Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico has always been at the forefront of the film industry.
From the 1898 short film “Indian Day School” to cultural juggernauts “Stranger Things” and “Breaking Bad,” each project has helped raise the profile of New Mexico.
On Wednesday, MovieMaker released its annual “Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker.”
This year, three New Mexico cities made the list – a first for the state. In the small cities and towns category, Santa Fe and Las Cruces are ranked No. 1 and No. 7, respectively.
Santa Fe rose from 2022’s No. 3 spot to the top of the list – its first time in the position.
Meanwhile, Las Cruces made the list for the first time.
“According to MovieMaker, no city has done better than Albuquerque, with four consecutive No. 1 rankings,” said Amber Dodson, New Mexico Film Office director. “We slipped this year because the film industry all around bounced back with a vengeance. Albuquerque is competing alongside cities that are many times the size.”
Dodson says the fact that three cities are being honored is a testament to the film industry in New Mexico.
“It’s another calling card to our bar-none crew and our super-smart film incentives,” Dodson says. “The state is film-friendly. Locations play a big part in it.”
The trade magazine compiles its annual list by looking at each city’s film activity – the number of productions, economic activity generated and shoot durations.
It also looks at infrastructure, which includes health of film commissions and nonprofits, number of film schools and visual effects houses.
Population and geographical size, state and local film incentive programs, and ease of movement and traffic are also considered in determining the rankings.
In the past fiscal year, the film industry set a record $855.4 million in direct spending to the state.
Tax incentives include a 25%-35% production tax credit for film, TV, commercials, documentaries, music videos, video games, animation, postproduction and more.
The state’s rural communities saw a 660% increase in direct spending from the industry – up from $6.5 million in FY21 to nearly $50 million in FY22.
The game changer in the increase is the rural uplift credit, which gives a production a 5% incentive to film at least 60 miles outside of the Bernalillo and Santa Fe county corridor. This went into effect in 2019.
Jennifer LaBar-Tapia, Santa Fe Film Office director, is excited by the ranking.
“I’ve been fighting for No. 1,” LaBar-Tapia said. “My job is to sell the region. Every day, we are showing productions how their projects can fit the region.”
LaBar-Tapia said a lot of planning goes behind getting a production to the area.
She even had Tim Molloy, MovieMaker editor-in-chief, visit Santa Fe, so he could see the industry first-hand.
“Everyone benefits from the film industry,” she says. “He finally came out to Santa Fe this past summer and he had no idea what Santa Fe looked like. He didn’t realize how many different types of landscapes we have.”
Last year, Santa Fe had such TV projects as “Roswell, New Mexico,” “Walker Independence,” “National Treasure,” “Travels With Darley,” “Waco: The Aftermath,” “Antiques Roadshow” and “The Curse.”
Two highly anticipated films, “National Anthem” and “Oppenheimer,” also spent time in Santa Fe.
“TV projects spend more time on the ground and we love that,” LaBar-Tapia said. “Santa Fe Community College and the Institute of American Indian Arts continues to grow their film program, which benefits New Mexicans.”
LaBar-Tapia says that, despite Albuquerque and Santa Fe being close in proximity, Santa Fe retains its own identity in the film industry.
“With three cities being recognized, it shows that we work together to find the right fit for locations,” she said. “It’s a friendly competition where New Mexicans win.”
Jonathon Sepp, Film Las Cruces liaison, said the ranking is exciting for the area, as well.
“We hit that next milestone that helps solidify Las Cruces as a place to live and work as a filmmaker,” Sepp said. “We’ve worked hard for close to a decade now. I’m about to start my seventh year with Film Las Cruces and the industry has meant a lot to me since I was 10 growing up in Las Cruces.”
Las Cruces has more than a dozen notable projects and the FY22 direct spend to the area was $7.9 million.
Las Cruces is also part of the rural tax uplift, which gives filmmakers another 5% for filming in the area. The city of Las Cruces also has a $3.8 million incentive fund for film-related infrastructure.
In 2022, 828 Media Capital relocated its business to Las Cruces and will house 828 Studios in downtown Las Cruces.
“At Film Las Cruces, I sum up the job as being available 24/7,” he said. “It’s a position that’s important because the community is counting on you to make it happen.”