Friday, November 24, 2017
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George R.R. Martin makes case for New Mexico filming incentives
Author and film producer George R. R. Martin, left, speaks in Santa Fe, N.M., Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Martin waded into the politics of movie-industry tax breaks on Thursday while endorsing a prominent Democratic candidate for governor of New Mexico. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
  • SANTA FE, N.M. (AP)
  • --

Author and film producer George R. R. Martin waded into the politics of movie-industry tax breaks on Thursday while endorsing a prominent Democratic candidate for governor of New Mexico.

Martin, a longtime Santa Fe resident and author of fantasy novels behind the "Game of Thrones" television series, made a plea to raise or eliminate New Mexico's $50 million annual limit on the state's tax incentive for film production.

At an hour-long forum about New Mexico's film industry, Martin sat alongside Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018 who this week announced she would seek to expand tax incentives for film and television production and look for ways to encourage the construction of new production studio space.

Martin described a cutthroat competitive environment of the film industry, and his own budding efforts to attract more movie production to Santa Fe by offering low-cost office space at a building provided to him posthumously by an estate. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen currently are utilizing the building through Martin's nonprofit Stagecoach Foundation.

"We're in competition with Texas and Arizona and Utah," Martin said. "How do we compete? ... Obviously the incentives are a big part of it. We have to get rid of this (state tax incentive) cap."

Martin quipped that he like caps — "but only on my head." He said that limiting the tax credit is "like saying, 'We have enough jobs, we don't need any more jobs. We're going to cap the number of jobs?'"

Earlier this year, a bill to raise the annual limit on the film tax credit and link future annual increase to inflation failed to win approval in the Democratic-led Legislature.

Analysts with the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Committee have cautioned against film tax incentive increases that could outpace tax revenue growth and put new pressure on the state general fund. New Mexico state government has slashed spending at several agencies and public universities this year, after depleting financial reserves amid a downturn in tax revenues linked a tepid economy and weak oil prices.

Measured in terms of direct job creation per dollar — without considering indirect economic benefits — the film tax credit scored poorly in comparison with other state subsidies, analysts found.

Martin and Lujan Grisham highlighted the sometimes intangible benefits of the film production, as tourists are drawn to the state by on-screen images, from the Robert Redford's 1988 "The Milagro Beanfield War" shot in Northern New Mexico, to the "Breaking Bad" series that still draws steady streams of cult fans to Albuquerque shooting locations.

"The film industry is one of those bright spots that we can focus on immediately and it's pretty easy," Lujan Grisham said. "We want to double the number of films that we're doing. ... We want to lift the cap. If you're really going to be open for business, be open for business."

She described film as an industry that "pays for itself." Public funds have contributed to the construction of production studios in New Mexico.

The discussion took place at a downtown art-house cinema that Martin restored and owns. The discussion was joined by Tesuque resident Tony Mark, executive producer of "The Hurt Locker," and producer and documentary filmmaker Andrea Meditch.

State officials say more than 60 film and television productions were shot in the state during the past fiscal year. TV series and pilots produced in New Mexico over the last year include "Better Call Saul," ''The Night Shift," ''Longmire," and Netflix's "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs."