Despite weakness in many economic sectors in New Mexico, the national film and media industries are thriving here, thanks to well-conceived incentives initiated by Governor Richardson and the state legislature. With an average of 12 major television or feature films in production throughout the state at any given time, a total of 115 major projects have been completed in New Mexico since Governor Richardson first took office. (These numbers do not reflect additional documentaries, commercials or music videos shot here.) The Book of Eli, starring Denzel Washington and now shooting in the state, will jump the total to 116.
Major labor issues with the Writers Guild of America last year, and the still unresolved Screen Actors Guild negotiations which began July 1, 2008, have negatively impacted Los Angeles and California economies. "California has seriously damaged the film and media industry by neither dealing with Guild issues nor offering competitive incentives to companies to stay and make films," notes Suzanne Perkins, a leading agent in Santa Barbara and nationwide for Sotheby's International Realty, who sells homes to many in the film industry.
Taking advantage of California's turmoil, New Mexico has successfully negotiated with a number of studios and production companies, some of whom have built production infrastructure, such as Albuquerque Studios, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and NBC Universal's FilmMaker Production Services Company. In total, more than 20 film and media companies have opened offices or built physical plants since the state began offering incentives. In addition, boding well for future industry employment, eight film and media programs have been established in universities and colleges throughout the state, including UNM, Highlands, NMSU in Las Cruces, and Santa Fe Community College.
According to a recent New York Times article on film production, "One of the country's most successful (production incentive) programs is in New Mexico, which has backed movies like the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men and next year's Terminator Salvation, the latest sequel in the action series, with a reported budget of $200 million."
The film and media industries represent a unique economic engine, as the number of vendors, businesses, and services required on any given production range from car rental companies to lumber yards, bagel shops to hotels, and-not incidentally-commercial and residential real estate sales and rentals.
In Santa Fe, James Dominick, president of The Management Group, which specializes in vacation rentals and long-term unfurnished rentals, commented, "The film industry recently brought The Keeper to Santa Fe. During the three month production, we rented homes to camera persons, lighting specialists and general production crew. These people eat in our restaurants, shop at our grocery stores, and employ housekeepers. The trickle-down effect is wonderful."
Todd Davis of Casas de Santa Fe, a luxury vacation rental company, agrees. "The film industry has increased our revenues by 25% in the last year and it has broadened our clientele beyond tourists, elevating the scope of our concierge services and allowing our rentals to be strong year-round, even in-between tourist seasons. We have a strong reputation for service among top line film production personnel."
Marilyn Proctor, of Kokopelli Management, a real estate and property management company, recalls the early days of the film industry here. "In 1988, I had a call from Robert Redford that he was doing a big movie in Northern New Mexico called The Milagro Beanfield War. It was the beginning of a long run for the film industry and a boost to the economy of Santa Fe and my career. I remember showing houses to the production manager, David Wisnievitz and he told me to be prepared, that Santa Fe was a beautiful location and many shows would be coming our way in the upcoming months and years. I have rented to every production company in Santa Fe, many coming during the off-season months when we are all eager to have the added income to our city."
With mortgage and credit markets still thawing, and no fresh momentum in real estate sales, many Santa Fe and New Mexico Realtors take heart that at least one industry continues to support their profession and the state's economy. Margo Cutler, (Margo Cutler Real Estate), who became a member of the Screen Actors Guild as a stunt rider just before getting her real estate license, worked on The Milagro Beanfield War as a result of being Robert Redford's broker. Margo is one of the first Santa Fe Realtors to sell property to celebrities, and to learn from them. "Robert Redford told me he was looking for land "with a change in it.' I had not thought of our landscape in those terms before, but suddenly I saw another way of looking at the land, and have continued to think of it that way ever since. Now I find that I most like land with a change in it too."
Kevin Bobolsky of Sotheby's International Realty (with a background in fashion modeling in LA) agreed with Cutler's comment, adding, "I believe that Governor Richardson's courtship with Hollywood has taken hold in a major way. Many of my fashion and Hollywood clients have come here to work on projects and over the span of the project fall in love with New Mexico. It's a wonderful thing to have creative people coming to Santa Fe, appreciating its beauty and at the same time establishing a network of good, decent paying jobs for locals."
Paul Geoffrey of Santa Fe Properties and a former actor said: "I have several clients in the movie business who have homes in New Mexico because they love the lifestyle here and the proximity to Hollywood, and I am currently looking for a client who would like to add a house in New Mexico to his homes in Malibu and Hawaii."
Dame Helen Mirren, during the production of Love Ranch, a drama with Joe Pesci scheduled for release in 2009, recently said, "New Mexico is an extremely beautiful part of America, with good food and a fascinating and individual culture. It is a wonderful place to spend a few months, or years!" If confirmed as expected as Secretary of Commerce, with Bill Richardson leaving the state, all eyes will be on our new Leading Lady, New Mexico's first woman Governor Diane Denish, to continue his legacy in film.