The Ultimate Phoenix Video Production Guide
Over the past century, the state of Arizona has been home to film, commercial, documentary, and still photo productions. With a wide range of animal life and ecosystems, there are countless settings and backdrops for producers and directors to choose from. But its way more than just the familiar landmarks like the Grand Canyon, Sedona, or ghost towns scattered across the state. As one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country and its variety of neighborhoods ranging from “Anytown USA” to Sonoran Adobe aesthetics, Phoenix has also been (and is still becoming) a major destination for filmmakers. With tons of local video production services at their disposal and L.A. only a 6 hour drive away, it’s easy to see why.
From binge-worthy TV shows like Westworld to major blockbuster films like Transformers and Furious 7, Arizona has seen its fair share of filming. And, yes, we didn’t forget about Raising Arizona. As a Phoenix-based Film Production Company, we’ve also seen and worked on our fair share of TV commercial productions for brands like Budweiser, Ford, and countless other national and international brands.
But now, the film industry within the mostly-desert state is heating up (pun intended), thanks to a new tax incentive that gives filmmakers across the country, for productions big and small, a whole new reason to shoot in the state. Here’s a quick breakdown, thanks to our friends at Visit Tucson.
- < $10 million = base tax credit of 15%
- Between $10 million + $35 million = 17.5%
- > $35 million = 20%
This incentive is about to bring in a lot of newbies to the 48th state, so, as one of the longest-standing production companies in town, we thought we’d help out by offering some must-know details and sharing some must-see locations to help your next video production in Phoenix go off without a hitch!
Top 5 Locations to Film in Phoenix
As the Phoenix metro area continues to grow at a rapid pace, the location possibilities are only getting more and more accessible. From historic hotels (like Barrister Place, as seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”) to chic modern office buildings to tree-lined streets and neighborhoods, Downtown Phoenix and its surrounding areas are prime spots for filming locations.
Location 1 – South Mountain
If you’re looking for one of the most incredible shots of Downtown Phoenix (and beyond), look no further than South Mountain. A short hike—which is also totally film-worthy—leads you to a landing large enough to hold a small- to medium-sized crew to capture the stunning juxtaposition of desert and city sprawl.
Pro Tip: Reach out to our friend, Phil Bradstock, at the Phoenix Film Office, who can hook you up with special access to the landing via a private gate, along with other permits you might need to get the perfect shot.
Location 2 – Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch
Located in Mesa, about 45 minutes from Central Phoenix, Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch offers film crews a stunning backdrop for a wide range of productions. With the Bulldog Cliffs, Saguaro Lake, and Salt River all in close proximity, there’s a ton of natural scenery to choose from. And with 20 cabins, a dining hall, a pool, horses, and other outdoor activities available on the property, you’ll have plenty of options for indoor and outdoor shots—not to mention housing accommodations.
Location 3 – Tempe
Home to Arizona State University and one of the fastest-growing parts of the Phoenix Metro area, Tempe has a longstanding tradition of being a hotspot for film in the valley. With palm-tree-lined streets full of historic homes, the growing business parks, and the famous Mill Avenue, there is no shortage of locations throughout Tempe. Plus, you can take advantage of Tempe Town Lake for some pretty amazing sunset shots and even Papago Park for some otherworldly rock formations and perfect views of Downtown Phoenix.
Pro Tip: Be careful about filming on the ASU Campus; with so many sponsorships and logos on the grounds, you’ll have a lot of clearing to do in post.
Location 4 – Paradise Valley
When you’re filming in Arizona and are in need of some great homes or neighborhoods that fit within the “Anytown U.S.A.” vibe, look no further than Paradise Valley, which encompasses some of the most sought-after locations in the area—for homebuyers and film productions. Here, you’ll get a great range of “attainable” and “aspirational” homes with a variety of styles, including Mid Century Modern, Ranch, and even a few “McMansions” throughout.
Plus, there are tons of high-end shopping, dining, and hotels scattered across P.V.—for filming and for enjoying after a long day of filming in the Arizona sun.
Location 5 – Downtown Phoenix
Speaking of “Anytown U.S.A.,” the growing scene of Downtown Phoenix is quickly becoming one of the best places to film in the Southwest. With a great mix of modern and historic buildings and a skyline that always seems to be growing, the DTPHX is full of incredible backdrops and even office residential buildings that will give a “city center” feel to your next shoot without having to deal with too many “big city” problems (i.e. traffic jams and terrible parking!).
