This is how reputations get made.
This summer, Terminator: Salvation, filmed mainly in Albuquerque, received loads of attention—at least before tickets went on sale. Perhaps in compensation for the lack of Schwarzeneggerage, actor Christian Bale was recorded during production screeching at a crew member that he’d “fucking kick your fucking ass.”
Last year, No Country for Old Men, shot in and around northern New Mexico, took the Oscar for best picture. Based on the novel by local recluse Cormac McCarthy, the film proved New Mexico could pass for Texas in a pinch.
But it was an off-camera scene at the Hotel Santa Fe some three years ago that signaled New Mexico filmmakers are not to be trifled with.
In December 2006, the hotel hosted the first New Mexico Filmmakers Conference, sponsored by a venture capital group. Speakers included top entertainment lawyer Peter Dekom, who has made Premiere magazine’s Hollywood “Power List” and Variety’s list of “dealmakers.”
Dekom also is the brain behind New Mexico’s film incentive program, which has been copied by states around the country and has lured dozens of productions to the Land of Enchantment.
The conference was billed as a friendly place to talk shop. But Dekom’s role as arbiter of New Mexico’s $244 million film loan program created some tension with the locals—or, at least, one local producer, purportedly frustrated by his inability to access what Dekom calls “free money.”
“I almost got punched out by a filmmaker,” Dekom tells SFR. (Several conference attendees confirmed the incident, but none would name names.)
The assault was more than a random scuffle. It represented a clash of interests—between art and commerce, labor and capital, Hollywood and Tamalewood.
“This is the Wild West. If Peter can’t take it, he shouldn’t do the job. People here are very opinionated,” Jon Hendry, business agent for a local filmworkers’ union, says. By contrast, “California is a viper’s pit, where you can have lunch with somebody, and they’ll be talking [smack] about you on the cell phone, right after the lunch you paid for.”
In Dekom’s telling, the filmmaker attacked him “for being the messenger.” But Dekom is more than a messenger. When it comes to the state’s film loan program, he is a decider.
And so far, he and state bureaucrats have decided that seven years into the state’s lauded incentive program, homegrown New Mexico productions don’t qualify for the zero-interest film loans that have benefited major studios.