You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tax Incentives Build Thriving Production Culture in New Mexico

New Mexico production is often synonymous with big-name network and studio tentpoles, but the same incentives that lure Hollywood’s biggest players to the state foster more modest filmmaking.

Take local producer Marshall Bear. The local film and TV tax credits, first enacted in 2002, have brought production into his back yard — literally. Bear is producing the indie feature “Burning Bodhi,” most of which is shooting on the 4-acre grounds of his Albuquerque home, with cameo appearances by his pet donkeys, Trudy, Sina and Violet.

Its two-legged cast, toplined by Kaley Cuoco of “The Big Bang Theory” (pictured above, left, in photo by Kat Hess), is largely from Hollywood, but the film is packed with homegrown talent behind the camera, from its writer-director Matthew McDuffie, to the bulk of its below-the-line crew, which includes 15 interns, many of whom come from the screenwriting classes McDuffie teaches at the U. of New Mexico.

It’s a microcosm of the production culture that has emerged in the Land of Enchantment over the past two decades.

Of course “Burning Bodhi” is a minor blip on the New Mexico production landscape. Over the past few years, the state’s incentive has attracted such major Hollywood movies as “The Avengers,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Transcendence” and “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” It’s also the reason the state had five seasons of “Breaking Bad,” which creator Vince Gilligan had set in Riverside, Calif., in the original pilot script.

But Bear believes “Bodhi” could have an impact out of proportion to its modest budget.

“If it becomes commercially successful, the politics around incentives might be altered somewhat, because it’s not just Hollywood renting locations,” says Bear, whose day job is as an economist helping set up small business programs in developing countries. “The actual engine for investment is in New Mexico.”

Political support for the incentive appears to be solid in the wake of last month’s release of a study by Canadian firm MNP, which showed that between mid-2009 through early 2014 the program generated $1.5 billion in economic output and created nearly 15,900 full-time jobs for New Mexico residents.

That wasn’t always the case. When Gov. Susana Martinez came into office in January 2011 she vowed to drastically scale back the incentive and production dropped off precipitously.

“The studio facilities went from overbooked to some of them standing idle,” says industry consultant Eric Witt, who served as deputy chief of staff under Martinez’s predecessor, Gov. Bill Richardson, who championed the incentive. “Not to mention the fact that we had over 300 (production-related) businesses that started in the state see half their gross income disappear overnight.”

In the end, the only significant change made to the incentive itself was the $50 million annual cap placed on the previously unlimited program.

“Even in their busiest year, New Mexico might have been giving away $70 million a year,” says Joseph Chianese, exec veep of financial solutions at Entertainment Partners. “But when you hear a governor or a top government official making noise that they’ll change the program, producers get nervous.”

A key driver of the renewed political support for the incentive has been the success of “Breaking Bad.”

New Mexico Film Office director Nick Maniatis says he sees anecdotal evidence of its economic impact all around him, from the companies offering “Breaking Bad” bus and bike tours to the blue meth candy in the stores.

“My drugstore is right across the street from the Octopus Car Wash (owned by Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, on the show),” Maniatis says. “I asked the clerk if he sees a lot of people taking pictures. He said ‘Every single day.’”

Even Gov. Martinez seems to have been swayed. In April 2013, she signed what is known as the “Breaking Bad” bill, sweetening the state’s 25% refundable tax credit, adding an extra 5% for TV series of six episodes or more and films that shoot 10 to 15 days (depending on budget size) in a qualified production facility.

The revised incentive has a “rolling cap,” allowing up to $10 million in unused funds from the program’s $50 million annual budget to be carried over into the next fiscal year. If the budget is used up for the year a project shoots, the state allows producers to get their tax credit payout from subsequent years’ allotments.

“It’s sort of a way to get around their annual cap,” says Adrian McDonald, a research analyst with Los Angeles permitting org Film L.A. “The problem is the payout won’t come until much further down the road.”

Hollywood seems to like what it sees. For now. But, these days, if New Mexico or any region wants to hold on to production, they have to keep paying.

“As a New Mexican, I want to contribute to creating jobs in New Mexico,” Bear says. “But other producers will just go where they can make the deal work.”

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Peaky Blinders Season 5

    Time-Jumping Season 5 of 'Peaky Blinders' Aims for a More Cinematic Look

    Cinematographer Si Bell was thrilled to learn he and director Anthony Byrne had been tapped to shoot the fifth season of BBC’s “Peaky Blinders,” but surprised to find out how free a hand executive producers Caryn Mandabach and Jamie Glazebrook were giving them to determine the scheme of their six-episode run. “I expected to meet the [...]

  • Ad Astra

    How 'Ad Astra' Production Crew Created Authentic Look for Brad Pitt Space Drama

    In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt’s astronaut Roy McBride crosses the solar system to find and confront his long-lost father, requiring the movie crew to create an authentic-looking future that conveys the theme of traveling long distances to learn the lesson that it’s where you started from that has the most value. “Visually, the aim was [...]

  • Women in Animation Logo

    WIA Partners With Animation Mentor, Toon Boom to Expand Scholarship Program

    Women in Animation has partnered with Animation Mentor and Toon Boom to expand the organization’s WIA Scholarship Program with workshops and software packages. WIA scholarships are given to animation students with a financial need and who demonstrate talent and passion for animation that will lead to a promising career in the field. The Animation Mentor [...]

  • Steven Poster ICG National President

    DP Steven Poster to Receive SOC Lifetime Achievement Award

    Stephen Poster, cinematographer on such classics as “Donnie Darko” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” will receive the Lifetime Achievement Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Camera Operators at a ceremony on Jan. 18, 2020. SOC grants the award to an Individual who has served the community at large and/or the Society through outstanding service [...]

  • Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep

    Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep Potential Runaways at Home

    Horror film “Midsommar” did it last year. A new adaptation of the Swedish classic “The Emigrants” will do it next year. Prestigious productions that could have taken advantage of beautiful Swedish locations and craft expertise continue to run away to foreign locations for lower costs and tax incentives. Despite having a strong film industry creatively [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content