Skip to content
Talk to Sales

    Film Production Spotlight On Arizona: ‘America’s Backlot’

    If you think you know Arizona, think again because The Grand Canyon State is so much more than the Grand Canyon. It’s “America’s Backlot,” a state that can stand in for any other when it comes to film and TV

    Today, we’re putting the spotlight on film production in Arizona. 

    We’ll talk about what makes them a premier destination for location shooting for productions big and small, highlight AZ’s government film tax incentives, and look to the future of production in the state.

    What makes Arizona amazing for film productions?

    To learn more about Arizona, we sat down with representatives of the Film & Digital Media Program of the Arizona Commerce Authority

    It might come as no surprise to some, but Arizona has quite the history in the film industry. Blessed with beautiful deserts and a short drive from home base in Hollywood, Arizona was the setting for many of the Golden Era of film’s westerns.

    Classics such as Tombstone, Rio Bravo, and The Outlaw Josey Wales were all shot at the legendary Old Tucson Studios. Non-Western blockbusters like Furious 7, Transformers 4: The Last Knight, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

    Check out this brief glimpse of Monument Valley, Arizona as a surreal alien landscape in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as seen by astronaut Dave Bowman as he travels “beyond the infinite:”

    2001 Arizona Monument Valley

    That shot illustrates just how often Arizona locations show up much more than you might expect.

    Just browsing through the list of films that were shot on location only in Monument Valley, Arizona gives a taste of the rich film history the state holds.

    The Arizona government and Arizonans remember that history and have set long-term commitments to continue building their film infrastructure and bring it into the present day and beyond. 

    As Matthew Earl Jones, Director of Arizona Film & Digital Media Program at Arizona Commerce, explained to us:

    “As a location-driven state, we recently expanded our offerings with a deal with the Navajo nation, giving us the ability to open tribal lands to filmmakers. We’ve also struck a deal with the state of Sonora. We support their wonderful beach fronts with crew and equipment out of the Tucson market… instead of Guadalajara or Mexico City.”

    Jones also highlighted Arizona’s Reel Savings program, “which is a private sector vendor-driven incentive program where participating vendors offer an immediate discount or a 10% - 30% rebate paid out in 30 days as a cashier’s check. So when you add the Reel Savings programs plus our incentives, it makes us highly competitive… especially for projects under $5 million or $10 million where most of your expenditure is below the line.”

    And there you have three pillars of the Arizona film production industry: Locations, committed government infrastructure, and talented local crew. 

    Let’s build on that foundation and explore a bit more on how to make the most out of filming in Arizona.

    Scout the perfect location

    There’s a reason so many westerns were / are shot in Arizona. It’s simply one of the most beautiful places on the planet. But as a state for location shooting, Arizona goes well beyond dry landscapes as it offers a huge diversity of environments. 

    Jones’s enthusiasm for this environmental diversity is apparent when he tells us, “Snow, fall foliage, and water. Everybody knows we have the Grand Canyon, that we have the Red Rocks of Sedona. What people don’t know is that we have the largest Ponderosa pine forest on the planet…. In Flagstaff, you get real snow. You get snow in Sedona. You get snow in Mesa. In Cholo, Pine Top, and Lakeside.”

    In fact, Arizona is so confident in its diversity of location, they’ve put out a guide called “A Land For All. How Arizona Can Double For Every State.”  

    Here’s “Alaska” in Arizona

    Hunters Peak Arizona Film Production

    Here’s “Louisiana” in Arizona

    Louisiana Swamp In Arizona

    Who knew Woods Canyon could look so much like the bayous of Louisiana?

    There’s many more. It’s impressive how many different types of locations Arizona can stand in for. 

    Another big reason Arizona’s diverse locations stand out is because of…well, their location.

    Proximity to Los Angeles

    Like its sister state New Mexico, Arizona is close to film mecca Los Angeles. You can fly from LAX to airports Phoenix, Tucson, or Prescott in an hour and a half or drive there in around seven hours. This is vital when transporting specialized equipment. 

    Even under a union contract, a crew member could transport equipment all the way from Los Angeles and make it in time for a sunset shot.

    You can see this history of close proximity played out back to the 1970s and further with movies like the 1977 Peter Hyams classic sci-fi Capricorn One which filmed primarily in Southern California, Yuma and the Mojave Desert in Arizona. 

    Capricorn One Poster Arizona Film Locations

    Excellent film. Check it out and try to spot all the Arizona locations.

    Speaking of the sun...

    Year-round light

    Arizona Light

    In film production, sunshine is (almost) always preferred over rain. Crew can make it rain in the sunshine, but they can’t make sunshine in the rain.

    Arizona features an average of 300 to 350 days of sunshine every year, depending on what part of the state you’re in. That light can also last for most of the day. As Oppenheimer actor Will Roberts noted, "We all know in Arizona you can be out at 10 PM at night, it's beautiful light. It's one of the most beautiful things in our industry, the light.”

    Combine this with Arizona’s Land for All list, and you can suddenly shoot in places that look like a New England fall day for far longer than an actual fall day in Boston.


    Sustainable shooting is a fundamental part of GreenSlate’s mission. We’re committed to a paperless production environment, so future generations can shoot in the same beautiful world we do.

