SANTA FE – New Mexico’s film industry created – both directly and indirectly – between 2,500 to 4,000 annual full-time equivalent jobs during a five-year period starting in mid-2009, with industry jobs paying wages that were higher than the state average, a new state study concludes.
The study also found that state residents accounted for 74 percent of all positions filled by film productions during that time and that film and TV show productions gradually spent less money on goods and services from 2011 through 2014.
New Mexico’s film incentive program has often been controversial since its inception in 2003, and state lawmakers approved a bill mandating an analysis of the program in 2011. The study released this week was the second phase in a four-year project.
Jon Hendry, the business agent for a local film workers union, said it’s difficult to compare film industry jobs to other types of employment, adding the study released this week likely underestimates the film industry’s impact on state employment.
Specifically, the report found 67 percent of film industry jobs held by New Mexico residents qualified as full-time positions. However, it also noted the off-and-on nature of working in the film industry, as payroll data suggests employees work for an average of eight to nine weeks on an individual production.
“The average weekly hours reported in the payroll data suggests that 7 to 10 months of work would be required to achieve full-time, full year employment,” the report concluded.
New Mexico Film Office Director Nick Maniatis said the study shows workers in the film industry can make more money than their counterparts in similar non-film jobs, but pointed out they often work extended hours to do so.
“It’s a full-time job – you just don’t know where the next job is coming from,” Maniatis told the Journal.
The study concluded full-time New Mexico film industry employees work an average of slightly more than 52 hours per week.
However, information provided by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a film workers union, suggest many employees work even longer hours, claiming those employed in the film industry work roughly 30 weeks per year with a workweek averaging about 65 hours.
That means they work enough hours to meet the definition for a full-time job – a minimum of 32 hours per week – even though they might work for only slightly more than half a year.
The study also concluded that film-related jobs tended to pay more than similar jobs in other fields for two reasons: high union membership rates and overtime premiums.
For instance, carpenters made between $27.91 and $28.60 hourly on film and TV projects in New Mexico, compared with $17.86 an hour for carpenters across all types of industries. That higher wage rate includes overtime pay. In addition, the total benefit package for union-affiliated film workers was $11,894 per year, as of 2013.
Film industry workers are able to collect unemployment benefits in between productions, but Hendry said film industry employers also pay into the state’s jobless fund at the highest possible rate.
Film Office Director Maniatis also said most film industry employees only collect unemployment benefits for only short time periods, adding, “It’s not like they’re sitting on their rears for six months waiting for a job.”
The 66-page study also looked into the spinoff impact of the second season of “Breaking Bad” – a hugely popular TV series primarily filmed in Albuquerque – and found the show paid for goods or services from 57 New Mexico vendors and 24 out-of-state vendors. Most of the goods were hardware supplies and other types of materials, with food, travel and accommodation expenses among the other types of services.
In addition, the study concluded that film and TV productions generated 113,200 hotel room nights over the five years, or about 2,500 hotel room nights per production, according to a company that coordinates bookings.
In all, the film and television industry likely supported between 600 to 900 nonindustry jobs per year around the state via expenditures on goods and services, the study concluded.
However, total statewide spending on goods and services by New Mexico film and television productions declined from 2011 through 2014, with $118.7 million being spent in the 2011 budget year and $82.8 million being spent in 2014.
Under New Mexico’s film incentive program, the state offers a 25 percent rebate to film companies for most direct, in-state expenditures. A 2013 bill allowed long-running TV programs to qualify for an additional 5 percent credit – or 30 percent in all.
Concerns over the increasing amount of state money being spent on film incentives prompted Gov. Susana Martinez to push for the program to be trimmed in 2011. She signed legislation that year that limits the amount of spending on film incentives to $50 million per year.
Critics of the film incentive program have questioned the wisdom of spending taxpayer dollars on industry-targeted rebates.
Paul Gessing, director of the Rio Grande Foundation, an Albuquerque-based libertarian think tank, said many of the largest paychecks for film productions go to actors brought in from other states, while also noting that the number of estimated full-time New Mexico film industry jobs has dipped over recent years.
“The fact that job numbers are declining should be troubling, especially since other states are reducing their subsidies,” Gessing said in a Thursday interview.
However, filming in the state has picked up in recent years after a brief drop-off. A total of 77 registered productions – including movies, TV shows and music videos – were filmed in New Mexico during the 2015 fiscal year, up from 61 productions in 2014.
The film study was conducted by the Canadian accounting firm MNP and relied on payroll data, industry interviews and financial reports filed with the New Mexico Film Office. It was scheduled to be unveiled in August, but its release was delayed for two months due to a longer-than-expected review by the Martinez administration.