At a ceremony at the University of New Mexico today, Gov. Susana Martinez signed a comprehensive tax bill that included the so-called “Breaking Bad” provision increasing tax credits for television series.
The film bill started out as its own piece of legislation in the House and the Senate. But after it was passed, then vetoed by Martinez on the day before the session ended, it was revived by its sponsor, Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, and became part of a complex and comprehensive tax bill that passed in the final seconds of the session on March 15.
The bi-partisan popularity of the film bill helped those efforts, said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. He heads the powerful Senate Finance Committee and is a fiscal conservative who has often criticized the film tax credits.
“My concern with this is, with 47 states offering film credits, we’re going to be a rest stop on the way to the next credit rather than [gaining] the stability and permanency we’d love to have,” Smith said at the bill-signing ceremony. “That being said, I also recognized immediately the appetite for the film credit on the House side and it created a great vehicle to attach a little amendment to.”
That “little amendment” has sparked outcries by some legislators that sweeping changes, such as slashing the corporate tax rate and phasing out reimbursements to local governments, were pushed through at the last minute, preventing lawmakers from evaluating the legislation.
Martinez spent little time on the film component of the legislation before signing the bill, but noted that it “preserves the predictability of the budget cap while giving a larger incentive to longer term TV productions that shoot in New Mexico.” She called the entire package of legislation a “game changer” that makes New Mexico more competitive. That same word was used several weeks ago by Mary Ann Hughes, vice president of film and television production planning for Walt Disney Studios, an interview with the Albuquerque Journal.
Hughes is a leader in Hollywood in comparing incentives globally, said Jason Hool, president of Santa Fe Studios.
“Everyone looks to her, so if she says it’s a game changer, it’s a game changer,” Hool said.
His facility is currently full, although he could not release information on the productions, but they include films and television shows.
Rick Clemente, CEO of I-25 Studios, said his facility has seen “an enormous uptick in activity” since bill was introduced in the legislature.
“I’m booked through the summer with four feature films right now,” he said. “I think our biggest problem in the recent past was the perception that the state was not interested in the business or not interested in pursuing it and we turned that completely around.”
Wayne Rauschenberger, COO of Albuquerque Studios, said he has received several calls from productions confirming the holds they put on some of his stages and also got several inquiries from studios that have been there previously. ABQ Studios* hosted productions such as “Terminator Salvation” and “The Avengers,” as well as “Breaking Bad.”
The New Mexico Film Office announced this week that “A Million Ways to Die in the West” starring Seth McFarland, Charlize Theron and Sarah Silverman will film here. The A&E series “Longmire” is in production in and around Santa Fe. “The Homesman” starring Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep and Hilary Swank is also in production around Santa Fe and Las Vegas. Forest Whitaker is in southern New Mexico this week shooting “Enemy Way.”
The new law allows TV series shooting at least six episodes and with a budget of at least $50,000 per episode to get a rebate of 30 percent on qualified expenditures, up from 25 percent. That same boost applies to expenditures on New Mexico resident crew for feature films with budgets up to $30 million that shoot at least 10 days in studio facilities in the state, and on feature films with budget of more than $30 million that shoot in studio facilities in the state for at least 15 days.
The law also allows unused credits to roll over to the next year if the $50 million annual cap on film credits was not reached. That is limited to $10 million annually with a three-year sunset provision. The law also allows productions to assign their anticipated credit to banks or other financing groups and thus get upfront financing for a film. And productions will have to make “reasonable efforts” to contract with vendors that have a physical presence in the state. Also, some non-resident crew expenses are rebatable, but only if a production made reasonable efforts to hire resident crew and it made financial or in-kind contributions toward workforce development or education programs.
Joseph Chianese, senior vice president with Entertainment Partners, which tracks incentives around the world, said the law gives New Mexico a significant advantage.
“It makes it a destination for television,” he said.
Supporters pushed for the provision because they said TV series stay longer and spend more money locally. At the moment, almost no other states have incentives geared specifically to TV, he added. Although New York recently expanded its definition of qualified expenditures to lure more kinds of television shows and extended its incentives out to 2019 (they had been set to sunset at the end of 2014, he said). It’s one reason “The Tonight Show” and “America’s Got Talent” are leaving L.A. and headed for the Big Apple.
The United Kingdom is also boosting incentives for television, Chianese said. He predicts that California will be the big loser in all this. Worldwide, some countries are extremely aggressive in courting productions. Australia is giving Disney a $20.7 million incentive to shoot the remake of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” down under, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
*(Full Disclosure: Albuquerque Studios is the primary financial backer of this website, however it does not have editorial control over my content.)
Megan Kamerick is a veteran reporter who has covered the film and media industry in New Mexico for many years.