Film and TV production has been steadily growing in New Mexico. Mostly due to the 25-30% refundable tax credit, offered by the state.[i] Before setting out to do research for this article I figured New Mexico’s backdrop was also a big reason film and TV production is so prominent here. After all, New Mexico offers an average of 280 sunny days, while the U.S. average is only 205 days (that is 2.5 months less!).[ii] Although, Los Angeles averages 284 sunny days per year, as a transplant of California myself (shout out to the Inland Empire) I can tell you that the sunshine in southern California, comes with overcast, smog, traffic, and high fees. I imagined this is especially important for film crews trying to capture the right shot. However, how quickly the filming industry as a whole can disappear overnight is actually frightening. Still, I believe New Mexico is in it for the long run.
Recently, I re-connected with a law school classmate of mine who is in house counsel at a major television group. Her husband, Andrew Smith, spent 4 months shooting Greenbrier in Albuquerque.[iii] New Mexico certainly left a mostly positive imprint on them. This year Albuquerque was actually named the #1 place to live and work as a moviemaker by MovieMaker.com.[iv] No one realizes how beautiful this state is until they realize it exists. What we may take for granted is that production teams are attracted to tax incentives and not a city itself, with Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul possibly being the only exceptions. Roughly, half of U.S. states offer tax incentives. Take those tax incentives away and the crews have another state ready and willing to take them in.
Although California may slowly be losing its attractiveness because of how expensive it is to shoot there, excessive bureaucracy, and lack of incentives, California has the man power for long term sustainability that other states just do not have. However, by spending money in New Mexico, like hiring locals and renting locations, production costs are heavily discounted and incentives are triggered. My big question was, are Hollywood film and TV crews actually hiring locally? In other words, do locals actually have the equipment and experience these crews are looking for considering how new the filming evolution of the state is or is there something we are missing?
The answer? Yes, the majority (about 90%) of the crew on sets are locals. Department heads for the most part are not. Hiring out of state can actually be a drag on production because those people do not qualify for state incentives and have to be provided with housing and per diems. The big downfall is that although the locals are actually very good at what they do, the pool of labor is very shallow. Once you start shooting 3-6 shows or movies at one time in New Mexico, it starts to get hard to find a crew. To attract labor, teams begin to offer higher rates. This is true for other states, with of course the exception of California. In LA you might find a local of over 2,000 people in lighting alone, while in New Mexico the entire industry (lighting, sound, props, etc.) might offer 1,500.
One of the positives of New Mexico acknowledged by those in the industry is that the state is beautiful and provides some amazing filming locations, including mountains and desert, and best of all, it is just a 1-2 hour flight away from LA. We have locations you just can’t get in LA. Overall, the Hollywood crews have mostly positive things to say about the locals. Waylon Brady, Lighting Best Boy for Better Call Saul, is also a California transplant.[v] He has found himself at the heart of the Albuquerque film and TV industry for the last 12 years and has no intent of going back. If that is not a positive sign for New Mexico’s relationship with “Hollywood” I’m not sure what is.
Entertainment and the Law:
As a lawyer, I am of course also interested in the legal implications of the growth our state is undergoing in this area. One thing people may not realize is that the law is all around them – affecting their daily routines. There is especially a big intersection between business, employment, and entertainment law.
Moreover, incentives come and go depending on the governor and voters. If those incentives go away, there is less attraction to film in a particular state – and current contracts and legal relationships can become strained. The entertainment industry is also very sensitive to state laws which its members may view as out of step with the industry and its audience, or which they deem as not politically in sync. Local laws have resulted in entire production teams leaving a state. Risks in the film and entertainment industry are sometimes high and unpredictable. There is always the possibility for locals to have a good, stable career and suddenly something happens, like the incentive goes away or a controversial law is passed, and the industry will pack up and drive away, literally overnight, leaving locals out of a job and the economy affected.
Business owners, whether local or not, and entire communities are affected by filming. Whether it is because they have a location agreement in place or the location of the filming itself is affecting their business or daily routine. Perhaps, they are being hired to supply equipment or crews. In addition, state employment laws may be implicated as soon as film crews hire locals, actors, extras, etc. Contracts are being made, jobs are being created, and communities are being affected. In short, the law and the entertainment industry go hand in hand in any state economy.
Ultimately, the goal of hosting the film and entertainment industry here is to put money back into New Mexico’s economy (ranked the 2nd poorest state in the U.S.). As an entertainment lawyer, I am pleased when I see film and TV in the state embraced and accepted. As that acceptance grows, the rights of everyone affected, whether local or visitor, need to be protected. That’s in part my job, and I relish it.[vi]
[iii] California resident, Andrew Smith, spent 4 months filming in New Mexico (Oct 2018-Feb 2019) for the project, Greenbrier. Special thanks to Andrew for talking to me about his experience and outlook of film and TV in New Mexico.
[v] Special thanks to Waylon Brady for talking to me about his experience in film and TV in New Mexico, and so graciously giving me a tour during filming for Better Call Saul. Waylon Brady has been living in New Mexico for 12 years and is originally from Southern California (Inland Empire). He is currently Lighting Best Boy on the set for Better Call Saul.
[vi] Many thanks to my father in law, Victor Deras, producer, director, and editor in LA, who is always willing and able to talk “entertainment” with me and has provided me with first hand experience and insight to the “backstage” life.