A film­maker’s par­adise

IN NEW MEX­ICO

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Michael Abatemarco

The state of moviemak­ing in New Mex­ico

hen it comes to a homegrown base of film crew tech­ni­cians, sound stages, a va­ri­ety of lo­ca­tions, good weather, and prox­im­ity to Los An­ge­les, you just can’t beat New Mex­ico. The train­ing and fa­cil­i­ties are here, and the peo­ple who work in the in­dus­try are com­mit­ted to see­ing it suc­ceed. And it seems to have done just that, de­spite con­tin­u­ing blow­back in the state leg­is­la­ture from Repub­li­cans.

Back in March 2011, in her first year in of­fice, Gov. Su­sana Martinez pan­icked the film in­dus­try when the state im­posed a $50 mil­lion cap on the 25 per­cent re­fund­able tax credit for movies made in New Mex­ico. A no­tice­able lapse in film pro­duc­tion fol­lowed. Some film tech­ni­cians and those who worked in other pro­duc­tion po­si­tions the in­dus­try refers to as “be­low the line” — grips, ed­i­tors, line pro­duc­ers, cam­era op­er­a­tors, and art di­rec­tors — left the state to seek work in other lo­cales that also have strong film pro­grams, such as Louisiana, North Carolina, and Vir­ginia.

The gover­nor, who orig­i­nally con­sid­ered the in­dus­try a strain on New Mex­ico’s econ­omy, has since changed her po­lit­i­cal tune on the mat­ter. “New Mex­ico has so much to of­fer to those who are in the busi­ness of search­ing for the right place to shoot a movie or tele­vi­sion pro­gram, and our com­mu­ni­ties clearly ben­e­fit from these op­por­tu­ni­ties,” she said in 2014, af­ter a state-or­dered study con­cluded the in­dus­try was good for New Mex­ico’s econ­omy. Ac­cord­ing to the New Mex­ico Film Of­fice, pro­duc­tion in the state ac­counted for more than half a bil­lion dol­lars in di­rect spend­ing for the 2017 fis­cal year, a record amount. The in­cen­tives re­main in place and film­mak­ing in the state has blos­somed. There were more than 60 in-state pro­duc­tions in 2017.

A cur­rent bill to re­move the film tax credit an­nual cap, House Bill 113, was tem­po­rar­ily tabled on Jan. 29 once it reached the House Tax­a­tion and Rev­enue Com­mit­tee. Whether it’s truly dead in the wa­ter re­mains to be seen. The rea­son for the blow­back is pri­mar­ily con­cern over bud­get­ing. With­out a cap, there is un­cer­tainty as to how much the state can al­lo­cate for re­bates. As it is, the cap has been reached for four years run­ning, but pro­duc­tions have had to wait, in some cases more than a year, to re­ceive their re­bates. Crit­ics of the cap ar­gue that it’s a dis­in­cen­tive for fu­ture pro­duc­tions in an in­dus­try that’s been demon­stra­bly suc­cess­ful. But if the cap can’t be re­moved en­tirely, per­haps it can be raised. “Re­al­is­ti­cally, we would take an in­crease in the cap,” said Jon Hendry, pres­i­dent of the New Mex­ico Fed­er­a­tion of La­bor and the busi­ness agent for the In­ter­na­tional Al­liance of The­atri­cal Stage Em­ploy­ees (IATSE) Lo­cal 480, a la­bor union that rep­re­sents film work­ers. “It’s not a cap on our mem­bers,” he said. “It’s not a cap on the busi­ness. It’s a cap on the hopes and dreams of young peo­ple who want to get into the busi­ness, who want to stay here, who want to have ca­reers in the busi­ness, be­cause you’re say­ing to them, ‘We’re fine.’ ”

While the bill’s fate is un­cer­tain, New Mex­ico is still mak­ing a name for it­self as a sort of film­maker’s par­adise. In fact, New Mex­ico crews have de­vel­oped a ster­ling rep­u­ta­tion in the in­dus­try as a whole. This didn’t hap­pen by magic (well, maybe it was “movie magic”). The cur­rent story of moviemak­ing in New Mex­ico is not just about an in­dus­try that ben­e­fited from out­side in­vestors, with big-bud­get Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tions and se­ries like The Night

Shift and Break­ing Bad com­ing to take ad­van­tage of our in­cen­tives. Film pro­duc­tion in New Mex­ico also grew from within. More than 40 states now of­fer film in­cen­tives or some kind of film pro­gram, ac­cord­ing to the Santa Fe Film Of­fice, which makes film pro­duc­tion a com­pet­i­tive en­deavor. New Mex­ico alone boasts of­fices in Santa Fe, Al­bu­querque, Las Cruces, Taos County, and Otero County, to name a few. While Bill Richard­son was gover­nor, the num­ber of states with film pro­grams was far fewer than it is to­day. At the start of Richard­son’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, out­side of New York and Los An­ge­les, the states with the strong­est pro­grams were New Mex­ico and Louisiana.