    Arizonans are committed to the environment as they know they are blessed with a beautiful topography and climate. That knowledge brings great respect and reverence for the environment. 

    As Jones told us, you can see that reverence in the activities on the tribal lands that Arizona has opened up for filming. “See the actions of Jason Marmont at Arizona State University with President Crow. A lot of the Navajo land is sacred land.”

    Take advantage of Arizona's rebuilt production infrastructure

    There’s a number of state legislatures passing film incentive laws that have to be renewed every year, and updates and changes can be very frequent. This constant change can make it difficult to plan in a world where even a low-budget indie film must be scheduled out a year in advance.

    Fortunately, Arizona is in it for the long hall. In 2023 the state passed a $2.4 billion tax incentive program for a 20-year period, and they are actively taking steps to improve film production infrastructure in Arizona. 

    Tax incentives

    Arizona’s film incentive takes the form of a refundable tax credit. It can range from 15% to 20%, depending on the production’s budget. There are also additional credit bumps for using Arizona labor and Arizona facilities.

    They’ve even put together a helpful list of pre-vetted incentive CPAs to help you take advantage of that tax credit, which if you’re an accountant you can also apply here for placement on that list. 

    Arizona’s carve-outs for location productions also include commercials. The layout of qualified production costs is intentionally large and all-encompassing. Arizona wants to help productions qualify as many of their costs as possible.

    Reel Savings

    Reel Savings

    Arizona’s other major financial program is Reel Savings. This unique private/public partnership offers discounts and rebates from major vendors. The list includes, but is not limited to, production services, equipment rental, and catering.

    Because it's a private/public partnership, no auditing is necessary. The program details state that rebates, which can range from 10 - 30%, will arrive as a cashier’s check within 30 days. 

    This is unusually quick turnaround time for a rebate program which benefits from the lack of red tape slowing down the payout process.  

    For the smaller projects with budgets under $5 million dollars, the program is especially competitive when comparing line items with those of other states. 

    Future studios

    As part of their 20-year commitment to rebuilding their film industry, Arizona has created special incentive programs to encourage building modern, high-quality sound stages. 

    While initial construction was delayed by the strikes of 2023, interest is strong, and the Arizona Film & Digital Media Program predicts there will be several 10,000-square foot sound stages within the next few years.

    Hire local crew and vendors

    Befitting their history and proximity to Hollywood, Arizona culture has a deep respect for the film industry. This has resulted in an equally deep reservoir of local crew and equipment to take advantage of while filming in Arizona.

    Fortunately, it’s easy to find them.

    All-in-one production services

    Arizona has an incredible online database of production resources, but we wanted to highlight two production services companies in particular as they’re also part of the Reel Savings program.

    The first is Monsoon Production Services in Tucson. They’re the largest film production and rental warehouse in Southern Arizona, and if you take advantage of the deal with Sonora that Matthew Earl Jones told us about earlier, you’ll likely be pulling equipment from them. 

    They boast clients such as JJ Abrams, who recently tapped them for his upcoming Max show Duster.

    The second is Cinevo, operating in Phoenix. They started life as a grip and electric company. However, their purchase of the California-based Brainbox camera house has transformed them into an equipment rental powerhouse serving those middle-market films sitting between something like a massive budget The Avengers and a practically zero budget Blair Witch Project.

    Cinevo states one of their strengths is the ability to take cross-state orders on rental equipment. For example, a DP can place their camera order in California before leaving for Arizona, have the camera ready on arrival, having saved whatever the transport costs would have been from California. 

    Film festivals

    Arizona Film Festivals

    One of the best ways to meet great local crew is to attend local film networking events, and film festivals can make for some of the best networking events out there.

    Arizona boasts two long-running film festivals in Sedona and Phoenix, in their 31st and 24th years, respectively. Other festivals are held all over the state, several aimed at women, LGBTQ, and Native American filmmakers. 

    The bigger Arizona festivals attract international and celebrity attention and are well known in the industry. 

    Even the smaller festivals have much to offer in the way of making connections, finding crew, or as an avenue for smaller projects to get their films seen. So, more than just a way to find crew, they might also be a way to showcase your indie darling if you're on the independent side of things.

    The future of Arizona production

    Arizona has seen growth in their film industry from three major sources. Returning production veterans, crew members escaping LA’s current economic slowdown, and filling the ranks from Arizona’s Film Ready Crew Initiative.

    Working with the Arizona Production Associate and IATSE Local 336, their Production Assistant Certification Program is helping five community colleges and two universities to train students in the entry-level roles of production. 

    Arizona is thinking about the future of production in the state. Today’s production assistant is tomorrow’s Christopher Nolan, Celine Song, or Cord Jefferson.

    The bottom (top) line

    Arizona is much more than just a desert location used for dusty westerns, and the state has proven it time and again. It’s a growing film hub, home to some of the most beautiful places in the world.

    We can’t wait to see what’s next for it.

    ✅ If you’re interested in comparing Arizona’s benefits to other states, check out our Production Spotlight on New Mexico or try out our Incentives Tools.

    ✅ And of course, once you’ve found a perfect location and local crew, you’ll need to run payroll for them. We happen to do just that.

    July 3, 2024

    background triangle design

    Related Posts

    Access our blog for the inside scoop on what’s happening around the production office.