Transforming the AZ Film Industry, One Movie at a Time

Does anyone know if Transformers: The Last Knight wrapped production? I admit, I don't. Michael Bay's newest blockbuster, and second edition of the second Transformer trilogy (the Mark Wahlberg one) did spend a few weeks filming in Arizona, and honestly, that's the only aspect of the movie that has interested me so far. Call me selfish.

My role in this community has -- for the last 13 years -- been to advance the education and opportunity of local filmmakers. I'd like to think I've had a modicum of success, primarily as a film instructor at the now-defunct Collins College. That said, it appears to be a big mystery why such a huge budget movie like Transformers: The Last Knight managed to employ so few local cast and crew for the duration of the time spent filming here.

People complained. Oh, did they ever complain! Fingers were even pointed in my direction. "Why didn't AFMC let us know that Transformers 5 was filming here? Isn't that your job?" It isn't. My participation on the Board of the AFMC does not give me any better insight than you, who are reading these words now. Sorry. Not only did I not know, but there would be no reason for me to know. I'm not a location scout or a casting director or a member of any of the unions that typically support Hollywood productions.

So here's where the education comes in:

The "Transformers 5" project (I'll use it's original name, for simplicity) was being shot in a variety of locations all around the world, based on the needs and desires of (primarily) the Director. While getting the best value for the money is always a major consideration, getting the right location is also a big deal, especially if you're Michael Bay. That's called "production value". In this case, there was a very specific location that literally only existed in Arizona -- and I will let you go see the movie or do Google searches to figure that one out -- where the production had to shoot. It was, I believe, the only reason that we managed to snag the few weeks of shooting days that we got. On the basis of that one location, we were able to secure other locations in close proximity to the first, making it more cost-effective to hang around Arizona for a while and give Mark Wahlberg and friends the closest experience ever to standing in the middle of a blazing inferno of exploding cars.

I use the word "we" in the sentence above, but take no credit in it, myself. By "we", I mean those individuals -- those local Arizona individuals -- who went the extra yard to not only accommodate the Transformers 5 production but to go the extra mile to show how flexible, versatile, professional and talented we locals can be. (There's that word "we" again. You locals. You wonderful, flexible, versatile, professional, talented local film industry professionals!)

But I digress.

As I was saying, Transformers 5 intended to shoot in many areas around the world. As such, it was in its own best interest to have a traveling crew. If you think about it, if you were to shoot a movie in ten different locations and hired ten different crews, one at each location, you're essentially talking a few steps back into preproduction on the first few shooting days at each new location. Realistically, the only crew jobs that could be effectively hired locally would be the lower level one-off activities like extra assistant hairdressers and makeup artists, or extra PAs for the odd jobs or the local-specific jobs like craft services supplies. Teamsters would handle transportation and IATSE would handle any supplemental union crew. Plus, of course, the one local location manager. In short, the opportunities for local independent workers would be limited.

Similarly, the likely casting needs would be for extras. And the types of extras needed would reflect the particular scenes being shot. In this case, the project was looking for military and Native American. That's it. So there would be no open casting call and most actors would not ever hear of it, except through friends or friends of friends who were either military or Native American. And because shooting occurred on an active military base, it wasn't enough to just look military. You would need clearance to get onto that base. Quite a restriction. A good many actors who heard of this missed opportunity (which wasn't an opportunity at all) were understandably upset. But they should be no more upset than they would be if the available roles called for bald men in their 70s and 80s. An open call is simply not an option.

Getting back to my comment that I'm not a location scout or a casting director, etc., it's important to note that these local entities are often signed to confidentiality agreements, whereby they are not allowed to even mention the name of the project. So neither you nor I will find out about a Transformers 6 coming to Arizona (and let's not start any rumors!) until the first honey wagon touches down in the Yuma desert. Our ability to respect this code of confidentiality speaks to our own professional conduct and to our future success in this very tempermental industry.

So, hopefully, I've imparted a little bit of education about just one example of how a movie project can sweep through in a short time and make a moderate amount of impact before sweeping out again. (Thanks to Dave Giere and John Stewart (also of AFMC) for providing a good deal of insight that enabled me to write this.)

In closing, I wanted to share something you may already have seen...but it's nice to see anyway. Mark Wahlberg recorded a nice little video giving props to the people of Arizona.