It’s sig­nif­i­cant that, 15 years later, New Mex­ico is still in the top tier of states when it comes to in­cen­tives. “Some of those states, for all in­tents and pur­poses, they just have pro­grams on the books and don’t do any­thing with them,” said Eric Witt of the Santa Fe Film Of­fice. “Ob­vi­ously, we’ve done a lot with it here. There are also a num­ber of other coun­tries that of­fer in­cen­tives,” he said. “Our two big­gest com­peti­tors are the state of Ge­or­gia and the UK. A ma­jor film or tele­vi­sion project is not made un­less it’s done in a ter­ri­tory that has an in­cen­tive pro­gram. If you don’t have an in­cen­tive, you’re not even in the run­ning. The busi­ness has com­pletely changed. For bet­ter or for worse, New Mex­ico was at the fore­front of mak­ing that change.”

Santa Fe, which opened its joint re­gional film of­fice for pro­duc­tion in the city and county in 2016, was de­vel­oped for the pur­pose of re­cruit­ing new pro­duc­tions and ser­vic­ing them. Witt, a for­mer film and tele­vi­sion ex­ec­u­tive who worked for Dino De Lau­ren­tiis Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, was hired to run it. The Santa Fe Film Of­fice is nom­i­nated for a Lo­ca­tion Man­agers Guild In­ter­na­tional Award for work on the film Only

the Brave, which was re­leased in the fall of 2017. “We re­cruit pro­duc­tion that orig­i­nates else­where, whether it’s LA, New York, or even out of the coun­try,” he said. “We’ve hosted pro­duc­tions from Canada, from Ger­many, from In­dia, Swe­den. Pro­duc­tion was pick­ing up so much here in the re­gion, and pro­duc­tions did not know where to go to get in­for­ma­tion about per­mit­ting, lo­cal ven­dors, ac­com­mo­da­tions, et cetera.” The Santa Fe Film Of­fice was cre­ated to fill that need for in­com­ing pro­duc­tions, be­cause, af­ter all, one can’t just set up shop wher­ever one likes and start mak­ing movies.

In ad­di­tion to the tax re­bates, other fac­tors that are, in essence, de facto in­cen­tives, also lure film­mak­ers to New Mex­ico: close to 300 days of sun­shine a year, a mod­er­ate cli­mate, and beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tions, for in­stance. But there’s also the ta­lent. “We have the largest crew base, ob­vi­ously in con­junc­tion with IATSE,” Witt said. “We spend a lot of time de­vel­op­ing lo­cal busi­nesses to be able to ser­vice pro­duc­tions here so they don’t have

to out­source ven­dors,” he said. “A lot of other states al­low you to bring ev­ery­thing in from out­side, but we don’t do that. We make peo­ple use lo­cal crew, lo­cal ven­dors, lo­ca­tions, travel, in­sur­ance, et cetera, be­cause that’s how the state makes its money back.”

At the end of the day, it isn’t all about bot­tom lines. As Witt said, “You don’t shoot an in­cen­tive. You shoot a movie.”

You ought to be in pic­tures: Pro­fes­sional in-state sup­port

The New Mex­ico Film Of­fice fo­cuses on three ar­eas to help grow the state’s film in­dus­try, in­clud­ing re­cruit­ment, in­dus­try out­reach, and work­force de­vel­op­ment. A num­ber of pro­grams tied to the third ob­jec­tive ex­ist, made pos­si­ble by the Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Depart­ment’s Job Train­ing In­cen­tives Pro­gram ( JTIP) for film and mul­ti­me­dia, which pro­vides train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to New Mex­ico be­low-the-line crew. One is the Film Crew Ad­vance­ment Pro­gram (FCAP), which of­fers on-the-job train­ing for New Mex­i­cans in the tech ar­eas of the in­dus­try. Another is the Pre-Em­ploy­ment Train­ing Pro­gram (PETP), which of­fers re­im­burse­ment funds to con­trac­tors who of­fer work­shops, courses, and lec­tures aimed at be­low-the-line crew.

