LAS CRUCES – As New Mexico’s film industry has taken root and blossomed in the state, a notable disparity has emerged — between a booming north and a struggling south. With this week’s Las Cruces International Film Festival, local filmmakers are looking to lure more film projects to the southern part of the state.
A location scouting trip Friday showed film industry professionals around Las Cruces — from Soledad Canyon at the base of the Organ Mountains to Corralitos Ranch east of the city. About a dozen people participated in the tour, led by Rajeev Nirmalakhandan, a Las Cruces filmmaker. Some on the tour had come from as far away as Los Angeles, though many were from Albuquerque and exploring the idea of bringing productions to the southern part of the state.
J.D. Jacoby is a prop master and assistant locations manager who works out of Albuquerque.
“In the area, I’ve worked on ‘Transformers’ — everything from independent films all the way up to $100 million budget films,” Jacoby said. “I was blown away by the tour today. I think one of the things that people fail to realize is the tremendous resources that we have in Las Cruces. It’s completely untapped, and I’m really glad to see more attention coming to southern New Mexico.”
Jacoby said he looks forward to a day in the not-so-distant future when more major films are choosing Las Cruces as a filming location.
“You have a very dynamic community here, a very open community, very friendly” he said. “I think the people of Las Cruces are ready to see more films made here, and I think it would be fantastic to see larger-scale productions able to shoot here.”
Jacoby said he wholeheartedly supports an effort currently underway to get a movie soundstage in Las Cruces.
“Las Cruces has so much diversity — ecologically, topographically,” Jacoby said. “There are so many films that could be shot here that could easily represent other parts of the United States. You have mountains here that could play for many other places around the country, and deserts that could play for the desert southwest. It’s a very dynamic place to shoot.”
Degrees of involvement
The tour also took filmmakers through downtown Las Cruces, to the campus of New Mexico State University and around the Mesilla Plaza. Nick Check, a junior at Centennial High School, is interested in film making — primarily as an actor, though he has also done some off-screen work. Check, 16, participated in Friday’s tour.
“I enjoyed spending time with the filmmakers, and getting to know others who are passionate about film,” Check said after the tour. “I also enjoyed getting to see all of these great locations that are around where I grew up. There were a lot of places we saw today that I’ve never seen before. It left me really excited about the future of film in Las Cruces.”
Stan Peplinski, an Albuquerque physicist, said he was interested in the tour for a variety of reasons.
“First, I’ve always been interested in economic development in New Mexico. I’d like to see the state really benefit from the film industry,” Peplinski said. “Second, I’ve had prior engagement with the film industry, as one of my homes was used as a location in a film called ‘Frontera.’ That stirred in me an interest — to look at locations, see what was available in the southern part of the state. Finally, I wanted to expand my horizons and see what is happening in Las Cruces. When I retire, or as I get close to retirement, I’m interested in becoming more involved.”
“The New Mexico tax incentives, the credits we offer in the state, are absolutely critical,” Jacoby said. “Too many people fail to realize how much economic impact that has for everybody. It doesn’t just benefit people in the film community, but also the residents of every town that a film shoots in.”
Grocery stores, RV parks, hardware stores and hotels are just some of the businesses that experience a boom when film crews are in town, Jacoby said.
“It just impacts everybody, and it impacts the people that those businesses employ,” he said. “When you have multimillion-dollar projects that come into a community, and drop that kind of money, it really does benefit the whole community. It’s very valuable to maintain the tax credit that we have in place.”
Jacoby said he is thrilled Las Cruces is now hosting an international film festival and that he expects it to bring more attention to the opportunities southern New Mexico has to offer filmmakers.
Damien Willis may be reached at 575-541-5468, firstname.lastname@example.org or @damienwillis on Twitter.
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