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New Mexico’s film industry in preproduction

After months of being shut down, the New Mexico film industry is scheduled to resume, with COVID-safe practices. Above, Steven Bauer and Michael Mando during filming of the fifth season of “Better Call Saul.” (Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Despite a monthslong shutdown, the New Mexico film industry brought in nearly $400 million in direct spending to New Mexico in fiscal year 2020.

According to the New Mexico Film Office, the direct spend of $396.8 million was less than the record, $525.5 million recorded in fiscal 2019, yet still topped three of the past six fiscal years.

The fiscal year 2020 ran from July 1, 2019, through June 30.

The amount brought in fiscal year 2015 was $288.6 million, fiscal year 2016 was $387.2 million, fiscal year 2018 was $234.20 million.

According to the NM Film Office, there were 80 productions during fiscal year 2020. Of those, 27 projects had a New Mexico budget over $1 million.

In fiscal year 2019, there were 73 projects filmed in New Mexico, 43 of which had a budget of $1 million or more.

Preproduction on film and TV projects is slowly starting to roll out in New Mexico – all being required to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.

“The media and the construction industry have always been deemed essential and the film industry is considered part of these sectors, so limited work is allowed under the public health order with COVID-safe and industry-specific health and safety practices as well as capacity and gating restrictions,” said Bruce Krasnow, New Mexico Economic Development Department public information officer.

Krasnow said work such as preproduction activities, editing, location scouting, set design and building are part of the list of essential work.

“All, of course, with COVID-safe practices, social distancing, gating and capacity limits stipulated in the orders as well as the industry-specific guidelines,” Krasnow said. “We will see a lot of remote work until the restart of a more robust production cycle, which would begin in phases when the governor deems it safe to do so.”

Krasnow said film and television has been on hold around the United States until the industry is able to establish a safe way forward.

“Many studios now have a proper plan that will align with New Mexico’s COVID-safe practices and we will most likely see productions coming soon to New Mexico when public-health conditions are safe enough to warrant a more robust resumption of productions,” he said.

When New Mexico projects come back, the state Film Office said film, television, and video productions must adhere to COVID-safe practices set forth by the state and the film industry.

This includes wearing a mask and social distancing.

Productions will hire COVID-19 officers who will monitor the health of the cast and crew. This means multiple COVID tests a week.

Zones will also be set up for production, and crowd scenes are basically going to be nonexistent.

Eric Witt, a line producer on “The Biggest Loser,” said the industry was going to move to smaller productions.

It was a model the USA Network used while it filmed at the Glorieta Adventure Camps, just north of Santa Fe, earlier this year.

“It’s a self-contained compound on a few thousand acres,” Witt said in May. “It had everything we needed, and we could construct our sets to be done in smaller, practical locations.”

Amber Dodson, NM Film Office director, said when the industry shut down in New Mexico, 12 productions were filming in the state.

USA Network’s limited series “Evel” was in preproduction before the pandemic. It was set to star Milo Ventimiglia and is based on the story of larger-than-life 1970s daredevil Evel Knievel as he prepared for his greatest death-defying feat, the historic Snake River Canyon jump. The series was written by Etan Frankel.

In late July, USA Network decided to not move forward with the production.

“USA is incredibly disappointed to have had to make this decision, as we were so excited about this project and working with Milo, Etan, and everyone involved,” USA said in a written statement.

The state also lost another series.

ABC’s “Big Sky” was scheduled to film in New Mexico and Nevada before making the move to Canada in mid-July.

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