Other film of­fices also pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties to pro­fes­sion­als and those who are look­ing to start in the busi­ness, as well as as­sist in fund­ing spe­cific projects. The New Mex­ico Film Foun­da­tion of­fers the Beau McNi­cholas Post Pro­duc­tion Grant for in-state projects. “We had 30 peo­ple sub­mit for that grant, so that means 30 projects that are go­ing on, mostly in the Al­bu­querque and Santa Fe area,” said Dirk Nor­ris, the Film Foun­da­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “That’s lo­cal, New Mex­ico film­mak­ers. Even if a com­pany shot their film some­where else, they could still do their post in New Mex­ico and get the 25 per­cent back. A lot of peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that.”

The foun­da­tion sponsors an an­nual ac­tor’s show­case, de­signed to bring at­ten­tion to act­ing ta­lent in the state. Se­lected ap­pli­cants per­form be­fore a di­rec­tor and cam­era­man at Al­bu­querque’s South Broad­way Cul­tural Cen­ter. “They do their mono­logue and the di­rec­tor gives them some ad­just­ments,” Nor­ris said. “In years past, we’ve had a few peo­ple who got signed up with ta­lent agents who were in the au­di­ence.”

The foun­da­tion also hosts a New Mex­ico Stu­dent Film­maker Show­case, open to stu­dents in re­gional col­lege and univer­sity film pro­grams, and screen­writ­ing work­shops through the foun­da­tion-sponsored web­site, talewrit­ers.org. “We have eight work­shops sched­uled — two per month — cov­er­ing a va­ri­ety of top­ics: char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment, plot de­vel­op­ment. They’re open to any­one. They’re held at the film school at Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign. They’re run­ning un­til April, be­fore the school closes. I’m go­ing to see if we can’t con­tinue even af­ter the school closes, be­cause it would be a shame to have those fa­cil­i­ties and not use them.”

New Mex­ico Women in Film, the lo­cal chap­ter of Women in Film and Tele­vi­sion In­ter­na­tional, also of­fers op­por­tu­ni­ties for the novice and pro­fes­sional. About 60 per­cent of the mem­bers of NMWIF are ac­tors, ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Ev­ery fall, the or­ga­ni­za­tion sponsors Men­tor Ma­nia, which pro­vides each ac­tor with about five min­utes of face time with cast­ing di­rec­tors to ask ques­tions and learn what it takes to make it in the in­dus­try. “Get­ting five min­utes of face time with a cast­ing di­rec­tor is just un­heard of,” said Chris­tine McHugh, pres­i­dent of NMWIF and an in­de­pen­dent film­maker. NMWIF also of­fers a monthly sup­port group for ac­tors on sur­viv­ing au­di­tions and the nerve-wrack­ing wait for call­backs.

In ad­di­tion, NMWIF an­nu­ally de­votes a bud­get and a crew to pro­duce a pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ment for a non­profit. “This year we’re work­ing with Tewa Women United, and we’ve cre­ated a one-minute spot for them that talks about the con­nec­tion be­tween women and the Earth,” McHugh said. “We also have two screen­writ­ers groups,” she said. “They give peo­ple

“The busi­ness has com­pletely changed. For bet­ter or worse, New Mex­ico was at the fore­front of mak­ing that change.” — Eric Witt, Santa Fe Film Of­fice

the op­por­tu­nity to ta­ble their scripts, cre­ate writ­ers rooms where they col­lab­o­rate with each other. It’s a su­per in­clu­sive group open to all peo­ple, not just mem­bers of Women in Film. So we’re do­ing what we can to strengthen the women’s voice in the writ­ing com­mu­nity.”

Sev­eral NMWIF pro­grams for every­one, not just mem­bers, in­clude the Athena Award, a screen­writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion. “We also have the Sage Award, which hon­ors a woman in the area for her con­tri­bu­tion to the in­dus­try over a life­time,” McHugh said. “We’ve had Shirley MacLaine, Ali MacGraw, Ju­lia Cameron, Tr­ish Lopez, Jo Edna Boldin. We’ve re­ally been able to high­light the dif­fer­ence that women have made in our in­dus­try.”

