Sure, Javier Bardem and the Coen brothers won Oscars at the beginning of 2008 for No Country for Old Men. But the real film winner in 2008? New Mexico.

No Country, based on the novel by Tesuque resident Cormac McCarthy, was filmed in Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Santa Fe’s Garson Studios, and showcases the natural beauty of the state’s landscape. But the film’s four Oscars weren’t the only big news for Tamalewood.

Two Gyllenhaals—Jake in Brothers and Maggie in Crazy Heart—filmed on location in Santa Fe this year. Both flicks are set to open in ’09, along with the New Mexico-filmed films The Spirit, by director Frank Miller, the Steven Seagal-written The Keeper and McG’s Terminator Salvation.

Seeing movie stars such as Gary Oldman and Denzel Washington at Whole Foods is always exciting, but New Mexico’s film boom isn’t just about celebrity spottings. It’s about creating a dynamic community of filmmakers.

In 2009, the New Mexico Legislature plans to reevaluate the current incentive plan for filmmakers, possibly instating a cap on filmmaker’s rebate eligibility.

At a panel during December's Santa Fe Film Festival, Jon Hendry, business agent of IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 480 film union, asserted that New Mexico is different from the nearly 40 other states that offer film incentives because "in most states, the relationship is black and white. Unions fight with film offices; film offices fight with the states, and on and on. New Mexico is unique because everyone knows each other and has built the community together."

Production manager and native New Mexican Aldon Walpole agreed, saying, "Previously people only moved to New Mexico for a lifestyle change. Now they move here for the career opportunities and get the benefit of the lifestyle change."

The distance from Los Angeles seems to have helped the boom as well. It takes about an hour and a half by plane from LA to Albuquerque, "less time than it takes to get to the airport from anywhere in LA," Walpole said. That proximity has helped lure productions to New Mexico, which has a landscape varied enough to stand in for just about anywhere.

For New Mexico Film Office Director Lisa Strout, 2008 was a standout year for the industry. "We exceeded our expectations exponentially. It was a phenomenal year, not just economically but with the great array of projects going on, with all kinds of budgets."

According to Jeremy Hariton, senior VP of Albuquerque Studios, housing the production of Terminator Salvation contributed to the year's success.

"Terminator has been fun for us," Hariton tells SFR. "It's created a lot of excitement for the state. We've suddenly got the ability to tell LA studios that we're doing this caliber of movie here and getting the kind of exposure New Mexico needs. In fact, I'm even more excited about 2009 than I was about 2008. The potential [Screen Actors Guild] strike has slowed down the commitments a bit, but the interest in all of New Mexico is really huge."

Santa Fe is getting in on the studio action as well. Santa Fe Studios received a unanimous green light in March from the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners to break ground [Zane's World, May 21: "Power Steering"]. And it's set to do just that early in 2009.

Though ideas are still conceptual at this point, Santa Fe Studios has made plans to work with students from Santa Fe Community College, Institute of American Indian Arts and Highlands University in the way of internships and training programs. It's also good news for College of Santa Fe film students, who weren't included in the original plan but will get the benefit of the program when the school is officially part of Highlands.

"This is the kind of growth we have wanted to see," Strout says. "When you exceed your expectations, that's a great Christmas."