Film incentives have successfully brought enormous economic opportunities and benefits to parts of our state. Motion picture productions bring in vast amounts of money from outside New Mexico, and provide direct economic impact to the communities they are filmed in by employing hundreds of New Mexicans at above-average wages and boost the economy with spending at local businesses.
Unfortunately, most communities in New Mexico do not receive the benefits of film economic development because the state has created a film incentive system that largely benefits only one part of the state.
In 2013, film industry insiders created a film incentive structure in New Mexico designed to drive film business to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. With the passage of the “Breaking Bad” film incentive bill in the 2013 session, the New Mexico Legislature put into law two provisions that have had the dramatic effects of keeping 95% of the state’s film business in a 60-mile zone around Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
The new incentives passed that session gave film productions an extra rebate if they used a “qualified production facility,” aka a film studio, and an additional incentive for the making of a TV series. Because film studios, created with over $40 million of state LEDA funds to date, existed only in Albuquerque and Santa Fe at that time, these new incentives all but ensured that most incoming film business would choose to use those facilities and film in those cities. The exclusionary new incentives also created a snowball effect of creating only a union film workforce in that part of the state since there were no film jobs elsewhere. This has resulted in an economic disincentive for films to locate anywhere else in New Mexico. And there’s never been a TV or streaming series based outside of Albuquerque or Santa Fe.
All film productions over essentially a million-dollar budget must hire a union crew and the governing agreement for the largest film crew union, IATSE, requires film productions to pay per diem, lodging and more for crew who travel more than 60 miles. Because it costs approximately 11% more to locate a film more than 60 miles outside Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties, where the film crews are located, very few film productions ever choose to film anywhere else. We need to fix this and allow citizens in the rest of the state to benefit from movie production.
Based on this inequity of the distribution of film economic development statewide, in 2019, the state created an “uplift” film incentive of an extra 5% to film productions that located beyond the 60-mile higher crew cost boundary outside Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties. This was targeted precisely to help film productions offset the extra costs to bring crew to other parts of the state to film. Since that time, this incentive has stimulated limited additional filming outside Santa Fe and Albuquerque, yet filming in these areas still accounts for only 5% of all film spending in the state. The recent New Mexico Film Office Olsburg economic impact study concluded the 5% uplift incentive “is helping … but has not proven (to be) enough.”
It is essential for the Legislature to increase the uplift film incentive to 10% to enable all communities to compete effectively for film and television projects. Communities across New Mexico, from Farmington to Gallup and Tucumcari to Las Cruces and beyond, are working hard for their place in the film industry. They, too, have an abundance of beautiful and unique filming locations, and citizens who dream of working in, and benefiting from, the film industry. They deserve a fair shot at recruiting film productions and will succeed only if we raise the uplift incentive.
While the Legislature considers millions in additional incentives to help Netflix and the existing Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor, now is the time for the Legislature and governor to commit to equity for all taxpayers and New Mexico communities. We must boost the uplift film incentive as a part of any film incentive legislation.