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The entrance to Albuquerque Studios, which was purchased by Netflix in 2018.

New Mexico’s booming film industry gives grads employment opportunities

Filmmaking in New Mexico is on the rise, much to the luck of recent college film graduates. With record peaks in funding, direct spending supported by credits and deductibles that are projected to continue growing, University of New Mexico film graduates are set up to find lucrative work in the film industry.

“This is where the next Hollywood is going to be and I want to be there while it’s being built. It’s perfect for someone like me who’s looking for work in the film industry and an easy in, and New Mexico is looking for a giant crop of young people to work in the film industry so they can boost the economy,” UNM film student Michael Madrigal said.

Madrigal moved from Maryland to take advantage of the numerous New Mexico film benefits and wasn’t the only one. Current UNM film student Juan Gomez also came to UNM on a scholarship because of the better film opportunities here in comparison to where he used to live in Colombia.

In 2019, a total of 40 film projects registered with the state were shot in New Mexico, which is more than double what it was in 2018. So far in 2021, another 30 have been shot in state, though far more were planned and ultimately cancelled due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

“We’re now one of the top states in the U.S. for film and television, and we can’t wait to be No. 1,” Alicia J. Keyes, state economic development secretary, told the Santa Fe New Mexican in June after NBCUniversal opened a new studio in Albuquerque.

In 2002, New Mexico began offering film tax incentives to productions that provide jobs to local below-the-line personnel, or talent or crewmembers who work day to day, receive no cuts of the profit after filming and have little creative say over the project. This would include a lot of new UNM graduates.

“I came because I found out about Netflix and the booming film industry here in Albuquerque … It gave me more hope that I’d be able to work one day on real projects,” UNM film student Ella Campbell, an out-of-state student, said. “(The tax incentives) sound great to me. Providing jobs is super important right now, especially for creatives.”

Current incentives include a 25-35% refundable tax credit for most below-the-line local cast and crew as well as free or reduced training programs to prepare prospective film employees to work on a film set. There is a $50 million cap on credits for each project, but the majority of productions taking place in New Mexico fall well enough below the cap that the credits and deductibles make the provisions valuable to the target projects. 

UNM has partnerships with many film studios in Albuquerque, which allows students to find internships and establish connections through that avenue, according to the College of Fine Arts website.

“Our alumni enjoy success at renowned institutions such as Lucasfilm, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and Telltale Games. Many are instrumental in the growth of New Mexico’s thriving film industry, home of ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Better Call Saul’ and ‘Preacher,’” James Stone, chair of UNM’s department of film and digital arts, wrote on the website.

As of 2019, the average salary of an alumnus of UNM’s film department was $21,964 two years after graduation, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In comparison, two highly competitive film schools in America, the University of Southern California and New York University, have average alumni salaries of $29,557 and $30,952, respectively.

Though New Mexico’s tax credit is not as expansive as those in California, the cost of filming is far lower, and the New Mexico film industry spent $623 million — a record-breaking number — during the 2021 fiscal year.

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“I came here because it seemed like a pipeline into the industry. I love film. I want to do this as a career, and New Mexico is going to be the easiest pathway into what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Madrigal said.

Natalie Jude is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @natalaroni 

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