Thursday, January 22, 2009

Incentive Bait Reels in Hollywood Production Bucks

Guest Columnist Eric Witt (
film and media industries adviser to Gov. Bill Richardson) continues to make the case for the importance of incentives in yesterday's Albuquerque Journal:

Incentive Bait Reels in Hollywood Production Bucks

By Eric Witt
A new study that looks at the impact of the film industry on New Mexico's economy, conducted by the respected Ernst & Young company, shows strongly positive results: Hundreds of millions of dollars in direct film production spending, and over 9,000 new jobs attributable to the industry benefitting dozens of communities and hundreds of local businesses across the state.
There is strong evidence of positive effects not only for direct film production, but increasingly for the hospitality, tourism and other support sectors as well as priceless marketing of New Mexico's unmatched beauty and aggressive business environment to the world.
Most pointedly, the film study shows that state coffers directly recover almost every penny paid out in production tax incentives through increased revenues generated by the film industry. This is consistent with Gov. Bill Richardson's long-held position that the state “breaks even” for extending a nominal 25 percent rebate level to the film industry.
Additionally, when county and local governments are factored in, the return is another 56 cents on top of that, making for an overall positive return to combined state and local governments of about $1.50 for every incentive dollar spent.
And note that this is only governmental revenue; it does not take into account the vastly greater increases to private businesses and workers through the $700 plus million in direct production spending and the $2.2 billion in economic activity attributable to this industry since 2003.
What does this mean on the ground?
Well, we can start with the thousands of well-above-average paying jobs that have gone to ordinary New Mexicans across the state, jobs with health care and benefits.
We can point to the hundreds of businesses that have been created, been able to expand or, in some cases, simply survive due to this industry.
We can talk about the positive offset the industry has had in the general economy as other sectors have declined — the most recent and dramatic example being the past week's job fair for ReelzChannel in Albuquerque at which 2,500 applicants showed up for 100 jobs.
As the new study bears out, the advent of the film industry has contributed significantly to New Mexico's economic position of relative strength versus other states and the national and global economies. Essentially we have created a $2.2 billion stimulus package and more than 9,000 new jobs to the great benefit to the private and public sectors, at a critical time.
These Ernst & Young findings stand in stark contrast to those put forward last summer by the Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University, which drastically underestimated the economic impact of the film industry.
To be sure, that earlier NMSU study was, by its authors' own admission, extremely narrow in focus and based wholly on a standardized computer model and not on actual field work; it was never intended to be portrayed as a definitive or even accurate depiction of the overall effects of the industry or its return to the state.
Yet certain interests in the state have wrongly held it out as such, despite being informed in detail of the NMSU study's limitations when it was released last August.
While Ernst & Young's work is itself a broader but still not complete accounting of the industry's overall effects, we can only hope that those same interests will embrace this new report — a rigorous, field-researched study conducted by a globally respected independent party — with the same enthusiasm.
The bottom line is that the new analysis affirms the gut feeling and daily observations of most New Mexicans: The making of movies here is having tremendous positive effects for New Mexico precisely when we need them the most.
Eric Witt is the film and media industries adviser to Gov. Bill Richardson.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Highlighting the Creative Media Institute at NMSU

One of the highlight areas of our recent NM Media Industries Summit and Conference was the successful working relationship between educational institutions and business in the Las Cruces area. I expect there will be some argument from others about a few items here, but the CMI program at NMSU really is quite impressive, and worth learning more about.

From the Albuquerque Journal:

NMSU Leads Way in Filmmaking
Written by Dan Mayfield
Sunday, 18 January 2009 08:02
LAS CRUCES - Since the state's film industry has taken off, the rallying cry has been for more infrastructure and crew. Infrastructure and crew. Infrastructure and crew.

Of course you need places to make films and people to do the grunt work. But we've been slow to develop people who can direct, write and produce big-budget films. Until now.

The Creative Media Institute for Film and Digital Arts at New Mexico State University is the only state university film school that specializes in turning out students who can make films.

NMSU is teaching 200 students how to write, shoot, edit, sound mix and develop films that are as good as anything at the nation's top schools and studios.

Though the program is just three years old, it's already become one of the most popular majors at State.

"We could offer 10 screen writing courses and they would all fill up," said Jonathan Benson, the program's director and co-founder. "I could offer 10 cinematography classes and they would all fill up. "Nobody likes Business of Filmmaking, but it's full, too," he said. "We've grown faster than we wanted to. There's all this pent-up demand."

No doubt. As the state's incentives have brought in filmmakers, filmmaking has suddenly seemed like a viable career for many high school students.

Creative Media Institute classes have waiting lists and Benson is looking at making entrance requirements more strict.

