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 V.20 No.8 | February 24 - March 2, 2011 

Gene Grant

Don’t Blink

New Mexico can’t flinch in the film contest

Incentive. Rebate. Giveaway. Boon. Whatever you call it, the business of the film business and all its related benefits and pains is heading for a resolution.

As of press time, Democratic Sen. Tim Keller was gaining traction with SB 44, which considers various gripes (some well earned) about transparency and requires better reporting. That’s great. Let’s do it.

But otherwise, this industry is vulnerable for all the wrong reasons. It's a good target because it's high-profile and just too juicy for media to resist. For weeks before the session, talking heads had a field day turning what is essentially a dry economics discussion into a thinly veiled culture war.

We just don't do well with the idea of New Mexicans actually making bank instead of wage.

For whatever reason, the television stations offered a mind-numbing quantity of stories that could have been swapped between stations with no discernible difference. The giveaway was the choice of sound bites. Everyone was mouthing the same themes and beats. Throw in almost daily Journal editorials and op-eds, and the issue had been firmly twisted.

The resulting distortion missed the bigger point. New Mexicans in this business are doing well. And by well, I mean on par with the rest of the country—that's not a traditional New Mexico standard of income.

This whole debate pegs squarely on our nagging inability to accommodate wealth and the people and industries that facilitate it. Unless, of course, we’re talking about old-guard industries like minerals and gas/oil extraction, cattle grazing and land development. (Or their political cousins, extortion and patronage.)

We just don't do well with the idea of New Mexicans actually making bank instead of wage.

Let everyone else cut and then regret it down the road.

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work," Thomas Edison famously quipped. There's a delightful irony in that idea as it relates to film in our state. There are a whole lotta overalls on the sets, but you wouldn't know this given what we hear from opponents who believe the business is about a gilded class that hobnobs with celebrities, eating fabulous meals and the like.

This regrettable attitude is that the film industry does not create "real" jobs because the business does not strap you to a desk or the oil patch. Therefore, goes the thinking, it's not legitimate.

So here we sit, in the lead pack (with California, New York, Michigan and Louisiana) of a very competitive race, and because of that, we get shaky knees and sweaty palms. For the first time in our state's history, we are closer to first than last. Envied, not pitied. Studied, not ignored. And some of us can't accept the blessing. Why? Do we not deserve it?

We need to recognize that a new definition of work and wealth is forming here. We've got to do it now because another state will take it from us, same as we snagged it from someone else. That's life.

Here's the deal: Whichever state blinks last on the incentive contest could potentially own the lion's share of film-related business for a generation. It's that big of a deal. Someone is going to be Los Angeles version 1.1—California has figured it out and is fighting back by reinstating its incentive program.

Despite the economic downturn, a number of states are considering starting programs or reviving previous plans left fallow. Even conservative Arizona has a bill working its way through the legislature to do just that.

In a perfect world, we'd have proposals circulating in our own Roundhouse to sweeten the deal in preparation for a revived economy. Let everyone else cut and then regret it down the road. It'll happen. At the end of it all, there's going to be a "new normal" on incentive percentages. We have to play long ball here.

Once in a generation, the state pulls an economic rabbit out of its hat. For New Mexico, the film industry has been an enormous gift. Huge. And we scurried like mad to make the best of the opportunity. Let's resolve to get comfortable with our new normal.

We're winning. Embrace it. Feels good, doesn't it?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
 

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