Film industry could play a central role in northern NM’s economic recovery

Las Vegas Council to seek incentives and support from the Legislature

By: - July 19, 2022 4:00 am

Crews shoot the TV series “Outer Range” in Las Vegas, N.M. (Photo courtesy of Elmo Baca)

New Mexico’s film industry is booming and could be a key factor as rural areas in the northern part of the state try to recover long-term from both the pandemic and largest wildfire ever recorded in the state.

The city of Las Vegas, N.M., is focused on restoring its economy after the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire destroyed homes, businesses, agriculture and natural resources — all amid an ongoing pandemic. As part of this, the local Film Council wants to bolster the already popular movie location and is planning to ask the Legislature to be looped into the rural tax credit for filmmakers that already exists — plus additional breaks for companies shooting movies in wildfire disaster areas. 

The council is also considering asking for $225,000 to research the potential for a film museum, related tours and festivals, and the construction of sound stages or set warehouses.

Where the $225,000 could go

  • $100,000 toward an “underdeveloped film tourism program” in Las Vegas to be enhanced with film festivals, tours, conferences and publications
  • $75,000 to research and design a New Mexico film museum to be located in Las Vegas
  • $50,000 to research the potential for film production facilities in Las Vegas, like set production warehouses and sound stages, as well as incentives to recruit smaller, independent film and video production companies to rural areas in the state.

The Las Vegas Film Council, a group of business owners and nonprofit organizations, created a funding proposal in October 2019 and brought it to the Legislature in 2020. But when the pandemic hit just a month or two later, the council put the plan on hold.

This month, members made revisions with recent disasters in mind, adding new stipulations on how legislative funding and programs could help Las Vegas and other disaster areas recover.

Elmo Baca, chair of the Las Vegas, New Mexico Community Foundation, talked to the legislative Economic Development & Policy Committee on Friday about long-term economic strategies for Las Vegas following the pandemic and the massive combo wildfire. “The sheer magnitude of the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon fires have severely tested San Miguel and Mora Counties, as well as our federal and state agencies,” Baca said. The film industry, he added, could be a big component in the region bouncing back.

Las Vegas has been a popular filming location for over a century and such productions were among the few industries still operating during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, Baca said. He said the city can enhance its draw even further.

“Las Vegas would like to leverage our compelling filming locations, southwest landscapes, historic buildings and our educational institutions to increase our film production capacity and also our film tourism appeal,” Baca said.

The city of Las Vegas, N.M. was excluded from the rural film tax credit when the bill to create it passed in 2019. The legislation specifies that the filming location must be at least 60 miles outside of Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties, and Las Vegas is a bit too close to Santa Fe County to qualify.

At another legislative committee meeting Thursday, Committee chair Rep. Antonio Maestas (D-Albuquerque) said that this radius has been largely criticized in the past few years and suggested that instead, it could radiate from the cities’ plazas or main interstates instead. 

“Definitely, we want to incentivize filming in these towns between the blue and the red (city halls and counties), but just mainly outside of Santa Fe, Albuquerque,” Maestas said. “That was the big criticism of the film tax credit in years past, and rightly so.”

Baca said the change Maestas is offering up would allow Las Vegas to receive the incentive. State legislators would need to amend the law in the next session come January.

Baca brought up the TV series “Outer Range,” which was filmed in Las Vegas, N.M., and was extremely beneficial to its economy. But he said the series isn’t sure that it will return to Vegas, and the 5% tax incentive could be helpful in guaranteeing another season shot in the city.

The film council also asked that an extra 1% to 2% tax incentive be added on for wildfire disaster areas.

“We have several counties that were impacted by wildfires, including Colfax and Lincoln, Ruidoso, Mora and Las Vegas,” Baca told Source New Mexico. “If they could consider, maybe just for a period of five years, an extra 1% or 2% in that rural uplift, I think it would be very helpful.”

Film and TV industries spent more than $850 million in New Mexico during fiscal year 2022, increasing by over $200 million since the previous year, according to the Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Rural areas also saw record-breaking numbers, with a 660% increase in film industry spending, hitting $49.5 million.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.

MORE FROM AUTHOR