Aug. 19, 2017
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New Mexico’s film program has brought the state Hollywood glitter—but not much local gold.  

June 10, 2009, 12:00 am

There’s little place for nostalgia in the pitiless business of entertainment.

Practicality, not nostalgia, led Strout to keep a cell phone with a 213 area code—signifying downtown LA—for a couple of years after relocating.

“The moment I came to New Mexico, it’s like, ‘Oh, she’s got a 505 number,’ you know what I mean?” Strout says. “I think we’ve done a tremendous job of breaking that myth and proving ourselves.”

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New Mexico Film Office Director Lisa Strout picked locations for the 1985 Merchant Ivory Productions film A Room with a View.

Thanks to the rebate programs Strout runs, New Mexico has cemented its reputation as a good, cheap place to shoot a movie. The loans have been less important to that reputation. Of 115 movies shot in New Mexico between 2002 and January 2009, only 29 took state film loans.

Why so few? For starters, the largest studios don’t want to bother with the paperwork. Dekom says obtaining the state’s maximum $15 million loan isn’t worth the trouble for a producer on a movie with a $200 million budget. Besides which, studios don’t enjoy sharing the profits with the state should a movie succeed.

At the other end of the spectrum, smaller independent producers might love to take a loan through the State Investment Council—but simply can’t qualify.

“They would say that everyone has the same opportunity, that it has nothing to do with being local or not,” Luminaria Films producer Koch tells SFR. “But…the film adviser [Dekom] has advised them of a certain standard to look for that really made it difficult for any independent film to access the money.”

Luminaria Films’ latest film, Spoken Word, is about as local as a movie can get. Written by co-producer Bill Conway and Santa Fe poet and DJ Joe Ray Sandoval, the plot centers on a young poet’s return to New Mexico from California.

Koch told Variety last year about Luminaria’s frustration in obtaining state financing for Spoken Word. The magazine concluded that her “experience reveals a blind spot in a program aimed primarily at luring big-budget projects and training inexperienced locals for film industry jobs.”

Dekom rejects this argument.

“I will tell you absolutely categorically there is nothing in the film investment programs that is discriminatory against New Mexico filmmakers. Anything to the contrary is a complete myth,” Dekom says.

There is, however, a requirement the Film Office introduced, after getting flooded with scripts by would-be filmmakers: Before even applying for a loan, producers must sign a contract “with an appropriate, experienced and economically stable distributor.”
(YouTube doesn’t count.)

This rule eliminates most small filmmakers from consideration. Dekom says there’s a reason for this: Fewer than 1 percent of the tens of thousands of indie flicks made every year find their way into US theaters or even video stores. Even films that get sold often lose money.

“The taxpayers of New Mexico have said, ‘Please don’t waste our money,’” Dekom says. “When you have 200-to-1 odds of getting a movie picked up in the domestic marketplace in any meaningful way, what are we supposed to do?”

The upshot is a handful of “mini-major” studios like Lionsgate—which work with smaller budgets than the majors and have access to distribution—are in the best position to take advantage of New Mexico film loans.

“I don’t control the channels of distribution. That isn’t something I do,” Dekom says.

Once again, he is only the messenger.

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