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Film Tucson: Lack of Arizona film incentives has 'Duster' making tracks out of town

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Guest opinion

Film Tucson: Lack of Arizona film incentives has 'Duster' making tracks out of town

Peter Catalanotte is the director of Film Tucson, a division of Visit Tucson.

Back in March 2021, Film Tucson was contacted by producer Georgia Kacandes ("Casino," "The Hateful Eight," "The Wolf of Wall Street") regarding an HBO TV series being created by JJ Abrams ("Lost," "Star Trek," "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens") which was interested in using Tucson as its main shooting location.

We eventually landed the pilot episode of "Duster" thanks to our ability to connect the producers with affordable hotels, cinematic locations, and our hard-working local crew base. Also, the city of Tucson and Pima County worked tirelessly to provide the show with the necessary infrastructure needed to make everything happen quickly and efficiently.

For this one episode, a conservative estimate of $10 million was brought to Tucson, handing our region a colossal economic impact.

Due to our lack of state film incentives, we’re unsure if the rest of the show will come to Tucson. (I previously reported, via email on Wednesday, that HBO had chosen New Mexico over Arizona, but it turns out that was wholly inaccurate on my part — I’m told a new location has not yet been chosen.)

A humble incentives package was put together by various local and state agencies but none of it has been paid out so far since it just isn't enough to lure a TV series of this size.

Even if the current Arizona film incentives bill (SB 1708) passes the floor of the House, the program wouldn't take effect soon enough for "Duster"'s assumed start date later this summer.

But make no mistake: the impressive positives of this pilot coming to Tucson are hard to beat.

For three months, eight location professionals from the film industry were scouting a wide variety of looks throughout Tucson; they'll remember these diverse locations in the future when they have a project needing Southern Arizona's visual assets.

Almost 300 cast and crew members were brought in from outside Tucson, all of them spending thousands every week at local restaurants, shops, and visitor attractions.

Almost 9,800 hotel room nights were generated by this show, providing several Tucson lodging properties a chance to recover and thrive after the economic slowdown brought about by the COVID-19 crisis.

Hundreds of high-wage jobs were brought to our region thanks to a total hire of 185 local crew and almost 500 local actors for more than four months of production.

Several thousand dollars were spent at dozens of small businesses all over Tucson, including restaurants and bars, grocery stores, dry cleaners, hair salons, paint and lumber stores, gas stations, stationary stores, and vintage clothing boutiques, to name but a few.

Film students from the University of Arizona and Pima Community College were given real-world experience on a top-notch professional production, gifting their film careers an impressive head start.

The icing on the cake: having HBO in Tucson gave a clear signal to other studios in Hollywood that we are open for business. If SB 1708 passes, Film Tucson will have the best chance yet to attract lucrative, high-budget film and TV projects to the Old Pueblo for years to come.

If there was ever a time to voice your support of state film incentives to your representatives, this is it. Don't let this opportunity pass us by.

More by Peter Catalanotte

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