My first question: Why would anyone want to set up a motion-picture production company in Tucson, when conventional wisdom dictates that you should set up your production office in Los Angeles, where facilities, technical talent and a bottomless pool of actors reside?
James Arnett put it this way about Tucson: "We can gain the type of community involvement where we can make a film." Arnett's the president of A.I.A. Productions and is the screenwriter, special effects-designer and director of the first movie adaptation of The Last Man (by Frankenstein scribe Mary Shelley), currently shooting in Tucson.
"The cooperation from various business and nonprofit groups is amazing," Arnett says. "Tucson is known as the 'City of the Arts,' and that's true. For example, Jay Zucker of the (Tucson) Sidewinders organization allowed us to film right next to their dugout during the night of a championship game.
"Local government makes it easy to get a permit to film outside, and there is no cost for one if you don't block traffic. There isn't a single producer operating anywhere in the world who can do what we're doing right here in Tucson."
The Last Man is not a major Hollywood feature; instead, it is a two-hour, low-budget movie--although a low budget does not necessarily mean "cheap-looking." With some low-budget movies, the dictum often is: Make it fast; make it cheap; never mind the details.
Arnett, however, is a very detail-oriented director. In the opening scenes of the movie--which will feature about 200 actors and extras--a small plane flies in Siberia during a winter snowstorm, after which two looters navigate through a maze of corridors inside a large and deserted bioweapons facility. Although this takes less than 10 minutes to watch, those scenes took five days to film, in four different locations here in Tucson and Marana last August. Add in about another 10 days to computer-generate the airplane and the outside view of the facility, plus additional time for more effects, editing and original music, and you have almost 20 days of work for those 10 minutes.
And as a final touch for authenticity, the actors had to deliver their dialogue in Russian.
To help make the film, Arnett needed a producer with the skills of a project manager who knows what it takes to make the impossible possible.
"Through ArtFare, I told them I was a director and was looking for an experienced and organized individual, along with other qualifications, to be my producer," Arnett says. "Only one name came up: Gabriele Andres."
Andres, a longtime Tucson filmmaker, was born in Nogales, Mexico, and immigrated with her family to the United States as a child.
"(When James first contacted me), I didn't think I was qualified. When we first met, I was doing a documentary for a showcase event for Halloween."
Arnett said he talked Andres into the gig. "I told her I was familiar with her work and said I could teach her everything she would need to know. The only thing I couldn't provide for her was the passion and commitment the job requires."
The job has also required a large degree of innovation on Andres' part. An example: An important scene required about a dozen uniformed military men with rifles, and the National Guard refused a request to "borrow" a few soldiers. Thus, Andres learned through Miller's Surplus about the Arizona Mil-Sim Operations Group. For the price of a catered dinner, the group supplied everything needed.
Another example: A stretch of highway needed to be blocked off for filming so that it would appear deserted--yet public access could not be cut off. No problem: Andres located a six-mile section highway with nothing but a mine at the end of the road. The mine's operations close down each weekend--during which the filmmakers could use it for free.
Rather than using credit cards, Arnett chose an innovative method to finance his movie: He sold "equity positions" to individuals. This means that, aside from sharing in the movie's profits, investors will share in anything connected to the movie: TV revenues, DVD/CD sales and licensing/merchandising worldwide.
Arnett says he won't market The Last Man at Sundance or any of the other film festivals, like many independent filmmakers attempt to do. "I'm aiming for the Sci-Fi Channel, and from there, to the home DVD market. Of course, my movie can be exhibited in theaters if the opportunity presents itself."
And what's next on the slate for A.I.A.? Arnett offers a few clues. He's written a screenplay titled Apocalypso that will be "the ultimate Zombie movie."
Get in line now!