I think we made a good impression on him, and on the rest of the folks involved in that production. That's a really important thing to do. Make a good impression. No matter how small a role we play in whatever project comes our way, we need to show that we can play a significant and integral role in their success. So that they come back and visit us again. And maybe spend more time (and money!) here.

That's the real lesson, folks. Open arms. One movie at a time.





[This board member blog is by Joe Gruberman, representing the interests of independent filmmakers on the Arizona Film & Media Coalition (AFMC). Any viewpoints expressed in this blog are expressed by the blogger as an individual and may or may not be the viewpoints of the AFMC Board as a whole.]


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A Changing of the Guard (2016 edition)

Thursday night's Arizona Film & Media Coalition board meeting marked the end of our 2015-2016 cycle, and the start of our 2016-2017 cycle. This is the time when we assess the results of our efforts of the previous 12 months and we look forward to the challenges before us. It's not the intent of this blog to go into all of the details of the discussion. In fact, that's a discussion that was still in progress even after the meeting adjourned. At some point, more official statements will come down from the Officers of the Board (Pres., V.P., Tres., Secy.), and I will take on the task of making sure that it happens very soon and that the information gets widely disseminated.

What I would like to tell you is that we held our annual elections during the meeting, and the following new Officers have been elected:

  • President: Stephen Brain (VP/GM of Sneaky Big Studios)
  • Vice President: John Stewart (independent industry professional and IATSE member)
  • Treasurer: Hal Gibson (independent industry professional and Teamsters member)
  • Secretary: Deborah Maddox (Pres. of Deborah Maddox Agency)

Stepping down are Mike Kucharo (past President), Rodd Wolff (past Secretary) and Gay Gilbert (past Secretary). I would personally like to thank each of them for the hard work and time that they put in over the past several years (as in "many more than just one year") in their capacities on the Executive Board. Please do take a moment to congratulate and thanks those individuals above whom you may know personally and professionally. (A Facebook shout-out might be nice. I'm sure they'd appreciate it!)

In addition to the above, we also welcomed Randy Murray of Randy Murray Productions to the Board to fill one of our many open slots. Randy will be an awesome addition to the AFMC! (BTW, if you would like to participate at the board level, you can find an application link at the bottom of the Board of Directors page.)

While the Ship of State moves very slowly, we can't emphasize that our perseverance to bring the film and media industries back to Arizona has left an indelible mark on our legislators. For better or for worse, we're noticed. This is an important thing, especially considering the amount of change that's also going on in the AZ House and Senate. It's always a challenge to re-introduce ourselves and educate incoming legislators about the value of cultivating a thriving industry. That's what we do. And we don't plan on stopping until the goal has been achieved.

I've encouraged my fellow AFMC Board members to put aside some time to share their thoughts on this website, so that you can best appreciate the cumulative effect your support has had, whether you're a member of SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, the Teamsters, APA, or of any other organization that is part of the film and media industry (including, of course, the independent filmmakers, actors and crew members who have no outside affiliations -- you have a voice too!).

I wanted to keep this short, even though I do have more that I want to talk about. That will be the subject of a subsequent blog entry. I hope that you'll take a few moments to read it and forward the link to anyone whom you feel would be interested.





[This board member blog is by Joe Gruberman, representing the interests of independent filmmakers on the Arizona Film & Media Coalition (AFMC). Any viewpoints expressed in this blog are expressed by the blogger as an individual and may or may not be the viewpoints of the AFMC Board as a whole.]


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Meeting With Indies, Generating New Ideas

On December 8th, I was invited to the AZ TABLE meeting chaired by Jon Bonnell. This is a meeting of indie filmmakers whose primary purpose is to help each other advance their careers and passions by leveraging the broad range of talents of the participating individuals. Jon accommodated my request to speak with the group about the AFMC and to explain my role on the AFMC board.

The reception was quite positive. Questions and comments proceeded to flow even before I was finished with my explanation. First off, and as is usually the case, most of the group either had never heard of the AFMC or were not aware that it was once again active in the industry -- which is to say that any recent activity has apparently gone unnoticed. My hope is that this ongoing blog series should help alleviate that deficiency.