Though the Film Technology Training Programs at Central New Mexico Community College and other colleges in the state are cranking out belowthe-line crew - gaffers, production assistants and makeup artists - NMSU's program is the only one at a state school to focus on the higher-end skills necessary to make a film.

"We want to bring the copyrights here," Benson said. "We want to make people who are creative generators."

The program is broken into two halves, an animation and computer graphics side and a film directing side. And local film professionals can't wait for the first crop of students to graduate this spring.

"When you go to a film set and you see 100 people standing around, that's 100 classes you need to take," said Rick Clemente, owner of Production Central ABQ, a post-production studio in Albuquerque. "State's school is the only one teaching all of that."

Clemente and Nick Smerigan of Albuquerque Studios say the school's graduates will be integral parts of their business very soon.

Several years ago, Benson said, the state offered several million dollars for schools to create a department dedicated to film studies - not just film appreciation, but production.

Benson jumped at it.

"Nobody else wanted the film school component," he said.

Maybe they knew better, he said. Choosing courses, finding qualified faculty, equipping labs and setting up schedules was a lot more work than anybody expected.

"I thought we'd drink a lot of coffee and talk a lot," said Mark Medoff, a screenwriting professor at NMSU who's famous for writing the film

"Children of a Lesser God."

"We had nobody telling us what to do. We had a hell of a time."

But, Medoff said that, as the program has developed, he's seen student commitment and talent increase 10 fold.

One glance at the animated cartoons that student Thomas DesJardins has made and you can see it, too. His cartoons, of singing fish or jogging women, look as good as anything you'd see on Nickelodeon.

"I'm so happy to come to school here," DesJardins said. "I tried everything. I tried engineering, music, studio art and finally I settled on this. I know I can do this if I wanted to professionally."

The school's equipment is state-of-the art, from its impressive THX-certified theater, to its fully stocked editing room with high-speed connections, to the equipment shop with 10 digital film cameras.

Of course, there are other great film programs in the state, like the College of Santa Fe's film school, and the University of New Mexico offers several classes. The Film Tech Training Programs at CNM and NMSU are also helpful in developing a crew base.

"I just want to shoot, edit, light and make films," said David Barela, a student in Benson's advanced documentary class. "I want the A-to-Z of making movies."

And, he said, he's learning.

"We're trying to develop film renaissance people," Benson said.
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

NM Film Incentives, Round Two: Ernst & Young Report

Good news for our community yesterday with the release of the Ernst & Young study on the impact of film on New Mexico. Visit the NM Film Office website to download and read the report. There is coverage in the NM Business Weekly and Santa Fe New Mexican locally -- and hopefully we'll see more. Spread the word!

From the NM Business Weekly:

Ernest & Young: NM film incentives = good ROI

New Mexico Business Weekly - by Megan Kamerick NMBW Staff

The film industry and its supporters in New Mexico are most likely breathing a sigh of relief.

The long-awaited study by Ernst & Young on the economic return by the state's film and media incentives found that for every $1 extended in state tax credits, state and local governments received $1.50.

Gov. Bill Richardson made the announcement Friday and said the state's incentives to attract film and television productions have created high-quality jobs, health coverage and benefits for New Mexico workers.

Ernst & Young found that film production activities created 2,220 direct film and media jobs in 2007. This included about 1,670 below-the-line employees (typically crew jobs) that paid $49,500 annually and 550 actors, directors and producers working in New Mexico.

These 2,220 direct jobs created 1,609 additional jobs in other industries, resulting in a total employment impact of 3,829 jobs.

Film-related capital expenditures and projected film tourism spending attributable to 2007 productions here generated an estimated 3,769 direct jobs.

Combining the 2,220 direct jobs from film productions with the 3,769 jobs from capital expenditures and film tourism results in 5,989 total direct jobs attributable to the state's film production tax credit.

These direct jobs create a total of 3,221 indirect jobs, resulting in a total employment impact of nearly 9,210 jobs, according to Ernst & Young.

About 300 new film-specific businesses have been established in New Mexico since 2003, which is directly attributable to the production tax credit, according to the report, and more than 600 additional New Mexico businesses are benefiting from film activities.

Tax collections are up as a result of the economic activity created by the tax credit. State tax collections from film production activities in 2007 totaled $22.6 million. Additional state tax impacts from capital expenditures in 2007 and film tourism during 2008-2011 are estimated to total $21.5 million, with a total state tax impact of $44.1 million.

The study was conducted by the Quantitative Economics and Statistics division of Ernst & Young. It is available online at the Web site for the New Mexico Film Office.

An earlier study by the Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University, commissioned by the Legislative Finance Committee, found that New Mexico gets about 14.4 cents in tax revenue for every dollar it spends on a tax rebate for film productions. Critics, including Richardson's staff, said the report was not comprehensive enough in reviewing the total economic impact of the industry. His office paid $50,000 for the Ernst & Young study.

