Ups and downs of Albuquerque Studios

Exec forecasts turnaround after turbulent stretch

Hal Katersky’s not going to lie: Albuquerque Studios has had a tough year.

Already reeling from the recession and downturn in film production, the facility has been further hammered by the departure of key leaders and a threatened foreclosure in the past few months. But Katersky, chairman of Pacifica Ventures, the parent company of Albuquerque Studios, says he is optimistic about the facility’s ability to weather the rough patch.

He says the Albuquerque facility has new management in place and is negotiating with its lenders about terms of its loan as the parent company presses on with its expansion plans. Bids are out for some additional Albuquerque jobs that may come this summer.

“We’re open for business,” Katersky says. “We’ve got some work and are hoping to get more.”

He says Albuquerque’s TV business is doing fine. ABC’s “Scoundrels” shot there, and AMC’s “Breaking Bad” has just been renewed for its fourth season.

The facility’s film business, however, has been sapped by the drastic downturn in feature production. The tight credit market isn’t making it easy for filmmakers either.

“Business hasn’t really picked up,” Katersky says. “Hollywood really isn’t making that many movies.”

Still, the facility gets its share of what’s coming into New Mexico, and Katersky maintains that its will serve it well when production — and the economy — heat back up.

“We feel there won’t be that many movies made in California,” he says. “It’s too expensive.”

New Mexico continues to offer healthy production incentives, he points out. And its proximity to L.A. helps. “You can get to Albuquerque faster than you can get across town,” he says.

The facility was launched at the height of the market and soon booked to capacity. “Terminator Salvation” and “Book of Eli” were filmed at the studios, which boasts eight soundstages.

Earlier this year, it was rocked by the departure of chief operating officer Nick Smerigan and Jeremy Hariton and Jason Hariton, brothers who also had key operations roles. Smerigan’s wife Gail, who handled PR, also exited the company in January. In April, Pacifica Mesa Studios sued Nick Smerigan and the Hariton brothers, charging them with funneling business to competitors; the Smerigans have formed another company, RoadTown Enterprises.

The facility was subsequently threatened with foreclosure by one of its two lenders. Katersky says the company is talking to them “and trying to work out something that’s workable for everyone.”

Pacifica is moving forward with new facilities in Connecticut and Philadelphia, and contemplating another in Michigan and Wales. The company gravitates toward locations where there are healthy production rebates and a strong government commitment to keeping them.

“The challenges are the challenges of the recession,” Katersky says. “There just aren’t any reasonably priced sources of investment capital. It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to build a movie or build a facility.”

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