ABQ film biz keeps rolling

Temperatures are cooling down, but New Mexico’s film industry remains hot.

In November and December, traditionally a slow period for films, the state will see 10 productions in various stages of the filming process – pre-production, principal photography or post-production.

“We’re as busy as we’ve ever been,” said Nick Maniatis, New Mexico Film Office director.

Those 10 productions – three movies and seven television shows – translate into more than 13,000 part-time and full-time jobs.

And many of the productions are repeat customers.

For instance, “Soldado,” the sequel to the Oscar-nominated film “Sicario,” recently began filming in the Duke City.

The same is true for television shows. Sony Pictures is producing the third season of “Better Call Saul,” the spin-off of the five-season blockbuster “Breaking Bad.”

NBC Universal recreated a street scene to use for its highly anticipated show, "Midnight, Texas." (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
NBC Universal recreated a street scene to use for its highly anticipated show, “Midnight, Texas.” (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

And NBC Universal, which is responsible for “In Plain Sight” and “The Night Shift,” is in the middle of production on the highly anticipated freshman series “Midnight, Texas.”

Maniatis said the surge is due to a combination of factors.

“The productions are comfortable with our program and know how it works,” he said. “They know how good our crew is and how good our facilities are. It’s a win all around.”

The influx of films may also be tied to other states tinkering with their incentive packages.

Louisiana, which has been a force in the film industry, has suffered a downturn since mid-2015. Legislators there passed a law aimed to control ballooning costs for its generous incentive program and eventually placed a yearly cap of $180 million on payouts to film companies.

While the cap remains much higher than New Mexico’s, just the uncertainty of lawmakers discussing changes can dampen film interest, said Maniatis.

The budget for “Soldado” budget is estimated around $30 million and it is expected to take three months to film here.

Meanwhile, one week of filming a TV production funnels $1 million into the community, according to the Albuquerque Film Office.

A single episode usually takes eight days to shoot. Newer shows pour even more money into the production through startup costs. And the state’s film incentives – a 30 percent tax rebate on all New Mexico goods and services, and a $50 million cap on incentives – remains one of the most stable in the country.

“Louisiana is dealing with what we saw in 2011,” Maniatis said, referring to New Mexico lawmakers’ discussion and eventual altering of incentives. “When you start to make changes, film companies take notice. It will take them (Louisiana) two or three years to recover. We may be reaping some of the benefit of the fallout.”

Thousands of workers

Albuquerque Studios currently has all of its studios in use. The entire state is seeing an influx of TV and film productions. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
Albuquerque Studios currently has all of its studios in use. The entire state is seeing an influx of TV and film productions. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Since Oct. 31, the NM Film Office has announced the productions “Midnight, Texas,” “Soldado,” “Get Shorty” and “Monsters of God.”

Those four productions alone will hire a total 7,400 background actors and employ 1,064 crew members.

This is in addition to the current productions “Better Call Saul,” “Cliffs of Freedom” and “Godless,” which are hiring 3,150 background actors and 580 crew members.

Maniatis said it helps that each production is at a different point in the process.

“Some of the productions will pick up many of the crew members once they’re done. It’s designed to keep New Mexicans working.”

The film office keeps track of all the productions in the state and those coming.

“We work with those that are interested in coming here,” he said. “It’s like putting together a puzzle. We will have to ask productions to push two weeks until another project is done. We help create jobs and, in my estimation, that’s our most important mission.”

Full house

Albuquerque Studios has had one of its busiest years and all nine stages are full.

Matt Rauchberg, senior vice president for business development at Albuquerque Studios, said all the state’s studios basically are busy.

“Santa Fe (Studios) is full. Garson (Studios) is full,” he said. “I-25 Studios has a production coming in,” Rauchberg says.

NBC Universal spent about $2. 5 million on building a set in the back lot of Albuquerque Studios for "Midnight, Texas." (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
NBC Universal spent about $2. 5 million on building a set in the back lot of Albuquerque Studios for “Midnight, Texas.” (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

One of the exciting things for Rauchberg is the new back lot that “Midnight, Texas” built on the property.

Just behind studios 6 and 7, NBC Universal spent $2.5 million building a Western street for the TV series.

“The buildings continue to demonstrate how we are building our infrastructure and facilities,” Rauchberg said. “We’ll have tremendous interior sets and a modern Western street. It’s an asset.”

Rauchberg pointed to improved production talent, as well.

“We have spent 10 years building skilled crew and some of the best sound stages,” he said. “We couldn’t do this volume of high-end TV without the skilled crew.”

No sign of slowdown

Maniatis doesn’t see any signs of slowing down.

He and his staff are constantly looking for new productions to lure to New Mexico.

“We have a lot of interest in the state and we’ve been putting out a lot of great work,” he said. “We will also go after a show. I wanted to get ‘Westworld’ on HBO and I tried to bring Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Tower’ here. Those didn’t work out, but we’re trying.”

Maniatis’ goal is to bring film projects to the entire state.

“When ‘Batman v Superman’ went to Deming, I was thrilled,” he said. “Recently, ‘Hostiles’ went up to Farmington. I met with people in Gallup on how to get productions there. Albuquerque and Santa Fe will always get their fair share. I am trying to spread it around.”

The state is coming off a second record year for the film industry.

In fiscal year 2016, which ended July 1, the direct spend into the state economy reached $387 million.

That’s up from fiscal year 2015’s record high of $288 million.

Maniatis hopes there will be another record for fiscal year 2017.

“The whole industry is about creating jobs,” he said. “This is one of the biggest job creators in the state. And it’s growing.”

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