Film industry proponents have been on edge as the start of the new legislative session on Jan. 20 draws closer because of the Arrowhead study and the fact that the state is facing a deficit of nearly $500 million. There have been some concerns that the tax rebates, which have grown to $98 million, would come under increased scrutiny in the tight economic environment.

"This is a successful initiative worthy of our continued support, especially in these difficult economic times," Richardson said of the new report.

And at the Santa Fe New Mexican:

New Mexico film incentives' impact, take two

Study for state stresses industry's benefits go beyond financial

Robert Nott | The New Mexican

1/16/2009 -

On the heels of an economic survey stating that New Mexico's film program is reaping less than 15 cents on the dollar in tax returns, a new report suggests the state receives $1.50 in tax revenue for every dollar spent.

The study also says the film business created 2,220 jobs in 2007.

The new report, prepared for the New Mexico State Film Office and State Investment Council by the Ernst & Young accounting firm, was released Friday.

The study noted the 30 films produced in 2007 generated more than $250 million in spending in the state.

Much of this information differs from the results of a Legislative Finance Committee-sponsored report released by New Mexico State University's economic-development branch, Arrowhead Center, last year.

Eric Witt, Gov. Bill Richardson's point man on the movie industry, said at a news conference that the Ernst & Young report — which cost $50,000 — proves the state's film industry has an "impressive economic impact."

"For every dollar put out in taxes, we get back a combined revenue of $1.50," Witt said. He reiterated his criticism of the earlier financial study, suggesting it had a narrow focus and did not take into account such factors as film projects that didn't qualify for the state's tax rebate and income tax paid by out-of-state film artists.

The state's film incentive program, which includes a 25 percent refund for production costs and a zero-percent loan for up to $15 million for qualifying productions, came under scrutiny last year. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, proposed a $30 million cap on the rebates in an effort to ensure the popular and highly profiled plan pays dividends for the state.

In addition to looking at the rebates, the Legislature also is looking at other state money being spent on the film industry. The Associated Press reported Thursday that the Legislative Finance Committee is considering cutting nearly $17 million for film and media production facilities and training. Some of that money is for a proposed film studio in the Santa Fe area.

The new study stresses that the benefits from the state's tax-credit program reach beyond any direct financial impact. For instance, film companies and studios invest in the economy through building infrastructure and by employing not just technicians and artists, but contracting services including transportation and catering.

To emphasize that point, Witt introduced Victoria Lucero, a single mother who worked in craft services on the New Mexico-based television series Breaking Bad and the recent production of Terminator Salvation: The Future Returns. Lucero said the film business gave her a chance to earn a good wage and qualify for health insurance. "I'm just one of many to say that this industry has had an incredible impact on my life," she said. Lucero later acknowledged she'd been working in the industry for less than a year.

The study also said below-the-line film technicians are earning an average wage of $49,500, and more than 200 new film-related businesses have started in New Mexico since 2003. That's the year in which Richardson led the effort to expand the incentive program, signed into law by then-Gov. Gary Johnson the year before.

More at: New Mexico film incentives' impact, take two
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

East Mountain Claymation

Nice article in the Mountain View Telegraph about up and coming claymation artist Kevin Ulrich -- I've seen some of his work at one of the AniMotion meetings -- and it's amazing.

Young Filmmaker Prefers Clay to Computers
Written by Lee Ross

Aspiring Claymation filmmakers and fans of the fantasy genre, heed Kevin Ulrich's warning, for his is a cautionary tale with both good news and bad news.

He said his professors at Biola University in Southern California have told him he won't have too much competition for jobs in Claymation filmmaking. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the field isn't that competitive because it's not very popular right now, and that jobs are scarce. He was encouraged to go into computer animation instead, he said.

"Computers and I don't get along," Ulrich said as he brought up videos he'd made on a laptop.

He explained that the work required to animate something with clay is not nearly as computer-intensive as putting together a film using only computer animation.

The Telegraph first ran an article on Ulrich about a year and a half ago. Since that time the 20-year-old from Edgewood has been attending film classes for about a year.

At that time, Ulrich had taught himself filmmaking and storytelling, he said.

He's also made short stop-motion videos since he was 10, most of them based on "Indiana Jones," "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" story lines and they make heavy use of Legos.

"My first stories weren't that good because I was 10 years old," he said.

One of the recent projects Ulrich completed, feature-length fantasy film, took five years. After that he took a break from the world of clay animation. For about a year after completing the project, Ulrich said he wasn't sure he'd stick with animation. But he couldn't stay away from clay for long.

"I really like this. This is what I'm good at," he said. "I like seeing (my characters) come to life … I like working in an environment that I can control."

