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Movie momentum: Albuquerque Film Office focuses on keeping the city a top destination for film productions

Amber Dodson, the city of Albuquerque film liaison, oversees the permitting process for the film industry and develops outreach programs. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

The Albuquerque Film Office is busy.

It’s just the way Amber Dodson likes it.

The Albuquerque Film Office liaison since March 2019, Dodson has her hands full with the uptick in film productions in Albuquerque.

For the past 10 years, the Duke City has been named one of the best places to live and work as a filmmaker by MovieMaker. In 2019, it rose to the No. 1 spot.

Dodson wants to keep the momentum going.

In fact, in 2019, the total number of film permits given out to productions was 448.

That’s a 65% increase from 2018, when 292 permits were issued.

The direct spend for fiscal year 2019 in Albuquerque was $225 million, up 67% from $150 million in fiscal year 2018.

“For a while, I only had one other person on staff and a vacant position,” Dodson said. “I’ve now got three people under me and a full-time intern. We’ve ramped up our staff to keep up with the demand.”

As the number of film projects continues to rise in New Mexico, Dodson knows that streamlining the permitting process is necessary.

In the first quarter of 2020, the Albuquerque Film Office will begin to digitize the permitting process — which will be cloud-based.

“It makes it easier for our film office because we can see where everything stands,” she said. “It makes it a lot easier for productions to log in and see exactly where the permit is. It’s a really big deal because it’s accessible. The amount of permits continues to grow and the old system worked for a long time. It was solid. We really needed to up our game with permitting. We’ll minimize errors and paper shuffling.”

Focus Event — London — panel “Scaling Up: The Impact of a Streamer in your Local Territory” with co-panelists David Shepheard, Film Commissioner, Vancouver and John Rakish, Location Manager, LMGI, Toronto. (Courtesy of Albuquerque Film Office)

Productions have also been open to giving feedback to the film office.

In October, the film office began to give a resource guide to incoming productions. The guide includes a key to finding what the production needs — whether that’s food, lodging, etc.

“We try to feature local and small businesses,” she said. “Any business can be in there as long as they help serve a production. We roll out a new version and, in time, those will be available digitally, as well. Most productions do want a paper copy.”

In the vein of making the film office accessible, Dodson said the content on the film office’s website has been rewritten and redesigned for use.

“We get questions from the community about getting involved in the film community,” she said. “We have all the information online to help engage the community on multiple levels.”

One of the biggest developments for the film office has been its series “Career Connections.”

This event was held at the South Broadway Cultural Center in the fall and comprised a series of panels about the film industry. It was free and open to the public.

“I want it to be an ongoing series,” she said. “It’s an event that is a resource guide of sorts on how to get involved in the industry. The panels are headed by people who work in the industry, so you get first-hand accounts.”

Dodson recently participated on a panel called “Scaling Up: The Impact of a Streamer in your Local Territory,” in London. The event was a Focus Event, which brings together the film industry.

Dodson talked about what the city had to do when Netflix came into town.

“The panel included people who work in Toronto, where Netflix has another production hub,” she said.

Dodson also makes sure that the Albuquerque Film Office supports many of the local film events.

In 2019, it backed nine festivals.

“The support was not only sponsorships, but also we donated other resources, such as theater space or finding talent for an event,” Dodson said.

One other thing Dodson finds important is her work with University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College students and graduates.

“We’ve created this database,” she said. “Then we actually send the list to productions that are setting up. We have so many kids coming out of the programs here that we want to keep them here working. We are connecting the community with the productions.”

“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” screening at the KiMo Theatre for the Albuquerque film community co-hosted by the Albuquerque Film Office, Netflix and the New Mexico Film Office. (Courtesy of Albuquerque Film Office)

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