TUCSON - Once known as "Hollywood in the Desert," Tucson has been relegated to more of a low-budget, direct-to-video status in the hierarchy of show business.
But a group of community organizations and city officials wants to restore some of its former glitz by building a state-of-the-art soundstage to attract more A-list movies and television shows.
The $10 million package would include a media center that local groups could use and a 300-seat theater. Tucson hasn't had a first-class soundstage since the one at Old Tucson burned down in 1995.
The idea is for Access Tucson, local radio station KXCI, the Loft Cinema and possibly city-owned TV station Tucson 12 to pool their resources and save costs by sharing facilities.
The effort is being led by Sam Behrend, executive director of Access Tucson, which provides public-access television. Behrend used a grant from City Councilman Steve Leal's office for preliminary schematic work on a new "community media center."
A soundstage, to attract some of the films that now bypass Tucson for Albuquerque and Austin, was added to broaden the appeal of the media center.
Mayor Bob Walkup, for example, said he doesn't know whether he would support a media center, but he's solidly behind bringing in a soundstage.
"I do strongly support a soundstage to be back in motion picture, the TV and the commercial business," Walkup said. "That's got some traction, and I would really like to see that re-established in Tucson."
Leal said he supports both a stand-alone community media center and one with a soundstage.
"The soundstage is an important thing in terms of attracting money and movies," Leal said.
Mark Sennet, chief executive officer of Old Tucson Productions, the filmmaking and promotion arm of Old Tucson Studios, said there is a market for Tucson to exploit.
He was the executive producer of Stephen King's "Desperation," a 2006 TV movie filmed in Bisbee and downtown Tucson, where Sennet retrofitted part of the Tucson Convention Center into a temporary soundstage.
Sennet plans to shoot a $6 million film in Tucson this summer called "Dot or Feather," which is in the same vein as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." He is one of the biggest proponents of moviemaking in southern Arizona.
"It is an hour and change from L.A.," Sennet said, adding that all of his equipment, actors and crew members can be on set from Los Angeles in two hours.
"I can get my cast home," he said. "They can be in their own beds and be with their families on the weekend. There's no other state that can do that."