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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

Earlier this year, Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Bernalillo, introduced legislation to level the playing field. Her proposal, a “memorial,” asked the State Investment Council and the Film Office to “study the potential benefit of establishing a fund to promote, invest in and finance small independent films produced in New Mexico.”

The goal would have been to have the state finance films with budgets under $2 million or series with budgets under $5 million. Producer Koch hopes such a system could be “as secure as that investment program was, but maybe directed only for locals,” she says.

A watered-down version of Beffort’s memorial—removing the word “benefit” and cutting the budget directives—unanimously passed the state Senate. But the memorial died before it could make it through the House.

Beffort, whose son works as a cinematographer in Hollywood, blames “Senate-House politics.”

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Corey Pein

Gov. Richardson, who has palled around with George Clooney and Jessica Simpson, makes it a point to call Robert Redford “Bob.”

Asked by the Legislative Finance Council for an analysis of Beffort’s memorial, the State Investment Council replied that the efforts to encourage local producers were “duplicative” of what the state was already doing. The SIC also suggested local filmmakers would never be satisfied, writing, “We are skeptical that any findings [from the proposed study] will be found as acceptable by New Mexico’s independent filmmakers who are looking for state investment.”

This echoes Dekom’s lament.

“Everybody says, ‘Why shouldn’t we be doing A, B, C, D and E,’” Dekom says. “It bothers me a lot to have a wildly successful program that’s put billions of dollars into the economy labeled by some people as a failure because they’re not getting free money.”

Beffort’s attempt wasn’t the first to benefit local producers. In 2007, Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, introduced legislation creating a task force that would devise ways the film program could benefit locals.

“I think it is important that it not just be focused on bigger film productions and that we also focus on local, independent productions,” Wirth says.

Among those who lobbied for Wirth’s memorial was Luca Ceccarelli, owner of Santa Fe production company HDNM. Today, he has a new perspective on those efforts.

“We were barking up the wrong tree,” Ceccarelli says. “That [loan] program was designed for return on investment. Film very seldom has a successful ROI. What that means is the clients of the loan program are companies like Warner Bros., like Lionsgate—that are bonded, have big marquee names and some serious backing.”

In short, local producers became “a contingency of whiners,” Ceccarelli says, and failed to realize the state loan program was not meant for them in the first place.

Hendry, business agent for Local 480 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, takes that criticism further.

“The problem with local producers is, as much as we’d like to work with them…you don’t wake up one morning and say you’re a producer—or get a certificate from the College of Santa Fe. The college might say you’re a producer, but that doesn’t mean you’re a producer,” Hendry says.

In other words, New Mexicans got no game.

Some, like Santa Fe producer Alton Walpole, who made The Tao of Steve, will cop to this. “One of the reasons I haven’t applied is I haven’t felt I had a film product that was in a place of development that could achieve that loan,” Walpole says.
He says if New Mexico’s filmmakers are to come into their own, it won’t be the state’s doing: It’ll be the artists.’

“The government can’t do everything for everybody. People have to go out and pull things up by their own bootstraps,” Walpole says. “You just don’t go out and get millions of dollars without a lot of work. It is disappointing, but ultimately the film industry is a business.”

Ceccarelli came to the same conclusion.

“The core business of the Film Office is to attract runaway productions. The core business of the State Investment Council is to make money. So if we’re going to have some homegrown film revolution here, I don’t think either of those two is going to make that happen,” he says.

Dekom says a well-developed crew base will eventually turn out star directors and producers. “Look at the courses available at [University of New Mexico], New Mexico State—there are hard courses that are training the producers of the future,” Dekom says. It just takes time. And effort.

“You’ve gotta pay your dues,” he says.

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