Top 5 Locations to Film in Arizona
Drive an hour (or four) in any direction from Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, and you’re sure to find another incredible location for your next video production. Take a look at some of our favorites below.
Location 1 – Sedona
Known for its stunning red rocks and mystical hikes, Sedona is a perfect blend of desert landscapes and pine tree-lined creeks and trails. Its bustling arts community and luxe shopping provide a great backdrop for that high-end getaway aesthetic, while its biking and off-roading trails are perfect for a more rugged scenescape. Plus, with mild temperatures pretty much all year round (with the occasional snowfall in winter), Sedona offers any production with an unbeatable filming environment. If you’re planning a shoot in Sedona’s <Coconino> or <Tonto> National Forests, be sure to reach out for film permits as soon as you can—both are popular places to film!
Pro Tip: If you’re looking to capture some killer drone footage (who wouldn’t?) in Sedona, it’s best to work directly with the <Sedona Airport> well in advance of your shoot.
Location 2 – Flagstaff
While Phoenix has city culture and suburban paradise, it’s no match for the panoramic views and unbridled wilderness of Flagstaff. If you’re looking for a historic downtown with a Western flair, Dark Sky City is your place. It’s surrounded by a wide variety of natural backdrops—from lush meadows to lava tubes, from serene lakes to snow-capped mountains, Flagstaff has location options for days. Best of all, it sits on Historic Route 66 to help give your production that classic Americana feel.
Location 3 – Tucson (New and Old)
When it comes to cowboy culture and the way of the old west, there’s no other place in the country quite like Tucson. Home to a quaint downtown, sprawling saguaro, and adobe-style buildings dating back to 1848, it’s no wonder that The Old Pueblo has been used for hundreds of productions since the early 1900s. Plus, with its luxurious hotels, golf courses, and casinos, Tucson gives any production team a huge range of locations and experiences. Looking for a studio in Tucson? Read up on <Old Tucson Studios> below.
Location 4 – Yuma
Looking for a barren wasteland that won’t leave your film crew completely stranded and begging for water? Yuma might be right up your alley. Located right where Arizona, California, and Mexico converge, the town of Yuma is known in the film community for hosting crews for films such as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Dune (1984), and of course, 3:10 to Yuma (1957) among others. What brings such big names to this tiny town? Yuma is home to some of the most pristine sand dunes in the Southwest—aptly named the Imperial Sand Dunes—and is easily accessible from LA and Phoenix.
Location 5 – Winslow
Memorialized by the famous Eagles song, Winslow has so much more to offer than just “Standin’ on the Corner.” Each year, millions of tourists stop off Historic Route 66 to hang with the local characters, check out some museums and greasy spoons, and, of course, snap a quick pic of the famous corner. From the historic La Posada hotel to the artist’s paradise at Snowdrift Gallery to the outdoor adventures at Clear Creek Reservoir, the town and surrounding areas can tell a spectrum of stories with perfect backdrops for period pieces and dusty desert shots.
Top 5 Studios to Use in Arizona
Just because the summer months bring the (dry) heat doesn’t mean filming shuts down in Arizona. With tons of studios to choose from—some rivaling L.A. lots—film crews flock from around the country to take advantage of the Arizona film production tax incentive with the air conditioning at full blast!
Studio 1 – Cinevo (Reelmen)
If you’re looking for a studio that is quite literally in the middle of everything, Cinevo should be at the top of your list. A few minutes from Sky Harbor airport (but, thankfully out of the flightpath) and a quick drive to Downtown Phoenix, Tempe, and Scottsdale, this 13,000 square-foot custom facility houses a studio that was literally built to support commercials, interviews, and live streams, with a full staff of experts and a huge selection of <equipment available to rent>. Plus, it’s one of the most affordable options you’ll find in town.
Studio 2 – Bitfire
Bitfire is bringing the future of production technology to the Valley of the Sun. With two soundstages, each with a 500 square-foot Chroma Key stage and each equipped with the latest LED technology, you can get Hollywood-level quality at a fraction of the cost. Plus, with control rooms, edit bays, product and podcast suites, fully equipped hair, makeup, and wardrobe rooms, and (not just one but) two in-house production teams, Bitfire is an all-encompassing, North-Phoenix-based studio ready to take on anything.
