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Yuma has made an appearance in many Hollywood movies
Editor's Note: This is the final story in the Made in Yuma series.
A short drive west of Yuma, Luke Skywalker wielded his lightsaber against the forces of the dark side in Return of the Jedi, in famous scenes shot in the Imperial Sand Dunes.
Through the years the vast dunes have made an appearance in various films, such as Stargate, Road to Zanzibar, Flight of the Phoenix and Resident Evil: Extinction.
Then there is Rambo Canyon, which got its nickname after the rugged mountain location along the Colorado River was used in Rambo III, starring Sylvester Stallone.
Yuma's diverse landscapes have appeared in many movies, commercials, music videos and television productions. And the Yuma Film Commission hopes to introduce the region to many more Hollywood filmmakers.
Commissioner Bill Butler wants to make sure they know about the Castle Dome Mountains, mining district and ghost town, which lie within the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.
And he has no difficulty naming other locations that make Yuma unique: Yuma Territorial Prison, Yuma's historic downtown, two Native American reservations that actively promote filming, two military installations within 30 miles, one of the longest runways in the nation which serves as an emergency landing alternative for the space shuttle, agricultural fields, the Colorado River and rugged mountains that make good alternatives for Afghanistan and the Middle East.
A commission brochure lists other factors that make Yuma attractive to filmmakers: sunshine 336 days a year, direct one-hour flights to and from Los Angeles, Arizona sales tax incentives, close proximity to three of the top 10 largest cities in the U.S. (Phoenix, L.A. and San Diego) and Mexico and two casinos that stage top entertainment.
“There's no reason we shouldn't have more movies here,” Butler said, noting that there are also plenty of hotels and restaurants to house and feed production crews.
When members of the production crew of Broken Horses, which will reportedly star Nicolas Cage, drove by Yuma, they were so taken with the scenery that they called the commission, which works under the Yuma Visitors Bureau. Butler was only too happy to give them the grand tour.
“They like that gritty, dry desert look,” Butler said. “The movie was to be shot in Roswell, N.M., but it's so overexposed, they said, ‘Let's look somewhere else, let's look at California.' As they were passing through, they called, asking for information. I spent three days showing them around. They loved the place. We have everything. They want a pond, they want to build a house by the pond, and blow it up.”
According to the Toronto Sun, Broken Horses is scheduled to begin shooting this year, after a production delay last year.
One movie that wrapped up its production in Yuma is Renovation, filmed at the Hotel Del Sol in historic downtown. The movie is about a group of people who moved into the building with the intention of renovating it, then murder and mayhem ensue.
The rustic hotel is also the site of Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger's hideaway when they portrayed outlaws on the run from the mob in The Getaway.
But the movie that Butler most remembers is the Flight of the Phoenix in 1965. A year out of high school, he recalls the crew staying at the Holiday Inn, where Alexander Ford is now located.
Butler said the filmmakers used a dummy of Ernest Borgnine to portray his character's death in the desert, which they threw in the trash after they were done with it.
Butler recalls his cousin taking the dummy out of the trash, putting it in the trunk of his car with its legs and arms hanging out and driving around town until he was stopped by the cops.
“It was a great movie. It really helped Yuma's start in the movies,” he said.
The commission's job is to “sell locations, get permits, show them locales, what sources are available. Some prefer to use as many people as they can here in Yuma rather than bring crews from Hollywood, to keep the budget down. We're here to help,” he said.
And the commission performs this service free of charge.
Butler noted that any time a production is filmed in Yuma, “everyone benefits” from the source of revenues. A Yuma Sun archive story reports that the Rambo III production used 200 local people and 200 Marines from the Marine Corps Air Station and pumped $1 million into Yuma's economy.
The commission's biggest wish is to “roll out the red carpet” for a big budget feature film, but it also caters to production companies that develop music videos, commercials and television productions.
To see a list of movies made in Yuma or for more information on the film commission, visit http://www.filmyuma.com/.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856.