State of the Arts

Michael Abatemarco ex­am­ines the de­vel­op­ing in­fra­struc­ture of New Mex­ico’s film in­dus­try

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Back in the aughts, those lit­tle yel­low signs with their ab­bre­vi­a­tions were pop­ping up ev­ery­where, telling any­one able to de­ci­pher their mean­ing where to find the film shoots that were hap­pen­ing all over Santa Fe. At the Academy Awards in Fe­bru­ary 2008, No Coun­try for Old Men, Trans­form­ers, In the Val­ley of Elah, and 3:10 to Yuma all re­ceived Os­car wins or nom­i­na­tions. The com­mon thread be­tween those films is that they were each, in part, filmed in New Mex­ico. The big stu­dios like Dream­works, Lions Gate, and Paramount, as well as the in­de­pen­dents, were tak­ing ad­van­tage of tax in­cen­tives for film­mak­ers in New Mex­ico, which has al­ways been a movie state. It seemed we were on the verge of de­vel­op­ing an in-state in­dus­try, al­ready strong on the pro­duc­tion front, even fur­ther.

Then, dur­ing t he 2011 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, Gov. Su­sana Martinez threat­ened to cut the film in­cen­tives that brought in pro­duc­tions from out of state by as much as 40 per­cent — and many of those yel­low signs van­ished as mys­te­ri­ously as they had ap­peared. The news spurred fears that film­mak­ers would take their projects else­where, leav­ing New Mex­ico’s film in­dus­try with one foot in the grave — at a time when the state seemed on the verge of de­vel­op­ing the in­fra­struc­ture to do post-pro­duc­tion, too. “When Martinez came in, she was anti a lot of the things Gov. Richard­son had done,” Santa Fe-based film­maker Peter Ker­shaw, who runs Duchy Pa­rade Films, told

Pasatiempo. “Ini­tially she re­leased some state­ments that pan­icked the in­dus­try and cre­ated a dip. Peo­ple in L.A. were un­cer­tain whether the in­cen­tives would stay or go or change. A lot of tech­ni­cians did leave. Places like Louisiana, North Carolina, and Vir­ginia, to an ex­tent, took a lot of the pro­duc­tions from here, ini­tially.”

For­tu­nately, t he 25 per­cent Re­fund­able Film Pro­duc­tion Tax Credit is still avail­able to film­mak­ers, and film pro­duc­tion is once again on an up­swing, de­spite the House pass­ing a $45 mil­lion cap on in­cen­tives in March 2011. Moviemak­ing in New Mex­ico shows no signs of slow­ing down, and the state al­ready oc­cu­pies a place on the cin­e­matic land­scape as a top spot for mak­ing movies out­side of New York and L.A. Ac­cord­ing to Ker­shaw, though, “Post-pro­duc­tion is key to there be­ing an in­fra­struc­ture here,” and that seems to be the di­rec­tion the New Mex­ico film in­dus­try is now headed. The New Mex­ico Film Of­fice lists about two dozen films and TV se­ries with bud­gets over one mil­lion dol­lars that filmed here in the 2015 fis­cal year. The list in­cludes the TV se­ries Bet­ter Call Saul and The Night Shift, as well as the fea­tures Bat­man v Su­per­man: Dawn of Jus­tice, In­de­pen­dence Day: Resur­gence, and The Ridicu­lous Six. Most of th­ese projects have taken ad­van­tage of the state’s Film Crew Ad­vance­ment Pro­gram, an on-the­job train­ing pro­gram that em­ploys New Mex­ico-based film and tele­vi­sion crew pro­fes­sion­als. Last year saw 77 projects in de­vel­op­ment around the state, in­clud­ing 14 ma­jor stu­dio pic­tures, 10 tele­vi­sion shows, and nu­mer­ous other film projects, in­clud­ing shorts and doc­u­men­taries. The di­rect spend into the New Mex­ico econ­omy was $288.6 mil­lion for the fis­cal year. Fea­ture films made up about 35 per­cent of 2015 projects, while tele­vi­sion had the next high­est at 21 per­cent, fol­lowed by shorts and doc­u­men­taries (13 per­cent each), and the rest were com­mer­cials and other projects.

You can’t have so many film projects hap­pen­ing with­out fa­cil­i­ties for post- pro­duc­tion, and while the big stu­dios typ­i­cally head back to Tin­sel­town to do post, New Mex­ico is de­vel­op­ing the re­sources to en­sure that it hap­pens here as well. The New Mex­ico Post Al­liance works with t he st ate film of­fice and other film or­ga­ni­za­tions to pro­vide re­sources to film­mak­ers, i nclud­ing where to f i nd colorists, edi­tors, sound techs, and mar­ket­ing and PR firms. New Mex­ico also has sev­eral work­ing stu­dios avail­able, in­clud­ing Al­bu­querque Stu­dios, Nob Hill Stu­dios, and I-25 Stu­dios in Al­bu­querque, and Gar­son Stu­dios in Santa Fe. How­ever, Santa Fe Stu­dios, off NM 14 south of town, has just been granted a for­bear­ance on $2.3 mil­lion in prop­erty taxes, fees, and penal­ties owed to Santa Fe County. Its fu­ture is un­cer­tain.

