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?" Um...no. 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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