Friday, June 27, 2008

Variety (heart) New Mexico

The Hollywood trade paper Variety has really taken a shine to New Mexico. Today's edition is only the latest of several featuring several stories about movie production work here in the Land of Enchantment.

A few snippets are included below, but please visit the links -- it's great seeing NM get such positive coverage out in LA.

New Mexico has Oscar-worthy year
Strong infrastructure, striking locations lure shoots
When it comes to justifying to taxpayers why their money is helping to subsidize local film production, it helps to have an Oscar winner you can point to.

In New Mexico's case, 2007 was an especially good year. The state can claim partial responsibility for 14 Oscar nominations, including best picture honoree "No Country for Old Men" (with "3:10 to Yuma," "In the Valley of Elah" and "Transformers" rounding out the ballot).

For Gov. Bill Richardson, that kind of performance is a point of pride, not because he likes winning (he does), but for the simple fact that it indicates progress.

"New Mexico used to be very prominent when it came to filmmaking, and then for the last 20 years, we fell asleep," Richardson says, sitting comfortably in his Albuquerque office (his real base of operations is 45 minutes north in Santa Fe). "We started out slow, but now it's reached the point where we've made about $1.8 billion in state revenues."

Richardson's office just announced the 100th film to collect on its 25% rebate ("Run for Her Life"). Twenty-two of those pics further benefited from the state's no-interest production loan. And though other states have stepped in with more aggressive programs (most recently Connecticut, New York and Michigan, whose tax credits range from 30% to 42%), Richardson isn't fazed by the competition.

New Mexico was first, and the state's plan was engineered to create a long-term, sustainable industry, with extra incentives for productions that advance local talent. As a direct result, an entire infrastructure has sprung up where only a loosely organized wisp of film professionals existed before, many of them refugees from Hollywood who'd taken to the more relaxed New Mexico way of life. Today, the state boasts more than 1,800 professionals and the largest crew base outside Los Angeles and New York, a community deep enough to support at least six productions.

There's much much more in this article... take a look here.

New Mexico aims for more local pics

..."One piece of good news is the incentives are available to everybody. If you spend $100 on your film, we're going to send you a check for 25 bucks," explains Jodi Delaney, director of the New Mexico Filmmakers Program. Among the plans she oversees are the Governor's Cup Competition and New Visions Contract Awards, both of which look to cultivate new local voices by awarding modest grants toward the making of short films.

Among the state's innovative programs is a new mentorship arrangement with "Crash," the Lionsgate-produced TV series based on the Oscar-winning pic, which offers above-the-line mentorships for such positions as director, producer, production designer and d.p.

According to Lisa Strout, director of the state film office, partnering with a TV series makes all the difference: "Trying to do this on a movie that's only shooting 30 days is not really long enough to get into it." But 20 days of hands-on experience is another story. "That's like going to graduate school, watching all the thinking and decisions that go on," after which the production can rotate in a new mentee.

And once native New Mexicans have picked up directing and producing experience, it's only a matter of time before additional talent joins Koch in representing local stories. The governor, for his part, is trying to promote film culture by sponsoring festivals around the state and has even set his sites on Robert Redford.

"I'm trying to lure him to come establish a Sundance 2 in New Mexico," Gov. Bill Richardson says. "We've even purchased an old historic ranch in northern New Mexico for him to bring his seminars."

Albuquerque Studios Lure vxf Shoots
The gritty urban tales that Will Eisner brought to life in "The Spirit" comicbooks of the 1940s are a world removed from the desert charm and sweeping vistas of Albuquerque, N.M.

But technology brings even the strangest bedfellows together, as shown by Albuquerque Studios' state-of-the-art soundstages, which made it possible for the city to attract Frank Miller's effects-heavy adaptation of "The Spirit."

Producer Deborah Del Prete had previously filmed in New Mexico and liked working there, but it took the kind of technical facilities that could handle the greenscreen-heavy virtual shoot planned for "The Spirit" to bring her back. "Without them having built that studio, they couldn't have attracted a movie like ours and a lot of the other movies that have come in after us," she says.

Jeremy Hariton, senior VP of the facility, says that was a major motivation for building the studio, which opened in June 2007 and welcomed "The Spirit" as its first feature film production. "Rather than being a location destination, we're able to attract films like 'The Spirit' that aren't here to shoot the vistas," he says.

Like the film adaptations of Miller's own comics in "Sin City" and "300," "The Spirit" is a cutting-edge virtual movie that needed the kind of large space and technical requirements only a studio can provide.

...

Having such facilities bolsters the state's contention that its financial incentives are paying off. While "The Spirit" is completing more than 1,800 visual effects shots in Santa Monica and San Francisco, Albuquerque Studios is hardly standing empty: "Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins" has since swooped in to occupy all six of the facility's existing stages, and two additional 18,000-square-foot buildings are set to accommodate season two of AMC's "Breaking Bad."

Filmmaking Focus Shifts to Santa Fe
Boasting a major airport, Hollywood-caliber studio facilities and a full third of New Mexico's 2.5 million residents, the Albuquerque area seems like the natural hub for the state's filmmaking operations.

But plans are under way that could shift a significant amount of production to the Santa Fe area, widely recognized as the creative culture center of the Southwest. In addition to the many artists and musicians represented there, the capital (with its relatively modest 80,000 population) is home to nearly half the state's crew base. In the past, those pros have had to commute to Albuquerque (a 45-minute drive) or far-flung outdoor locations like Ghost Ranch or White Sands for work, with gas and lodging eating into production budgets.

That may change thanks to a number of major initiatives in the works. Earlier this month, local government gave the Hool family, established players in the Mexican and independent film scene, the greenlight to proceed with building Santa Fe Studios, their proposed 600,000-square-foot, six-stage facility just south of the city...

By the time Santa Fe Studios' projected late-2009 completion date rolls around, Angelenos should be able to fly directly into Santa Fe with the same 90-minute terminal-to-terminal convenience currently available between the LAX and ABQ airports.

"American Airlines and Delta are in the process of getting clearance from the FAA," claims Eric Witt, head of Gov. Bill Richardson's media arts development initiative. "They're looking to direct 70- to 100-seat passenger jets from L.A., Denver and Dallas.

To make things even more accessible, construction is already under way on a high-speed "Rail Runner" train between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. At this rate, crews could be commuting effortlessly between the two cities by the end of the year.

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