Amber Dodson/Courtesy photo
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
“It’s not as glamorous as you would think, although I did meet Angelina Jolie once,” smiled Amber Dodson, Director of the New Mexico Film Office (NMFO), when she spoke via Zoom to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos on April 6th. Established in 1968, the NMFO was the first state agency of its kind in the United States. It operates under the Office of the Governor in the New Mexico Economic Department.
The primary task of the NMFO is to “capture, track, analyze, and report data,” Dodson began.
“We use 100 different metrics for our data research,” subjects that range from rural and direct spending to partner and non-partner spending, from the number of work days involved in any production to the number of participants in education and training programs.”
The NMFO also advocates for the film industry in the State Legislature, identifies opportunities for filming, fosters workforce development, and supports training for veterans and Native American filmmakers.
In describing the film industry in New Mexico, Dodson explained that our state has become a focal point for movies, TV programs, and commercials because “we offer competitive tax incentives, diverse landscapes that mirror other locations, experienced crews, and excellent weather.” With only a 90-minute flight between Los Angeles and Albuquerque, “filmmakers can easily visit New Mexico without a huge investment in travel time.” New Mexico also has the infrastructure for filmmaking, such as movie ranches and stages, and a reputation for being film-friendly and tech savvy. With incentives to source goods and services from New Mexico businesses, those in construction, hospitality and catering, real estate, fashion and beauty, the arts, travel and transport, and retail all benefit from the bulk of local spending.
Perhaps more than any advantage, New Mexico, through the NMFO, offers a statewide film liaison network that maintains relationships with local contacts in police and fire departments, chambers of commerce, and with business and property owners. Liaison staff members coordinate customized location packages in advance to meet specific needs of each film. “Liaisons provide the on-the-ground knowledge” that makes filming here so attractive.
Dodson mentioned that our Los Alamos film liaison, Kelly Stewart, has been “especially helpful” in her work with NMFO.
Filmmaking is “a multi-billion industry in New Mexico and employs over 9,000 independent workers,” Dodson said. Those employees earn an average of $54,000 a year, usually with benefits.
Delving into a little history, Dodson told Rotarians that the first movie made in New Mexico was Thomas Edison’s 1898 Indian Day School, a 30-second clip of children at Isleta Pueblo going in and out their school. As time passed more movies were made here with an explosion of Westerns in the 1940s and 1950s. In 2003, Governor Johnson approved a 15% tax incentive for the industry; it is now 25%-35%. In 2018 Netflix purchased the Albuquerque Studios and expanded in 2020. Netflix and NBC Universal each have made a 10-year commitment to New Mexico.
In terms of the pandemic, Dodson said all production crews are “tested daily.” Since September 2020, “we have administered over 75,000 Covid-19 tests.” New Mexico film production, at only 0.18% positivity, has the “best Covid safety rating in the film industry nationwide.”
Dodson summarized that the film industry in New Mexico “drives economic activity and tourism.” It also provides “positive national and international branding for the state.” Despite the setbacks of the last year, filmmakers are rushing to do business in New Mexico, “leaving Georgia, our biggest competitor” in the figurative dust of our photogenic state.
Under Dodson’s leadership, Albuquerque was ranked #1 by Moviemaker Magazine three years in a row (2019-2021) as the “Best Place to Live and Work,” and Santa Fe was ranked #2 for small cities. In 2020, Deadline Hollywood named New Mexico its first “Hotspot.”
To learn more about the New Mexico Film Office, please go to https://nmfilm.com.
Dodson, a graduate of Colorado College, brings decades of experience in entertainment, media, and tech industries to her role as Director of the NMFO. In 2019, she was appointed by Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller to manage the Albuquerque Film Office; in 2020, she was appointed by Governor Lujan-Grisham to head the NMFO. She lives in Albuquerque and is married to architecture professor Alex Webb. They have two children.
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its Club Foundation, is a 501(c)3 non-profit and one of over 34,000 clubs worldwide. Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966. Rotary areas of focus, as noted in above, include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving and enhancing the lives of mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.
To learn more about the Rotary Club of Los Alamos and its humanitarian service, please contact: Laura Gonzales, President, 699-5880 or Skip King, Membership chair, 662-8832.