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Go West

The Southwestern United States offers near-endless location possibilities.

By Cory Sekine-Pettite

Clockwise from Above] New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment - Photo: Don Gray, NMFO contract locations coordinator The 38th Annual Daytime Entertainment EmmyÆ Awards ceremony was held at the Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas. Picture from Cowgirls Ní Angels, starring Bailee Madison. Copyright Sweethearts, LLC Downtown Houston - Texas Film Commission
[Clockwise from Above]
New Mexico, The Land of EnchantmentPhoto: Don Gray, NMFO contract locations coordinator
The 38th Annual Daytime Entertainment EmmyÆ Awards ceremony was held at the Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas.
Picture from Cowgirls N’ Angels, starring Bailee Madison. Copyright Sweethearts, LLC
Downtown HoustonTexas Film Commission

The Southwest region of the United States is a geographically diverse and ecologically rich area that is home to about 19 million people. With deserts, mountains, vast open spaces, modern cities, abandoned and/or historic settlements, and plenty of sunshine, this region offers something for nearly every filmmaker. To learn more, Markee spoke with the state film offices of Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas about their incentive packages and to get a sense for what it’s like to shoot in their states.

Colorado: For more than Westerns

North Fork Ranch is one hour southwest of Denver
North Fork Ranch is one hour southwest of Denver.

What do movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, City Slickers, True Grit, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade have in common? They all were at least partially shot in Colorado. Obviously, Colorado is an ideal location for the rugged, beautiful landscapes required of a Western (such as The Lone Ranger, which is filming in the state this summer), but the state offers much, much more. According to the Colorado Office of Film Television & Media (www.coloradofilm.org), the state features more than 50 “14’ers” (mountain peaks over 14,000 feet tall), awe-inspiring natural beauty of the dramatic red rocks landscape, an expanding grape growing region, farmlands of the Eastern Plains, the tallest sand dunes in the nation, and untamed rivers. Further, Colorado is proud of its diverse architecture, the organization says, which includes modern skyscrapers and buildings designed by internationally known architects.

Diverse locations, experienced crew, established infrastructure and film-friendly communities is what makes filming in Colorado easy, says Drew Repp, Colorado Office of Film Television & Media program manager. The incentives aren’t so bad either.

Currently, according to Repp, the Colorado Film Incentive program offers producers a 10 percent cash rebate for production costs taking place in Colorado. The incentive program covers feature films (both independent and studio), television pilots, television series (broadcast and cable), commercials, music videos, industrials, documentaries, and video game design and creation.

Williams Reservoir, 20 miles on well graded dirt road from Pagosa Springs, Colo. Pagosa is one hour from the Durango-La Plata County airport (DRO).
Williams Reservoir, 20 miles on well graded dirt road from Pagosa Springs, Colo. Pagosa is one hour from the Durango-La Plata County airport (DRO).

To qualify for the program, a Colorado production company must have qualified in-state spending of at least $100,000 on the project, while an out-of-state production company must have at least $250,000 in qualifying expenses. In addition to the qualifying expenses, at least 25 percent of the workforce on every project must locally hired in order for the project to meet state incentive guidelines.

Furthermore, in the current legislative session there is a bill (HB 12-1286) proposing an increase of the cash rebate to 20 percent. The bill also would create a loan guarantee program for production activities.

And speaking of hiring local professionals, there are a number of local production companies with which to work. There’s Futuristic Films, High Noon Entertainment, Citizen Pictures, Listen Productions, and Walk the Line Films just to name a few.

Nevada: Finding the perfect location is no gamble

Two of the stars of Foxís Raising Hope, Garret Dillahunt (left) and Lucas Neff.
Two of the stars of Fox’s Raising Hope, Garret Dillahunt (left) and Lucas Neff.

Currently, Nevada does not offer an incentive or tax rebate program for the film and production industry. (Note: A bill may go before the State Legislature in 2013.) However, there is no corporate or personal income tax, no unitary or inventory tax, and there is an abatement of room tax after 30 days. These smaller incentives, plus locations and an atmosphere you can’t find anywhere else, are enough to draw film and television shoots year-round. As stated on page 4 of this issue, there have been at least 90 major motion pictures shot in Nevada, and several TV programs.

