Thousands of films have used Arizona as a setting over the last century, and a large portion of that work took place in Southern Arizona. Films like “3:10 to Yuma,” “Rio Bravo” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales” used the Old Tucson Studios to create a rough, Western aesthetic.
Just a few miles north, Marana is continuing in the tradition and rejuvenating the local cinema scene with the “Film Marana” initiative.
“The Old Tucson Studios is where people would go for interiors, but for scenery they’d go to Marana,” said Laura Cortelyou, tourism and marketing manager for the Town of Marana.
Filmmakers have long been drawn to Marana, with its photogenic locations such as Saguaro National Park, Dove Mountain Resort and an abundance of high, rocky ridges.
“You can build a studio, but you can’t build scenery like this,” Cortelyou said.
Marty Freese is a Marana resident and film historian who works closely with the Lazy K Bar Ranch and as an actor, production assistant and location scout. According to Freese, locations are a vital part of any movie, but especially westerns.
“Weather is important as well, and we have around 350 days of sunlight in places in Arizona, which is hard to beat,” Freese said.
Beyond the natural beauty, film studios and sets are popping up in Marana, including White Stallion Ranch and Arclight Pictures.
Elisa Cota-Francis has worked in the film industry for over two decades, and she’s lived in the Tucson area for even longer. When she graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in film and television production, she had a vision of bringing film back to Southern Arizona. She figured one of the biggest steps she could take to see this goal through was to start her own production company. Thus, Arclight Pictures was born.
This October marks three years since Arclight was founded, but Cota-Francis has lived in Marana since 2003.
“I purposely live here because I love it,” Cota-Francis said. “It just has a great feel.”
So as she worked and filmed in Marana, creating award-winning short films like “El Patron.” She’s also made connections and friendships with other locals, including the Marana Chamber of Commerce.
It just so happened around the same time, Matthew Earl Jones, director of the Arizona Office of Film and Digital Media, contacted Marana about participating in a promotional video for the State. Marana was to submit a 12-second short as part of a larger video detailing all the picturesque locales across Arizona. With their knowledge of the local talent, the Marana chamber contacted Arclight Pictures.
“The universe conspires to give you great things,” Cota-Francis said. “Things naturally started to unfold with the Chamber. We showed them there’s a very strong film community here in Tucson.”
They finished their 12-second promo video for the state, but realized the opportunity they had to create and larger and longer video highlighting Marana itself.
“The idea was there and the budget was there, so why not turn it into a full video?” Cota-Francis said. “We knew what we wanted to create to show the world Marana.”
A crew of over 50 people, including cars and a helicopter, filmed for two days to create the minute-long #FilmMarana starter video. Both films, the 12-second promo for the state of Arizona and the 60-second promo for Marana, are finished. However, the promo for Marana is still awaiting approval.
“It was just one of those situations where everything goes right,” Cortelyou said.
The Marana Film Office started a year ago to provide information, location scouting, to help producers through the filmmaking applications process, and of course to market Marana as a filming location. Marana launched their film office in response to Arizona’s Office of Film and New Media. This State office was launched about 18 months ago in a statewide effort to bring filming back to Arizona.
Cortelyou lists three things that make Marana such a great location for filmmakers: The storied history of filming in the region, the large community of film professionals and the prospects for what is to come in the burgeoning local film scene.
“We have a large number of professionals who are already working and based here in Marana,” Cortelyou said. “People again and again recognize that this is the place to be.”
Cota-Francis credits the entire #FilmMarana initiative to the hands of four powerful women: Rebecca Kososkie with the Marana chamber, Cortelyou, producer Rosie Zwaduk and herself.
“People are starting to realize, ‘wow, there are actual filmmakers in Marana’.” Cota-Francis said. “And I believe we will be the Burbank of Southern Arizona in the next ten to twenty years.”