, a HUAC enforcer who named names and was proud of it. Brennan, too, was of a conservative bent. I can't see any of them getting on board the tax-happy concept of film production incentives, and even the idea would have struck them as ludicrous.
But you could argue that Hawks and Warner Brothers, were, in a way, beneficiaries of an early form of incentives. By the time they filmed at Old Tucson in 1958, the lot had been under the paternal management of the Junior Chamber of Commerce for over 15 years. The original set for the 1940 film Arizona--which would eventually evolve into Old Tucson as we know it--was actually gifted to Pima County by Columbia Pictures when the studio did not renew its lease. And numerous productions, ranging from Gene Autry and Lone Ranger oaters to classics like Winchester '73, had contributed or refurbished additional set pieces through the years.
Circa '50s Old Tucson was like a de facto filmmakers co-op, of a sort that even underground, "pure cinema" cineastes like Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger might recognize, and it had survived through the combined efforts of local governance, fans, and Hollywood dollars--a recipe that has recently paid off for film-intensive states like Georgia.
Without that triad Old Tucson would have eroded into the dust of Jean Arthur's boot tracks, and Arizona's No. 1 export industry--tourism--would be the worse for it.
It had been many years since I had watched Rio Bravo from beginning to end, but a hike along Golden Gate Trail--sandwiched between Old Tucson and its namesake mountain--prompted a fresh screening. For most of the film Golden Gate Mountain is hidden behind the jail of Sheriff John T. Chance, played by Wayne. But in the final set-to, the mountain looms over the bad guys' warehouse hideout as Chance and Brennan's Stumpy heave dynamite and wisecracks toward the Tucson Mountain skyline.
According to one source, Golden Gate Mountain (and nearby Gates Pass) were named because "early prospectors believed they were the gateway to gold in them thar hills of the Tucson Mountains." (Sounds good, anyway.) There's still cinematic gold to be found in the Tucson Hills, and with Film and Digital media now included in the state's 5-year business plan, things are looking up, incentive or no incentive.
Fellow filmmakers, now's not the time to forget our pants.