• Image about New Mexico
TO SAY THAT NEW MEXICO has a long history of filmmaking is the ultimate understatement: The first movie filmed there was Indian Day School, a short film depicting Native American children that was produced by an up-and-coming auteur named Thomas Edison in 1898, 14 years before New Mexico became a state and 16 years before Hollywood’s founding father, Cecil B. DeMille, made his first flick. Despite that promising start, the film business landed in California, and through the years New Mexico’s fortunes as a location for Hollywood films has waxed and waned. “It was kind of the whim of the market, and it was largely driven by the popularity of specific genres at the time, mostly Westerns and science fiction,” says Eric Witt, deputy chief of staff and film advisor to Governor Richardson.

Although the state already had incentives in place to lure filmmakers, the election of Richardson in 2002 was the beginning of a concerted effort to draw film and TV producers to New Mexico. It didn’t hurt that the governor is a movie buff — his favorite movie is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (guess where part of it was filmed?) — says Witt, and that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of famous and obscure movie lines. But the real reason is economic. “Very few, if any, industries pump this amount of cash this quickly and across as broad a spectrum into a local economy as does film,” says Witt, who points out that a recent TV series filmed in the state utilized more than 400 local vendors, everything from dry cleaning to paint and lumber supplies to babysitting. The town of Carrizozo welcomed the construction crew of The Book of Eli with a potluck dinner, where local businesses were encouraged to bring along literature and business cards as well as casseroles.

As a start, New Mexico focused on the financial incentives, offering producers a generous 25 percent tax rebate for so-called qualified expenses in a film or TV budget. In essence, what that means is that producers can receive a check from the state for a quarter of their budget, with the stipulation being that the rebate applies only to money spent in New Mexico or to hire New Mexicans; the economic benefit to the state is what makes an expense qualified. “If you’re doing a $10 million movie and you spend all of your money on cast and crew in New Mexico, you could get $2.5 million just for that,” Valdes says. “That’s pretty phenomenal.”

But Valdes would be the first to point out that financial incentives, while necessary, are hardly sufficient by themselves to lure Hollywood producers out of Los Angeles. In fact, these days, 43 states — along with numerous foreign countries — offer some sort of financial enticement to filmmakers, a fact that can muddy the thinking of some producers. “You have to be careful that you don’t shoot a rebate instead of shooting a movie,” Valdes says. What may even matter more is whether a state has the infrastructure and personnel necessary to handle the very complicated task of shooting a feature film or television series. In his experience, Valdes has learned to be dubious of boasts by state film commissions that are trying to win his business. “They have spent the money and time to build a soundstage, and you look at it and say, ‘Oh, it’s a glorified warehouse,’ ” he says.