Moviemak­ing from the ground up If you’re work­ing on a set in New Mex­ico, you’re prob­a­bly en­gag­ing with a short-term project — un­less you’ve landed a po­si­tion on a re­cur­ring se­ries. As ex­cit­ing as the idea of work­ing on a movie is, there’s no guar­an­tee that you’ll be work­ing again when the pro­duc­tion wraps. A sta­ble in­dus­try means bet­ter chances for em­ploy­ment. “We make enough money we can get by,” Hendry said. “Hon­estly, the film crews here have worked pretty con­sis­tently since the in­cen­tives kicked in. We have grown a rep­u­ta­tion for hav­ing such great crews that if they’re not shoot­ing here, they’re shoot­ing some­where,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the state’s film of­fice, New Mex­ico has the largest base of movie crew tech­ni­cians be­tween the coasts. Pro­duc­tions that come from out­side to shoot in New Mex­ico in­creas­ingly rely on lo­cal ta­lent. “In the old days, when you walked on a movie set, half of the peo­ple would be from out of town,” Hendry said. “That’s long gone. On our TV se­ries, as well, over 90 per­cent — movies, 80 per­cent — are from right here in New Mex­ico. There’s a lot of crew from Santa Fe. Above the line, peo­ple are mak­ing their own movies, too. We just fin­ished this movie Santa Fake a cou­ple of weeks ago, and that was a New Mex­ico writer-di­rec­tor, J.M. Bur­ris, who wrote this great script. It was an all-New Mex­ico crew. Not one per­son came from out­side of New Mex­ico. There’s not a pe­riod of time when we’re not shoot­ing some­thing, and there’s al­ways crews work­ing.”

While some crew mem­bers are find­ing sta­ble em­ploy­ment, how­ever, the re­al­ity of work­ing in film and tele­vi­sion is still a mat­ter of feast or famine. “It’s def­i­nitely a gig-based ca­reer,” said Ja­son Strykowski, an ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant who has worked on the Man­hat­tan TV se­ries, the comic drama Cap­tain Fan­tas­tic, and the Western Jane Got a Gun. “From what I can tell, it works in the busi­ness at all lev­els like that. The vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple I know here will work any­where from three to nine months. It’s never a guar­an­tee that you’ll be hired again af­ter a few months’ time-off pe­riod.”

Strykowski pro­vides high-level sup­port for pro­duc­ers, cast mem­bers, writ­ers, and di­rec­tors. “It’s very par­tic­u­lar to the busi­ness be­cause some of the things I do per­haps don’t look like some­thing a sec­re­tary might do in any other en­vi­ron­ment. You have to un­der­stand the way a pro­duc­tion works and be able to deal with the flow of a shoot to do the job prop­erly,” he said. On some pro­duc­tions, Strykowski is on the set daily. On oth­ers, he’ll spend most of his time in the pro­duc­tion of­fice, which he de­scribes as “the nerve cen­ter of a pro­duc­tion.” Most of his work in the in­dus­try has been in­side the state.

Re­cently, Strykowski worked on the pi­lot for SyFy’s Tremors, which was shot out­side Al­bu­querque. Strykowski at­tributes part of the in­ter­est in New Mex­ico as a film­ing lo­ca­tion to the suc­cess of the tele­vi­sion se­ries Break­ing Bad. “I think that helped put us on the map. There were some other big fea­tures shoot­ing at the same time. That’s right around when they fin­ished Al­bu­querque Stu­dios. I think that helped. That’s a world-class pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity,

Ac­cord­ing to the state’s film of­fice, New Mex­ico has the largest base of movie crew tech­ni­cians be­tween the coasts.

where they shot The Avengers and In­de­pen­dence Day: Resur­gence. They need big spa­ces that can ac­com­mo­date not only the width of these mas­sive sets that they build, but also the height so they can light it prop­erly. If you’ve seen The Avengers, they built the bridge for their aerial ship and it was huge, an in­cred­i­ble set. It’s re­ally a tes­ta­ment to lo­cal con­struc­tion work­ers that they could build that thing.”

