The first time a film crew went to work in Jennifer Caballero-Vig’s neighborhood, the experience struck her as novel, charming.
“How great: movie stars,” she says. “About a day passed, and I changed my mind.”
The Albuquerque Country Club neighborhood resident and veteran of about five film productions in the past four years recalls the time a director told her children – playing in her backyard – to be quiet during a shoot. She remembers a film crew member asking people she had hired to work in her yard to stop doing their jobs. A production once prevented her husband from leaving on time for work. She has watched neighbors wait 15 minutes to enter their garages.
“Live with it for about one film,” she says. “That’s about what it takes, then it’s not so great. . . . I’d really like to know what is the benefit to us.”
Downtown resident Douglas Kerr mentions one benefit: community.
“It promotes socialization, at least people gathering and talking,” says Kerr, who said his dog was scouted for a commercial. “People stop and take a little bit more time. It makes living here a little bit more interesting.”
Positive or negative, the impact of the growing New Mexico film industry is being felt throughout the Duke City, and while some decry crews on the corner, others say being gracious in the face of minor inconveniences is a small price that must be paid to keep cameras rolling in the state.
“The word on the street in L.A. is Albuquerque is a film-friendly city, and that’s big; that’s really huge,” says Ann Lerner, director of the Albuquerque Film Office. “If we would like to see it (the film industry) stay in Albuquerque, then we need to continue to be cooperative and friendly and welcoming to our film crews.”
Lerner says it’s worth the effort. In 2005, she says, the film industry spent $41 million in the greater Albuquerque area.
As of April, 18 film and TV productions invested in by the New Mexico State Investment Council – to the tune of $142.9 million – have led to $90.3 million directly spent in the state, according to the council.
The council says the same investments led to the filling of 2,085 crew member positions by New Mexicans – tough jobs demanding long hours, but paying well, Lerner says.
“Three years ago . . . some crew members couldn’t rub two sticks together,” she says. “Now they’re putting down down payments on a home.”
There are other benefits, as well, says Laura Ferrary, a Downtown resident who has enjoyed the invasion of crew members, tents, extras and lights.
“We’ve had streets blocked off, but it’s festive and it’s good for the economy,” she says.
She also enjoyed an impromptu piano concert by actor Kevin Kline during the filming of the crime drama “Welcome to America.”
He joined other people working on the film for a dinner at Ferrary’s house, which she had volunteered as a dining area for the production company.
“He played very well,” she says. “He plays classical music. . . . That was like a big party.”
But Caballero-Vig and one of her neighbors question accommodating film crews without compensating neighborhood residents.
Alison Gregg, who lives across the street from Caballero-Vig, says it’s great that some of her friends in the film industry can get jobs locally. But she was once frustrated when a film crew blocked her driveway for several hours.
“I just find it a huge inconvenience without any compensation,” she says. “If anybody else’s property were somehow being hindered, or somehow the use of their property was being hindered, they would be paid by these film companies. It’s sort of taken for granted that we’re star-struck enough to be oblivious to our rights as property owners. I’m not terribly star-struck by the whole thing.
“The neighborhoods, it seems like, are taken for granted. We’re supposed to support this industry when we don’t see any direct benefit from it.”
Even if production companies pay for the home they use as a location, Caballero-Vig wonders whether it offers enough for neighbors inconvenienced by the influx of trucks and people.
“For the price of one home, they get the whole neighborhood,” she says. “That’s pretty cheap. We can’t get to other sections of our neighborhood because the police have it blocked off. . . . I feel it’s a taking of our property.”
Caballero-Vig doesn’t know whether payment from production companies would improve the situation. She says such funds could be used to build a fence to ensure her privacy, but such a measure would compromise the openness of her neighborhood.
She took her complaints to city and state officials but was disappointed with the response.
“Slowly, these film companies are taking over this neighborhood for weeks at a time,” she says, noting that her part of town is already a popular location for other big events. “I think that eventually this neighborhood is going to lose its character.”
But that’s the last thing the city wants, Lerner says.
She notes that production companies go through a rigorous permitting process to ensure residents are not overly burdened with the film crews’ needs. She visits locations to make sure the crews follow regulations. Businesses losing revenue can ask for compensation from film production companies.
Anyone experiencing problems, Lerner says, can contact the film office.
“I feel very badly for the neighbors who are disrupted,” she says, but she notes that paying people blocks away from a location is a bad idea that would push away production companies. “We need to work out a good balance.”
In Los Angeles, a city inundated with TV and film productions, that balance is handled by the non-profit FilmL.A. Inc.
The organization – which has 51 full-time staff members that coordinate about 150 locations a day – formed in 1995 as increasing numbers of film productions overwhelmed the city government’s ability to effectively deal with the industry, says FilmL.A. President Steve MacDonald.
“The government infrastructure in place to do this wasn’t really able to keep pace and offer the kind of turnaround time and kind of service that would be needed,” he says. “Quite frankly, the government wasn’t really taking care of the neighborhoods, either. They didn’t really have the staff or the ability to do the things we do.”
Neighborhood residents asking for compensation – sometimes exorbitant amounts – has “gone on for a number of years,” he says.
“As filming increases . . . more of that will happen naturally as people feel like they can ask more,” he says. “That’s always an issue.”
Location manager William Coit, who has worked in Los Angeles and recently worked on “Fanboys” in New Mexico, has seen the best and worst of residents requesting compensation.
“I would film in Albuquerque before I film in Los Angeles,” says Coit, who has 13 years of experience as a location manager. “The neighborhoods are so film-friendly. They haven’t been pillaged. In Los Angeles, when a movie company comes in, every neighborhood knows these guys (film companies) will pay us money. In Albuquerque, they haven’t been overwhelmed with it.”
He says neighborhoods or organizations seeking massive payments for the use of their locations drive away people like him who find places to shoot movies.
But equally concerning are the larger companies that come in and offer huge payoffs for locations. That can leave smaller film productions struggling to meet the expectations of residents accustomed to the larger amounts, he says.
“The killer would be the larger companies coming in there and spoiling these neighborhoods with this massive amount of money,” he says. “Then the independent features come there . . . and they can’t afford it.”