Movie industry draws rave reviews from some

-A A +A
By Sherry Robinson

Bundles of cables ring the Las Vegas plaza like a wreath. Movie set crews, all New Mexicans, maneuver vehicles, lights and props while locally hired security people and cops steer people and traffic around the shoot for “Granite Mountain,” based on the Arizona firefighters who battled an epic blaze to save a town.
The cast and crew seem to have the run of the Plaza Hotel, where we’re staying. For everybody, it’s good business.
A gallery owner tells us the movie makers are paying every store on the plaza for the inconvenience and lost business. “Obviously, it didn’t keep you from coming in, and it’s a nice gesture,” she says.
“Granite Mountain” employs 190 New Mexico crew members, 40 New Mexico actors, and about 1,300 New Mexico background talent, according to the state Film Office.
This is a snapshot of a New Mexico success story. Against a backdrop of dreary economic numbers, the movie and television industry dazzles. Direct spending into the state economy for the fiscal year ending June 30 was $387 million, up from $288 million the year before – a new record.
A new development is the organization of the Film Business Alliance of New Mexico. Until now, the industry voice has largely been the union, IATSE Local 480. The alliance is the first organization of businesses, and they want us to know the industry has 350 vendors and service providers in the state, ranging from restaurants and hotels to building supply stores. The group touts more than 17,000 media industries jobs.
“We need the Legislature to realize how many small businesses rely on this industry,” said executive director Joyce Smith, who owns two of those businesses herself.
This is a good idea because I still hear lawmakers carping about the industry subsidies. Movie makers get a 25 percent tax break on qualifying expenditures, primarily for New Mexico goods and services. TV series get an additional 5 percent.
Recently, the governor, who must be relieved to have some good news to share, held news conferences and described the industry as a “valuable partner” in “growing and diversifying our economy.”  
“We knew we had to diversify,” she was quoted as saying. “We’ve worked to strengthen and stabilize the film incentive program.”
That’s partly true. This particular diversification began under former Gov. Bill Richardson. Gov. Susana Martinez began her first term attacking the industry and its subsidies, and in 2011 budget cuts, legislators capped film rebates at $50 million. Although she promised no further changes and assured film people – much later – of her support, the damage was done. Phones stopped ringing. Projects went elsewhere. Nobody understood how the cap would work or whether the rebates would be available. As it turns out, we’ve never reached the cap.
So, the governor can claim to have stabilized the rebates, although she was the one who destabilized them. And while the governor noted record film spending in the last two years, she didn’t mention that in 2013 it was $213 million, which slid to $162 million in 2014.
In her announcement, Martinez said she supported the industry by signing a bipartisan tax package in 2013 that, among other things, raised tax credits for television series filmed in New Mexico.
This is also partly true. The “Breaking Bad” bill drew Republican opposition in committee and passed the House on a party-line vote, with Republicans (including Rep. Nora Espinoza, now a candidate for secretary of state) voting against it.
The bill didn’t gain Republican support until it was heavily amended on the Senate floor to include a raft of tax measures friendly to other businesses. Then the Senate’s most liberal Dems, including Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, voted against it.
The Film Business Alliance has its work cut out.