Film industry, share the wealth with small towns

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Last fall, after a dismal tourist season for Red River, film crews arrived to make “This Must Be the Place.” They filled hotels and restaurants and boosted gross receipts, which saved Red River, according to Rep. Bobby Gonzales.

Well, maybe it didn’t save the town, but “it certainly helped,” says a local businesswoman, who supports the industry and the incentives that keep movie makers here. “It was a big influx of cash.”
Going into the legislative session, film incentives loomed as an issue, but the governor and the industry were both making conciliatory noises, so it was surprising to see incentives become a lightning rod. Instead of rational discussion, we got emotional bombast.
“I am not willing — not willing — to give Hollywood a subsidy of 25 percent on the backs of our kids,” said the governor, as if there were no other options. She wanted another $25 million to add to the budget. Other states had the same problem and solved it, according to Sherri Burr, a UNM Law professor, by identifying other funding sources.
Film proponents responded, “Job killers!”
Jobs number around 3,000 with another 7,000 in support positions, according to NMedia, a new industry trade group. On “Film and Media Day at the Legislature” industry businesses and organizations filled the rotunda.
One day, when it wasn’t a film day, I met makeup artist Jennifer McDaniel, a New Mexico native who grew up in Clovis and now lives in Bernalillo.
“For the past eight years I have had full-time employment with health insurance,” she wrote, all because of film incentives. She’s bought a house and two vehicles, pays for her husband’s tuition at UNM, and last year spent $15,000 locally on makeup supplies. If the industry leaves the state, students in training programs would have to leave, as would thousands of New Mexicans working in the industry, she says.
There are hundreds of McDaniels out there. NMedia’s members range from studios, hotels and travel agencies to construction firms, telecom contractors and banks. The Motion Picture Association of New Mexico and kindred groups represent thousands more industry professionals. It shouldn’t be that hard to measure economic impact, except that the question is now so politicized that I wonder if anybody can produce a study all the players could agree on.
So it’s a small miracle that legislators managed to compromise long enough, fireworks and all, to pass four bills.
One tightens the definition of “resident” in tallying tax credits for workers and vendors and codifies reporting mechanisms; a second calls for a detailed study of the industry this year. Local independent producers were excited about a third measure that would have allowed them to participate in the loan program; it was vetoed.
The governor wanted to reduce rebates from 25 percent to 15 percent with a cap on annual production — the death knell for the industry, said opponents. Lawmakers preserved the 25 percent credit, avoided a cap, and limited payouts to $50 million a year, with credits above that amount spread over three years. And they handed the governor $28 million (more than she was seeking).
Said Rep. Dennis Roch, “I voted with 14 members of the Tax and Revenue committee on a compromise, which means everyone got a little of what they want and must accept a little of what they don’t want.
State agencies will have to roll up their sleeves to sort out how this will work in practice.
Film people and their allies are rehashing the session and planning for the next one. Here’s a tip for the industry: Raise your profile in rural areas. Of 155 productions, 98 were shot in Albuquerque and 61 in Santa Fe.
If you want more Red Rivers (and their legislators) to sing your praises, show them, don’t tell them.

© New Mexico News Services 2011