THE NEW MEXICO FILM INDUSTRY REPORT 2019
Conversations and Observations from the Santa Fe / Albuquerque Tour
aka, What the Heck is Happening with Netflix in NM???
by Your Friendly Neighborhood Film Supporter
Dear Fellow Filmmaker, Actor, and Writer:
I’m not sure what possessed me to go. New Mexico has been on my mind since I returned from Los Angeles to my home state of Colorado, but I just never got there.
Then this summer, there was an imperative. As a life-long filmmaker and supporter of storytellers, it seemed logical to make the visit now. This was the year, after all, that Netflix and NBC-Universal made their announcements that they were coming to ABQ in a significant way.
In this love letter to all things New Mexico Film, I’ll be going over a range of topics about what’s happening just south of us. Because it’s pretty huge. And it’s going to have an impact on Colorado. The more the merrier, eh?
Please note that these numbers and details were captured via conversation and while I took lots of notes, I’m not legally bound to have this exactly right.
Here’s the agenda:
- Netflix & NBC-Universal
- New Mexico Industry Conference, and
This report is long. I’m not apologizing. I want to remember everything I learned, and always happy to share.
Recently New Mexico revitalized their incentives program. They’ve built back up to $110 Million in a tax rebate-based incentive program.
- No minimum spend, either indie or union.
- No application fee.
- The range of the rebate is between 15% – 35%, depending on a range of criteria:
- How many days do you shoot in state?
- How many local hires? (The incentives allow for 15% of the hires to NOT be local.)
- How close to the urban centers are you? If you shoot in the rural areas, that’s another 5%.
- If you’re doing a TV show, if you guarantee shooting 5 (or 6?) eps or a $50K spend on a pilot, that’s another 5%. (Ditto with web series.)
Why is this important? Were you thinking what I was thinking, that Netflix would blow through that $110 million in its first quarter?
The amazing news is this: this $110 million is NOT part of the Netflix or NBC-Universal deal. (More on that in a minute). This is available to anyone else shooting in their state.
[PLUG: If you’re going to shoot down there, I highly recommend you reach out to a local accountant or Media Services while in early pre-production. They really know what the minutia is on this program, and you’ll need their help to track your budget and maximize on everything New Mexico offers. They’ll help you make the right decisions. And New Mexico has an app called TiM (Hellotim) that blew my friggin’ mind. It makes tracking all the details of your shoot—and generates deal memos –so easy.
Oh! And Media Services also has a free labor guide: https://info.mediaservices.com/labor-guide-registration]
II. Netflix / NBC- Universal are Coming to Town.
Let’s talk for a second why New Mexico is so desirable to Netflix and NBC-Uni:
- A highly trained crew pool. Many are still around from the banging TV (Breaking Bad) days before the incentives got gutted and they lost Marvel, etc.
- Multiple studios. Not just sound stages. Studios. Four in ABQ; 2 in Santa Fe, others around the state including Las Cruces. And they changed the specifics so that more buildings can be adapted into sound stages. The build is on.
I took a tour of the ABQ Studios (which was weird because it was in the middle of the desert and had a conjoining housing community. And a dog park.), which was already under construction for Netflix production offices to move in, and is already the production home for some of their shows and movies.
10 stages, mostly between 18K and 24K sq feet and built by the single largest “studio builder” company (MBS) in the world. These are world-class stages. And they were all busy. So were the stages in Santa Fe. And elsewhere in the state…
So the resources to support production are there. But what they really needed was financial incentive.
If you haven’t heard, here’s the deal:
First Netflix bought Albuquerque Studios. In exchange, they agreed to spend $1 Billion over the course of 10 years, plus about 1000 jobs a year.
And then NBC-Universal announced they are moving into a vacant industrial building south of I-40 on Commercial Street, north of downtown. It will be a state-of-the-art television and film studio with two sound stages, offices and a mill (mills are crucial, obviously). It’s expected to be complete in the fall of 2019.
The company is expected to provide more than 330 full-time jobs year-round, generating an economic impact of $1.1 billion over 10 years.
[The Press conference announcing this can be found here:
There are two major financial components behind sealing these deals:
- One is something called a LEDA grant both companies are receiving to help with the build (Netflix is getting $40M and NBC $7M).
- The second is incentives.
Boy, did they get incentives. Here’s the most amazing part of this:
There is no cap on their incentives.
