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Renewed enthusiasm, optimism reign in NM film industry

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

It’s heating up in New Mexico – and we don’t mean the weather.

The uptick in film production inquiries is keeping the New Mexico Film Office busy.

The independent feature “Millennium Bugs” was filmed entirely in Albuquerque. Production was set up at Acme Towing in the South Valley. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“Currently, we’ve actually announced five that are in production,” said Don Gray, state Film Office locations coordinator. “There are also four that haven’t been announced and are on the ground or going to be here.”

The projects in production are varied: AMC’s award-winning “Better Call Saul” is in production on its fifth season, while the CBS series “Interrogation” is also filming. Meanwhile, on the feature film side, Lifetime is shooting “Model Citizen,” and two independent films – “Junkyard” and “Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre” – are on the ground already in production.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 2 on March 29, raising the cap on rebates that can be paid to film and TV productions from $50 million to $110 million in a single year.

Currently, film companies receive a 25% rebate on goods and service expenses for most projects in New Mexico and up to a 30% rebate for some TV shows.

Albuquerque filmmaker Alejandro Montoya Marin watches the monitor during a scene being filmed for “Millennium Bugs.” Montoya Marin’s project is one of many currently shooting in the state. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The new law includes an additional 5% tax credit added to companies taking productions into rural areas – meaning outside the Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor.

“It was busy before and with Senate Bill 2 and the whole new initiative, it has increased inquiries across the board,” Gray said. “All of the projects range in different sizes and we get lots of TV projects interested.”

At the Santa Fe Film Office, Executive Director Eric Witt said inquiries began picking up in December before the new law passed.

It’s “a sense of optimism, a major change of tenor toward and among the industry – which demonstrates the importance of words in politics and elsewhere,” Witt said. “We’re going to have to see how this new law works out – complicated programs always have some kinks to iron. But the overarching sense is of renewed enthusiasm we haven’t seen in years. Very optimistic.”

Jon Foley of Film Las Cruces said inquiries to that office have also spiked.

And New Mexico filmmakers are also taking notice.

Cheyenn Starnes, second assistant camera, left, and Andrew Brown, first assistant camera, prepare the Red Scarlet/Dragon video camera for a scene. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Albuquerque-based filmmaker Alejandro Montoya Marin recently wrapped up production of his independent feature “Millennium Bugs.”

Montoya Marin was featured on El Rey Network’s TV series “Rebel Without a Crew,” where he made a feature film for $7,000. The experience pushed him to want to make another.

Montoya Marin turned to crowdfunding to raise money.

In 60 days, he was able to raise more than $55,000 from backers all over the world. Even RogerEbert.com shared it.

“Honestly, I didn’t think we were going to get past $25,000,” Montoya Marin said. “I did all reaching out via social media by myself. I once texted for nine hours straight and got cramps in my fingers. Every day I was working on the campaign. To have that many backers believe in this film is overwhelming. I want to show them what we can accomplish in New Mexico.”

Sound mixer Justin Engel adjusts the microphone before shooting a scene in “Millennium Bugs.” (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“Millennium Bugs” is a dramedy set in the 1990s that deals with family issues, alcoholism and the potential end of the world – Y2K.

Montoya Marin and crew filmed for 14 days around Albuquerque.

Securing locations was difficult because nothing could be finalized until the campaign was over.

“Every obstacle that could come up happened on the set. It was so stressful,” Montoya Marin said. “We had really cold nights and our film is set in the winter and spring was starting to show around town. We had to figure out how to shoot it.”

The cast and crew was about 90 percent New Mexican.

The number qualifies the project for the state’s film incentive package.

“For an indie production like ours, getting back 25% means that we have money for either post-production or marketing,” he said. “It means that we can submit to more film festivals.”

Gray, who has been working with the New Mexico Film Office since 2006, said a lot of the projects that used to be mid-range feature films are now TV.

And the streaming services need content.

Netflix is beginning to make its footprint in New Mexico with the purchase of Albuquerque Studios.

“Netflix is accommodating productions that had a home base at Albuquerque Studios,” Gray said. “Eventually, I think it’s going to go all Netflix productions.”

Gray said it has produced a pinch in stage space.

“I see it as a positive,” Gray said. “You have to create demand. When I talk to rural communities about the industry, I remind them that this is an industry that is 100% portable. It’s that way for creative reasons. We’re hoping to keep track of the productions that are here, so it can help grow the industry. There will be a need for more stage space and that’s a good thing.”

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