Steven Spielberg No Phone Home?

Jimmy MagahernMay 4, 2021
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Illustration by Angelina Aragon
Illustration by Angelina Aragon

Steven Spielberg’s upcoming movie about his Arizona childhood will likely not be filmed in Phoenix, renewing calls to reinstate a filmmaker tax incentive.

It’s safe to say nobody would would have enjoyed growing up in a city with a thriving movie industry more than young Steven Spielberg. Teenaged Spielberg talked Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport authorities into using an American Airlines jet for 10 minutes while filming his first feature film in 1963. When he needed a media outlet to air a clip from Firelight, he won a spot on The Wallace & Ladmo Show.

So it’s disappointing to the Valley’s film community to hear that Spielberg’s upcoming project, an untitled movie loosely based on the legendary filmmaker’s years growing up in Phoenix (expected to hit theaters in 2022), will apparently not be filmed here – despite the fact that key locations are still standing.

“The building my wife and I own, First Studio, was the place that Steven Spielberg had his work first shown on television,” says Randy Murray of the Downtown Phoenix building, now adorned with a mural of a young Spielberg beside one of Wallace, Ladmo and Gerald. But Murray, who now chairs the legislative committee for the Arizona Film and Digital Media Coalition (AFDMC), has yet to hear from Spielberg’s Amblin Partners and suspects the movie, set to begin shooting this summer with Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen, will be filmed in New Mexico – which, unlike Arizona, offers a generous tax incentive for filmmakers.

“It’s tragic that he doesn’t get to come and film in the space that actually inspired him,” Murray says. “And that’s strictly because we do not offer incentives, and we have an underfunded film office.”

Phoenix film commissioner Phil Bradstock says Arizona had a tax incentive program from 2005 to 2010, during which big-budget features like The Kingdom filmed here. But after that program expired, even Arizona-based stories like Spare Parts, about students from Carl Hayden High School who won a robotics competition, and Only the Brave, about the Yarnell Hill Fire, have been principally filmed in New Mexico.

Reinstating the tax program would require a change in state legislature, says Mike Kucharo, past president of AFDMC. He says political demonization of “Hollywood elites” left some collateral damage. “There’s this perception… that somehow or another, all this money would go to Hollywood. But no, it wouldn’t. Right now, a lot of that money is going to New Mexico.”

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