Studio 3 – Modern Studios
No one in Southern Arizona offers studio space and accommodations quite like Modern Studios. With two studios (one of which with an impressive 4,500 square feet), edit and color bays, and a production lounge perfect for an agency, client, or production staff, Modern Studios has been a go-to in Tucson for years. But what really sets them apart is their Bolt High-Speed Cinebot (which they’ve named Bert). The fastest of its kind, it can capture images that no other camera operator can, and is perfect for commercial, tabletop, film, or television work.
Studio 4 – Loft 19 Studios
With three studios (including a two-wall Cyclorama, a three-wall Cyclorama, and a set build Studio), Loft 19 has been a staple in Phoenix photography for the past two decades, working with major brands like Nike Golf, Google, and Coca-Cola just to name a few. Based just outside of North Phoenix, this studio sits on a sprawling lot, giving you and your production team plenty of space. Plus, with a VO room and equipment rentals, Loft 19 is great for any additional needs you may have.
Studio 5 – Old Tucson Studios
Originally established by Columbia Studios in 1940, Old Tucson Studios was constructed as a set specifically for the classic Western film aptly named, “Arizona.” Over the course of about 20 years, an additional 30 films were produced on this set before it was transformed into a public theme park in 1960. Today, a fire that almost destroyed the entire property in 1995 and two years of closure due to COVID-19 restrictions, Old Tucson is back to its bustling state as a popular tourist destination for families who are looking to experience stunt shows, as well as film crews looking for that historic Arizona look they can’t find anywhere else!
Click here to learn more about Old Tucson Studios, or reach out to <Ambient Skies> to book your production here.
Top 5 Resources for Video Production Equipment & Gear Rentals
Since Phoenix has been a longstanding destination for transplants—especially from film hubs like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago—and a top spot for production in general, there are tons of places for filmmakers to grab their gear. Below are just some of our favorites!
Resource 1 – Cinevo (Reelmen)
Formally known as “Reelmen” (and listed above as one of our <Top 5 Studios to Use in Arizona>), Cinevo has been a go-to place for rentals in the Valley of the Sun. Cinevo boasts an incredible list of gear: from lenses and electrical to camera accessories and grip equipment, they have pretty much everything you could ever want for a shoot—hell, they even have trucks! Plus, with an additional location in Los Angeles (formerly Brainbox Cameras), and national shipping on select gear, you can rest assured they’ve got what you need no matter what scale of production you’re planning.
Resource 2 – Arizona Camera Rentals
If you’re looking for camera rentals with a personal touch, you’ll definitely want to check out AZ Camera Rentals. No one combines gear and friendly customer service quite like these guys, who have curated their list of equipment after years of working in the film industry themselves. And while they might not list grip and electrical on their site, their sister company, <Arizona Grip & Electric>, has what you need. Plus, we’ve had the pleasure of growing our business right alongside theirs, working together on a huge list of projects—so they have the Ambient Skies guarantee!
Resource 3 – Image Equity
Specializing in the latest and greatest in lighting and grip technology, Image Equity is another fantastic option for Phoenix production rentals—especially if you’re looking for an all-in-one package. Their “small but mighty” 1-Ton package features Aputure LEDs, Quasar-Kino’s, and a Grip Package on par with a 2-Ton, while their 4-Ton that’s “packed more like a 5-Ton” features all brand new, cart-based equipment—both of which come with budget-friendly pricing.
Resource 4 – MP&E
When we say these guys have everything, we mean EVERYTHING. MP&E + Gear is one of the biggest (and farthest reaching) rental companies in Phoenix; with anything you need for broadcast, film, grip, and electrical production gear, and offices in Austin, Dallas, Denver, and Phoenix, they have some of the widest range of equipment rentals outside of the bigger film hubs in the country. Plus, their “whatever it takes” business approach makes them some of the best of the best in the Southwest.
Resource 5 – Broadcast Rentals
When it comes to equipment rentals for filming events and live streams, Broadcast Rentals should be at the top of your list. Not only do they have a wide range of gear—including switchers, cranes, projectors, and screens—they also have a staff experienced in webcasting, data management, prompting, and event production.
Resource 6 – BONUS! Tempe Camera
This list just wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of the O.G.s in Phoenix camera rentals. Headquartered just around the corner from Mill Avenue and University, just a few blocks away from the ASU campus, Tempe Camera has been a staple of the Phoenix film community for decades. Along with a killer list of gear, they also offer repairs and even have an on-site lab for image processing.
