Production boom faces new challenges

-A A +A
By Roger Snodgrass

SANTA ANA PUEBLO – The head of a private company developing 3-D and immersive media in Los Alamos said new media deserves special attention in New Mexico in the rapidly changing entertainment industry.

Peter Rogina, president and CEO of WorldScape Inc. predicted a five-fold increase in 3-D theaters in the next two years and a 10-fold premium in projected revenue for an average new media production ($279 million) compared to the traditional motion picture production ($20 million).

By new media, he means 3-D, animation and special-effects productions

“The movie industry is dead as we know it,” Rogina said. “Let’s make New Mexico a long-term player in the production of new media.”

Rogina participated in a panel discussion Thursday on digital media that attracted more than 100 people, many of them in the entertainment business. The discussion was presented by the Coronado Ventures Forum, a hi-tech entrepreneurial networking organization.

The panel included Eric Witt, film advisor to Gov. Bill Richardson, who has had the job of keeping the legislature on board the state’s aggressive program for attracting film, video and commercial productions, developing talent and human resources and encouraging investment in post-production and other infrastructure.

Witt said there are persistent threats from the legislature to cap the incentive program.

“We offer a 25-percent tax rebate,” he said. “Right now it’s permanent, but the challenge is to keep it that way.”

The New Mexico tax rebate program offers an actual refund – not a credit – on the full amount of an expenditure. If it costs $100 for the flowers to decorate a set, the rebate to the production company is $25.

According to a recent communiqué from the governor, more than 100 productions have been made in the state since 2003, bringing in more than $1.8 billion.

As far as new media, Witt agreed that there was a need to “tweak” the program to recognize differences in the way financial arrangements were structured for video games, for example, compared to traditional media.

“Our first five-year program was written in 2003,” he said. “It’s now 2008.”

Jon Bowman, director of the Santa Fe film festival pointed out that much of the success of the current program was based on traditional production. He mentioned "Terminator Salvation," the first of a new set of films in the blockbuster adventure series. "Terminator Salvation," currently in production, is also the largest budget film to be shot in the state.

“How do you do a transition and make it smooth and not have the parties at each others throats?” he asked.

Rogina said there was a way to provide an appropriate incentive to new media that would let the world know that this was the place to do it.

John Hendry, the business agent for the local film technicians union (IATSE) cautioned that political support for the current program is partly based on the fact that traditional production is highly unionized in the industry, but not in new media.

“He’s right about the politics,” Witt said.

Another panelist, David Seager, the computer graphics supervisor for SONY Imageworks in New Mexico, said his company had set up an office in New Mexico, as it has in Chenai, India, as way to diversify and lower operation costs.

“We need to become more competitive,” he said.

A fourth member of the panel was Jason Hool, president of Santa Fe Studios, which recently received approvals from Santa Fe County to proceed with construction, said the complex would be the first “green” production studio, using minimum power and all the best practices available for production.

Pete Warzel, a WorldScape board member was asked about the financial prospects for film and video in light of the current economic uncertainties.

A former president and CEO of United Artists Theater Circuit Inc. and past chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, Warzel said the entertainment industries are generally considered “recession-proof.”

“When people have limited cash, they go to the movies or do things at home,” he said. “But will there be capital to finance the productions? I can’t say at this point in time.”

The event was held at the Prairie Star Restaurant on the Santa Ana reservation. Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Bank and the Los Alamos Research Park were among the sponsors.