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Brave Digital World

A local film company hopes its new 30-minute movie will impress audiences—as well as investors

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Imagine a movie made in downtown Tucson.

Think about local actors inhabiting the historic MacArthur Building—Tucson's cool triangle-shaped answer to New York's Flatiron Building—and acting out a recession-era comedy about the dismal job market.

And visualize a local production team, from producers to the director to the editor to the camera operator, putting it all together.

Dream no more. This Friday night, you can see that exact movie premiering on the silver screen as part of the indie Reel Arts 6 series.

Written by Phoenix playwright Michael Grady, The 3 O'Clock stars a trio of veteran local actors. Betsy Kruse Craig plays the job interviewer from hell. Mike Yarema is her goodhearted but helpless assistant. William F. Hubbard is the mysterious job seeker—with a 3 p.m. interview. It's filmed in the stylishly rehabbed offices of Madden Media, now the MacArthur's owner.

The movie is just 30 minutes long, but director and producer Howard Allen says it will show off the cinematic chops of CoyoteMoon Films, the local production company that created it.

"We want to bring Tucsonans to see who we are," says Allen, who formed CoyoteMoon with a team of other locals two years ago.

The screening is also intended to reel in investors.

"The 3 O'Clock is our last step building up to making feature films," Allen says, "because we can use it in festivals and use it with investors and use it with L.A. talent to show we are professional and good at what we do."

CoyoteMoon is already negotiating with investors to make a full-length movie in Tucson, he says. If he and his partners can land a deal, "We hope to be in preproduction before the summer is over."

The company has a number of feature screenplays ready to go.

"One's about blues music; one's a psychological thriller," Allen says. "One is a faith-based period baseball movie. It's not preachy at all. It's a baseball story, but people's faith is important."

Allen wants to make the movies here in the Old Pueblo.

"CoyoteMoon is committed to storytelling in Southern Arizona, with mostly Southern Arizona people in front of and behind the camera," he says. The movies he envisions may be low-budget—made for less than a million dollars, pocket change in Hollywood—but they'll "still tell good stories."

A former managing editor, reporter and theater critic for the Tucson Weekly, Allen has had years of involvement in theater and film. He has a master's degree from the UA in playwriting, screenwriting and criticism. As a member of Actors' Equity and the Screen Actors Guild, he's acted in local theater and in Hollywood, including productions directed by the late Michael Landon. He's also directed locally.

For the last 12 years, Allen has had his own business, ScriptDoctor.com, advising clients on their writing.

"I help writers and production companies and even agents with screenplays," he says. "I tell them what's working and what's not working. And I've written screenplays and scripts myself."

Line in the Sand, a screenplay he co-wrote with John R. Gentile, is a volatile story about a Border Patrol agent who discovers the migrant woman he's caught is the ex-wife of a drug-cartel leader.

With all his years in the biz, Allen says, his next logical step was forming a movie-production company of his own. He enlisted as his partners a slate of fellow Tucsonans: writer Megan Guthrie; Emmy-winning KUAT editor Steve Bayless; Nathan Shelton, who runs Desert Penguin Media, a video-production company; and Jim Scott, camera operator at Desert Penguin.

Allen says the brave new digital world is changing moviemaking dramatically, as it has already altered the music business. Nowadays, emerging bands don't need record companies to reach fans: They record their own CDs and sell digital downloads through websites. Moviemakers are following the same model.

"The film business is rapidly becoming like the record business," Allen says. "Producers will have video on demand," and make use of Netflix and Amazon.com. "It's possible now to make money back on low-budget movies. It's one reason we have investors interested. And it's why I started CoyoteMoon Films."

CoyoteMoon—the name conjures the Southwest, Allen says—already has one DVD short for sale online. Se Habla Español, described as a "film poem" to Tucson, is a day-in-the-life story about a compassionate young woman (played by Jessica Montalvo) who reaches out to Hispanics and Anglos alike.

Set successively in La Buena Tortilleria south of Armory Park, near the Pancho Villa statue downtown and at Mission San Xavier on the rez, the movie glows with Tucson color.

By making that first short, "We wanted to show that we had our act together," Allen says. A "making-of" extra on the DVD demonstrates CoyoteMoon's equipment and expertise, including up-high crane shots, steady shots and the "latest digital cameras."

Se Habla Español has been accepted by the Arizona International Film Festival. It will run in a package of Arizona shorts at 8 p.m., Wednesday, April 18, at the Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St.

For now, The 3 O'Clock is getting just one screening at Reel 6, so that it will remain eligible for festivals. Allen says movies that have had a full run are sometimes excluded from festival competition.

He has high hopes that the new comedy will do well enough to lead to bigger things.

"All of these production values, put together with my knowledge of screenplays—we're going to make a feature film," he says.

The state Legislature still hasn't come up with tax incentives to promote filmmaking in Arizona, Allen says, but Tucson is nevertheless fertile ground for the industry.

"The talent here for cast and crew is good," he says, and "very good" when pros who can easily get to town for a gig are included.

"It takes a village to make a movie," he says, and Tucson, he believes, is well on its way to being that village.

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