Friday, December 28, 2007

NM Media 2007 Wrap-Up (& MISP)

By all accounts, it's been a great year for New Mexico's Film and Media Industries, with production, income and employment all up, more locally shot work hitting the screens and students beginning to graduate from programs ushered in with the state's Media Industries Strategic Plan a few years ago.

For portion of what's going on with all that, you might be interested in the 4th Annual Media Industries Conference: "Media Industries 4 New Mexico's Future" (also known as the "MISP" Conference, for New Mexico's Media Industries Strategic Plan). It'll run Saturday this time, January 12th at UNM's Student Union Building from 9am - 5pm.

We've got an exciting line-up with Maggie Macnab on Design, Making NM's Incentives Work, Indie Filmmaking Essentials, Animation, Game Development and Education sessions (and more). The event is free, but registration is required (Click here to Register). More info at the ARTS Lab site as well.

NM Business Weekly: New Mexico's Close-Up
by Megan Kamerick

Ann Lerner can barely repress her excitement in looking back on 2007.

"It's unbelievable!" said Lerner, director of the city of Albuquerque's film office.

Lerner used to read the list in MovieMaker Magazine each year with the top 10 cities to live, work and make movies and dream of seeing the Duke City among the metro areas. She got her wish this year when Albuquerque appeared in the No. 4 position.

Anyone who has spent time in downtown Albuquerque in the past year could barely avoid running across a film or television production. The apex of this activity came with "Game," the biggest production to hit the Duke City yet.

With a local spend of about $18.8 million, according to the State Investment Council, the film built an entire set on Silver Avenue of shipping containers and a three-story facade that was then progressively blown up on a regular basis. There was even a huge fireball on Civic Plaza. The futuristic film stars Gerard Butler of "300" and Kyra Sedgewick of the television program "The Closer."

And a number of other cities around New Mexico got their own close-ups as well, with production spread from Lordsburg to Las Vegas and points north. New Mexico was the backdrop for a number of high-profile films this year, including "No Country For Old Men," "Wild Hogs," "In the Valley of Elah" and "3:10 to Yuma."

The state also was in the international spotlight when the Association of Film Commissioners International held its annual "cineposium" in Santa Fe in August. Keynote speaker Taylor Hackford spoke highly of New Mexico's film incentives and is now in pre-production for his next film, "Love Ranch," starring his wife, actress Helen Mirren.

The sizable budget of "Game" (about $50 million) capped off a year of 34 major feature film and television productions shooting or starting production in the state. Total economic impact was $479.7 million for fiscal year 2007 (July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2007), up from $443.4 million in FY 2006 and $208.2 million in FY 2005. Year to date as of October, the impact had already reached $170.3 million. The number of film worker days has risen to 173,376 in FY2007 from 101,645 in FY 2005.
...
The opening of Albuquerque Studios in early 2007, with six sound stages and two more in the works, in the Mesa del Sol project south of the Albuquerque International Sunport opened up the market to larger productions, particularly those with special production needs like green screen work, which is one reason "The Spirit" was filmed at the ABQ Studios this fall. The Frank Miller-directed picture is based on a graphic novel and stars Samuel L. Jackson. A number of ancillary businesses have moved into ABQ Studios, including Stunt Facilities Southwest, payroll and rebate service Axiom, and Star Waggons, said Nick Smerigan, chief operating officer for the studios.

The possibility of another studio also popped up near the end of the year. New Mexico Film Studios is a project slated for the former ¡Traditions! site on Interstate 25 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. If that deal closes, construction could begin in January.

A New Jersey firm, WorldScape, plans to put post production facilities at that studio and is also building a new immersive theater in Los Alamos. And Sony Pictures Imageworks broke ground on a new building in Mesa del Sol for a facility that will boost New Mexico's post-production capabilities and its animation infrastructure.


Also from the NM Business Weekly:
Picture Imperfect: Sectors Shine, Decline
by Megan Kamerick

The film industry was the brightest spot in economic development in 2007, say state experts, and despite layoffs at Intel and the national labs, New Mexico continues to have low unemployment and healthy growth.

The booming film industry helped push employment growth in the information sector to a 5.6 percent increase, or 900 jobs, in the third quarter. Growth at T-Mobile, Verizon and Comcast contributed to that number, according to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico. Film growth would not have happened without tax incentives passed by the Legislature, said Larry Waldman, senior research scientist with BBER. They have resulted in the state paying out at least $30 million in credits this year, he said.

