Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico’s film industry appears to be on the brink of a boom.
A recent spike in film productions and industry inquiries comes as New Mexico is set to more than double its annual state spending cap on film incentives, and as Hollywood targets both Georgia and Louisiana over recently passed restrictive abortion laws.
Both states are heavy hitters in the film industry.
The political developments are being watched closely in New Mexico, which is poised to benefit even though state officials say there’s no organized campaign to lure film productions from those states.
“I don’t know that we are necessarily using that as a drawing card, because we are a drawing card,” New Mexico Film Office Director Todd Christensen said in a recent interview.
“What I’ve said before is our doors are open,” Christensen added. “We welcome anybody.”
Already, the coming Amazon TV series production “The Power” reached out to New Mexico specifically because of the political climate in Georgia, according to the New Mexico Film Office.
“The Power” will be a 10-part series based on Naomi Alderman’s 2016 novel in which women around the world suddenly gain the ability to electrocute people.
New Mexico was one of the first states to launch a film incentive program – it was started in 2003 – and upped the ante with a new package of film and TV incentives that were passed by lawmakers during this year’s 60-day legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in March.
The package raises a 2011 cap on what the state can pay out to film and TV productions from $50 million to $110 million per year, while also authorizing the spending of up to $225 million to pay down an accumulated backlog in film incentives.
Film companies receive a 25 percent rebate on qualifying expenditures on goods and services in New Mexico. There’s a 30 percent rebate for some TV shows.
The law also encourages the film industry to grow into rural areas of the state. An additional 5 percent tax credit will be added for companies that take their productions to rural areas – outside the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas.
In recent months, the New Mexico Film Office has been receiving about two calls a day from production companies asking about the new incentives and possible suitable locations in the state.
Christensen, who worked as a locations manager in the film industry before being appointed by Lujan Grisham last month to lead the New Mexico Film Office, said some productions have asked about locations they had found in Georgia and whether they might be able to find similar locations in New Mexico.
“We’re getting calls,” Christensen said. “If the script fits, they’ll come here. In some cases, they can change the scripts to fit New Mexico.”
However, not all legislators are thrilled with the expansion of the state’s film incentive program.
Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, who voted against this year’s bill, said he’s uneasy about using the abortion laws in Georgia and Louisiana as leverage, adding that he has a problem with “out-of-state corporate extortion” on what he described as a social issue.
“If we as a state make a political decision for New Mexico that they don’t like in the future, will they extort us like they’re trying to do to Georgia?” Moores asked.
Another lawmaker, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, recently wrote in a Legislative Finance Committee newsletter that the film incentives are an “industry subsidy” that cost the state roughly 60 cents for every dollar of economic impact they create.
But other legislators have touted the expansion of the film incentive program as a job-creation measure that will help diversify New Mexico’s economy.
In addition to the new provisions for film productions in rural parts of New Mexico, the bill signed into law this year has some carve-outs for companies that make a commitment to stay in the state for at least 10 years.
Netflix, which purchased Albuquerque Studios in October, is an example.
The streaming media giant is making the studio a production hub in the United States. The company said that in 10 years, it will bring $1 billion in direct spending to the state.
Under the new legislation, Netflix and its productions are exempt from the cap.
Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes, a former executive at the Walt Disney Co., knows that the decision about where to locate a film or TV production can take months to negotiate and that there are many factors.
But she said New Mexico has a fantastic climate and the most professional crews and best incentives in the United States for the industry.
“(Productions and studios) are already looking at New Mexico,” Keyes said.
She also acknowledged that the state could capitalize on industry discontent in other parts of the country. “I will say that I am really proud to live in New Mexico and represent a state that values a woman’s right to have control over her own body and her own health care,” Keyes said.
New Mexico actually has on its books a 1969 state law that banned abortion in most cases. But the law became unenforceable after it was superseded by the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. Now, New Mexico has few restrictions on abortions.
The film offices in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque are already experiencing an increase in activity.
“It’s an exciting time for film and television in Albuquerque, and we have been seeing an increase in interest from productions as a result of the political topics in Georgia and Louisiana,” said Amber Dodson, city of Albuquerque film liaison. “Our doors are open; we are an inclusive city who welcomes everyone.”
At Santa Fe Studios, there has been an uptick of inquiries.
“We have seen an increase in calls from production companies wanting to come to Santa Fe Studios,” said Lance Hool, Santa Fe Studios CEO.
And I-25 Studios in Albuquerque is experiencing the most activity it’s ever had.
“The increase started with the Netflix deal,” said Rick Clemente, I-25 Studios CEO. “I’m sure the political climate in Georgia and Louisiana has productions looking for new locations. The movers in Hollywood are concerned about it, and they’ve said it’s a problem. The workforce cares about it, and you can’t ignore that.”
The studio is currently housing CBS’ “Interrogation” and is expecting another show soon. With the influx of interest and activity, Clemente said, the studio is looking at expansion options.
“We anticipate at running 100% capacity,” Clemente said. “That keeps 500 people working. It’s an army of people.”