The rate of return is 30% (assuming they abide by hiring and shooting days criteria).
I’m hearing that they are working to ensure that 80% of the crew jobs are filled by locals.
Now, some say the state is paying for jobs; most believe this will be the industrial transformation engine for their entire state (think Silicon Valley). A few just want to legalize marijuana and not have to count on Netflix re-upping their deal in a decade.
But I can say it’s already having an effect.
While ABQ is a rather poor town (the upside: it’s about 2/3rds the cost of living in Denver) and has a significant crime problem, the rents, both commercial and residential, are starting to rise.
New Mexico is starting at address the need for more infrastructure. One thing I heard was that their streets needed updating, just to support the heavy trucks that will be constantly moving around town!
In Santa Fe, monthly meetings with the mayor with film/media leaders to ensure they are building in the best possible way (what a great idea!).
The NM Film Commission will get a budgetary infusion in July to add staff.
Santa Fe’s Film Commissioner just launched an online location permit system that the rest of the state is looking at adapting.
And here’s the real telltale sign: the airport is booking more flights to and from LA.
III. New Mexico Industry Conference
As someone who’s been to A LOT of writers conferences all over the nation, I want to attest to the excellence of this one.
This one isn’t about development or writing; it’s all about crew and actors.
If you are crew or an actor, you need to get to this next year.
There were maybe 20 Coloradoans there (I knew about a third; AJ Voliton knew, like everyone, but that’s AJ. He’s like that.)
I’d never heard of the conference. I went on a whim cuz I was going to be there anyway. I wish someone had told me sooner. (But then, was there a reason to go before now…?)
The other Coloradoans were they because they knew the potent of the conference.
So I’m here-by telling you that it’s the real deal. And you need to be there next year.
Not (necessarily) because it’s a way to get jobs; it’s a way to build community and to gain a tremendous amount of info about how film works, and specifically how it works in NM.
Every program I went to was content rich, real world, cutting edge, all the words. Have a look at their schedule on their website. When they say “Call Sheets,” they mean a 30-year Hollywood veteran walks you through how to fill in every box of a Studio Call Sheet.
The classes were plentiful and every one a winner.
But the first thing I learned walking in was:
The two main sources of employment in film are for Crew…and for Actors. Not the big roles. Those still come out of LA. But lots and lots of walk-ons and smaller roles that can still get you your SAG card, contacts, and residuals.
When you attend the conference, go to as many workshops as you can. They are all worthy. And they are tracked out.
Hit the booths. Everyone sitting at a table can help fill in the blanks. Vendors, yes, but the schools are there, and the festivals, and a few organizations (that’s something Colorado has over NM – we got the organizations for days. Just no work to guide you into.)
I also reached out to Film Commissioners. Amazing how much they want to spread the good word about their state!
I had a couple lunches with the President of the NM Women in Film (sister!). We’re already cooking up some cross-promotional stuff, so if you’re not a member of Women in Film and Media Colorado, now is a good time to join. In fact, I might have one of the Film Commissioners come up just to talk about what’s up…
But that’s later.
To a one, New Mexicans are kind, generous, professional, and eager for good things to happen to their state.
That leads me to the last thing I wanted to share (no, I’m not giving you my notes from the classes. Too many to type.).
I wanna talk about
What you’ve been waiting for.
- Actors, what are you waiting for? You don’t even have to move. There’s a range of agencies, most work with our agencies already (many working actors I know have an agent here and in NM). Get that big time set experience, build that resume, go to LA.
- Indie filmmakers. There’s like, stuff brewing. Vaguely. Like, in diners with the best breakfast burritos you’ll ever eat. Folks are creative and they have a voice and they want to use it, they want to stretch and do for themselves, but there is even less activity there than Colorado. Why? Less money, in a big way. And maybe they’re all just working so many hours, it’s hard to do your own stuff. I dunno.
- But it’s all good news for BTL Crew.
I talked to a number of IATSE 840 folks (they will be your den mothers when you go for union jobs) and the number one thing I learned from them was:
IF YOU WANT TO WORK ON THESE SHOWS, YOU WILL NEED TO BE UNION.
AND THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF JOINING THE UNION IS TO BE A LEGAL RESIDENT…
WHICH TAKES 7 MONTHS.
Did I hit that hard enough?
7 Months. No foolin’. They want to put New Mexico residents to work (big round of applause from the residents!!!!! I don’t blame them!!!!).
