More than 8,000 people in New Mexico rely on the film and television production industry for their livelihood, and the number is growing.
Make no mistake, even with everything else New Mexico offers – 300 days of sunshine, an experienced crew base, exceptional studios and locations – there would be no film industry here without the Film Production Tax Credit Act, passed in 2003, supported by four governors and updated in 2019.
Without the incentives, studios, films and TV pilots would simply go elsewhere.
The numbers don’t lie. New Mexico saw an increase in direct spending by film and television industry from 2014 to 2017, then a drop in 2018 because the previous cap of $50 million added uncertainty and created a huge payment backlog.
Last year, the direct spend by the industry hit a record, and since Jan. 1, with the cap raised to $110 million and the back IOUs paid off, the state has seen more than 60 new productions.
Location managers remember a time when producers used to go where they thought a movie should be made. Today, sets are mobile and technology can make one place look like another. So it’s not surprising that areas outside California with the most production spending are those with the best incentives.
The Journal published an opinion written by Dick Minzner (on Sept. 8). While we welcome the debate, the data he used to critique the incentives is out of date. The industry has changed since that decades-old analysis – salaries are higher and the number of industry-related jobs has tripled.
To make that point, I have been sharing NBCUniversal’s data gathered from two seasons of the “Midnight, Texas” TV show. The production spent $74 million here, with $32 million of that going directly to pay New Mexicans. Some 4,000 state residents worked on the set as talent, crew and extras. Others worked as construction workers, food vendors and contractors.
This out-of-state money circulates through our economy, boosting wealth for New Mexico families.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is diversifying the state economy. Under the revised film law, which provides an extra 5% rebate for rural productions, we are seeing new interest in locations outside the Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor.
One of the requirements of the law is that the New Mexico Film Office publish up-to-date production data. This information is now available on the NMFO website incentives page under statistics.
Another key innovation is a new partnership agreement that encourages studios to sign a 10-year commitment for a production hub here and provide a decade-long stream of projects.
These partnerships are one reason New Mexico is at the front of the line with studios looking to expand and create jobs. It’s also creating a buzz with other states who wonder why they are missing out.
The largest film-production studio in Colorado closed last month. “The move comes as industry leaders worry that three years of reduced film-incentive funding is already drying up jobs,” the Denver Business Journal writes.
Michigan is also debating bringing back an incentives program that would create permanent jobs, the momentum coming in part after MGM decided to produce its Aretha Franklin movie, “Respect,” in Atlanta instead of Aretha’s hometown of Detroit.
For every $1 spent by production in New Mexico, 25 to 30 cents is rebated back, but only after a film or TV show has wrapped, paid its employees and vendors, and met all other obligations, which includes promoting the state and investing in workforce training.
Republicans and Democrats who back the incentives understand that investing a little brings better jobs and stable year-round employment.
Do we really want to make 8,000 jobs go away? Reduce the incentives and you cut jobs in New Mexico. We almost went there once. Let’s not go back. Let’s keep moving forward.
Albuquerque native Alicia J. Keyes was the city’s film liaison and an executive with Walt Disney Co.