Cheap production costs, plentiful locations, studio space and a rich local culture make New Mexico ripe for filmmaking, and Hollywood big-wigs have been passing through for decades. Marvel Studios shot the first Avengers movie here. The first Thor movie, too. And Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario? Shot here. 

Maybe filmmakers see New Mexico as a breath of fresh air from the dense urban landscapes of Los Angeles or the peach-infested orchards of Georgia, or maybe the O’Keeffe spirit of refreshment still hangs around. Either way, actor and director Hunter Stiebel (Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Fresh Off the Boat) has that O’Keeffe spirit, and he’s one of those creatives who felt compelled to restart in New Mexico. 

“All our future projects I want to make here,” he tells SFR.

Stiebel’s short film titled BnB just began streaming on the Alter service, a platform dedicated to horror shorts. You’ll find it embedded in its entirety below, as well. Stiebel’s own horror-comedy tale follows a young couple checking into their Airbnb with all the heightened anxiety that brings. Terror-stricken by the idea their host could give them a bad rating, they walk on eggshells around the rental. Stiebel shoots his film like there’s a murderer lurking around every corner, and the comedic spirit and charm comes from great timing and chemistry between Stiebel as Harry and his partner Sally (Tate Hanyok).

“We’re living more and more isolated. It’s all moving online,” Stiebel says of how he was inspired to make the film. “Airbnb hosts and guests rate each other, there’s a whole new layer of paranoia—society judges you for being a bad consumer now. And that follows you.”
That isn’t to say Stiebel tackles the subject with deep melodrama or even a hokey holding-a-mirror-up-to-society bent. With a background in comedy and classical theater, Stiebel’s direction is wonderfully natural and consistent throughout BnB‘s 12-ish minutes. 
“The benefits of horror-comedy as a genre is that it allows us to access a difficult subject,” he explains. “It’s like a release of tension.” 

Tension-filled millennials might relate; BnB was selected for the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival in 2018, and as Stiebel relocates here permanently, he’s looking to spearhead more film projects around town. Like many filmmakers working today, however, he’s still trying to make sense of what comes next. 

“Independent filmmaking is so hard right now,” he laments. 

And it’s not only the indies feeling the crunch. Recent data from the New Mexico Film Office shows the industry’s trudging back at an uncertain pace. When public health orders took effect, 16 New Mexico productions were halted, and when COVID-safe filming resumed in September, only two resumed production. That number ticked up to 12 as of last month, but as big-budget projects face an uncertain future, the number of open positions for crew on these sets might not reach pre-pandemic numbers until the industry stabilizes at some unknowable point in the future—and even then you’ll be lucky if Tom Cruise doesn’t show up to scream at you. 

Dwindling numbers mean fewer job openings for locals—and less money going into the pockets of small-time filmmakers who make projects like BnB with local crews. Still, Steibel says, he sees hope in industry adaptation. 

“Festivals have been killing it, including the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. The hybrid drive-in and virtual model did filmmakers so many favors,” he says. “People got the communal experience they crave, but also gave filmmakers the chance to safely network. And so much of this industry is about who you know and the people you meet.”
Stiebel hopes that as the COVID-19 vaccines become more available, new opportunities will open up and film work might get back to some semblance of normal. 
“People want to make films here again,” he says, “not just live here and make films in other places.” 

Check out BnB below—and be sure to check out Stiebel’s podcast Sleeping With Dracula, wherein a Bela Lugosi-like voice brings calm and clarity to insomniacs around the world.