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NM film industry looks forward to swift comeback

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Filming for “Better Call Saul” was housed at Albuquerque Studios. The cast and crew did spend time on location in and around Albuquerque. (Greg Lewis/Amc/Sony Pictures Television)

Workers in the New Mexico film industry are among the many that have been affected during the measures to curb COVID-19.

The New Mexico Film Office is directing furloughed workers in the industry to apply directly to nonprofit relief funds for assistance.

“We have members of our staff helping film members out with navigating through this process,” said Amber Dodson, New Mexico Film Office director.

Netflix has put $100 million worldwide to assist industry workers during the current health emergency.

Netflix, which has a production hub in Albuquerque, is paying its own laid-off cast and crew members, and has pledged $15 million to nonprofit foundations that are opening up applications to all film and television workers nationwide.

New Mexico has thousands of industry workers who might benefit from the assistance as productions have stopped in the state.

There are two major film and television studio partners in Albuquerque, Netflix and NBCUniversal.

“This community has supported Netflix through the good times, and we want to help them through these hard times, especially while governments are still figuring out what economic support they will provide. So we’ve created a $100 million fund to help with hardship in the creative community,” Netflix said in a press release. “Most of the fund will go towards support for the hardest hit workers on our own productions around the world. We’re in the process of working out exactly what this means, production by production. This is in addition to the two weeks’ pay we’ve already committed to the crew and cast on productions we were forced to suspend.”

Netflix has also contributed $1 million each to The Motion Picture and Television Fund, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation and the Actors Fund. Each is open to New Mexico workers and has its own review process and application.

The IATSE general executive board has also approved $2.5 million in donations to entertainment charities in the United States and Canada.

A number of film and TV projects were just days away from beginning production in New Mexico in early March.

Then it all came to a screeching halt March 13, as projects across the country postponed production due to COVID-19 health and safety measures.

Like thousands of others around the state, New Mexico film industry workers now are waiting for production to get back on line.

While industry chatter suggests a June 1 restart, the New Mexico Film Office has seen plenty of movement during the downtime, said Office Director Amber Dodson.

In fact, Dodson said she is expecting a surge in activity as film companies begin to jockey for production positions when it starts back up again.

“You would think the office is quiet now,” she said. “The office is getting so many inquiries. … We will see production bounce back. It gives us something to look forward to.”

Riding high

New Mexico has been a hot spot for film for a decade now – one recent indicator was Albuquerque hosting Deadline Hollywood’s industry insider conference “Hotspots” in early March.

During fiscal year 2019 – which ran from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019 – the TV and film industry directly spent $525.5 million into the New Mexico economy.

That’s up from $234 million in FY18 and $505.9 million in FY17 – previously the record high.

A single TV episode typically takes eight days to film, which brings in $1 million in direct spending to the state.

Mikalah Gordon, left, and Pat Vasquez-Cunningham set up a scene for the commercial, “A Hero’s Journey,” which was produced by CNM. There are dozens of commercials made in New Mexico each year. (Courtesy of Cnm)

The New Mexico Film Office aims to diversify the type of projects in the state.

In fact, in January, there were five film productions, seven TV productions, one video game production and eight digital-rich media projects in the state.

The state has partnerships with Netflix and NBCUniversal – both entities have planted roots in Albuquerque for at least 10 years.

According to Dodson, the two partnerships help create stability and consistency within the industry. Each has to meet benchmarks laid out for them in the agreement, which helps the state know the minimum both companies will be spending.

“This, in turn, keeps the industry from dropping off,” Dodson said. “It’ll remain consistent.”

Days before March 13, Netflix’s “The Harder They Fall” and NBCUniversal’s “Evel” were both about to start filming in the state.

Another independent film, “Apache Junction,” directed by Justin Lee, was three weeks into production at Eaves Movie Ranch near Santa Fe.

Lee said having production shut down nearly two-thirds of the way did hurt, but he understood the need to stop.

“Being an independent film, we have a little more flexibility,” Lee said. “I’ve always wanted to shoot at Eaves Movie Ranch because these are iconic sets. I think the film industry has been pretty transparent about getting back running on June 1.”

Making changes

Dodson said the film industry is resilient and will come back as strong as ever. A month into stay-at-home orders, she said streaming has risen – and audiences want more.

“There’s a demand for it right now,” Dodson said. “There’s going to be work in the industry around the world. New Mexico is right there in the mix.”

