New Mexico’s film industry has bounded back to near pre-pandemic levels

The New Mexico film industry continues to be a leader in a post-COVID world.

Productions continue to line up and a waiting list in 2022 has already begun.

Michael Mando as Nacho Varga, Steven Bauer as Don Eladio in a scene from the fifth season of “Better Call Saul.” The series is back in New Mexico for a final season. (Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

That’s music to the ears of the New Mexico Film Office and the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

With nearly a month left in the current fiscal year, the numbers show that the industry has bounded back to near pre-pandemic levels.bright spot logo

“We’re estimating there are 9,000 working in the industry, that’s not including the indirect jobs,” says Alicia J. Keyes, New Mexico Economic Development Department Cabinet Secretary. “We feel like this was one of the economic sectors that bounced back the quickest. We’re seeing a lot of movement for productions to be in New Mexico.”

According to the New Mexico Film Office, to date, there have been 28 productions announced by the film office during this fiscal year.

The number of New Mexico crew hired for the productions is 3,302. There have been 986 New Mexico actors within those productions.

The biggest impact is with background actors, which is 7,963 New Mexicans hired.

With the industry growing quickly in the state, Keyes says the main focus of the film office is to upscale crew and get college students internships with productions.

“We do need more stage space,” Keyes admits. “Our film director is trying to find empty buildings to accommodate the incoming productions.”

Film across NM

Production began to pick up in September.

One of the earlier productions to come to New Mexico was Bron Studios’ “Surrounded.”

The film industry employs thousands of New Mexicans a year. A behind-the-scenes look at production on “Preacher.” (Lewis Jacobs/Sony Pictures Television/AMC)

It was filmed in Abiquiú in November and December.

The studio is an up-and-coming force in the film industry.

Amber Dodson, New Mexico Film Office director, said the production chose New Mexico for its world-class crew and highly-competitive film tax incentive program.

“But also to capture the beautiful landscapes only found in Rio Arriba County,” Dodson said.

“Surrounded” stars Letitia Wright, Jamie Bell, Michael K. Williams, Jeffrey Donovan and Brett Gelman.

Steven Thibault, COO at Bron, says New Mexico was a special place to film.

“We had the privilege of filming at Abiquiú’s Ghost Ranch, the former home and painting studio of Georgia O’Keeffe, which allowed us to benefit from the amazing natural scenery and unique landscape,” Thibault said. “What Alicia J. Keyes and Amber Dodson have managed to create for the industry in New Mexico is a sustainable, world-class production center. We at Bron are thankful for all of the support that they provide to us and aim to expand production capabilities in the state, including moving into television and digital production.”

The main entrance to Netflix Studios is located near Mesa del Sol. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Producer Gabriel Roth was recently in New Mexico filming the independent film, “The Ray.”

The production filmed in Algodones, Cochiti Pueblo, and Albuquerque in March 2021.

Roth says starting with the accommodating and supportive New Mexico Film Office, all the way on down the line to our stand-ins and production assistants, the state has proved to be an enormously deep well of talent.

The Rail Yards in Albuquerque if often a location used for films. Shown is Matthias Schweighöfer as Dieter and director Zack Snyder from “Army of the Dead.” (Clay Enos/Netflix)

“The tireless and skillful crew put us in the best position to create a singular film, in no small part by making full use of the beauty and unique locations that New Mexico has to offer,” Roth says. “But above all, the people of New Mexico have been welcoming and warm. I can’t imagine having shot ‘The Ray’ anywhere else.”

Keyes and Dodson continue to keep the pipeline for film and TV projects open.

“New Mexico is an ideal production destination for filmmakers working with all ranges of production budgets,” Dodson says. “With no minimum spend and versatile, diverse locations, New Mexico welcomes projects ranging from microbudget indies to studio tentpoles.”

National attention

Earlier this month, New Mexico and the city of Albuquerque were recognized for closing one of the most impactful economic development projects of 2021.

Land located just south of Netflix Studios is located near Mesa del Sol. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Site Selection, an international publication of business expansion and economic development, annually recognizes the Top 20 Deals in North America.

The Netflix expansion in Albuquerque has made the most recent list of top 20 deals.

Netflix’s latest expansion accounted for 1,000 production jobs, $1 billion in production spend, and $150 million in capital investment, in addition to the previous commitment made by the streaming giant in 2018. The expansion includes the purchase of an additional 170 acres in Albuquerque’s Mesa del Sol area, up to 10 new stages, post-production services, production offices, mills, backlots, training facilities, wardrobe suites, a commissary to support meals and craft services, and other flex buildings to support productions. The studio will lease 130 acres from the State Land Office, generating approximately $24 million in revenue. The new construction will also generate about 1,467 jobs.

“Twenty years ago, no one could have predicted the success New Mexico has experienced in film and television,” Keyes says. “Even with productions coming to a halt in 2020, we are now on track for a record-breaking year and the partnership we have with Netflix is crucial.”

The film and television industry in New Mexico has grown exponentially in the last two decades and now supports over 9,000 jobs. The average wage in the industry is over $55,000.

Keyes says the combined Netflix deal is estimated to have $6.34 billion in projected economic impact.

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