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Sony Pictures Pulls Plug On Albuquerque

Sony Pictures Imageworks animator Stephen Lunn, shown in 2009, worked on films such as “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” “I Am Legend” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
Sony Pictures Imageworks animator Stephen Lunn, shown in 2009, worked on films such as “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” “I Am Legend” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

New Mexico is losing Sony Pictures Imageworks, one of Hollywood’s top visual effects companies, which the state had hoped would play a leading role in attracting more digital media here.

The studio — currently doing post- production and visual effects on “Men in Black 3″ and “The Amazing Spider-Man” — will vacate its satellite office in Downtown Albuquerque in July when its lease is up.

Spokesman Don Levy declined to discuss reasons for the closure and said the nearly 60 workers will be offered jobs at other Sony facilities, including Vancouver, British Columbia, and Culver City, Calif., where the offers will be based on production needs.

But Nick Maniatis, director of the New Mexico Film Office, said Sony’s departure doesn’t come as a surprise.

“From what I understand it came down to an economics decision,” he said. “We offer the company 25 percent film incentives, while Vancouver is going to offer them 46 percent. It just makes sense for them.”

The number of employees at Sony Pictures Imageworks often shifted based on the projects that were assigned to the Albuquerque satellite office, peaking at 100.

Crews here have worked on films such as “I Am Legend,” “Green Lantern,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” “The Smurfs” and “G-Force.”

Levy said the Albuquerque office had work immediately when it opened in 2007 and said the hope was that digital media would develop a hub around the company.

Even with Sony here, “it’s been a challenge to recruit (animators) in the absence of (more) digital media,” he said. “Productions do ebb and flow and artists want the opportunity for other work when there is little work. It’s not based on the decline of productions in a single area, it’s based on the decline of productions all around.”

Maniatis said he had been working to keep the company in Albuquerque.

We just couldn’t compete with the offer that Vancouver was giving them,” he said. “We tried to offer different things to them but just couldn’t keep them.”

During the 2010 Legislature, a battle took place over the state’s film incentive package. When the dust settled the lawmakers agreed to keep the 25 percent rebate to film companies for most direct, in-state expenditures and eventually approved a measure that enacted a $50 million annual cap on the rebates, as well as other restrictions.

“The governor believes the incentives remain highly competitive as a result of the bipartisan agreement reached last year, and she believes New Mexico’s workforce, weather, proximity to Hollywood, and impeccable scenery provide an ideal environment in which movies and TV productions can be filmed,” said Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell. “Fortunately, the new law finally establishes predictability in the state budget, which allows us to more adequately fund important priorities, such as education reform efforts to improve student achievement.”

Martinez has said she has no plans to change seek changes in the incentive structure.

Sony Pictures Imageworks opened its satellite office in Albuquerque in 2007 and broke ground for a new building at Mesa Del Sol. Then the economy tanked and construction of the state-of-the-art building next door to Albuquerque Studios fell through. Sony moved into a building at 400 Tijeras SW.

Maniatis said all of the films the Albuquerque Sony office worked on were shot in other states. But having Sony here enabled New Mexico to at least pick up the visual effects business for those films.

“With them gone, it hampers our push for that type of industry. But I’m not done trying,” Maniatis said.

Maniatis said he’s talking with other big-name post-production companies about coming to New Mexico, although he can’t name them yet.

Maniatis said digital media will continue to grow and the Film Office is looking to hire someone who will focus on the industry.

“It’s a growth area that we want to be competitive in,” he said. “It’s important to keep it up.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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