After a six-year hiatus, the Arizona State Film Office is back and open for business. A special man has stepped up to the plate to re-open the office, now the Arizona Commerce Authority’s Office of Film and Digital Media, and rejuvenate film production in our picturesque state.
Matthew Earl Jones understands the value of production and filmmaking and is seeking to attract filmmakers from around the globe.
Arizona Film Commissioner, Matthew Earl Jones (Photo by Robert Kazandjian)
Earl Jones, a producer and industry insider, is also the half-brother of actor James Earl Jones. Coming from a veteran show business family and working as a producer on both the East and West Coasts has given the director of the new office the insight to propel Arizona forward in the film realm.
Although his show biz pedigree is remarkable, his story of working in the entertainment business is one of motivation and finding his personal passion. “I moved to Hollywood to be a musician and did get a record deal,” Earl Jones says. “I briefly was an actor and model and realized I was much happier behind the camera, and I liked my privacy.”
In 1993, he transitioned into shooting commercials, serving as a set personal assistant (PA) and then evolved into a producer. He thoroughly enjoyed being on set and understood “the bigger picture” of the business. Earl Jones went on to work prolifically in Los Angeles and New York.
Earl Jones moved to Arizona in 2002 and was working here and in Los Angeles once the Arizona Film Office closed. It was a juggling act for him and his family. Last year, he decided that his daughter was getting older and wasn’t keen on living in LA. He doubled down to figure out a way to stay in Phoenix. That was when he heard about the plans to reopen the office, and threw his hat into the ring to lead it. He wrote a comprehensive five-year plan and the state was willing to consider it.
The Sneaky Big Connection
In late 2016, Earl Jones got the job. “One of the highest priorities is to rebuild our crew base,” he explains. “We have a small and aging crew base, to be frank. We also need to divert the ‘brain drain’ of the best and brightest young people coming out of our film schools, in feeling that they need to go to LA.” He approached Sneaky Big, a multi-use production and filming studio in Scottsdale about holding seminars about the fundamentals of getting into the production world. This would allow students to see what it takes to stay here and work in Arizona in their field of interest. They would also have access to further training and jobs.
Earl Jones explains, “We’ve reached out to five of the film schools in the area: ASU, Scottsdale Community College, Huntington University, Grand Canyon University and Glendale Community College. We initially thought we’d get 30 people who were interested. We got over 100 people in for a full day seminar.” The Arizona Production Association was also involved in the endeavor to lend curriculum, and have their senior members serve as mentors to the younger students. Sneaky Big has also committed to holding more of these types of seminars in the coming year to further promote interest in production and filmmaking and keeping talent in Arizona.
Creative Solutions to Attract Film Production to Arizona
Although Arizona is not reinstating its film tax credit, Earl Jones is working on other creative solutions to attract productions to our state. “You either run from a problem, or you confront it,” states Earl Jones. “I’m a New Yorker, and being a line producer, we don’t run too well! What I’ve done is look where Arizona is cheaper on a line-by-line basis.” He has found some initial givebacks that do not involve tax dollars.
“The Arizona Department of Transportation has offered free use of state roads to filmmakers, and it’s a great incentive to draw people here,” states Earl Jones. “Arizona State Parks and Trails has offered free use of state parks and state trails to filmmakers. Again, whether you’re a local filmmaker shooting a short film, or you’re Paramount Studios, you get free access.”
The Arizona Department of Public Safety – the state’s highway patrol -- has also designated a specific person who will be dedicated contact for the film industry. If there are schedule changes or other logistics involving filming on the roads that are needed, there will be a front-and-center contact to help facilitate scheduling.
Earl Jones is also working to develop other incentives for filmmakers and production companies within the private sector. This may include discounts for restaurants, hotels, film equipment use or rental or retail locations with special offers for those involved in productions in Arizona.
Revitalizing filmmaking in Arizona will help to invigorate jobs, the talent pool and interest in our state. Of course, any time a production comes to film in Arizona, many sectors benefit, including hotels and housing, restaurants and retail and production facilities. The re-boot of the Office of Film and Digital Media as a program of the Arizona Commerce Authority was made possible in part by a sponsorship from Bob Parsons (the founder of GoDaddy, owner of YAM Worldwide and Sneaky Big).
Here are just some of the films that have been shot either in whole or in part in Arizona: “Hell or High Water,” “Forrest Gump,” “Furious 7,” “Rio Bravo,” “Bus Stop,” “Wild Wild West,” “Eight Legged Freaks,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Raising Arizona,” “Natural Born Killers,” “Gravity” and “Wayne’s World.”
For more information on the Arizona Office of Film and Digital Media, visit www.GoFilmAZ.com.