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Film industry adapting well to COVID-19 reality

A behind-the-scenes look at the pilot for “Deeply Superficial.” (Courtesy of Russell Maynor)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico continues to be a major player in the film industry, all while keeping up with COVID-safe practices.

In December, there were nine film projects and eight TV projects in production in the state. And according to the New Mexico Film Office, from Nov. 1 through Jan. 5, 24,000 COVID tests have been administered through productions in New Mexico.

A behind-the-scenes look at the short film Lot 26. New Mexico productions have to abide by COVID-safe practices, which include wearing masks. (Courtesy of Dani Payne)

“This gives you an idea of how rigorous we are testing,” said Amber Dodson, state Film Office director. “That’s an amazing amount of tests. We are keeping our finger on the number of tests and positive cases. Just like other businesses, productions are required to report to the state and we take it a step further to have them report to our office as well.”

Those rigorous practices mean New Mexico-based productions have been able to forge ahead even as productions in other parts of the country have had to pause amid case surges.

Amber Dodson

Productions in New Mexico were on pause from March until September. Production slowly rolled out, and the only production to take a pause due to COVID is Netflix’s “The Harder They Fall.”

“We have quite a lot of productions going into prep,” Dodson said. “If you are coming to New Mexico to film, there are rules, and we take it seriously to keep New Mexicans safe.”

New Mexico has remained rather safe compared to other states when it comes to in-person filming.

On Jan. 3, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Producers Guild of America recommended a pause in production in Southern California as the hospitalizations and COVID numbers continue to surge.

“Southern California hospitals are facing a crisis the likes of which we have never seen before,” SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement.

“Patients are dying in ambulances waiting for treatment because hospital emergency rooms are overwhelmed. This is not a safe environment for in-person production right now.”

The call to delay production has also been endorsed by the PGA, which asked producers to avoid production work in Southern California until more hospital beds become available.

“Independent producers can help hold the line in this crisis by taking the difficult but responsible step of postponing production for now. We can and will do what it takes to protect our cast and crew, and our community,” said Gail Berman and Lucy Fisher, PGA’s presidents.

Dodson said the New Mexico Film Office is aware of what’s happening in California and has steps in place to help make sure similar problems don’t occur in New Mexico.

She said the film industry has been a beacon for New Mexico and in March during the industry shutdown, the film office worked with other organizations to develop protocols for productions.

The Film Office created Back2One, a catch-all document for New Mexico film and TV production in a COVID-19 world.

“It will be a continually evolving resource, and we’re very happy with its first iteration,” Dodson said.

The state also adheres to the Industry White Paper, a set of rules that require mandatory testing, personal protective equipment, and department specific procedures for productions.

The restrictions include operating with limited capacity, as well as daily disinfection and social distancing. Because productions vary in size, Dodson said testing – both its cost and frequency – is up to each production, which must report to the film office daily.

Dodson said the productions that have filmed in New Mexico have been great at following the protocols.

“It’s another step for each production to work with, and it’s a new normal,” she said. “But it costs more time and money to the production when it’s shut down because of too many cases. Our goal is to keep all New Mexicans safe.”

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