Ge­orge R.R. Martin mixes busi­ness, pol­i­tics at film fo­rum

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE - Mor­gan Lee

Author and film pro­ducer Ge­orge R. R. Martin waded into the pol­i­tics of movie-in­dus­try tax breaks on Thurs­day while en­dors­ing a prom­i­nent Demo­cratic can­di­date for gov­er­nor of New Mex­ico.

Martin, a long­time Santa Fe res­i­dent and author of fan­tasy nov­els be­hind the “Game of Thrones” tele­vi­sion se­ries, made a plea to raise or elim­i­nate New Mex­ico’s $50 mil­lion an­nual limit on the state’s tax in­cen­tive for film pro­duc­tion.

At an hour-long fo­rum about New Mex­ico’s film in­dus­try, Martin sat along­side Con­gress­woman Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham, a Demo­cratic can­di­date for gov­er­nor in 2018 who this week an­nounced she would seek to ex­pand tax in­cen­tives for film and tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion and look for ways to en­cour­age the con­struc­tion of new pro­duc­tion stu­dio space.

Martin de­scribed a cut­throat com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment of the film in­dus­try, and his own bud­ding ef­forts to at­tract more movie pro­duc­tion to Santa Fe by of­fer­ing low-cost of­fice space at a build­ing pro­vided to him posthu­mously by an es­tate. Film­mak­ers Joel and Ethan Coen cur­rently are uti­liz­ing the build­ing through Martin’s non­profit Stage­coach Foun­da­tion.

“We’re in com­pe­ti­tion with Texas and Ari­zona and Utah,” Martin said. “How do we com­pete? ... Ob­vi­ously the in­cen­tives are a big part of it. We have to get rid of this (state tax in­cen­tive) cap.”

Martin quipped that he like caps — “but only on my head.” He said that lim­it­ing the tax credit is “like say­ing, ‘We have enough jobs, we don’t need any more jobs. We’re go­ing to cap the num­ber of jobs?’”

Ear­lier this year, a bill to raise the an­nual limit on the film tax credit and link fu­ture an­nual in­crease to in­fla­tion failed to win ap­proval in the Demo­cratic-led Leg­is­la­ture.

An­a­lysts with the non­par­ti­san Leg­isla­tive Fi­nance Com­mit­tee have cau­tioned against film tax in­cen­tive in­creases that could out­pace tax rev­enue growth and put new pres­sure on the state gen­eral fund. New Mex­ico state gov­ern­ment has slashed spend­ing at sev­eral agen­cies and pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties this year, af­ter de­plet- ing fi­nan­cial re­serves amid a down­turn in tax rev­enues linked a tepid econ­omy and weak oil prices.

Mea­sured in terms of di­rect job cre­ation per dol­lar — with­out con­sid­er­ing in­di­rect eco­nomic ben­e­fits — the film tax credit scored poorly in com­par­i­son with other state sub­si­dies, an­a­lysts found.

Martin and Lu­jan Gr­isham high­lighted the some­times in­tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits of the film pro­duc­tion, as tourists are drawn to the state by on-screen im­ages, from the Robert Red­ford’s 1988 “The Mi­la­gro Bean­field War” shot in North­ern New Mex­ico, to the “Break­ing Bad” se­ries that still draws steady streams of cult fans to Al­bu­querque shoot­ing lo­ca­tions.

“The film in­dus­try is one of those bright spots that we can fo­cus on im­me­di­ately and it’s pretty easy,” Lu­jan Gr­isham said. “We want to dou­ble the num­ber of films that we’re do­ing. ... We want to lift the cap. If you’re re­ally go­ing to be open for busi­ness, be open for busi­ness.”

She de­scribed film as an in­dus­try that “pays for it­self.” Pub­lic funds have con­trib­uted to the con­struc­tion of pro­duc­tion stu­dios in New Mex­ico.

The dis­cus­sion took place at a down­town art-house cin­ema that Martin re­stored and owns. The dis­cus­sion was joined by Te­suque res­i­dent Tony Mark, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of “The Hurt Locker,” and pro­ducer and doc­u­men­tary film­maker An­drea Med­itch.

State of­fi­cials say more than 60 film and tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tions were shot in the state dur­ing the past fis­cal year. TV se­ries and pi­lots pro­duced in New Mex­ico over the last year in­clude “Bet­ter Call Saul,” ‘’The Night Shift,” ‘’Long­mire,” and Net­flix’s “The Bal­lad of Buster Scruggs.”

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