New Mexico Lawmakers Search Ways to Entice Film Industry in Wake of Alec Baldwin Incident

In a legislative hearing Tuesday, New Mexico lawmakers were nearly unanimous in their support of the state's tax incentive program for the film industry, a month after the accidental shooting death of a cinematographer on a film set in the state.

Currently, the state offers productions a rebate of 25 to 35 percent for in-state spending that attracts filmmakers large and small to help reduce the costs of production, according to The Associated Press.

State economic development officials presented a report showing an estimated $109 million in credits for the year ending in June 2021, with every tax dollar spent on credits showing an eight-fold benefit on the local economy.

Amber Dodson, director of the New Mexico Film Office, said 2019 legislative reforms broadened the incentives allowed for production companies that demonstrate long-term commitments to the state with 10-year contracts on a qualified production facility. Netflix and NBCUniversal are two companies that have already secured the status, which allows for a raise of the cap on the rebates they can receive for productions in the state.

"These deals certainly create a long-term sustainability to this industry," Dodson said. "So we're not a flash-in-the-pan place to go shoot a western anymore. We are a hub in an ecosystem that is long-term and sustainable."

The meeting comes just over a month after a real gun with live bullets was mistakenly used and fired in a rehearsal, causing Alec Baldwin to accidentally shoot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who later died, and a director who was injured on the set of "Rust", a Western filming at the Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

New Mexico, Rust, Alec Baldwin
A rusted chain hangs on the fence at the entrance to the Bonanza Creek Ranch film set in Santa Fe, New Mexico Oct. 27, 2021. New Mexico authorities said they have recovered a lead projectile believed to have been fired from the gun used in the fatal movie-set shooting. Andres Leighton/Associated Press

"D.N.P. — do not panic. New Mexico supports the film industry," Democratic state Rep. Moe Maestas said, amid discussions about how to bolster the local film industry financially. His supportive comments were echoed by several other legislators in the Democratic majority.

Producers of "Rust" registered to receive a state rebate but are unlikely to ever collect after filming was halted.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office is investigating the Oct. 21 death on a movie set that had inexperienced crew members, apparent safety lapses and a serious labor dispute. Authorities say Baldwin thought he was handed a gun without any live rounds before firing it during a rehearsal.

Workplace safety was not discussed at Tuesday's legislative hearing, and officials took pains not to mention "Rust" directly.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, an ardent supporter of the film industry, has indicated that she'll await additional facts in the "Rust" investigation before considering any changes to state regulations.

The New Mexico Film Office recently started requiring a written commitment from filmmakers who apply for financial incentives to follow industry safety guidelines.

Several companies came together to finance and produce "Rust," including Baldwin's El Dorado Pictures. The film, which is based on a story by Director Joel Souza and Baldwin, was financed in part by Las Vegas-based Streamline Global, which describes its business model as "acquiring films that offer certain tax benefits" that may "reduce the owner's federal income tax liability from income earned from other sources."

BondIt Media Capital, an independent film financier, also bankrolled "Rust."
Leon Forde, managing director for video-sector consulting firm Olsberg SPI, said New Mexico's local film production incentive is among the most generous in the US.

State Rep. Larry Scott of Hobbs, a Republican in the legislative minority, was dismissive of the new economic study and suggested New Mexico may be spending too much on a film industry that directly employs fewer than 8,000 people.

"My fear here is that we've sent the foxes to count the chickens," Scott said.

Film production expenditures climbed to nearly $624 million for the year ending in June, an all-time high since the film tax rebate was introduced in 2003.

New Mexico, Rust, Alec Baldwin
Attorney Gloria Allred (Right) reads names from a lawsuit filed on the behalf of Mamie Mitchell (Left), script supervisor on the film, "Rust" against actor/producer Alec Baldwin and other producers on the New Mexico set, in Los Angeles, California on November 17, 2021. New Mexico legislators held a public meeting Tuesday defending the state's tax rebate program for film productions a month after the incident on the "Rust" set. David McNew/AFP via Getty Images