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On location in Nevada

Anne Knowles

It all started on St. Patrick’s Day, 1897,

when Jim Corbett fought Bob

Fitzsimmons in Carson City.

That famous boxing match was the subject

of the first moving picture made in

Nevada. The next two films were also prizefight

documentaries while the first scripted

movie was the 1913 “The Girl and the

Game,” a Perils-of-Pauline type short shot in

Las Vegas merely because the weather was

bad in Los Angeles, according to Gary Du

Val, author of “The Nevada Filmography.”

Since those early days, more than 500 films

have been shot here from John Ford’s first

movie, the 1925 “Iron Horse,” which featured

Reno’s justice of the peace Charles Bull as a

look-alike Abraham Lincoln, to Clark Gable’s

and Marilyn Monroe’s final film, “The

Misfits,” shot in Dayton, to last year’s critically-

acclaimed independent movie, “The Deep

End,” filmed at an eerie-looking Lake Tahoe.

In fact, if a few things had gone differently

over the years, said Du Val, Las Vegas

might have become a second Hollywood

rather than a gambling oasis.

Still, the state reaps plenty of benefits

from the not-too-distant film and TV

industry based in Los Angeles. Since 1982,

when Nevada established a film commission

to attract film making to the state, the

movie industry has brought in more than

$1 billion, according to the Nevada Film

Office. For fiscal year 2002, ended June 30,

movie makers spent $115 million in the

state (see chart). That is down from the

previous year, when the industry brought in

almost $135 million.

Despite the drop off, which the film

office attributes to Sept. 11, Nevada, and

not just Las Vegas, is still a thriving location

for film and TV production.

“Reno has a lot of advantages,” said

Robin Holabird, deputy director of the film

office and director of its Reno-Tahoe

office. “The diversity of landscape means a

film can look it’s been filmed in many

states when it only moved an hour away.”

It is also a short plane-ride away from

Los Angeles, has local talent and labor that

can help support a production and boasts

unique locations such as glitzy casinos.

Two recently made films “The

Cooler” starring Alec Baldwin and “Pledge

of Allegiance” – were shot in the Golden

Phoenix, the old Flamingo Hilton on

Sierra Street in Reno, because its casino

floor had been closed for renovations and

was available for filming. Another recent

film shot here “Waking Up in Reno”

with Billy Bob Thornton is set to open

in theaters next month.

Northern Nevada does lack certain

amenities, such as a sound stage, that might

help attract more production. And like all

states, Nevada gets a lot of competition

from Canada, which has stolen production

away even from the industry’s production

centers, Los Angeles and New York.

The Sean Penn-directed “The Pledge,”

for example, was set in Reno but shot in

British Columbia because the Canadian

location appeared to be a better deal for the

production company. “We penciled out

higher, but Canada ended up costing

more,” said Holabird.

And sometimes northern Nevada wins

out over Canada despite its higher costs.

” “The Deep End’ was a very low budget

film, just $3 million,” said Holabird. “But

they really preferred the look of Lake

Tahoe and made their choice based on

aesthetics.”

To promote Nevada, the film office

exhibits at industry trades shows, makes

regular visits to Hollywood studios, and

conducts so-called familiarization tours

junkets to the area for studio executives. Its

services include location scouting assistance,

an extensive production directory of

local resources and help in securing permits

to film at local locations.

In return, Nevada gets millions of dollars,

spent mostly in local hotels, restaurants

and stores. A typical film production

brings at least 25 to 30 crew and cast

members with it, according to Howard

Rosenberg, professor of art at University of

Nevada Reno. “All of those people have to

be housed and fed,” he said. Even casts and

crews on films shot at Wendover Air Force

Base in Utah, a popular movie location on

the border of Nevada, usually stay in

Nevada, said Holabird.

Less money comes from the hiring of

local labor, which tends to be at the low

end of the totem pole in the form of local

drivers, gophers and so-called extras,

actors with no dialogue who work for

scale. And even less comes from the nominal

fees paid in filming permits. In fact,

the film office is working to get those permits

eliminated or reduced as part of an

effort to attract more production here by

reducing the cost of doing business.

In the end, making money for the state

is the main goal of the film office. Initially,

the agency was established to protect local

needs and resources as well as to assist film

companies with arrangements. But the film

office, like most other film commissions,

soon realized the movie industry brought a

lot of money into the state. So, since 1987

the film office has been a division of the

State of Nevada Commission on Economic

Development. That’s because, said

Holabird, “the real focus of the NFO is for

economic benefit.”