by Blake Herzog
Prescott’s dramatic scenery, historic charm and rugged lifestyle make it an ideal location for filming Western movies and TV shows, so production crews were a regular sight when they reigned over the entertainment industry, peaking in the 1940s and again with the release of “Junior Bonner” in 1972.
Its prominence on the big and small screen has decreased ever since and wasn’t helped when Arizona discontinued tax credits it had offered to lure Hollywood location shoots a few years ago. Those incentives are back in the picture this year, and the City of Prescott is seeing an uptick as interest in shooting throughout the state.
Prescott Film Commissioner Sam Rice says the City and state have the same qualities that are beginning to revive the industry’s presence here: “In an hour and a half you can go from the desert, to the boulders, to the forest. It’s almost like this giant journey across the country since we have such a diverse landscape in Arizona.”
Rice is enthusiastic about the first production that filmed here, and the $84,000 it spent locally, after qualifying for the tax credits.
Mysteries of the Heart, produced by Nicely Entertainment, is a murder mystery, the first in a planned series of four. “It’s such a huge benefit to Prescott to have these films produced here,” Rice says.
“Things went fairly smooth, the movie itself is set to be in the spring and summer and of course we had storms galore, but they adapted and they did really well,” she says.
“They hired local people including a production assistant, they did filming at Marino’s Mob Burgers, at The Porch, they used VRBOs, they did a great spend and it was a great service to the community.”
Mysteries of the Heart is expected to debut this summer on faith-based streaming platform Pure Flix. Rice didn’t know when Nicely will make its return but said a feature film is expected to set up shop in September, and “it’s quite the thriller.”
It’s Rice’s job to help any companies interested in filming TV shows, movies or commercials get the necessary City permits or paperwork from whatever other agencies might be involved. Prescott permits are only required when crews are using public streets, sidewalks or buildings, but she appreciates being notified when actors and cameras show up elsewhere in town, “so if I get phone calls saying ‘Hey, we have people out here who are doing what appears to be a shootout,’ then I’ll have the answers.”
Rice is getting a lot of help on that front from local filmmakers, many of them recent arrivals from California, who’ve coalesced into a group with an email list of about 70 that meets every month to brief each other on upcoming productions and offer up their skills, advice or contacts to help each other out.
Yavapai College also is participating in an Arizona Commerce Authority initiative offering a week of free production assistant training at several community college campuses. One was held at YC in April and another will be later this year.