In exploring issues particular to unrepresented independents (including but not exclusively indie filmmakers), it was pointed out to me that areas such as video games, music production and the emerging market of virtual reality were not represented. I could not comment informatively at the time, but I intend to review the latest iteration of the multimedia tax incentive bill (i.e. the most recent bill that did not make it through the Legislature) either to verify that these areas are covered by the previous wording, or to take note to add wording to the next bill to ensure their inclusion. Since the subject came up at the AZ TABLE meeting, I'll report back to them directly, as well as make mention of my findings in a future blog.

In discussing the initiatives within other States, we talked about the differences in demographics and political climates that contributed to the incentives variations from locality to locality. Still, there are many similarities that may allow us to learn some best practices from other States. For instance, it was pointed out the the State of Louisiana buys booth space at major film festivals for the specific purpose of promoting that State for film production. My "take-away" is to find out what we're doing to promote ourselves in a similar way outside of Arizona.

We also talked about a past industry events that took place at the State Capital to bring awareness to the legislators. A very good point was raised that many of the participants approached it with a poor understanding of the purpose of the event. For instance, giving a headshot to a legislator is not a good use of an actor's time. Rather he or she would make an excellent ambassador for the cause, being both engaging and eloquent as is an actor's strength. But to do this, we need to do a better job in communicating the event's objectives to actors and to all participants. We need to stay on message and not get caught up in the festivities of such events while losing sight of our purpose for being there. To this end, I will make a point of insisting on a higher level of communication within the community prior to future events, and even orientation sessions for those who feel they need additional reinforcement.

A few of the AZ TABLE meeting participants spoke of individuals that they knew, both within the industry and within the legal system, who might be interested in champion our cause, or at least spend some time with us to confer on some of our issues and share their thoughts, ideas and experiences. I look forward to having these conversations in the coming months.

My thanks to Jon Bonnell for allowing me the time to speak at the AZ TABLE meeting. My thanks also to Carlo DallOlmo for allowing me time to speak the following week at the Phoenix Screenwriters Association "In the Works: Actors Reading Writers" meeting. I look forward to speaking with a great many more of you as we enter a new year with new hopes and, hopefully, new opportunities to do what we love to do.

That's all for now!




[This board member blog is by Joe Gruberman, representing the interests of independent filmmakers on the Arizona Film & Media Coalition (AFMC). Any viewpoints expressed in this blog are expressed by the blogger as an individual and may or may not be the viewpoints of the AFMC Board as a whole.]


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Let’s Hit The Ground Running!

[This board member blog is by Joe Gruberman, representing the interests of independent filmmakers on the Arizona Film & Media Coalition (AFMC). Any viewpoints expressed in this blog are expressed by the blogger as an individual and may or may not be the viewpoints of the AFMC Board as a whole.]

My summarized notes on the most recent board meeting

Our most recent AFMC Board of Directors meeting was on Thursday, November 19th. This was my first day back on the board after an approximately 18-month absence, for reasons that I'll clarify shortly. We had a sufficient number of members in attendance for a quorum and were able to discuss, vote on and implement strategies that will enable us to approach the coming year with some fresh perspective on our overarching concern of how to revitalize the film and media industry of Arizona. Our discussion touched on the subjects of legislative session schedule, current political climate and its positive and negative implications, recent letters to the governor, efficacy of potential strategies going forward, "low-hanging fruit", and fundraising.

As I had been out of the mix for over a year, I took it upon myself to be vocal on several subjects that were discussed, including our strategy regarding new and existing legislation affecting our industry and the need for greater social media presence. I could go into details here, but I feel that the purpose of a personal blog is not to recount the meeting minutes, but to express the thoughts of the individual board member as a communication vehicle to his or her represented community. (In fact, the very creation of this blog is my attempt to encourage other board members to do the same.)

Why I left and then rejoined the AFMC Board

The AFMC Board of Directors is composed of individuals representing many different entities across the film, multimedia and broadcast communities. One of those entities was IFP/Phoenix, which is a sister organization of the Phoenix Film Festival. Both are under the parent organization Phoenix Film Foundation. Both of these entities held seats on the AFMC until about July 2014. At that time, the Phoenix Film Foundation's Board of Directors deemed it in the best interests of the foundation to drop off of the AFMC Board based on potential conflicts between the AFMC legislative activities and the Phoenix Film Foundation's 501c3 standings. The details of this decision are beyond the scope of this blog. Suffice to say that, as the representative of IFP/Phoenix, I could no longer participate.

