Even before the change to the film incentive program this year, the New Mexico industry was on a roll.
In five months, 10 major projects have been announced.
Several of the film projects carry heavy hitters, such as Meryl Streep, Hilary Swank, Tommy Lee Jones, Natalie Portman, Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Wes Bentley and Johnny Depp.
“We do have some big names, and we’re happy to have them,” said Nick Maniatis, director of the New Mexico Film Office. “We’re trying to take this momentum and move forward from this point.”
The uptick wasn’t due to the change in the film incentives made during the recent legislative session.
“Late last year, we knew we were going to have a big year,” he said. “What’s happening now with all the projects is that these were all on the ground scouting late last year.”
The activity is good news for the local film industry, which found itself in a slump in 2011 after being a leader in the business for nearly four years.
Part of the slump was blamed on uncertainty under Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration over the future of the state’s film incentive program, which provided a 25 percent rebate on all New Mexico goods and services. In 2011, that was capped at $50 million a year.
This year, Martinez and the Legislature beefed up the program, giving a TV series that shoots six or more episodes in New Mexico a 30 percent rebate on all New Mexico goods and services.
Maniatis said it also gives the 30 percent rebate to any project that uses local soundstages for more than 15 days of principal photography, as well as New Mexico-based crew.
“It causes more productions to be based out of New Mexico,” he said. “And it urges them to use more of a New Mexico crew. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.”
Waiting for pilots
In the first two quarters of fiscal year 2013, the film industry has spent $78.7 million in New Mexico. In fiscal year 2012, it spent $224 million, which was down from fiscal year 2011′s $276.7 million.
But looking ahead, the numbers from this year are expected to strengthen. The $78 million does not reflect the third quarter, when the majority of the 10 films are being filmed.
And the film office won’t see the impact of the new incentives for TV productions until later this year.
“The TV pilot schedules are a little different, and production for those happens usually at the end of the year,” Maniatis said. “With the changes in effect, by November and December, we want to be high on the list for the TV people.”
Currently, there are two pilots that were shot in New Mexico waiting to see if they are picked up. NBC ordered pilots for the comic book-driven show “The Sixth Gun” and the medical drama “After Hours.” Announcements are expected later this month.
The current productions are filming throughout the state, with northern New Mexico picking up a good number of films.
Santa Fe Studios’ president Jason Hool has said the flood gates have opened and more productions are interested.
The studios, which opened in 2011, was home to the CBS TV show “Vegas” before it left for Los Angeles. The studio is currently home to the Western “A Million Ways To Die in the West.”
Meanwhile, Greer Garson Studios in Santa Fe is booked with the second season of the A&E show “Longmire.”
The state’s largest studio, Albuquerque Studios, was home base to the long-running “Breaking Bad” television series and big-budget movies “The Lone Ranger” and “The Avengers.” Currently, it has no large projects, but inquiries are up.
Wayne Rauschenberger, chief operating officer of the studios, said that, with “Breaking Bad” leaving in April, the studios are hoping another TV series comes into play.
“We did film the pilot for ‘After Hours’ here, and we’re just playing the waiting game,” he said. “The filming for the pilot fell on the off season, and we’ve had to wait until now to see what’s going to happen.”
While Albuquerque Studios enjoys landing major movie projects, they are not essential to the studio.
“It’s nice to have the big blockbusters, but it’s not critical,” he said. “If I had my preference, I would have three medium-size films and one big project.”
But Rauschenberger said that, with having the two recent blockbuster movies film at the studios, its reputation has grown in the industry.
“We’ve done a good job and provide a great crew base,” he said. “What also works to our advantage is that we’re able to keep things a secret. Projects like ‘The Avengers’ and ‘The Lone Ranger’ needed space (away) from a lot of people, and we were able to handle that.”
At I-25 Studios, the location wrapped up a successful run with USA Network’s “In Plain Sight” last year and was home to Steven Seagal’s film “Force of Execution” earlier this year.
“We’re very optimistic about the direction of the entire industry,” said Rick Clemente, chief executive officer of I-25 Studios. “We’ve worked very hard to get the incentive packages and stakeholders on the same page, and it seems to be working out.”
Clemente says that, after “In Plain Sight” wrapped, the studios were the home base for the movie “The Lone Survivor,” which stars Mark Wahlberg.
Visit to Los Angeles
“Longmire” is New Mexico’s only TV series in production.
Maniatis said that, as of April 13, “Longmire” is able to qualify for the 30 percent incentive for TV series.
“They are doing great work up there,” he said. “The cast and crews are amazing, and their ratings have been really great.”
Maniatis says the film industry has taken notice of the changes and the film office is fielding a lot of inquiries.
In the meantime, Maniatis has been to Los Angeles and met with all the major studios, which includes NBC Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., HBO and Showtime.
“They follow us pretty closely, but I made a trip out to explain the intricacies of the new law,” he says. “At the end of June, we will have our big location show in Los Angeles, and we’ll be talking up New Mexico again.”