Athriv­ing in­dus­try needs an in­fra­struc­ture to main­tain and sup­port it, which in­cludes the education and train­ing of an in­dus­try-based lo­cal work­force at our col­leges and univer­si­ties. Two bills re­cently in­tro­duced dur­ing the Jan­uary leg­isla­tive ses­sion re­late di­rectly to the in­dus­try. Se­nate Bill 238, which passed in the Se­nate on Wed­nes­day, Feb. 17, only to die in the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, was in­tro­duced by Sen. Lisa Tor­raco and sought to ex­pand in­cen­tives to in­clude in-state dis­tri­bu­tion ser­vices, in ad­di­tion to the ex­ist­ing credit

for pro­duc­tion. The hope was that a 25 per­cent tax credit on dis­tri­bu­tion costs would en­cour­age fullser­vice pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies to re­lo­cate to New Mex­ico. The other bill, House Bill 118, in­tro­duced by Rep. Jim Tru­jillo, sought an ap­pro­pri­a­tion of $250,000 for a pub­licly funded New Mex­ico film academy, but as of Feb. 18, it was dead in the House. The academy is a joint pro­ject be­tween the Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege and the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts that would make use of ex­ist­ing cam­pus fa­cil­i­ties. “The academy is re­ally ad­dress­ing a gap that we’re see­ing,” Monique Anair, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege’s film pro­gram, told

Pasatiempo. “We don’t have a pro­duc­tion mas­ter’s pro­gram in the state. Where you re­ally start to see di­rec­tors and pro­duc­ers emerge is in the MFA world. There are great sup­port sys­tems once you get into that world, but noth­ing like what we’re propos­ing.” Anair, an ad­vo­cate of the pro­ject, gave pre­sen­ta­tions at the leg­isla­tive ses­sion. The academy would be an ac­cred­ited in­sti­tu­tion for un­der­rep­re­sented and un­der­served stu­dents with a goal of de­vel­op­ing pro­duc­ers and di­rec­tors and in­creas­ing the vis­i­bil­ity of women and mi­nori­ties in the in­dus­try as a whole. To that end, the academy aims to de­velop pro­grams to men­tor stu­dents, main­tain New Mex­ico’s more than a cen­tury-old cul­tural film legacy, and pro­vide money for pro­duc­tions through seed funds for cap­stone and se­nior the­sis stu­dents who are pro­duc­ing doc­u­men­tary films about New Mex­ico. “The North­ern Río Grande Her­itage Area is a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that looks at Río Ar­riba, Taos County, and Santa Fe County along the Río Grande, and they pre­serve cul­tural her­itage and re­ceive fed­eral funds,” Anair said. “They want to set aside $25,000 in seed fund­ing for stu­dents who are do­ing films that meet their cri­te­ria.” Stu­dents would also work with di­rect-sales agents to learn about dis­tribut­ing their movies. “The peo­ple who are based here need to make their films and gen­er­ate pro­duc­tions,” said Ker­shaw, who teaches cour­ses in film­mak­ing at IAIA, SFCC, and the Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign. “They have the ideas and the sto­ries. They just need the sup­port sys­tem.”

As it stands, stu­dents in the ex­ist­ing film pro­gram at SFCC can only trans­fer to four-year in­sti­tu­tions such as IAIA, which runs a suc­cess­ful cin­e­matic arts and tech­nol­ogy pro­gram, as well as the Sun­dance In­sti­tute Na­tive Amer­i­can and In­dige­nous Film Pro­gram. In ad­di­tion, SFUAD has a f lour­ish­ing film school of its own. “The back­bone of the suc­cess of the film school is re­ally the state in­cen­tives that drive pro­duc­tion,” said SFUAD’s film school chair Chris Eyre. “If we were in an­other lo­ca­tion, we wouldn’t have that foun­da­tion. We are blessed to have a thriv­ing film econ­omy as a ba­sis for our in­tern­ships and for job cre­ation.” Gone are the days when film school stu­dents had to fo­cus on aca­demic stud­ies be­fore they ever got a chance to shoot any footage. At SFUAD’s film school, ar­riv­ing stu­dents each get a cam­era that’s theirs to keep as soon as they start the pro­gram. They are good cam­eras, too: pro­fes­sional grade Canon DSLRs with 18 to 135mm zoom lenses. “They’re in the hall­ways shoot­ing movies on the day of ori­en­ta­tion,” Eyre said. “It’s like Christ­mas.” Ac­cord­ing to Eyre, about 80 per­cent of the school’s stu­dent body are in­volved in pro­duc­tion work. The grip house, nick­named “the kitchen” by Eyre, loans out as much as 1400 pieces of equip­ment per se­mes­ter for a film school stu­dent body that he says is around 300 strong.

