By Devin D. O’Leary
Hollywood Southwest--Last Monday, the Mesa del Sol development south of Albuquerque’s Sunport announced one of its first major commercial tenants, a 50-acre film and television production facility, which will be known as Albuquerque Studios. The project, expected to be up and running by next spring, is the work of Pacifica Ventures, a California-based company, which runs the historic Culver Studios in Hollywood.
Following a brief groundbreaking ceremony, in which Mayor Marty took his usual undue amount of credit, the Alibi was able to sit down with executives involved in the project and quiz them about their place in New Mexico’s filmmaking future.
With more than half of all film projects started in Hollywood finished elsewhere, Pacifica Ventures Chairman Hal Katersky is eager to lure runaway productions to New Mexico. When asked “Why New Mexico?” Katersky unveiled his four-point sales plan. Firstly, he believes the state will continue to capture a great deal of movie business. What will motivate producers to come to the Land of Enchantment? Incentive programs. “The bottom line is dollars,” says Katersky, and New Mexico’s new 25 percent tax rebate on all instate spending by a film or television production is a mighty enticing carrot for Hollywood. Pacifica’s No. 2 point is proximity. “We’re a 1 1/2-hour flight from Los Angeles. There are places in L.A. you can’t get to in an hour and a half.” The third point is climate. “The weather is great,” notes Katersky. “You can shoot outdoors all year.” The fourth selling point on New Mexico is that, “At a state and city level, you’ve worked hard to welcome this industry. People go where they are welcome.”
Albuquerque Studios is expected to have a “first-class” production facility in place by February 2007. But, notes Katersky, the two 24,000-sq.-ft. stages and adjacent office space are only “phase one.” Eight sound stages, production offices and support space totaling 500,000 sq. ft. are expected to be constructed in time.
According to Nicholas Smerigan, who will serve as vice president and general manager of Albuquerque Studios, Mesa del Sol’s “live/work/play model is great for our people--as it is for anybody else.” He envisions a whole community of filmmakers buying houses in and working at Mesa del Sol by the time the studio’s final phase is complete.
Although New Mexico still lags behind Los Angeles in terms of prop houses, costume shops, caterers and trained below-the-line workers (grips, gaffers, camera operators), Katersky is confident that “those ancillary businesses will build up over time,” turning New Mexico into an increasingly desirable filmmaking destination. After all, as Katersky puts it, “We don’t take a $75 million investment lightly.”
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