By JENS ERIK GOULD
Tesuque Pueblo is actively pursuing plans to turn its old Camel Rock Casino into a film production facility after the space was used last year for the movie production of News of the World, starring Tom Hanks.
The Pueblo of Tesuque Development Corp. is in talks with scouts for film and television companies about using the location for future productions, said Timothy Brown, the entity’s president and CEO. The former casino, located off U.S. 84/285, could be used on a short- or long-term basis or rented to a major production company, he said.
“We feel it’s a great use of that facility,” Brown said Wednesday. “It’s a great space because of the numerous rooms and the size of the rooms for production facilities, wardrobe, building sets and for storage.”
The pueblo’s pivot to film comes as the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said demand for production facilities in the state is on the rise. Economic Development Department Secretary Alicia Keyes said that’s partly due to 2019 legislation expanding tax credits as well as increased demand for production facilities nationwide.
Last year, Lujan Grisham signed legislation allowing the state to provide as much as $110 million in in tax credits for film and television productions each year, up from a previous cap of $50 million. The limit does not apply to production companies that have purchased or signed a 10-year lease for facilities, such as Netflix.
Given the legislation only went into effect last July, there isn’t yet robust data showing whether it’s achieved the proponents’ goal of increasing investment in the state.
The Economic Development Department does have numbers for the 2019 calendar year, though the new legislation was only in effect for half of that period. In 2019, the film industry spent $582 million in the state, average annual wages were $53,716, and there were 3,548 total full-time jobs in the industry, the agency said.
On the other hand, the fiscal impact of the film production tax credit was $49.9 million in fiscal year 2018, according to the Taxation and Revenue Department. For the current fiscal year 2020, film production refunds totaled 31 claims for $31.2 million as of Oct. 11, 2019.
There is anecdotal evidence of a positive impact. Keyes said the state’s film office is seeing increased interest in shooting in rural areas. She added that large commitments to the state made by Netflix and NBCUniversal have encouraged other companies to inquire about New Mexico.
“Now that we have Netflix and NBCUniversal, people are really looking at New Mexico not just as a flash in the pan or a location, but somewhere to put a production hub,” Keyes said.
Netflix signed a deal in January 2019 to buy Albuquerque Studios and pledged to spend $1 billion over a 10-year period in exchange for economic development assistance. The company said Wednesday it has spent more than $150 million and hired more than 1,600 cast and crew members in New Mexico. It also announced that the film The Harder They Fall will begin production in the state this March.
Keyes said the state also is benefiting from a nationwide trend of increased demand for production studios — fueled by the proliferation of digital video through on-demand platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu — and a lack of sufficient supply.
Brown of Tesuque Development Corp. said that increased need is partly why Tesuque Pueblo is looking to convert its old casino into a production space.
“It’s one of the reasons that we really considered it,” Brown said. “There’s going to be a lot more demand in New Mexico for production facilities.”
He added that the production company that used the space last year “loved the facility”, and that feedback could spark more demand through word of mouth.
Brown declined to confirm the name of the film that was partly produced at the pueblo’s location last year, citing confidentiality contracts.
However, another person who was involved with the production, who asked not to cited by name, said the facility was used as a filming and costumes location for News of the World. The post-Civil War adventure produced by Universal Pictures is slated for release in December 2020.
Tesuque Pueblo had been considering converting its old 50,000-square-foot casino into an indoor flea market. The pueblo now has a new 72,000-square-foot casino adjacent to the Santa Fe Opera.
Not all state legislators are excited about film legislation, however. Republicans, in particular, say New Mexico shouldn’t be giving special tax breaks to an industry that they say isn’t loyal to the state, while not affording them to others.
“They’ve told us if this incentive goes away they’re out of here,” Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho said. “It kind of rubs me raw that we have to bribe them to come to New Mexico.”
Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, sounded a similar tone.
“This is such a bad place to do business we have to pay one industry that people think is cool to come and set up shop,” Moores said. “We give it to rich corporate Hollywood elites out of state instead of making New Mexico a good place to do business.”
But Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, the Santa Fe Democrat who sponsored last year’s film bill, said Wednesday that she believed movies and TV shows were being produced at a faster rate than before because of the legislation.
“I think it’s been a win-win situation for the state, for businesses and for employees,” she said.