"But the idea is to get the film cluster here," he added. And that is happening -- with the opening of Albuquerque Studios, plans for another studio at the ¡Traditions! site on I-25 and the creation of a program in digital media at UNM.

BBER also issued a comprehensive survey on the impact of the arts and cultural industries in Bernalillo County this fall. It found those sectors generated $1.2 billion in revenues in 2004, $413 million in wages and 19,500 jobs (6 percent of all employment in the county). And half this activity was funded by dollars from outside the region.
...


REBATES & INCENTIVES

Credited by nearly everyone as the centerpiece for New Mexico's success in this area is our incentives and, in particular, our rebate program.

From the Las Cruces Sun-News:

The Taxation and Revenue Department paid $30 million in the first four months of fiscal year 2008, which began in July, to cover rebates paid to filmmakers, according to the committee.

That's up from $17 million for all of 2007, Abbey said.

If that trend continues, Abbey said, the payouts could grow to $100 million in 2009—far exceeding estimates of $30 million that New Mexico film industry backers have made to legislators in the past.

Eric Witt, director of media arts and industry development in the governor's office, said any increase in rebate payouts would be proportional to the increased revenues the state receives in the form of gross receipts, corporate and personal income taxes.

"They may be paying out more, but that means they're bringing in more," he said.


There are some important distinctions here.
First, our rebate percentage is near the top of those offered nationally.
Second, and nearly as important, is their ease of use. As a rebate (not a credit), the producers know how much they're getting money back on every in-state expenditure. Additionally, unlike some states, our rules are really clear, and dozens of companies have used them -- as a result productions can avoid unpleasant surprises with real budget figures from day one.

From the Albuquerque Journal:
Incentive programs include a 25 percent tax rebate on all film expenditures subject to taxation by the state, loans of up to $15 million per project, with back-end participation instead of interest, and no state sales tax (an option that can't be used with the tax rebate).
New Mexico's programs are "clean, simple and directly accessible by productions themselves," Witt said. "I think that's key to going forward."


WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

Nearly as important as our Rebate program to visiting productions is the availability of skilled crew and production staff and incentives for hiring and training New Mexicans. It's also essential to growing our broader media industries.

From the Albuquerque Journal:

Work-force training was singled out by some of the panelists as an important initiative.
Currently, the state provides a 50 percent wage reimbursement for on-the-job training of New Mexico residents in advanced below-the-line, or technical, positions. The program requires that New Mexico-based supervisors serve as mentors to the trainees.
During the past several years, the number of New Mexico residents qualified to work on sets has grown from 60 or 70 people to about 1,300, the panelists said.
With work-force initiatives, "that's where we're the leader in the country," Strout said.
Those programs, as well as a push for increased higher education offerings related to film and television productions, give New Mexico an advantage over states who "just pop in a rebate or tax incentive," in their film programs, Witt said.


TECH DEVELOPMENT

From the NM Business Weekly:
It's been a great year for Novint Technologies Inc.

After more than three years of research and development, the Albuquerque company launched its "Falcon" 3-D game controller on the market last June.

The device -- built with technology from Sandia National Laboratories -- integrates a sense of touch, or "haptics," with 3-D computer graphics, allowing PC gamers to feel the blast of a gun or the swipe of a sword.

Thousands of Falcons are available on store shelves coast-to-coast thanks to distribution agreements that Novint signed with big retail chains, including CompUSA and Fry's Electronics. The company has ramped up its workforce from 15 last January to 32 now, and is moving into a new, 4,300-square-foot office with a small storefront near Cottonwood Mall.

"Falcon sales are going extremely well," said Novint CEO Tom Anderson. "A number of stores have sold out on the device. We're poised for a lot of growth next year."

Like Novint, dozens of New Mexico high-tech startups came of age in 2007, either by launching their products after years of R&D or by expanding operations with fresh investments from venture capitalists...


Also of interest here is Worldscape (mentioned above), an immersive imaging company with deals announced with Los Alamos National Labs and a production facility scheduled for New Mexico Film Studios at the ¡Traditions! site.

As Radical Entertainment CEO Kelly Zmak said during his talk for the Albuquerque Game Developers Association Chapter, these developments (along with business, government and education working together) are important to creating the conditions where a media industry can thrive. Growing an ecosystem with skilled people working in movies, games, aerospace and other media and technology related sectors creates both a pool of potential employees and helps mitigate downturns in any particular area.

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