Dodson said when productions begin to start up again in New Mexico, more precautions will be in place.

Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca filming on location for the fifth season of “Better Call Saul.” The TV series has been a staple within the New Mexico film industry for years. (Greg Lewis/Amc/Sony Pictures Television)

“We’re working with the industry to come up with some best practices for general hygiene and health,” she said. “We are working on outlining some ‘production self-safety guidelines’ to help ensure the wellness of our workforce. Sets are highly susceptible and we want to be on the front lines of how we can educate our crews and employ some basic practices that will help keep the set environment healthier and clean.”

Liz Pecos, president of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 480 in Santa Fe, said the union continues to help with getting information to staff members for all types of support – whether it’s from the state or federal level.

“We’ve also formed a couple efforts to write a letter to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to be included in any relief packages,” Pecos said. “As well as keeping the tax incentive protected when there is a special session called.”

Kelly Boudreaux, business agent for IATSE 480, said she has been working to ensure studios continue giving sidelined crew workers “compassion pay” while productions are halted amid virus-related restrictions.

“Liz and I have been working with Workforce Solutions to make the process seamless for our members,” Boudreaux said. “One thing we’re very excited about is our training department has started the OSHA 10 outreach program. It’s one of the only programs that has been given approval. We’re facilitating remote learning and still investing in New Mexico skills.”

Second from left, Daniel Moncada as Leonel Salamanca, Luis Moncada as Marco Salamanca and executive producer Vince Gilligan film a scene of “Better Call Saul.” The series is one that leaves a direct spend of $1 million into the economy per episode. (Greg Lewis/Amc/Sony Pictures Television)

Moving forward

Dodson said the film office’s outlook is bright because of a growing employee pool.

“Our crew base is one of the deepest in the nation and it constantly grows,” Dodson said. “With the FCAP (Film Crew Advancement Program), it’s designed to move people up the ranks. That provides more incentive for the production companies to hire New Mexicans.”

Mikalah Gordon, center, gets notes of directions from Pat Vasquez-Cunningham while filming at the Rio Grande Heritage Farm at the ABQ BioPark. The commercial, “A Hero’s Journey,” was produced by CNM. (Courtesy of Cnm)

Dodson is also seeing an influx of film crew moving back to New Mexico.

“It’s hard and expensive to live in a big city like Los Angeles,” she said. “We might see even more people moving back post-COVID-19. I think we will see that migration because there are job opportunities.”

With the impending boom in production, Dodson sees New Mexico in a good spot for the next decade and beyond.

New Mexico Film Office Director Amber Dodson is anticipating a surge in filming once stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. The film office has experienced a rise in inquiries in the past month. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The crew base continues to grow and recently, the number of stages grew with Tesuque Pueblo opening Camel Rock Studios – the first Native American-owned studio.

“The more stage space the better,” Dodson said. “… It’s helping solidify our place in the industry. We have plenty of diverse looks and locations that make it appealing for productions.”

Netflix will give $100M to support industry workers

Workers in the New Mexico film industry are among the many that have been affected during the measures to curb COVID-19.

The New Mexico Film Office is directing furloughed workers in the industry to apply directly to nonprofit relief funds for assistance.

“We have members of our staff helping film members out with navigating through this process,” said Amber Dodson, New Mexico Film Office director.

Netflix has put $100 million worldwide to assist industry workers during the current health emergency.

Netflix, which has a production hub in Albuquerque, is paying its own laid-off cast and crew members, and has pledged $15 million to nonprofit foundations that are opening up applications to all film and television workers nationwide.

New Mexico has thousands of industry workers who might benefit from the assistance as productions have stopped in the state.

There are two major film and television studio partners in Albuquerque, Netflix and NBCUniversal.

“This community has supported Netflix through the good times, and we want to help them through these hard times, especially while governments are still figuring out what economic support they will provide. So we’ve created a $100 million fund to help with hardship in the creative community,” Netflix said in a press release. “Most of the fund will go towards support for the hardest hit workers on our own productions around the world. We’re in the process of working out exactly what this means, production by production. This is in addition to the two weeks’ pay we’ve already committed to the crew and cast on productions we were forced to suspend.”

Netflix has also contributed $1 million each to The Motion Picture and Television Fund, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation and the Actors Fund. Each is open to New Mexico workers and has its own review process and application.

The IATSE general executive board has also approved $2.5 million in donations to entertainment charities in the United States and Canada.

— Adrian Gomez

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