Subsequent to that decision, I was invited back onto the Board in an individual capacity, but I declined that request because (a) there really was no allowance for an individual, not representing any particular group to be on the Board, and (b) I did not feel that, other than the members of IFP/Phoenix, I had any sort of constituency that I could or should be representing. However, after much cajoling by some dear friends on the Board, and after leaving ample time for someone else to step up in my place, it seemed to me that, as a filmmaker, an educator, and an experienced corporate director, I might make a case for myself (-- actually, to myself --) that the independent film community at large might accept me as their representative, if I were to make an honest effort to engage the members of that community in the conversation. On that basis, I decided to re-join, and so that's where we stand today. In the coming weeks, I will be formulating a plan to (a) communicate on an ongoing basis with as many individuals and groups of the independent film community as I can, and (b) open a channel of communication back to me if anyone needs to initiate a conversation. For now, I'm best reached at

That's all for now! Please show your support by liking the AFMC Facebook page. While you're there, feel free to post some constructive comments that might help give me direction in the coming months.


AZ Film & Media Coalition

Promote Your Page Too

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Film, TV production workers call for return of state film office

Members of Arizona’s film and television community are joining forces with Arizona businesses that benefit from movies, TV shows and commercials in an effort to bring back the Arizona State Film Office.

Fall signals the start of the production season, and the goal of the Arizona Production Association, (APA) and the Arizona Film & Media Coalition (AFMC) is to send 4,000 letters this month to Gov. Doug Ducey, asking him to make the decision to bring back the Arizona Film Office by executive order.

According to a 2014 Arizona State University “State of the Celluloid” thesis, Arizona had a dedicated Motion Picture Development Program (MPDP) by 1940, but the bulk of the MPDP’s activity started in the 1960s during the governorship of Jack Williams. It remained for the next several decades, helping bring millions of dollars of work and related economic benefits to Arizona.

While on location, film, TV and commercial productions spend the vast majority of their location budgets with local companies, local locations and local hires,” says Arizona Film & Media Coalition (AFMC) President Mike Kucharo, a long-time Arizona film producer and director.

Arizona has more than 100 years of history in the film and television industry and some 1,600 feature films and numerous television shows, commercials and photo magazines have been produced in the Grand Canyon State. Those productions have provided countless jobs for many Arizonans, which have benefited the State of Arizona economically, culturally, financially and socially.

But the film office was closed in 2009 during the economic downturn, and the state has had no representation since.

When industry executives call, ready to spend money in Arizona, no one answers the phone,” explains Randy Murray, owner of Randy Murray Productions and a past president of the APA. “As far as they can tell, Arizona is closed for business!”

The Arizona Film Office would serve within the governor’s office and lead the marketing of Arizona to film and related industries. Film office personnel would facilitate production in the state by granting location permits, helping to secure locations and cutting through red tape for production companies.

The film office staff would serve as liaisons between the private and many public sector entities such as state parks, highways, cities and counties without film offices to protect the state’s assets. This incorporates coordinating, monitoring and tracking economic impacts of the film industry to the state, which includes hotel room nights, vehicle rentals, food from restaurants and grocery stores, plus job days, production days and other direct spending. State film office personnel would also advise the governor on film and communication issues.

Other benefits of having an Arizona Film Office include:

  • Films, television, photo shoots and commercials are some of the very best ways to promote and market Arizona to the world. A successful film or TV series has proven to promote tourism and can even create new tourist attractions.
  • The production industry wants to spend money in Arizona. Arizona’s proximity to Los Angeles and the vast diversity in the state’s locations, quality crews and talent makes Arizona a highly desirable place to film.
  • Bringing back the Film Office is “pro-business.” More production means more small businesses will prosper and there will be more high-wage jobs.
  • The film and TV production industry brings millions of dollars to the state coffers. While on location, film, TV and commercial productions spend the vast majority of their location budgets by hiring local production personnel and purchasing from local businesses.
  • The Film Office is good for the whole state. The film industry is an economic engine that impacts urban and rural communities all over the state as well as many non-film related industries, such as tourism, construction and retail.
  • The film industry is recession proof. Even in a down economy, film, TV and commercial production continues.
  • Arizona should be open for business. Without a state film office, studios and production companies overlook Arizona and spend their money in other states.
  • A number of Arizona universities and community colleges have world-class film schools. More production work in Arizona means our students would have access to internships, jobs and vital connections to industry professionals. Our best and brightest may not have to leave the state to pursue careers.