“Most productions already know about the neon and glitter of Las Vegas and the world famous strip, but what most don’t know is that Nevada has many unique and one-of-a-kind locations,” says Charlie Geocaris, director of the Nevada Film Office (www.nevadafilm.com). “Nevada boasts more mountains than any other state in America, has abandoned ghost towns, miles of scenic and curved roads, vast desert landscapes and playas, cattle ranches, cow towns and picturesque lakes for productions.”

Additionally, there are several dozen local, state-of-the-art production companies both in Las Vegas and nearby Reno that execute regional and national projects. Speaking of projects, recent productions filmed in the state include the following: New Line just wrapped Burt Wonderstone, starring Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde and Steve Buscemi; The Muppets and Lay the Favorite were filmed in the state; and television programs included CSI, American Idol, the Miss America Pageant, Pawn Stars, the Latin Grammys, Raising Hope and the Country Music Awards. Commercials filmed in Nevada include spots for AT&T, Cadillac, Converse, Adidas and Jaguar.

There’s no arguing that Nevada is recognized the world over for amazing locations, professional crews and state-of-the-art facilities. “Our motto at the Nevada Film Office is ‘Your Imagination. Our Locations’ and we tell productions that their projects are limited only by their creativity with locations so unique they act as built-in sets for motion pictures, television, commercials, documentaries, industrial films, music videos, student films, still photography and multi-media projects,” says Geocaris.

New Mexico: Anything but a plain sight

New Mexico has received a great deal of air time on the small screen during the past few years, because of popular shows such as AMC’s Breaking Bad and USA Network’s In Plain Sight. Not to be outdone by TV, film producers are making significant use of the state’s landscape and unique locations as well. 2012’s Haywire and Game Change filmed in New Mexico, as well as the comic books-turned-movies Cowboys & Aliens (2011) and The Avengers (May 2012). Additionally, Gore Verbinski’s retelling of The Lone Ranger is shooting some of its scenes in New Mexico.
“New Mexico has everything from ski resorts to dry lake beds. Whether it’s an urban street or a wide-open road, the versatility is vast,” says Nick Maniatis, director, New Mexico State Film Office. “We also boast over 300 days of sunshine a year.”

To see just how vast and diverse the state’s locations can be, Maniatis recommends searching the more than 8,000 locations and 60,000 photographs in the New Mexico State Film Office’s online database at http://nmfilm.com.

Lamy, N.M., 70 miles north of Albuquerque. Photo: Don Gray, NMFO contract locations coordinator
Lamy, N.M., 70 miles north of Albuquerque. Photo: Don Gray, NMFO contract locations coordinator

So what else makes New Mexico unique as far as film locations are concerned? “New Mexico has solid infrastructure, geographical diversity, a large professional local crew base, and an extensive number of industry vendors,” Maniatis said. “Jump on a quick, direct flight to L.A. from either Santa Fe or Albuquerque.”

Where tax credits are involved, New Mexico continues to offer one of the most competitive incentive packages, Maniatis’ office says, which includes the 25-percent Refundable Tax Credit, Film Investment Loan Program, and Film Crew Advancement Program. Qualified applicants can receive a 25-percent tax credit on all direct production expenditures and postproduction services – including New Mexico crew – that are subject to taxation. Eligible productions include feature films, independent films, television, regional and national commercials, documentaries, animation, video games, webisodes, and postproduction (including “stand-alone” postproduction). Non-resident actors and stunt performers also qualify for up to a $5 million tax credit. Each fiscal year, New Mexico has $50 million available to expend on approved credits.

Picture from The Cherokee Word for Water, the story of Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Tribe, who is world-renowned for her political leadership. She died in April 2010. Pictured from left to right is Wilmaís widower, Charlie Soap, who helped make the film; and actors Kimberly Norris Guerrero and Moses Brings Plenty who portray Wilma and Charlie in the film. Copyright Mankiller Project LLC
Picture from The Cherokee Word for Water, the story of Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Tribe, who is world-renowned for her political leadership. She died in April 2010. Pictured from left to right is Wilma’s widower, Charlie Soap, who helped make the film; and actors Kimberly Norris Guerrero and Moses Brings Plenty who portray Wilma and Charlie in the film. Copyright Mankiller Project LLC

Oklahoma: Rolling out the red carpet, not the red tape

According to the Oklahoma Film & Music Office, Oklahoma is known for its quality of life and the willingness of its communities to embrace film production. “We pride ourselves on rolling out the red carpet, not the red tape,” they say.

