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New Mexico’s film industry’s star continues to rise

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Joel Smallbone patiently waited between scenes, often taking time to talk to crew members.

Smallbone, a member of Christian rock band For King and Country, was in the Duke City filming the independent film “Priceless.”

The film is one of nine productions underway in New Mexico this month – some are nearing the end of production, while others are in preproduction and haven’t been announced yet.

They range from the independents like “Priceless” to the bigger budget films like “The Magnificent Seven.”js0927a04s

For the New Mexico Film Office, this is all good news – and it’s indicative of the success of the movie industry in New Mexico right now.

Film productions in the state have been increasing year over year, and this past year was the best yet, says Nick Maniatis, New Mexico Film Office director.

“It’s very busy,” he says. “Last fiscal year was the busiest we’ve ever had since the tax incentive program started.”

Maniatis said the film office usually averages about 60 productions a year. Last fiscal year, which ended June 30, there were 77 productions, 25 of those had a budget of more than $1 million.

And that translated into a $288.6 million direct spend into the New Mexico economy, he said.

Going into fall and winter, Maniatis is optimistic, though there is usually a dropoff in productions during that time.

“We have a lot of things in the hopper,” he says. “It is all depending if the productions come here. We are always working to get as many diverse productions as we can.”

Those that have wrapped recently are “Gold,” with Matthew McConaughey; “Independence Day: Resurgence” with Liam Hemsworth and Jeff Goldblum; “Manhattan,” “Outlaws & Angels” and “Edge.”

Among those in production are the TV series “Better Call Saul,” and movies “t@gged” and “The Space Between Us,” as well as “The Magnificent Seven.”

The cast of “Magnificent Seven” is filming in Las Vegas, N.M., where Chris Pratt has taken to his Instagram account and shared how impressed he is with the area. In fact, he posted a video that says, “The sun rises in a little place called Las Vegas, New Mexico. #MagnificentSeven We’re near the end. Three weeks to go.”

New Mexico offers incentives, diverse studios that can handle films of all types, good weather and a smorgasboard of landscapes.

It also has strong crews, and Maniatis said the goal for the state is to continue to build that crew base.a01_jd_27sep_up5

Chris Pratt posted some images and videos on his Instagram while filming in Las Vegas, NM.

Chris Pratt posted some images and videos on his Instagram while filming in Las Vegas, NM.

“We’re happily busy,” he says. “We want to continue to keep attracting the productions here.”

Ann Lerner, the city of Albuquerque’s film liaison, expects the fall and winter to remain busy for the Duke City. She says crews continue to work steadily and is awaiting some more announcements.

“It feels great that we are very busy at the film office,” she says. “The best part is that the community is so receptive.”

Smallbone of “Priceless” says New Mexico was the perfect place to film his feature.

“When my brother was looking to direct the film, we had driven through Albuquerque on our last tour trying to find a coffee shop,” he said. “We had some time to check out the area and just fell in love with it. We knew we had to come out here to shoot the film.”

The movie follows an unlikely hero who unknowingly participates in the transport of two young sisters into a human trafficking ring, then tries to save them.

Albuquerque’s welcoming community is what Smallbone also enjoyed while shooting “Priceless.”

During a day of filming in the Northeast Heights, he took a break between scenes to talk to Jody Sanchez and her two children as the production filmed in their neighborhood.

“Meeting people is one of the best things about what I do,” he says. “It’s the least I could do, because we’re filming in their neighborhood and invading their space. All of the people I’ve encountered have been very receptive and kind.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Assistant Arts Editor Adrian Gomez can be reached at


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