How cities profit from feature films


Movies filmed in small towns bring much-needed revenues to those cities. So how can communities attract feature film productions?

Movies filmed in small towns bring much-needed revenues to those cities. So how can communities attract feature film productions?

That was the subject of a work session at last week's 2013 Rural Economic Development Forum at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus.

Three movies were filmed in Belen this summer, bringing in about $90,000 in additional local revenue.

Rhona Espinoza, executive director of the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce, said each film brought in about $30,000 each. Most rural towns would gladly take that economic boost.

The work session, led by Jim Glover of the Idea Group of Santa Fe, and Los Angeles location manager Billy Smith and his wife, Linda, laid out the nuts and bolts of luring movies to small communities.

Smith has worked with Sony, Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox and FX studios on such films as "Presumed Innocent," the first "X-Files" movie, and several television shows, including "Law & Order."

"What we need from you folks who want filming in your communities is, we need awareness, we need to know what you've got, what the goods are," Smith said. "If you have beautiful old stuff, like the Luna Mansion, that has to be known — that place should be photographed … that should be put on file with the New Mexico Film Office."

Each community would do well to have a designated film person to court the industry. The film liaison needs to be knowledgeable about the region and have excellent people skills.

"If one city has the same as another, let's say "A" has the same as "B," but "B" has a great guy to work with, guess where I'm going," Smith said. "The liaison is really important … great to work with, gets it, knows what we need and knows what we need to do to protect the community to work together."

The liaison also is proactive, looking for upcoming films on the New Mexico Film Office website, and also through the Hollywood Reporter, the Daily Variety and the L.A. Times business section, said Linda.

The liaison can build a relationship with the state film office to keep on top of productions coming to town.

Glover suggested working with local officials, the New Mexico Game and Fish and state park managers to try to set up a way to expedite any necessary permitting for a movie shoot.

Showcasing a town's historical buildings, campuses, landscapes, business and services, and other film production accommodations on city or chamber of commerce websites is the next step.

"Don't rely on someone from the state to do this," Glover said. "I think this should be all of your responsibility, that you go into your community and identify everything you think the (location managers) of the world would want from a location perspective."

If residents have properties as potential locations, they can list them, with pictures, under public interest at, the state's film office website.

Photographs of historic or interesting public locations are also wanted. Contact Don Gray in Santa Fe at 505-476-5603 or email him at

New Mexico offers a 25 or 30 percent refundable film production tax credit and other incentives to attract movie productions.

And a community that is film-friendly and film-ready is more attractive to location managers, Smith said.

As for rental fees for a location, there are no set rates. It's negotiated. For example, the rental of a historic restaurant would be calculated by the receipts the restaurant would normally receive on the days it would be closed for filming, and any other costs associated with the filming crew's visit.

"I have to make it worth that person's while," Smith said. "I'm taking over their place, I'm taking over their home, their business or something like that, so it's a fair negotiation."

He said the IRS allows people to rent their property for events without paying taxes for 14 days, but if it goes to 15 days, the property owner must pay taxes on it, plus the previous 14 days.

"So a lot of homeowners in Los Angeles who have had filming for years, they cut off at 14 days," said Smith.

The New Mexico Film Office has a film liaison program. Typically, the liaison works for the city, county or the local chamber of commerce. Some are strictly volunteers, but to become an endorsed liaison, the local government must send the state film office a letter of its endorsement.

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