Lights, Camera, Action: New Mexico’s Film Industry’s Starring Role
New Mexico's growing film industry drives the state forward.
As the fifth-largest state by geography, New Mexico’s more than 121,500 square miles is made up of communities with varying weather patterns and land regions, from the Great Plains and Colorado Plateau to the Rocky Mountains and Basin and Range Province. Throughout the years, its diverse offerings have caught the eyes of filmmakers, and today, the state is considered one of the top states for film and television production.
Major media and entertainment companies, like Netflix and NBCUniversal, call New Mexico home. Netflix acquired Albuquerque Studios in 2018 and made it a production hub, while NBC struck a deal with Garcia Realty and Development in 2019 and recently celebrated the opening of an 80,000-square-foot production studio with three soundstages in Albuquerque.
In May 2022, film studio 828 Productions said it was relocating from California to Las Cruces, where it plans to invest $75 million to build a 300,000-square-foot studio and 20-acre back lot over the next six years, creating at least 100 high-paying jobs.
Additionally, several production companies with superb facilities can be found all over the state, such as I-25 Studios in Albuquerque, New Mexico Film Studios, which broke ground on a backlot in Albuquerque in March 2022, and Garson Studios in Santa Fe.
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Whether companies choose to film a particular movie in New Mexico or invest more heavily and set up shop, like Netflix or NBCUniversal, their work in the state has quite the positive impact.
For example, when a company chooses to film here, it drives the economy forward by creating jobs, boosting tourism and increasing the number of sales at local restaurants and businesses.
“In fiscal year 2022, we announced a record-shattering $855 million in direct film and television production spent in our state,” says Director of the New Mexico Film Office, Amber Dodson. The office is a division of the New Mexico Economic Development Department that markets the state to the film industry, services productions, and creates jobs for New Mexicans.
While several factors go into deciding where to film a movie or television show, New Mexico is different from other states because it checks off many of the boxes on an entertainment company’s checklist.
In addition to diverse scenery and weather, New Mexico offers a slew of resources, from a great selection of local talent, crews and vendors to organizations that are ready to lend a hand, answer a question or connect companies with the information they need.
The New Mexico Film Office offers several training opportunities for those interested in the film industry. Its Film Crew Advancement Program, for example, provides on-the-job career training for New Mexicans in technical positions and reimburses companies 50% of a participant’s wages for up to 1,040 hours worked.
Speaking of job training, the state is home to a slew of higher education institutions that offer film or media programs for those pursuing a career in the industry.
Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque offers a film technician program; New Mexico State University-Carlsbad offers a digital media technology program; and Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) in Espanola offers a film and digital media arts program, to name a few.
“If you come to Northern, we can find a way for you to be successful and to grow, and soon enough, maybe go directly into the film industry in an entry-level way, or you can integrate the film in a bigger, fuller way into your life,” says David Lindblom, an associate professor of film and digital media arts at NNMC.
In addition to the programs offered by area higher education institutions, thanks to the soon-to-be-formed Next Generation Media Academy (NGMA), additional programs will become available to help train up New Mexicans in this industry. New Mexico received $40 million to fund the academy in the spring of 2022.
“The NGMA will be a game changer for the industry of New Mexico and, likely, the nation, as it will be a place for skilled training, paid apprenticeships and pathways to in-demand jobs and union membership,” Dodson says. “Not only will the NGMA be the epicenter for traditional crew training but also ground zero for emergent production technologies.”
While numerous Hollywood movies have been shot in New Mexico, the state is flourishing with local amateur and seasoned filmmakers who produce their own creative features and short films.
To celebrate and showcase their work, several festivals are held throughout the state during the year, drawing filmmakers, die-hard film lovers and casual moviegoers.
“There’s no other art form where you get to use audio, visual and subtext to tell your story, so when film is done well, it’s a wonderful way of taking in a story,” says Andrew Wice, co-producer of Madrid International Film Festival.
Let’s explore a few events on New Mexico’s calendar where filmmakers can highlight their work.
The annual Las Cruces International Film Festival, which will soon hold its eighth event in the spring of 2023, is considered the showcase of the Southwest for independent features, narrative shorts, documentaries and student films.
High school and middle school students can also make their mark at the Desert Light Film Festival, held annually in Alamogordo. Here, they can show off their work and participate in seminars designed for young filmmakers.
While Desert Light is a one-day event, the Santa Fe International Film Festival brings downtown Santa Fe to life for five days in the fall. The event features filmmaker awards, industry forums and other film education events.
Also, quite the draw is Madrid Film Festival, which screens New Mexico-produced short films. Held each September, this event supports amateur and minority filmmakers, and their works are showcased outdoors at Oscar Huber Memorial Ballpark.
“To see one’s own film on the big screen with an audience – which is out of reach for most young, aspiring filmmakers — I think it’s an invaluable experience,” Wice says.
Want to know more?
To learn more about New Mexico, check out the latest edition of New Mexico Economic Development.