I heard from someone that they are more likely to promote an under-qualified PA who’s a resident than hire a qualified out-of-stater for the job. Part of it is that the PA is an incentive qualifier (tax rebate!); part of it is Screw You.
And that’s cool. But here’s the thing:
They are going to need crew. Holy cow, are they going to need crew.
The stats I heard more than once was that over 2000 people work very steadily in New Mexico–on union jobs–and that in fact, besides oil, film is a primary industry.
Good work if you can get it.
The other stat I heard more than once was that the workforce demand was going to QUADRUPLE in the next five years. And that the guarantee from Netflix was 1000 more jobs per year.
That’s just Netflix.
So 2000 x 4 = 8000 boots on the ground. (More fuzzy math. Again, don’t quote me. But even if it’s half that, that’s great odds.)
So what to do?
Once you’re a resident, I was encouraged to send you to IATSE’s OVERFLOW LIST. This lives on their website and generates lists of eligible crew (residents + 3 letters of recommendation). (But other folks said that that list doesn’t actually get any attention. Someone who works on one of the shows there said her UPM had NEVER in her career gone to the Overflow List to get leads on crew.)
Yes, IASTE “tracks jobs” (I couldn’t get the guy to call it a jobs board, but they know what’s up), but they aren’t a placement agency.
Getting work is all word of mouth.
Sound familiar? This is every industry in every state in every era. You gotta have a community.
I’m not crew, and what do I know anyway, but based on the conversations I had, here’s my best suggestions:
- Move now while it’s still cheap enough to have to not live in a cartel neighborhood. I mean, if you want to move. It’s a cool scene, GREAT Mexican food, pretty sunsets, the museums in Santa Fe are off the hook, but you do you.
- Establish residency………for seven months………
- And while you’re doing that, take a certificate course. There’s a number of one-year / two-semester crew programs that will be wildly redundant to what you know, I’m sure, but the point is, you’re learning their terminology and ways, and at the end of the program, they put people up for jobs.
- Weasel your way into as many lower rung jobs as you can find, even if it’s below your skill set. I did not get the sense that you’d be supporting yourself with commercials and corporate storytelling like you can here while you wait for QT to come back to town, but there’s obviously other work besides Netflix and NBC, and now that the state’s got their incentives back on line, and are in the news, folks will be heading that way and looking to fill those jobs. Why not you?
- If you’re an actor, see above.
- If you are a writer (my people!), drive down for a long weekend trip, bring the SO and the dog, and stitch the state into your head. Then go write as many low budget post-apocalyptic, sci-fi, or zombie movies as you can, and submit them to companies who do business with Netflix.
Here’s what I hope:
I hope they do a bunch of city planning and get their infrastructure right and figure out how to build housing responsibly so it doesn’t push out the poor and the folks who’ve been on that land for generations. But man, I lived in NYC, and Chitown, and LA, and Denver, and watched that happen over and over and over again…
I hope that they get to do what they say is the number one priority and put the money that is coming in into their schools. As an educator, I’m an all-around fan of what learnin’ does for a person but more importantly, good schools is one of the biggest anchors to getting rich folks to hang around, and let’s face it, as much as no one wants to see the poor pushed out, ABQ needs the infusion of diversified opportunity that comes with an invested wealthy class.
I hope they hire another 100 cops again this year and get their abysmal crime rates under control (21 cars a day were getting jacked in ABQ last year. And that’s the non-violent stuff.).
I hope they recognize that BTL is the machine that keeps the Snowpiercer running, but self-determination is IT, it is The Thing, and I hope that they cultivate an industry where writers, directors, and producers can come do their thing, and crew up to get their thing done, all in one non-snowy, green chili-smothered place. (Don’t ask for Christmas. It’s cheesy.)
I hope they continue to take pride in celebrating and including the gorgeous, generous, and deeply-rooted People of that region. There is a culture there. Keep that. Add sushi. And I guess yoga. And more dog parks. Please.
As for you, reader, I appreciate your time. I appreciate your hard work. I know if you got this far, you’re a fellow filmmaker on this path with the rest of us, just trying to find your place and a way to make the impact that only you can. Maybe that’s New Mexico. Maybe not. I mean, LA is always an option.
Regardless, I wish you the best. Kick some ass, wherever you are, and don’t forget to report back.