'So much more than Westerns': New Mexico film industry sees diverse productions with longer schedules

Apr. 27—The New Mexico film industry is resilient.

Since the SAG-AFTRA strike ended on Nov. 9, productions have descended on the state to film.

While the number of productions in the current fiscal year doesn't quite match that of the last two years, there's a difference.

"Despite the strikes shutting down productions, the year is shaping up nicely," said Amber Dodson, New Mexico Film Office director. "What's different about this year is the productions that we have are staying in the state longer. This means more opportunity to have a bigger economic impact."

Dodson said one of the benefits of the film industry is how quickly it can rebound.

In recent years, the industry was hampered by the pandemic and then the Writers Guild of America strike, followed by the SAG-AFTRA strike.

"As soon as the switch was flipped, we started to get busy again," Dodson said. "It's going to be a busy summer."

So far in fiscal year 2024, there have been 22 productions in the state. These range from feature films to TV productions, as well as shorts and video games.

In fiscal year 2023, there were 82 productions overall. Meanwhile, fiscal year 2022 had 109 productions.

"Overall, we're seeing the trend where we are getting higher production budgets," Dodson says. "It's a good thing because it uses bigger sets. With a TV series and larger movies, they are going to be on the ground longer."

Some of the productions that have called New Mexico home this year have been the feature films, "Eddington" and "Honey, Don't!"

On the TV front, Netflix is currently filming its Western series "Ransom Canyon" and Fox completed the third season of "The Cleaning Lady."

In early April, the Village of Ruidoso announced it was a location for the feature film, "The Lost Bus," which stars Matthew McConaughey and America Ferrera.

The series is based on Lizzie Johnson's book, "Paradise: One Town's Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire," which is about the 2018 Camp Fire that became the deadliest fire in California history.

The film's story will be told through the perspective of heroic bus driver Kevin McKay and school teacher Mary Ludwig, who helped navigate a bus full of children through the deadly wildfire as the town of Paradise is caught in the destruction and chaos. The fire killed 85 people, leaving most of the town devastated.

At the Santa Fe Film Office, Jen LaBar-Tapia is just as busy.

As she looks at her board, there are eight productions ready to go.

"It's fun keeping up," said LaBar-Tapia, Santa Fe Film Office director. "That's the reason I'm in this job. I'm here to make the process easier for filmmakers."

Santa Fe is also getting some "Ransom Canyon" and "Eddington" production days.

AMC announced the third season of "Dark Winds" began production in mid-April.

"Meow Wolf also has something they are doing," she said. "I've got some student films as well. New Mexico School for the Arts is also doing a film, as well as a couple of students working on shorts from Santa Fe Community College. The range of productions is vast."

Dodson said "Eddington" filmed in Truth or Consequences and stars Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix.

"What we're seeing is film productions are looking beyond Santa Fe and Albuquerque," Dodson said. "We are seeing this growth largely because of our film incentive. Filmmakers are discovering that New Mexico is so much more than Westerns. There are diverse landscapes across the state."