Ac­cord­ing to the New Mex­ico Film Of­fice, New Mex­ico has four full-ser­vice film stu­dios, as well as sev­eral work­ing sets that are ideal for film­ing West­erns, such as Eaves Movie Ranch and Bo­nanza Creek Movie Ranch, both in Santa Fe. Al­bu­querque Stu­dios has nine sound stages and a 3,000-square-foot Cy­clo­ramic green screen. I-25 Stu­dios has six sound stages, a 145foot green screen, and its own spe­cial ef­fects shop. Santa Fe Stu­dios has two stages and a 57-acre back­lot. And Gar­son Stu­dios, on the cam­pus of the Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign, has three stages. Gar­son Stu­dios is where the tele­vi­sion crime drama Long­mire was shot. With the im­pend­ing clos­ing of the school this spring, the fate of Gar­son Stu­dios has been a mat­ter of spec­u­la­tion, but the stu­dio will likely con­tinue to op­er­ate af­ter own­er­ship passes from Lau­re­ate Ed­u­ca­tion, Inc., to the city this sum­mer. “Lau­re­ate got the Gar­son Stu­dios as part of their master lease agree­ment for the whole cam­pus,” Witt said. “Lau­re­ate’s out at the end of May.” Witt is work­ing with Gar­son Stu­dios man­ager Clau­dio Ruben to make sure any leases that get signed be­fore the city as­sumes own­er­ship have a tran­si­tion clause. “Say pro­duc­tion X is in there and they start in May and are go­ing to be run­ning through Au­gust, when the own­er­ship re­verts to the city, it doesn’t in­ter­rupt their abil­ity to use the fa­cil­ity,” he said.

Witt an­tic­i­pates a good spring and sum­mer at Gar­son. “This time of year is al­ways slow; it’s just the nat­u­ral rhythm of the pro­duc­tion cy­cles,” he said. “We’ll start pick­ing up again, prob­a­bly in mid to late Fe­bru­ary, and then we’re go­ing to be off and run­ning through the fall. It’s go­ing to be another strong year, which is why I’ve been work­ing so closely with Clau­dio to make sure there aren’t any hitches be­cause we’re go­ing to need that space.”

Santa Fe Stu­dios re­mains ac­tive, too. “They’re host­ing the HBO pro­duc­tion Suc­ces­sion now,” Witt said. “I think it’s a six- or seven-part se­ries that’s film­ing down there. They just started prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy a cou­ple of weeks ago, so they’re go­ing to be rolling for another cou­ple months, which is good for us.”

In ad­di­tion to Al­bu­querque Stu­dios, The Avengers also made use of the Al­bu­querque Rail Yards, where a large green screen trans­formed the Amer­i­can city into a thriv­ing In­dian me­trop­o­lis. An­gelique Paull, who worked as cos­tume su­per­vi­sor for The Avengers, re­calls the ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with over 650 ex­tras. “I taught my­self and the crew how to tie mul­ti­ple styles of saris to make it look as re­al­is­tic as pos­si­ble, be­cause saris are tied dif­fer­ently de­pend­ing on what part of In­dia you’re in,” said Paull. “It was a very metropoli­tan city scene and we wanted to show that vari­ance. Where the farm­ers mar­ket is now was our en­tire ex­tras chang­ing area. I had to vi­su­al­ize that, speak with lo­ca­tions, set up the tents, and we had them all cat­e­go­rized by num­bers.”

Paull, who was born and raised in Al­bu­querque, has been in the busi­ness for 15 years. She was a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico when she landed her first film job. “I was work­ing at this restau­rant on Cen­tral [Av­enue]. They called on a Fri­day night and said, ‘Hey, show up to­mor­row. Seven o’clock sharp. Don’t be late. Wear com­fort­able shoes. You’re go­ing to be there for at least 12 hours.’ ” Film is a word-of­mouth in­dus­try, and in time Paull’s rep­u­ta­tion grew. Now she’s an in-de­mand cos­tume su­per­vi­sor for pro­duc­tions in and out of state. She is cur­rently work­ing in Austen on the AMC se­ries The Son. “I’m grate­ful that the in­dus­try just picked up more. The plan that I had — to move to LA with my best friend — just started dis­ap­pear­ing. I was like, ‘I can do a ca­reer that I’ve al­ways wanted to do, and I think I’ll love, here in New Mex­ico.’ ” In ad­di­tion to The Avengers, Paull also worked on the se­ries Man­hat­tan and The Night Shift, and the 2016 re­make of The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven.

Strykowski also has fond mem­o­ries of work­ing on The Avengers, his first film job, as a pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant. “I was a huge Marvel fan at the time and re­ally never thought I’d be able to par­tic­i­pate in some­thing like that,” he said. “I got ground-level ac­cess and got to meet the di­rec­tor and the writer and much of the cast and all the pro­duc­ers. That was a thrill. You don’t get the op­por­tu­nity very of­ten to get your nose in there with­out a heck of a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence. It never would have hap­pened in any other place.”

Chris­tine McHugh, NM Women in Film

Eric Witt, SF Film Of­fice

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