For the fourth year in a row, Albuquerque has taken the title of MovieMaker Magazine’s No. 1 place for filmmakers to live and work under the big cities category, which considers primarily production statistics, economic growth, housing prices and quality-of-life ratings. Many New Mexico film professionals vouch for the state’s booming industry and unique charm, happy to be part of such an unusually familial production hub.
Cyndy McCrossen, a film liaison for the Albuquerque Film Office working primarily in location management, has benefited financially from Albuquerque’s thriving film scene. She contributed to the proposal submitted for consideration in MovieMaker Magazine’s annual location ranking, and, though it was never her plan to enter the film industry, she is grateful to be part of it and doesn’t plan to leave.
”It wasn’t part of my game plan to be in the film industry … (but) it’s allowed me to have a high salary. Film workers make much higher than the norm in New Mexico so it’s really fortuitous,” McCrossen said.
The New Mexico film industry provides approximately 9,000 jobs each year, according to a New Mexico Film Office press release sent out last summer. It said that in the fiscal year 2021, of the crew, cast members, and background and extras working under productions registered with the New Mexico Film Office “approximately 75% of total below-the-line crew were N.M. residents with an average wage of over $56,000 annually” as compared to the national film industry average of approximately $51,000.
Fred Tepper, a special effects trailblazer, moved to Albuquerque in 2009 and has since fused himself into the local film community. Now working primarily on the playback effects for “Roswell, New Mexico,” he plans to stay busy with New Mexico-based projects for as long as he can.
With past credits on visual effects and animation teams for more than 50 productions, including “Titanic,” “Dogma,” “Daybreak” and “Better Call Saul,” Tepper has found a home in the tightly-knit circle of Albuquerque film professionals as well as the plethora of versatile filming locations.
“All the people I work with are great. They know what they’re doing and the attitudes on set are great,” Tepper said. “(Plus) we can do New York, we can do the desert, we can and we have several times done the surface of Mars.”
McCrossen is also rooted in New Mexico for a variety of reasons and cited the quality of life, the beauty of the state and the diverse, unique culture.
“I feel that Albuquerque is primed for culture and cultural activities. In this town, it’s something I grew up surrounded with — creators and creation,” McCrossen said. “We know how Albuquerque is but we want the rest of the world to know, too.”
In the last decade, Tepper has met many out-of-state professionals who flew into New Mexico for work and stayed upon wrapping, enamored by the distinctive culture. Just in the last month, he met two traveling filmmakers who took an interest in the state and are contemplating moving to Albuquerque.
Outside of community and pay, Tepper finds accessibility to be one of the greatest draws of Albuquerque as the traffic in Los Angeles, where he used to live, was a major issue.
“The whole state is easily accessible and it’s not too big,” Tepper said. “It’s small enough to be manageable … (but) we still have downtown areas.”
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McCrossen expects that the ranking will have a significant positive effect on the way New Mexico is perceived in the world of filmmaking.
“The pandemic showed us we’re just voracious viewers … That need isn’t anticipated to die down,” McCrossen said. “(And the rating) can reinforce our reputation and say, ‘Yeah, we’re little, but we’re strong.’”
Tepper works with local colleges and public schools to promote the inclusion of high-quality film programs in the hopes of maintaining the unique community of New Mexican filmmakers rather than taking on a flood of exclusively nonresidents.
“It’s a growing industry, (but) we want to make sure that New Mexicans also have an opportunity to interact with the film industry; we don’t want it just to be outsiders coming in,” McCrossen said.
To support the growth of production within Albuquerque, McCrossen is assisting in proposals for a media education-specific facility for grade-schoolers called Next Generation Media Academy. Currently gathering information from across New Mexico film institutions, McCrossen hopes this academy can be a step to promote the next generation of film crew or filmmakers.
“We want these productions to hire New Mexico trained (workers). We want these productions coming in to know about small businesses that vendors can (buy from to) support their productions. We want it to be a sustainable system that builds on what New Mexico and Albuquerque has, fostering growth from within,” McCrossen said.
Natalie Jude is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @natalaroni
Tina Memarian is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo