Tucson's Name in Lights

Does the Old Pueblo have a future as a movie production mecca?

Bob Shelton, in Old Tucson's zenith, had five movies and as many headliners working at a time. But these days, the films coming to Tucson for production are few and far between.

Jamie Redford, the son of the famous Robert, recently used Barrio Viejo--where young gentrifiers gave muted praise that they were hardly bothered--and the grittier Ironhorse Neighborhood with its Buffet bar to shoot scenes for his movie, Spin.

Shelli Hall, director of the Tucson Film Office, also helped Redford get onto Sopori Ranch, a spread at the north end of Santa Cruz County that was once held by a Warner Bros. Partner.

Before Spin, Adrian Barbeau, Gary Busey and Jeff Fahey were in front of the cameras for a type of Western horror film that the folks at Old Tucson Studios--bereft of feature films since rebuilding after the 1995 fire--couldn't stop talking about. It has not been released.

But Tucson's chase for films might be accelerating--although there's work to do first.

Glenn Goldstein, a producer of a variety of film work from commercial to movies, says Tucson should not think of landing major productions right away. Infrastructure, he says, of crews and technicians, must be rebuilt. That can be achieved by steady progress of luring and supporting all types of commercial, television and feature films.

Most insiders say the failure of Old Tucson to rebuild its soundstage--and failure of the county to require that it be replaced after the fire--has hurt luring moving business. Eight years after the Old Tucson fire, Pima County officials are just beginning to ask that the sound stage be rebuilt.

"I don't get a lot a of calls asking for a soundstage, but it certainly would be value-added," Hall said.

Part of the renewed effort to attract movie makers, who once employed whole families as extras on such television series as High Chaparral and a full range of movies like the star-studded but forgettable Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice, is a structural change.

Hall's office, which has an annual budget of just under $200,000, is being shifted from City Hall to the Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau. It will be out from under city bureaucracy and, practitioners and observers say, in a better fit with those who might not know the movie business--but whose job it is to market Tucson.

Hall is optimistic. Goldstein is willing to give it a chance, though he would like to see an independent film office set up as a nonprofit.

Shelton, the old pro, says money Tucson needs to spend does not have to be outlandish. It should be just enough for a Tucson representative to get to Los Angeles four to six times a year, and to host breakfasts, lunches or cocktail parties.

Money shouldn't be an issue. The city is jacking up the hotel bed tax to 2 percent to raise another $1.5 million for tourism and convention promotion.

But there's increased competition for that movie business, too, from Canada, as well as more nearby locales like Las Vegas and New Mexico, where Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson has made it a key economic development tool to seek movies through incentives.

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