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'Breaking Bad' bill would boost New Mexico film incentive

New Mexico is trying to beef up its film incentive to attract new dramas to replace "Breaking Bad," which is shooting its final season in the state.

February 27, 2013|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times
  • Louis Ferreira and Bryan Cranston on the set of "Breaking Bad."
Louis Ferreira and Bryan Cranston on the set of "Breaking Bad." (Ursula Coyote / AMC )

Supporters have dubbed it the "Breaking Bad" bill.

For five seasons, the AMC TV series has been a hit for the cable network and an economic boon to the state of New Mexico, where the drama starring Bryan Cranston is set and produced.

Now that the series is shooting its final season, however, New Mexico is attempting to beef up its film incentive to attract new dramas to help restore the state's position as one of the leading destinations for film production outside of California.

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State legislators recently unanimously approved a bill that would boost New Mexico's TV production refundable tax credit to 30% from 25%. The incentive works like a rebate, giving filmmakers credit toward what they spend on crews and vendors in the state. To qualify, TV productions would have to film at least six episodes in New Mexico and hire local crews.

The credit also allows producers to bring in outside crews so long as they make a good faith effort to hire in state and contribute to local job training programs. Producers of feature films also could get an additional 5% rebate on what they spend to hire local crews.

If the state Senate and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez approve the bill, it could be passed as early as the spring, raising the competitive stakes for California, which offers a tax credit of 20% to 25% of qualified spending. The proposed legislation comes at a time when Los Angeles already has seen a sharp falloff in production of one-hour dramas and television pilots because of competition from New York and other states.

The proposed legislation also is intended to put New Mexico in a more competitive position relative to other states, especially Georgia, Louisiana and New York, that already offer a 30% credit.

New Mexico still attracts some big productions — "The Avengers" and "The Lone Ranger" filmed there — because of its proximity to L.A., its local crew base and varied geography. But it's no longer considered the chief rival to California as it was five years ago, when Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, aggressively courted the film industry with rebates, loans and job training programs. Massive new production facilities sprouted, and several vendors and support companies followed suit.

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The state's film business fell off sharply after Martinez, a Republican who vowed to curtail government spending, proposed big cuts in the program in early 2011. Eventually, Martinez backed away from plans to gut the film and TV credit, but the state imposed new restrictions on the incentive, including a $50-million cap on annual tax credits.

Film spending in New Mexico in fiscal 2012 dropped nearly 20% to $225 million compared with fiscal 2011, according to the New Mexico Film Office.

"Any time a state makes public claims they may not support the program, it makes the industry very nervous," said Joe Chianese, a senior vice president at Entertainment Partners, which advises the industry on film and television tax credits. "These [proposed] changes are very positive and it demonstrates that they are very supportive of the industry."

Matt Rauchberg, senior vice president of Albuquerque Studios, which emerged from bankruptcy in September 2011, strongly backs the "Breaking Bad" bill.

"The last year was pretty slow," said Rauchberg, adding that "Breaking Bad" takes up two soundstages while six others are vacant. State lawmakers have a "perfectly clear understanding of the benefits of the film industry and they want to do anything they can to bring it back."


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