New Mexico celebrates 120 years in the film game

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

This is a year for anniversaries.

New Mexico has been playing a role in the film game for 120 years, and the New Mexico Film Office is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

And, inside today’s newspaper you’ll find in-depth and entertaining reports on the state of the film industry here as the Journal’s presents the special section, Frame by Frame: Take 3.

But first, a bit on why 2018 is such a special anniversary year for New Mexico.

In 1898, the Edison Co. – owned by the great American inventor – released “Indian Day School,” a 38-second short that was shot on Isleta Pueblo: the state’s first movie, of sorts. Films were very short and somewhat documentary in those days.

Other films were made here off and on over the following decades.

Then, in 1968, the Legislature passed a law, at Gov. David Cargo’s urging, creating the Film Commission.

In doing so, New Mexico became the first state to establish an office whose primary purpose was to promote the state and provide incentives to lure filmmakers.

And under the Cargo administration, filmmakers came in droves.

The influx started with the 1969 hippie biker flick “Easy Rider,” one of the first to film here after the commission was formed.

Cargo himself appeared in eight films as he built a relationship with the film industry.

Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck all stayed in the governor’s residence at Cargo’s invitation.

Along for the ride was Max Evans. The New Mexico-based author was a founding member of the commission.

He was able to help out Cargo because of his Hollywood connections, thanks to his book “The Rounders.”

“I went to Hollywood alone and on my own dime,” Evans said. “I enlisted the help of my agent, (director) Sam Peckinpah, (director) Burt Kennedy and others. This resulted in a breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

“Fifty-seven major Hollywood producers and directors were there. Dave Cargo made a powerful speech about filming in New Mexico. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves when it comes to the film industry. The push for film in New Mexico started with him.”

When Cargo left office in 1971, filmmaking in the state took a nosedive.

At one point after Cargo’s tenure, the Film Commission was demoted to a bureau. But a few years later, it returned to commission status.

Since then, the commission worked to get productions here – much as it does today.

In the early 1990s, it was rebranded as the New Mexico Film Office, a name that stuck.

Nick Maniatis is the current Film Office director, a position he’s held for nearly seven years.

In that time, the office has helped streamline filmmaking in New Mexico.

“We’re much more involved in productions due to the tax incentive,” Maniatis said. “It’s a different game than in the past. The Film Office is dealing with vice presidents of film companies and tax people at studios and production companies.”

In the seven years, Maniatis has also seen the industry shift in many ways.

“We’ve termed it ’emerging media’ because it all moves so fast,” Maniatis said. “We’re dealing with different types of media. A lot of the content is moving online with webisodes, games and apps. That’s just the nature of the beast and the way we are consuming media.”

Over the years, the six-person Film Office has become creative in collaborating with various state departments on projects.

One collaboration of note is the New Mexico Film Trails, which highlights the various locations where production took place.

“We would have never been able to get this done without the Department of Tourism,” Maniatis said.

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