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“Scorch Trials” brings $23.5 million to New Mexico

The Twentieth Century Fox film “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” which filmed in and around Albuquerque last year and opened on Friday, brought $23.5 million to the state’s economy, according to data released by the Motion Picture Association of America.

The production was housed at Albuquerque Studios.

The film topped last weekend’s box office intake by earning $30 million.

“A film like this has a major economic impact in New Mexico as the numbers reflect. The success of this science fiction film series about young adults will be felt in the tourism industry for years to come,” said New Mexico Film Office Director Nick Maniatis.

The production hired nearly 1,600 local cast, crew and extras who earned more than $14 million in wages. Of that total, $13.1 million went to the 645 local crew members hired for the film.

In addition to hiring local workers, the film provided a significant lift for a variety of New Mexico vendors and businesses. Some of the production’s key local expenditures include:

  • More than $1 million on hardware and lumber supplies;
  • Nearly $700,000 on transportation and truck rentals;
  • Close to $680,000 on catering, bakery goods and other food items;
  • More than $486,000 on hotels;
  • More than $237,000 on car rentals.

“With a competitive production climate that attracts major feature films like ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,’ New Mexico continues to solidify itself as a top destination for filmmakers, promoting the growth of local jobs and business,” said MPAA Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd.

Wes Ball, director, used a string of diverse locales in New Mexico and each was required to bring to life the expansive settings and journey.

In central New Mexico, near Albuquerque, the production found locations to support the film’s earth-toned, post-apocalyptic dystopian vision, including whirling desert sand dunes — The Scorch — stretching under huge skies, parched earth, a dilapidated mall, hidden urban tunnels and storm drains, a derelict salvage yard and a pristine mountain canyon that offered hope that nature might somehow endure.

The shoot found director Ball once again merging his vision for imaginative visual set pieces with naturalistic performances.

“This movie has a lot of action and a new look at an epic story we began in the maze,” Ball said. “It has a different palette, different colors and textures and a totally different vibe.”

Locations used in the film included Pajarito Dunes west of Albuquerque.

“We cleaned the dunes of footprints and ATV tracks,” said Daniel T. Dorrance, production designer. “We used rakes and a sweeping technique, and we had a low-hovering helicopter as a giant fan to get this swirly effect of the sand dunes. We made it feel like the desert had covered the city and enveloped it with sand. In theory, the sand is 50 feet deep in some cases. We had a little piece of architecture poke out of it to help sell that idea.”

Production also took place at Winrock Center, where crews knocked off ceiling tiles, blew out windows and established a huge sand mound. Walls were aged with a paint process of numerous washes of black and burnt umber.

The elaborate Jorge’s Lair sequences were shot at the Railyard in Downtown Albuquerque and on elaborate sets built at Albuquerque Studios. The Railyard set design included architectural elements for scavengers living closely on top of one another.

For scenes set beneath the Scorch, the filmmakers convinced the University of New Mexico to allow entry into the dark, dank tunnels, storm drains and diversion channels underneath UNM Hospital. To establish the Crankland shantytown, production took over several blocks in Downtown Albuquerque.

For a rave party sequence, the locations department found a unique space in the Zachary Mansion in Downtown Albuquerque, nicknamed “The Castle” and owned by the late jewelry designer Gertrude Zachary. The mansion was wallpapered in a dark, mossy green, which was aged with staining and mildew. More than 200 chandeliers were hung in the distressed mansion, along with old art complementing the stained-glass windows.

“The biggest challenge production faced was finding the location for the film’s climax, set at the mountainous Right Arm Camp, which were shot at Diamond Tail Ranch in Placitas.

“It’s the ultimate camping environment,” Dorrance said. “It’s almost like a utopian city.”

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