On track for its best-ever year at the beginning of March, Phoenix earned record revenue from film, television and digital media productions. Then Covid-19 hit, and the industry came to a screeching halt. That busy period from the end of 2019 into early 2020 leading up to the health emergency made up for the next two “lost” months. Despite the pandemic, it was a good year for overall production spending in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020.
Across the entire fiscal year 2019-2020, more than $13.1 million was generated by more than 1,500 projects filming in Greater Phoenix. Over 3,600 local technicians and actors were working for more than 1,700 shoot days
Commercial productions generated the most significant economic boost to the local economy, totaling over $7.2 million for the fiscal year. Commercials generated 306 workdays, employing over 1,600 locals in the industry. Even with two months of virtually no activity because of coronavirus, spending increased by 7.4 percent over the previous fiscal year.
While numbers were trending towards the multimedia industry having one of its best years in almost a decade, Covid-19 had a sudden and immediate impact. The challenges also opened new opportunities.
March 2020 was tracking to possibly exceed the record number of permits the city issued in 2019.
“The first two weeks of March, we were working on the typical array of commercials with a healthy pipeline of projects. Overnight, the calls turned from permitting inquiries to project cancellations,” said Phil Bradstock, Phoenix Film Commissioner.
With business activity across the country shutting down, it hit hard in Los Angeles, when Film LA stopped issuing location permits for productions using the city as a backdrop.
“April was the transition month when LA producers were wondering how to make their projects safely and where they would be able to shoot them,” said Bradstock. “With Governor Ducey’s Executive Order 2020-36 issued on May 16, it opened the doors for Arizona to accommodate filming.”
The Phoenix Film Office began receiving inquiries for large projects from LA that needed to film but could not produce in their backyard. Phoenix benefited from its proximity to LA when alternative locations required a short driving distance. The coronavirus-affected commercials generated over $1 million in spending and created more than 150 jobs during a usually slow time for production in Phoenix. The activity came at a critical time for local businesses.
“Business owners aren’t usually aware their company is part of the film businesses,” said Bradstock. “These productions have tremendous purchasing needs and require everything from hair and makeup products, wardrobe, to raw materials for set building, plus catering, hotels and rental cars, to name a few.”
While things are returning to normal, Phoenix is seeing the usual number of projects for September. At the same time, the pandemic has had a profound change on the film set. Covid-19 testing is often required by the production company for all crew, talent. Producers and the directors may not be onsite to oversee everything.
Utilizing the advanced technology and high-speed internet access afforded in Phoenix, producers and other decision-makers are opting to remain at home, virtually watching the set through the camera and providing notes and direction back to the talent and crew. In the “new normal” for production, in addition to onsite facilities, unique location settings and permit requirements, there is one additional requirement in landing a production.
“Now, I am getting calls asking about the connectivity for a desert location. They need to get the signal back to Los Angeles or New York so the producers can watch,” said Bradstock. “For the first time, this is a factor in the location decision.”
The Phoenix Film Office is part of Community and Economic Development and oversees all commercial multimedia projects utilizing city property or staff. Bradstock promotes Phoenix as a filming destination. Productions choosing the city as a location creates employment opportunities and economic activity adding millions of dollars into the economy.