Albuquerque Studios

New Mexico Film in Gray and Black

A panel at Santa Fe Film Festival found Albuquerque Studios COO Nick Smerigan talking production in New Mexico with Ira Behr  of “Crash,” Rob Markovich of Starz, and Kirk Ellis, the Emmy Award-winning screenwriter.

So, what was the question? At this December panel on the state of New Mexico film and TV production (healthy), moderated by Albuquerque Studios COO Nick Smerigan, a question was posed from the audience about why more post-production hasnt made it to New Mexico. Ira Behr, executive producer or “showrunner” for the series “Crash”, starring Dennis Hopper (the second season of the Starz series just aired), responded that proximity to the editors is key to the fine-tuning of episodes and really doesnt work so well at a distance. For more about how the production design of Crash has relied on Santa Fe art and possibly even been inspired by New Mexico tattoo design (starting rumors here), you can read here Hilda Starks first person report on “the challenge of carving out a new look for the second season.” 

Also on the panel were Emmy Award winning screenwriter Kirk Ellis, who wrote John Adams, and Rob Markovich, director of original programming for Starz. Ellis discussed the writers strike and said he felt that writers didnt go far enough. In what became the most heated exchange of the q-and-a portion of the session that Smerigan moderated, a woman in the front row pressed the panelists on how to streamline a communication process for New Mexico creatives to get their ideas out in front of studio execs in residence here, for production. The answer came back unanimously that getting a story meeting depends on a good idea and not geography. Nick Smerigan said in a podcast interview that Los Angeles remains where productions are “greenlit,” and he doesnt expect that to change.

Over four and a half years in business, Albuquerque Studios film investment exceeds $400 million on a $91.5 million startup investment by private equity partners. That investment resulted in 168,000 built-out square feet in 8 soundstages, “some of the largest soundstages in America,” as Smerigan has put it.  Jeremy Hariton said in a podcast that “the idea of Albuquerque was to find an incentivized location … We really wanted to have a clean slate to be able to build from.”  Said Smerigan, “the shows that come in spend an incredible amount of money and it benefits the city and the state. All the productions spend money and use services in the state.” For the entire podcast, listen here.

In other film industry New Mexico news, brothers Lance and Conrad Hool, CEO and president, respectively, of the new Santa Fe Studios, got a $10 million New Mexico state grant, as reported in December, and a $6 million Santa Fe County loan to construct Santa Fe Studios, near NM 14. Will this help what is now a 24 percent unemployment rate in Santa Fe construction? (The number for Albuquerque, 14 percent.)

As widely reported, the Hools played little league baseball with Governor Bill Richardson when all of them were children in Mexico City. The Hools donated $8000 to Richardsons 2007 presidential campaign and hosted a fundraiser for him. Lance Hool has said the brothers re-met Richardson at a Directors Guild function in Los Angeles where Richardson as governor had expressed support for New Mexico film production. The website for Santa Fe Studios is still under construction. But preliminary reports cite “a first of its kind media district” on the south end of Santa Fe county where tall lighting towers (as well as sounds of explosions) will newly be permitted. The economic development prospects include job creation to which the Hools have committed strong results. $3.7 million is anticipated tax revenue for Santa Fe county according to one preliminary report.

Yet figuring out what productions will be made where is still a question that begins with the premise that more and more productions are leaving Los Angeles, a point to which Hariton has expressed his longstanding relationship of courting would-be productions and keeping in touch with them even if they first elect to go elsewhere. Will Santa Fe Airport will add more daily flights to and from the coast? In the meantime, Variety magazine reported Albuquerque ranks #3 in film and TV production nationwide. Albuquerque has also scored 2 on quality of life indices as reported in business magazine Kiplingers.

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