Elliott Location Equipment of Albuquerque is one of many New Mexico businesses that expanded dramatically after 2001, when the state initiated a successful program of tax incentives to attract film and television production here.
Owner Wayne Elliott had one water truck in 1988 when he hauled water to locations for The Milagro Beanfield War. A look at his website in 2011 (http://elliottlocationequipment.com) shows a full-service provider of trucks, trailers, drivers and special-effects equipment for productions throughout the western and Gulf Coast states. The film incentives program made that expansion possible, said Elliott, who added to his fleet of water trucks and other portable services over the years as he attracted five times the work — and five times the revenue — as he had before the state launched a program that offered 25 percent rebates for in-state film-related expenses.
The state’s total rebate payouts varied between $20 million and $70 million per year, depending on the level of production, while bringing in over $1.5 billion in direct new spending and generating over $4 billion in economic activity in the state. In 2011, the Legislature made changes to the program. While still allowing unlimited earning of credits in any given year, it limited annual payout to $50 million, with any earned excess being paid in subsequent fiscal years. “We haven’t really seen the effects yet,” Elliott said of the incentive adjustments, which took effect in July. “We expect it to be slower,” he said about production levels.
On the positive side, Keith Gardner, chief of staff to Gov. Susana Martinez, indicated that the administration firmly supports the film industry and wants production executives to know the state is open and friendly to film business. Speaking to an industry gathering at Albuquerque Studios on Nov. 17, Gardner said the governor would veto any new legislation that seeks to further limit incentives.
Birth of an Industry
Before the incentives program, about 65 New Mexicans made their living in film and TV production — and most had to travel to Los Angeles to work. Sponsors of the incentives, such as zero percent interest production loans to companies that hired a majority of New Mexicans, hoped a homegrown industry would be built so professionals could develop their skills, and work without having to migrate to other parts of the country.
These actions were richly rewarded, as over the course of five years New Mexico became home to the largest base of skilled film crew outside of Los Angeles and New York. In the process, the boom yielded over 150 feature movies as well as several highly successful TV series, world-class soundstage and studio facilities, pre- and postproduction facilities, and special programs at state colleges and universities teaching industry-related trade and creative talents. Today, more than 3,000 New Mexicans are directly employed as film crew workers, cinematographers, writers, actors, directors and independent producers and workers. Thousands of local businesses across the spectrum — from hotels and restaurants to fuel suppliers, delivery services and childcare providers — have directly benefited from the film industry.
“It all goes to show what can be created when the state backs an industry,” said Paul Goblet, investment adviser to the New Mexico Small Business Investment Corporation and an early proponent of incentives.
Adjusting to Less
While industry insiders and supporters warn that collaring the incentives may make production companies turn to states with more favorable offerings, Elliott is optimistic that New Mexicans will continue to find opportunities to work in the film, TV and commercial production industry, even if it sometimes means traveling to other locations.
Elliott has a dozen trailers in Shreveport, Louisiana, which he described as “a boom state” because of its generous incentives. “All our stuff has wheels,” he said, and that allows his business to follow the work. Similarly, many New Mexican crew members are finding work on out-of-state productions due to their fine reputation in the industry.
Still, it is highly preferable that the work remains here, injecting new money and jobs into the local economy. To that end Nick Maniatis, director of the state Film Office, has been meeting with studio executives and is optimistic about the future of film in New Mexico, and his office recently announced several new productions. For information about how to get involved in the film industry, visit www.nmfilm.com or contact the New Mexico Film Office at 800-545-9871.
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