Local actor: ‘I haven’t been back to California’

March 4, 2011 • Local News

Many New Mexico actors feel blindsided by the $45 million cap on film incentives that passed in the $5 billion state budget bill, Wednesday, after many thought $60 million was a reasonable compromise.

“By bringing it down to $60 million, the industry lowered (incentives) eight percent more than last year,” Book of Eli actress Lora Martinez-Cunningham, said. “We were railroaded. I couldn’t believe what happened.”

Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell, who voted for the cap, said that he had never been in favor of the film incentives program, but believes that some New Mexicans have benefi ted from it.

“There’s no doubt that some individuals have benefited from it,” he said.“The problem is, at what cost? It’s one industry that’s privileged not to share any kind of (fiscal) pain.”

Martinez-Cunningham said discussions that took [auth] place behind closed doors led industry leaders to believe that $60 million would be the cap amount.

“We were happy. …They were happy we were happy. It was a done deal. We compromised,” she said.

Martinez-Cunningham said Rep. Dennis Roch’s, R-Texico, proposal to lower incentives to $40 million during session was a surprise.

“A float like that would limit us detrimentally,”she said.

“I’m glad that we have the 25 percent put in place from the film incentives,” Jo Edna Boldin, C.S.A., casting director said. “I’m not too happy about the cap. It’s just upsetting to me that it’s been so pointed toward the film incentives to being the answer to balance the budget. It has gotten a little emotional on both sides and it doesn’t quite seem fair that we’re being singled out.”

Johnnie Hector, of Roswell, whose film credits include Brothers, No Country For Old Men and The Keeper, is among the thousands of New Mexico actors who see the benefits of working in the state.

“I studied in California and I grew up here in Roswell,” he said. “When the incentive bill hit New Mexico, about five years ago, I had no need to go back to California. It was a blessing. The films that are here are top-notch. The opportunity is amazing for New Mexico actors.”

Hector believes that legislators need to be more informed about the trickle-down effect of film incentives.

“I wish they’d look into it and realize that there are over 10,000 kids going to college that are actually in media arts, who are in the film industry.”

According to Martinez- Cunningham, some incentive dollars that make it to Roswell end up on the Eastern New Mexico University- Roswell campus in the media arts program, led by individuals like Alan Trevor.

“We pour money into these programs, because we’re educating students for jobs when they graduate,” Martinez-Cunningham said. “And it’s not a job, it’s a career. If we take away this industry, we’re creating more unemployed people. It diminishes returns.”

As an actor, Hector values the quality of New Mexico films, which he believes have more of a realistic and environmental feel, considering they’ve been shot outside of the studio, and most important, away from Hollywood.

“They’re using actual natural environment,” he said. “They’re using the woods, the streets, the country. When you watch a New Mexico film, you can tell that there’s more depth to it — a unique feel.”

Hector’s colleagues in the state are echoing his sentiment on the importance of New Mexico film incentives and the uniqueness of films shot in New Mexico. Martinez- Cunningham, owner of Albuquerque’s Actor’s Studio, and casting director Jo Edna Boldin, C.S.A., are among the many who believe that film incentive dollars are stretched in more ways than one.

“Film companies bring so much money into this New Mexico market,” Boldin said.

Both are worried about the misconception that dollars are given back to Hollywood, when in fact, they stay in New Mexico, contributing to schools, tourism and businesses that focus on film, not to mention the thousands of jobs that are created from television and movie projects.

“It’s the New Mexicans that make their living that we’re fighting for,” Boldin said. “Not Hollywood. The 10,000 of us who depend on those projects coming in — that’s what we’re fighting for, is keeping alive and employed people, who live here in New Mexico and their children.”

“It is a misconception born of misinformation and manipulation,” Martinez- Cunningham said.

Josh Berry, like Hector, a Roswell citizen, moved to the area with his wife Ari, specifically for the film incentive program. Because of the program, he said that he has no need to venture back to Tinseltown.

“Every single producer I’ve talked to on every single set has told me the reason that they were in New Mexico was directly because of the incentive package,” Berry said. “My wife has gotten five or six jobs with the Screen Actors Guild union that she could not get before.”

Click here for more information on New Mexico actors and legislation.

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