The film and television industry in New Mexico has reached a new high, with record spending by video production companies in a state that has attracted projects such as the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
Production companies spent a record $855 million on films, TV shows, and other media in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to New Mexico’s governor on Thursday. Since the success of AMC’s long-running series “Breaking Bad” and a generous increase in incentives passed by state lawmakers in 2019, industry executives have been drawn to New Mexico’s unique landscapes.
The industry’s in-state spending increased by about 36% from nearly $627 million the previous fiscal year.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for reelection, also touted an increase in spending outside of major cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque, fueled by expanded state incentives for rural and small-town film production.
State economic development officials told a legislative panel gathered in Las Vegas, New Mexico, that local production spending in those outlying areas increased more than sixfold to $49.5 million as the industry recovered.
It was unclear how much money the state would eventually spend on film incentive payments. New Mexico provides a rebate of between 25% and 35% of in-state spending for video production, which assists both large and small filmmakers in underwriting their work.
Incentive payments peaked at $148 million in 2019, before dropping to around $40 million for the fiscal year ending in June 2021. While the state general fund is flush with income from federal pandemic aid, as well as a surge in oil and natural gas prices and production, some lawmakers have criticized the rebates as being excessively expensive.
State economic development officials say discussions with lawmakers are underway to revisit the terms of the state film tax rebate program when the Legislature reconvenes in January 2023, possibly redrawing the boundaries for bonuses in rural areas and exploring new incentives tied to lower emissions of climate-warming pollution by the energy-intensive industry.
Fiscally conservative legislators have long questioned whether New Mexico spends too much on the film industry in comparison to the jobs it generates. However, Lujan Grisham cited state data that showed an increase in the number of industry worker hours and new highs for the total number of film and television productions for the year at nearly 110.
“Because of the work we’ve done to foster a successful production environment and build a thriving base of talented local crews,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “Film and television productions from around the world are putting money directly into New Mexico communities, supporting our small businesses, and creating jobs for thousands of New Mexicans.”
Following the success of “Breaking Bad” and its spinoff “Better Call Saul,” other notable recent productions in New Mexico include parts of the fourth season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and AMC’s “Dark Winds,” based on Tony Hillerman and daughter Anne Hillerman’s mystery book series.
In recent years, both Netflix and NBCUniversal have established permanent production hubs in Albuquerque, adding to millions of dollars in investments and promises of more jobs.
Legislative changes in 2019 increased incentives for film production companies that demonstrate long-term commitments to New Mexico by signing a 10-year contract for a qualified production facility. Netflix and NBCUniversal have obtained the “film partner” status, which allows them to exceed the annual production rebate cap.
Before the pandemic halted work due to public health mandates and industry protocols, industry spending had been trending upward, resulting in a precipitous drop in 2020. As restrictions were relaxed, spending increased in 2021 as work increased.
On the set of “Rust,” where actor and producer Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer in October 2021, record-breaking activity occurred amid allegations of workplace safety violations. There have been no criminal charges filed in the case, and Baldwin has denied any wrongdoing.
Rust Movie Productions is contesting the basis of a $137,000 fine imposed by state occupational safety regulators on the basis of production managers on the set of the Western film failing to follow standard industry protocols for firearms safety.
The Legislature this year allocated $40 million to help establish a collaborative media academy to bolster training for the industry. Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes said the headquarters of the academy will be located in Albuquerque.