In case you didn’t know, Oklahoma is located just south of the geographic center of the United States; it is equidistant from Los Angeles and New York City. “The Great Plains state” ranks 20th in size in the nation and exemplifies 11 distinct ecological regions, with terrain including flat, fertile plains; sand dunes; high mesas; dense forests; cypress swamps; rolling hills; and mountains covered in rock or trees. In fact, it is one of only four states with more than 10 ecoregions (subclimates).

Past Hollywood productions filmed in the state include The Killer Inside Me, Twister, Elizabethtown, and The Outsiders. Current film productions include So This is Christmas, The Cherokee Word for Water, Home Run, Just Crazy Enough, Thunderstruck and Yellow. The Cherokee Word for Water tells the story of Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Tribe, who is world-renowned for her political leadership. She died in April 2010.

Oklahoma Landscape. Copyright Chris Kucharski
Oklahoma Landscape. Copyright Chris Kucharski

The story of Wilma Mankiller is a local production, and the Oklahoma Film & Music Office says there are numerous production companies that can facilitate a project’s needs from pre- to postproduction. A complete listing of production companies that have registered with the office is available online at www.oklahomafilm.org.

Also available at that web address is a complete guide to the film office’s tax incentive program, which includes a tax rebate up to 37 percent on Oklahoma expenditures to qualifying companies filming in the state. The rebate is capped at $5 million per year, and each qualifying production must have a minimum budget of $50,000 and spend $25,000 in Oklahoma. Of course, Oklahoma Film & Music Office will make the entire process as easy as possible.

Texas: Anything you want, it has it

Caddo Lake State Park, Karnack, Texas - Texas Film Commission
Caddo Lake State Park, Karnack, TexasTexas Film Commission

If you’ve been to Texas, then you know the state’s geography is as diverse as its people. From mountains to marshes, from beaches to deserts, from beautiful lakes and rivers to rolling hills and plains, Texas has it all, the Texas Film Commission (http://governor.state.tx.us/film) and the Governor’s Office say. And with 268,000 square miles, the perfect location for your next film project is out there.

Additionally, Texas is no stranger to major film and television productions. It has an infrastructure in place to accommodate productions of any size, and the Texas Film Commission says it is proud to be the home of some of the most talented actors, seasoned crews and beautiful locations in the country. The state’s weather is another great reason to consider filming there, offering mild winters and warm temperatures in the spring and summer.

Need more convincing? Consider the many productions – past and present – shot in the state. According to the Texas Film Commission, Texas has been the backdrop of countless films and productions over the past century, amassing an impressive list of critically acclaimed movies and programs including: Giant, Dallas (and the show’s reboot, premiering in June), five seasons of Friday Night Lights, the film Secondhand Lions, the Oscar-winning There Will Be Blood, the Oscar-nominated True Grit, and the Oscar-nominated and Palme D’Or-winning The Tree of Life. Moreover, a number of television shows and films are currently or have just wrapped up filming in the state including, Top Chef: Texas (Bravo), GCB (ABC), and The Lying Game (ABC Family).

Downtown Lockhart - Texas Film Commission
Downtown LockhartTexas Film Commission

Texas’ competitive incentive program is another consideration when location scouting. The state offers incentives through the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program (MIIIP), as well as tax exemptions and tax refunds. Qualifying, live-action or animated productions have the opportunity to receive a payment of five percent to 17.5 percent of eligible Texas spending or 8 percent to 29.25 percent of eligible wages to Texas residents, depending on budget levels and type of production. Texas also offers up-front sales tax exemptions on items rented or purchased for direct use in production, as well as refunds on the state occupancy tax and fuel tax.

Further, the Texas Film Commission boasts that Lone Star State has a depth of experienced actors and crew that many states cannot match, and a large percentage of jobs can be filled locally, saving companies money on housing, transportation and per diem. As such, qualifying productions must consist of 70 percent local talent (including extras) and 70 percent of the crew must be Texas residents, and 60 percent of the production must be filmed in Texas. For more information, visit http://www.castandcrew.com/display-details.php?state=TEXAS.


November 9, 2012