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Film productions on rise in New Mexico

(AP) — A flurry of new productions and a boost in rebates for television and movie projects is raising hopes the New Mexico film industry is putting its bumpy times behind and regaining its standing as go-to production center.

Since January, the New Mexico Film Office has announced that 10 projects are filming in the state, compared to a total of 13 announced by the state for all of 2012.

State and industry officials hope this is just the tip of the iceberg as word spreads that New Mexico, which found itself on the outs with some major Hollywood studios after Gov. Susana Martinez tried to cut the state’s incentive program, has sweetened the pot for television shows and movies that use local sound stages.

“Basically the flood gates have opened,” said Jason Hool, president of Santa Fe Studios, which opened in 2011 during the height of an industry slowdown in New Mexico.

Nick Maniatis, director of the New Mexico film office, and Wayne Rauschenberger, chief operating officer of Albuquerque Studios, said they too are seeing a resurgence of interest since Martinez signed a bill to increase from 25 percent to 30 percent the rebates allowed for television shows, as well as large movie projects that spend at least 15 days on a New Mexico sound stage.

“We are getting a lot of inquiries,” said Rauschenberger. “It takes a little while for the incentive to kick in, but the word’s out. … I think we are going to see big results from television. Because that’s what the bill did the most for. ”

Rauschenberger said television series are crucial business for studios because you know they will be back every year.

Albuquerque was home recently to two popular television series, “In Plain Sight,” which was filmed at I-25 Studios, and “Breaking Bad,” which was filmed at Albuquerque Studios. But both recently wrapped their final seasons. A new series, “Longmire” is now filming in New Mexico, as have several pilots.

Rauschenberger said Hollywood should be deciding which pilots to pick up by the end of May or early June.

Hool said Santa Fe Studios is now full, a nice turn around after opening, during “a lull that was sort of government imposed. …. That was tough.”

Under former Gov. Bill Richardson, New Mexico was among the first states to offer a 25 percent tax rebate on money spent filming in the state. The generous incentive program, combined with the state’s moderate climate, varied landscape and proximity to Los Angeles soon put New Mexico solidly on the moviemaking map. Movies filmed here in recent years include “The Avengers,” ”Lone Ranger,” “No Country for Old Men,” ”Terminator Salvation” and “Crazy Heart.”

But after Martinez took office in 2011, she tried to cut the state’s rebate program. In a compromise, Martinez and lawmakers agreed to cap the annual payouts on rebates to $50 million, but a combination of the uncertainty over rebates and the bad economy led to a slowdown in film projects.

Numbers from the Film Office show direct spending by the industry fell from $277 million in fiscal 2011 to $225 million in fiscal 2012. For the first two quarters of fiscal 2013, spending was $236 million.

“There was a slowdown,” Maniatis said. “But things are picking up quite a bit.”