Stu­dents at SFUAD also have op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn on a real sound­stage. Gar­son Stu­dios, lo­cated on cam­pus, has the state’s largest per­ma­nent green screen, as well as three sound­stages, two of which are be­ing used by Long­mire, a se­rial crime drama that premiered on A&E in 2012 and was picked up by Netflix in 2014. Man­hat­tan, a TV se­ries about the de­vel­op­ment of the first atomic bomb, also filmed at Gar­son Stu­dios, and part of the set was do­nated to the cam­pus for stu­dent use. “We cover ev­ery­thing from ba­sic in­tro­duc­tory cour­ses on how to use par­tic­u­lar equip­ment to pro­duc­tion and cin­e­matog­ra­phy,” said

film school as­so­ciate chair Liam Lock­hart. “I have the plea­sure and dis­tinct honor of teach­ing the crit­i­cal stud­ies cour­ses to make sure stu­dents are well-versed in the his­tory of cinema.”

One of the school’s most suc­cess­ful pro­grams is Shoot the Stars! Pro­duced at Gar­son Stu­dios, Shoot the Stars! al­lows stu­dents to fully en­gage in pre-pro­duc­tion, pro­duc­tion, and post-pro­duc­tion on a se­ries of short films star­ring Hol­ly­wood ac­tors. The tal­ent pool in­cludes Laura Har­ring ( Mul­hol­land Drive), Michael Welch ( The Twi­light Saga), Wes Studi ( Avatar), and Travis Ham­mer ( Man­hat­tan, The Lone Ranger). “One thing that I’ve no­ticed in the past few years, from the stu­dents that have grad­u­ated from this depart­ment, is that more and more of them seem to be re­main­ing in Santa Fe when they’re done with their stud­ies,” Lock­hart said. “I find that to be en­cour­ag­ing. Build­ing that in­fra­struc­ture is what we’re all shoot­ing for.”

Seth Thomas, a re­cent grad­u­ate of SFUAD’s film school, took ad­van­tage of the avail­able in­tern­ships. “I was work­ing on-set for Long­mire and af­ter I grad­u­ated I stayed on with them un­til their sea­son was over,” Thomas, a pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant, said. “I was of­fered an­other job im­me­di­ately af­ter that: a pi­lot Western for Ama­zon called Edge. It was shot out at Ford Ranch. Fe­bru­ary is kind of a dry month, but I’m cur­rently work­ing on a cou­ple of com­mer­cials and smaller in­die pro­duc­tions. All the prac­ti­cal classes I had at the univer­sity and at a cou­ple of schools I at­tended be­fore I went to the univer­sity re­ally helped me get where I am now.”

In Santa Fe, Mayor Javier Gon­za­les is seek­ing to de­velop a film com­mis­sion to in­crease the city’s pro­file in the in­dus­try and at­tract more film projects, in­clud­ing post-pro­duc­tion projects. The goal is to at­tract more rev­enue to the city. “That’s a pos­i­tive,” Ker­shaw said. “To be sus­tain­able, there has to be en­cour­age­ment of pro­duc­ers, di­rec­tors, and writ­ers that stay here and cre­ate work here. They don’t come in, shoot a pro­ject, and then leave, be­cause this is where they’re based and they’re keep­ing in­come in the state. There has to be more in­die stuff.”

Duchy Pa­rade has an adap­ta­tion of Bram Stoker’s Drac­ula in de­vel­op­ment with Ker­shaw as di­rec­tor. “It’s based on the Drac­ula story but set in New Mex­ico. It’s de­signed as a fea­ture. I’m work­ing on the script through the MFA pro­gram at IAIA. The idea is to take the proper story, which is rarely done in film — Bram Stoker’s Drac­ula [1992] isn’t re­ally the novel — and give it a New Mex­ico twist.” Ker­shaw came to Santa Fe from Eng­land in 2009, when his wife, Mary Ker­shaw, ac­cepted the di­rec­tor po­si­tion at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art. He has di­rected sev­eral films in the in­ter­ven­ing years, in­clud­ing the award-win­ning an­i­mated short The As­tronomer’s Sun, doc­u­men­taries, and other short films. “You can get a re­ally good crew, peo­ple who have worked on Break­ing Bad and stuff like that, to come work on your pro­duc­tions,” he said. “There’s great train­ing go­ing on for tech­ni­cians. We have a his­tory and we have great sto­ries to tell that we haven’t told. This is where the next gen­er­a­tion of sto­ry­tellers — the film­mak­ers and job cre­ators — are go­ing to come from. This is hap­pen­ing now.”

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Above, ac­tress Jane Long and di­rec­tor Peter Ker­shaw on the set of Night’s Dark An­gels; right, Maddi Black film­ing on the set of Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign

From left, stu­dent di­rec­tor Brett Shapiro, ac­tors Luke Kirby and Wes Studi, and stu­dent Jade Scott Lewis on the set of Max

Dan­ger­ous, the first pro­ject in SFUAD’s Shoot the Stars! pro­gram, 2012; above, left, a Long­mire shoot on SFUAD’s cam­pus; right, a SFUAD stu­dent works on a pro­duc­tion; all pho­tos cour­tesy SFUAD, un­less oth­er­wise noted

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