Elected officers in APA and AFMC will follow-up with Gov. Ducey’s staff to help facilitate the reinstatement of the Arizona Film Office.

For more information, visit AFMC at
or APA at or call APA at 480-345-6464


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Find your Representatives

Here is a link to find your representatives in the House and Senate:

Districts shifted and and there was an election since last year's session, so yours may have changed.

Please look up this information now so when the bill goes for a full vote, you'll know who you need to write and call to ask for support.

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MPAA commissions study on State Tax Incentives – Backstage Article

Study Shows Benefits of State Tax Incentives for Film Productions
By Daniel Lehman
According to the results of an MPAA-commissioned study that was released by accounting firm Ernst & Young today, state tax incentive programs that encourage film production are beneficial to both state and local economies.

Thirty-seven states currently offer tax credits to attract productions and create a sustainable film industry. These incentive programs tends to suffer when state budgets are cut, but the Ernst & Young study outlines the ways that film production boosts these economies in the long run and shows that the benefits of these tax incentives can greatly outweigh the costs.
"The primary benefits of film credits to state residents are increased employment and higher incomes generated by film production activities," Robert Cline, Ernst & Young LLP’s National Director of State and Local Tax Policy Economics, said in a statement. "However, the economic benefits to residents extend beyond the production activities themselves and include increased activity by suppliers to the film industry and increased consumer spending from higher incomes."
The short-term goal of state tax incentives is to attract new productions to the state. Hundreds of local jobs may be created as a result, including new opportunities for local actors. Studios have flocked to states like Louisiana, Illinois, Florida, and Georgia in recent years, which means more work for actors who live outside the entertainment hubs of New York and Hollywood.
But governments and local businesses can also see economic benefits from statewide activity related to these industries, such as increased tourism, development of film industry infrastructure such as studios and service providers, and other industries beyond the production itself.
According to the results, "In studies that examine the full range of economic benefits from film credits, the impacts from tourism and capital investments can be more significant than the impact of the film production activity. Significant increases in state tourism can be tied to film productions. In some cases, widely viewed films increased tourism to featured locations by more than 25 percent."
The study offers a guideline for state governments to use in future analysis, rather than a detailed breakdown of actual revenue generated by film productions. But it does include impressive estimates of the potential for increased business and tax revenue in these regions. For example, the total economic impact of a $10 million production, according to an Ernst & Young case study, could generate up to $23 million in economic output, $5.7 million in income, and 159 resident jobs. At the same time, this level of activity would be expected to generate more than $750,000 in state and local taxes.
"The main focus of the evaluations of film credits to date has been whether or not the credits 'pay for themselves ' through higher state and local tax collections," Cline said. "But the more important issue for policy makers to focus on as they evaluate state film credits is the effectiveness of film credits compared to other state economic development programs in terms of jobs and economic development."
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Producer/Director Bryan Singer Supports AFMC

From Don Livesay, Arizona/Utah Executive Director / Screen Actors Guild:

I recently met Bryan Singer at the Chandler Center for the Arts where he was speaking in support of the new Holocaust & Tolerance Museum being built in Arizona. I told him about our need to renew our state filmmaking incentives, and he graciously agreed to provide AFMC with the following quote for use in our outreaching efforts to legislators.

"Many things go into my decision to shoot in any location, most important being the financial advantages one state might have over another. I need to be able to hire local professionals and tap into local resources without causing disruption to my budget. What a state offers me just might determine if I shoot there or not."

...Bryan Singer has directed and/or produced such films as X-Men, X2, Superman Returns, The Amazing Story of Superman, Valkyrie, The Usual Suspects and Jack the Giant Killer, to name a few. He is a producer of the TV series House, and directed and produced the pilot for the series Football Wives. Singer is an established producer and director of quality projects that have employed hundreds of local industry professionals throughout the country.


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