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State's Incentives Keep Film Industry Growing

By Kiera Hay
Journal Staff Writer
    SANTA FE— When the state made a commitment several years ago to lure movie and television productions, there were two states with serious film incentive packages, said Lisa Strout, director of the New Mexico Film Office.
    Now there are 36.
    "We're not alone in this anymore. We knew that would happen," she said during a recent community discussion on the state's film incentive program.
    Figuring out how the Land of Enchantment can stay ahead of the pack is vital to the industry's continued growth in the state, said Eric Witt, Gov. Bill Richardson's director of legislative and political affairs and media arts and entertainment development.
    Strout and Witt, along with Alton Walpole, president of Mountainair Films, and Nick Smerigan, vice president of Albuquerque Studios, spoke to about 45 people on the current and future viability of the state's film incentive programs and initiatives.
    The panel, which was conducted at the Unitarian Church on West Barcelona Road in Santa Fe, was part of a series of talks and workshops that helped wrap up the five-day Santa Fe Film Festival.
    The state's Film Office frequently touts its achievements, which include helping attract more than 85 films and television projects to the state since 2003. Officials say the activity has added over $1.2 billion to New Mexico's economy.
    Incentive programs include a 25 percent tax rebate on all film expenditures subject to taxation by the state, loans of up to $15 million per project, with back-end participation instead of interest, and no state sales tax (an option that can't be used with the tax rebate).
    New Mexico's programs are "clean, simple and directly accessible by productions themselves," Witt said. "I think that's key to going forward."
    Work-force training was singled out by some of the panelists as an important initiative.
    Currently, the state provides a 50 percent wage reimbursement for on-the-job training of New Mexico residents in advanced below-the-line, or technical, positions. The program requires that New Mexico-based supervisors serve as mentors to the trainees.
    During the past several years, the number of New Mexico residents qualified to work on sets has grown from 60 or 70 people to about 1,300, the panelists said.
    With work-force initiatives, "that's where we're the leader in the country," Strout said.
    Those programs, as well as a push for increased higher education offerings related to film and television productions, give New Mexico an advantage over states who "just pop in a rebate or tax incentive," in their film programs, Witt said.
    Those states, he said, "are missing the boat."
    Smerigan said he believes New Mexico will become a film and television production center, and panelists noted that future growth should occur in areas like post-production, special effects and digital media.
    One member of the audience asked about incentives and programs that could benefit the state's actors. He said he's had to shift from acting to production to make a living.
    Strout said she was open to discussing the situation with New Mexico actors, but added that the state might be limited in how it can influence the creative portion of a production.