By now, few weeks go by without movie announcements from the governor's office, film-related good news in the papers, sets causing novel parking problems for neighborhoods and fistfuls of third-hand celebrity gossip and Steven Seagal sightings. In fact, it was just announced that the political comedy Swing Vote (starring Kevin Costner) and the West Coast swing-dancing romance Love N’ Dancing (starring Amy Smart) will both be shot in the Duke City this summer.
Apparently, the movies are here to stay; and so, just as a girl becomes a woman, our little Albuquerque is developing into a new kind of town. Behind the scenes and the hoopla, small, local businesses are benefiting from the state’s nascent economic endeavor and are being positively impacted in a fiscal sense.
These benefits will likely prove to be exponential as more movie business comes to the state. Of course, the potential negative impacts remain to be seen. For now, the creative facet movies lend our city just may prove to be the most valuable.
During the inception of New Mexico’s film industry over the past few years, some not entirely obvious local businesses started to lend a hand, forging symbiotic relationships with Hollywood. Here are a few of their stories.
“It’s always fun to see the names that are in the films. Sometimes whoever’s taking the order might deliver it out to the set. Rarely do you see anybody famous, but it’s kind of cool to be out there on the sets,” notes Doug Bird, vice president of Black Duck, a screenprinting and embroidery business started in Albuquerque in 1989. The business hosts one of the largest printing operations in the Southwest.
Bird says five years ago, the company did almost no film-production work but has since worked on 20 different movies, making things like props, canvas director’s chair backs and garments for cast and crew gifts.
“I would say pretty much nowadays we always have some small project going for one of the productions that’s in town.” Bird says the film industry represents a minor part of the business, and the company didn’t pursue the movies; the movies came to them. “It is definitely growing. So far they haven’t been huge orders, but it’s coming. I think the state has done a good thing trying to attract these guys, because they do spend money.”
Ovations Film Actors Studio trains local actors and would-be actors for films by simulating the Hollywood audition atmosphere, teaching a variety of methods and providing other services related to film acting. While the owner, former Hollywood actor and long-time acting coach Steve Willmon, has been working for himself since December, his studio on Morningside just opened a few weeks ago. “I want people in my classes. I’m not trying to get rich off of this, and I know I probably never will. I don’t care because I love it so much.”
Willmon says he walked away from a fairly lucrative job teaching acting and is now happily charging students of all ages relatively small fees for classes and private lessons. “I haven’t seen any more talented people than I’ve seen here. I just hope the powers that be will stop importing principal actors from Los Angeles and New York and give our guys and gals a look.”
Since becoming involved with the film industry during 2001’s filming of Suspect Zero, Indian Sign developed a relationship with locally shot movies to the point that it now does 57 percent of its business with them—making props that include anything from sculptures to huge neon signs. Owner Anita Andean says the 25 year-old business became involved through word-of-mouth via union members.
“I deal with the art department, and I’ve got some really good relationships with some of the art directors,” she says. “With the film business it’s like, ‘Well, we want a sign that looks like brick, but it’s made out of foam,’ or something like that. So, we do a lot of carving, three-dimensional work, prop-building—that kind of stuff."
Andean says that while movie work isn’t that much more money, it’s more fun and creative than making signs for something like an open house or working with corporate America. “My business has really benefited from it, and we enjoy it. It’s definitely a good thing for the state. We’re pretty positive about it all, and we support the union a lot. They’re good people, and any time they can keep stuff in the local economy, they do."