Top 5 Phoenix Video Production Companies
Now, of course we want to say that Ambient Skies is the top video production services company in Phoenix, but with so much growth happening around us, we thought we’d take a moment to acknowledge some of the other heavy hitters in town. One of the best parts about working in the Phoenix Film scene is that, while we may be “competitors,” we’ve all worked together—or continue to help each other out—in some capacity. Below are some of the best of the best here in the Valley.
True Story Films
Hands down one of the most versatile production companies in Phoenix, True Story Films is a staple in the community. From documentaries to digital, from pro sports to hotels and gaming, these guys cover all the bases with professionalism, killer creativity, and easy-to-work with personalities you’ll want to work with time and time again.
See more from True Story Films here.
Save The Airwaves
Black and Veteran owned, Save The Airwaves is a small-but-mighty company out here in Phoenix. Their nimbleness and forward thinking helps creative teams bring their vision to life no matter how big or small the budget may be. And even though the production company is “new” to the scene, their team comes with years of experience in the world of camera/gear rentals, production, and casting, so you know you’re always in good hands.
Learn more about Save The Airwaves here.
Another somewhat new production company in the Valley, Reelbros offers some of the best camera movement services you’ll find in the Southwest. With pursuit vehicles, aerial cable cams and everything in between, Reelbros Media has worked with some of the biggest brands in the country (including Yeti, Lexus, and Ferrari just to name a few) to capture stunning, high-action shots in the air, over water, and offroad. Aside from their high-tech gear, Reelbros brings it all together with pre- and post-production services and even some creative help.
Click here to read more about Reelbros here.
Randy Murray Productions
With over 30 years of experience in storytelling and production in Phoenix, Randy Murray Productions is one of the most seasoned production companies you’ll find. This husband-and-wife-owned production company offers some of the friendliest staff of producers, directors, and creatives here in town. On top of that, they’ve recently pivoted their production company to focus more closely on creating socially responsible content.
See more on Randy Murray Productions here.
Offering a slew of services including scripting, animation services, and graphic design, Manley Creative is a Phoenix production company that does way more than just bring stories to life. For nearly 20 years, Manley has been a go-to here in Phoenix for brands like U-Haul, the Fiesta Bowl, and Honeywell, because of their incredible eye for visuals and seamless workflow.
Learn more about Manley Creative here.
Top 5 Arizona Movies of All Time!
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not you should film your next movie, TV commercial, documentary, or… well, whatever you’re trying to film… Here in Arizona, we put together our list of the Top 5 movies filmed in Arizona of all time. This list is composed of some of the most iconic films to have ever graced the silver screen that you may or may not have known were filmed right here in the Grand Canyon State. Yeah we know Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bad Santa aren’t in there, but this isn’t a top ten list… in no particular order…
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
It’s pretty hard to go from New Mexico to California without passing through Arizona, so it’s no surprise that you see some pretty iconic AZ landmarks throughout this indie flick. From Flagstaff to Chandler to the I-10 interchange outside of Downtown Phoenix, “Little Miss Sunshine” features a ton of shots that make any Arizona resident go “Hey! I know that spot!”
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
As we mentioned above, the Imperial Dunes in Yuma are the perfect backdrop for any barren desert wasteland. And that’s exactly what George Lucas wanted when he was looking to film the scenes at the “Great Pit of Carkoon,” on the desert planet of Tatooine.
No “Top 5 Arizona Movies” list would be complete without mentioning Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller. With the iconic opening scene showcasing the historic Jefferson Hotel (now known as the Barrister Building) and a variety of driving shots down the freeways of Phoenix to Los Angeles, “Psycho” is hands down one of the most talked about Phoenix-based films of all time.
Raising Arizona (1987)
Speaking of must-name movies for this list, “Raising Arizona” is—you guessed it—chock full of shots all around State 48. Keep an eye out for Camelback Mountain, the streets of Tempe (including the Tempe Police Station), and a ton of various landmarks down in Tucson throughout the entirety of the film.
Everything Must Go (2010)
While it might not be the most critically-acclaimed film on this list, it’s definitely one that features the most “Phoenix” shots. Filmed primarily in the Scottsdale/Arcadia area, you’ll see Will Farrel ride his bike with Camelback Mountain the background, sell his stuff in his oh-so-Arcadia front lawn, and even have a meal at one of the most classic Mexican restaurants in the Valley, Aunt Chiladas.
Looking for more?
As the production landscape continues to expand all across the state, we’ll keep adding to this post with even more tips, tricks, and connections for your next Arizona Production, so be sure to check back soon.
In the meantime, fill out the form below to get in touch to see how we can help bring your next project to life!