Ulrich is making plans to bankroll his Claymation dreams. He said he hopes to sell a short animated fantasy feature he's currently working on, "Chasom: Rise of the Zerad," which tells the story of Elrane, an elf prince who must join with wolfmen to lead his people after they are unexpectedly attacked.

The story is based in a world he and his brother Brian created 10 years ago.

If he can sell the film or the story, he will have startup cash for a Claymation production company, he said. It wouldn't take much money to start one, he said.

"Animation is cheap," he said. "You just need enough money to live on for two to three years."

Part of the reason animation is so cheap is the materials are very rudimentary, he explained. Ulrich creates characters using paperclips and twist-ties, bits of clay and aluminum foil. He molds them with his fingers and toothpicks.

"Toothpicks are very useful," he said...

Ulrich will be at East Mountain High School on Jan. 9 at 9:50 a.m. and East Mountain Public Library in Tijeras on Jan. 15 at 3:30 p.m. He will also speak to an animation class at the University of New Mexico in April and at the Media Arts Collaborate Charter School in June.
More at: Young Filmmaker Prefers Clay to Computers

See a quick video of his claymation process at:
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Friday, January 9, 2009

NM in the News: Reelz & Shiprock teen

From the Reelz website:


Network Devoted to "TV About Movies" Finds Unique Opportunities, Flourishing Movie Industry, and Streamlined Operations in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO [January 7, 2009] - At a joint press conference hosted today by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, ReelzChannel® – TV About Movies – announced plans to relocate its corporate headquarters to Albuquerque, New Mexico in early 2009, according to Stan E. Hubbard, Chairman and CEO of ReelzChannel.

The New Mexico Film Office teamed up with the local Hubbard-owned KOB-TV and the New Mexico Partnership to present ReelzChannel with the new opportunity - identifying the national TV network as an important entertainment property to attract to the Southwest's flourishing movie and television industry.

"We are excited to welcome ReelzChannel to New Mexico and into our state's thriving television and film industry," Governor Richardson said. "The network's decision to relocate operations to New Mexico is a testament to the hard work we've put into making our state a world-class production destination. We look forward to growing that reputation through this new partnership."

ReelzChannel is extremely excited about the move, the benefits offered by the new partnership and the opportunity to increase its commitment and effectiveness by consolidating all operational elements in a single facility:

"ReelzChannel has been bringing 'TV About Movies' to a growing number of American households, now more than 43 million, with great success, and with this move we are now solidly positioned for our next wave of growth, and for the next level of great programming for our viewers," said Stan Hubbard. "New Mexico is the ideal home for the channel devoted to everything about movies – given the State's bustling movie growth, its highly skilled and creative talent pool, and the opportunities to streamline operations in ways that allow ReelzChannel to build on its commitment to movie fans, movie makers and movie distributors everywhere."

Frequently called "Hollywood Southwest," New Mexico is a fast-growing hotbed of film and television production. The State is already home to more than 30 different film festivals and a multitude of special film screenings and movie premieres, as well as film training programs. In a short time, the State has also proactively recruited and cultivated a talented workforce of film technicians and crew and has succeeded in attracting more than 115 Hollywood feature film productions, including recent blockbusters such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, No Country for Old Men, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, 3:10 to Yuma, Terminator Salvation, and more.

Owned by satellite television pioneer Hubbard Media Group, the ReelzChannel network and website brands were first launched in September 2006 and are currently headquartered in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul--with programming, production, and promotion in Los Angeles and offices in New York and Chicago.

With the new move, the programming, production, web development, creative services, marketing and communications divisions all will be housed and operated out of one location for the first time. Advertising sales will remain in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and a Los Angeles bureau will be established for coverage of major entertainment and movie stories and events...

More at Reelz

Reelz will have a job fair for its Albuquerque operations on Tuesday, January 13 from 10 am – 8 pm at the Embassy Suites & Spa on Woodward Place. More info on jobs at:

From the Farmington Daily Times:

Shiprock teen co-stars in independent film
By Alysa Landry The Daily Times
Posted: 01/09/2009 12:00:00 AM MST
SHIPROCK — As the film industry shows increasing interest in New Mexico, one Shiprock man is reaping the benefits.

Meet 18-year-old Shelby Lincoln Mark, who last year was voted "best dressed" by his peers at Shiprock High School and this year is appearing in his first feature-length film.

The independently produced film "Jordan" hits theaters this year and has prompted Mark, a freshman at the University of New Mexico studying political science, to make a lofty New Year's resolution.

"I want to do two more movies this year," he said. "Maybe a horror movie or something with zombies."

Mark dabbled in acting during high school, appearing last spring in a production of "Joseph of the Village" at the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center. But the teen said he always believed he was destined for something bigger...

More at: Shiprock teen co-stars in independent film
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