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New studio in Santa Fe, N.M., adds to competition for filmmakers

The state saw a drop-off in movie and TV productions when its tax rebates were threatened this year, but officials hope the new Santa Fe Studios will help it stage a comeback.

November 16, 2011|By Dima Alzayat, Los Angeles Times

A long-standing artist community and celebrity vacation destination, Santa Fe, N.M., has a new rising star: a sprawling studio complex that could help the state regain its footing as a leading production destination for Hollywood filmmakers.

Santa Fe Studios, a nearly $30-million, 65-acre production facility in the southeast part of the more-than-a-mile-high town, will open for business this week. The pueblo-style studio includes two 19,274-square-foot soundstages with plush offices and dressing rooms, access to electric cars and ultra-high-speed broadband technology.

Film industry promoters are hoping the studio will help boost business in New Mexico, which has long been an archrival to California, with its 25% film tax rebate, mild weather and experienced film crews.

But New Mexico is facing growing competition from other states like Louisiana and Georgia, and its film industry took a hit this year when Gov. Susana Martinez proposed slashing rebates to 15%. Lawmakers ultimately reached a compromise to keep the incentives at 25%, but the uncertainty caused a dip in film activity.

Financed partly by a $10-million grant from the state, Santa Fe Studios will be New Mexico's fifth studio and second largest after Albuquerque Studios, which has eight soundstages and has been home to dozens of movie and television productions, including Marvel Studios' "The Avengers" and AMC's "Breaking Bad," since opening in 2007.

Santa Fe Studios will face stiff competition from Albuquerque Studios, which is about 80 miles away. Nonetheless, the owners tout their facility as the boutique alternative for filmmakers.

"This will help stabilize the industry, and with the backing of the [state] administration, will result in more activity," said Lance Hool, producer of such movies as "Man on Fire" and "Flipper," who owns the studio complex with his son Jason and brother Conrad.

New Mexico, the site of such movies as "Transformers," "Terminator Salvation" and most recently "The Last Stand" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, saw $275 million in annual direct film spending at its peak in fiscal year 2008. That dropped to $206.4 million in fiscal year 2010 as fewer projects were filmed in New Mexico.

This year, New Mexico imposed a $50-million cap on its film rebates, well below the tax credits approved in the last two years: $65.9 million in 2010 and $76.4 million in 2009, according to the New Mexico Film Office. Still, New Mexico Film Office Director Nick Maniatis predicted the new limit would not hinder the state's ability to attract productions.

"We saw a fallback when the incentive was in question, but we're hoping that by the spring we'll be back to where we were," Maniatis said.

After a recent meeting with Martinez, Hool said he was also confident about the future of New Mexico's movie industry. "She's 100% behind the film business," he said.

Santa Fe Studios has booked several features and television shows, but Hool declined to identify them. Hool said new projects could include parts of Walt Disney Studios' "The Lone Ranger," which is scheduled to start production early next year after a budget dispute stalled the production.

Jon Hendry, business agent for Local 480 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents crew members in New Mexico, said Santa Fe Studios will help the state stage a comeback.

"Albuquerque Studios was transformative for New Mexico," Hendry said. "I have no reason to believe Santa Fe Studios won't be able to accomplish the same thing."

dima.alzayat@latimes.com

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