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SFR Talk: Luminating

May 7, 2008, 12:00 am
Karen Koch is the cofounder of Luminaria Films, which makes movies in and about New Mexico. She has produced films such as Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Dead Man and Can't Hardly Wait. Her current project is Spoken Word.

SFR: How did you get your start in the movie biz?
KK: My first film job ever was at the New Mexico Film Office right after I graduated college. I got a degree in art history, was interested in art films and was trying to get the Museums of New Mexico to put on an art cinema festival. In the process of doing that I met the guy who ran the film office back then, Larry Ham, and he said, 'They'll never do it. Just come work for me and I'll make it happen.' ***image1***

Did it?
No, it never did. But it started me in a career back in, I hesitate to say it, but 1977.

How long were you at the film office?
I worked there for about nine months and it was the perfect thing for me because I always believed that my mission was to help artists. The film business was perfect for me. At the time I thought it was a non-polluting industry and of course it wasn't, but the mission was there even then.

What is Spoken Word doing to ensure that it is good for the environment?
Being a green film is certainly a practice that is developing, because the support businesses don't make it completely easy, but I think we're all motivated. We're doing simple things like recycle, reduce, reuse. We don't allow plastic water bottles; we gave everyone a canteen at the beginning. We recycle all of our waste. We're even composting from catering. We do as much as we can electronically, bought recycled materials to make sets-that kind of thing.

What is Spoken Word about?
It is a love poem to northern New Mexico. It's inspired by the work of our local poet Joe Ray Sandoval. In the simplest terms, it's a prodigal son story of a wayward son who comes home when his father is dying and they make peace. [Sandoval] co-wrote it with my business partner, Bill Conway.

Even though the story is set in New Mexico, do you think it will have a broad audience?
I do. It has resonated in Hollywood as a universal story and I think anyone who has a father or a son will relate. A writer friend of ours said it was the Latin 8 Mile, which I think he means that you can be very specific in a place and the nuances of humans in that place will be the same no matter whether it's in Detroit, New Mexico or Appalachia.

In addition to being filmed locally, how many of the cast and crew are locals?
I'd say 98 percent of the crew is local. They were carefully scouted that way. It was really important for us. I've got people from Española, Santa Cruz and other places around northern New Mexico. It's a great way to interact with other people from around the community and to get everyone who knows the world that we're shooting in and about involved.

You've worked on many films made by other people. Which one do you think you learned the most on?
I was afraid you were going to ask which was my favorite. That one I wouldn't know. But learned, hmmm. I've learned a lot from most of them. I've been really lucky to work with auteurs in the industry. Adaptation, for example, was the perfect example of a well-tuned machine. Everyone on that film was a role model for me. I'd like my movies to work as well as that one did.

Tell me about your work promoting New Mexico film-making.
We [Luminaria] are part of the New Mexico Producers Coalition and we have presented legislation in the last two sessions in order to bring awareness to local filmmakers and to try to create systems to help make the film boom sustainable. In the early stages of bringing business here, there wasn't a focus on the business that was already here. We have a philosophy that we have to be supported as well.

What kind of legislation have you presented to keep the business here?
In the session before this last one there was a bill called House Memorial 43, [introduced by State Rep.] Peter Wirth [D-Santa Fe], that spells out our mission. Wirth recognized that [the film industry's] plight was equal to that of many other industries, that the state has a notion that you have to go outside the state and because of that there are a lot of local opportunities that go unnoticed. We asked for a task force to study the sustainability of the film business in New Mexico and to study how to support local and minority filmmakers. The second piece, also carried by Wirth, was a tax credit, not unlike the solar tax credit. If you invested in a local film project you could get a tax credit. That died, but we have hopes that both things will pass next year.

So you'll reintroduce those ideas in the next session?
We like to be out there every session, in part to continue to support the film industry in New Mexico. We see it as a big-jobs creator and don't want there to be a perception that it is only part of the Richardson administration. There has been some push-back in the Legislature; they haven't seen the benefits flow into their communities, in the northwestern part of the state especially, and I hope that our new legislation will help promote moving business to other parts of the state. For me, it's just a continued devotion to keeping it happening here.


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