Made in New Mexico

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NEW MEXICO--Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was feeling blue.

During a meeting last spring with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, his Californian counterpart quipped, "You're ripping off my movies."

Richardson wasn't intimidated, as he recalls. "I said, 'You've got to give incentives.' He said, 'I'm trying to get my legislature to do that, but they don't listen to me.'"

The legislature might have to start listening soon, because film, television and commercial production is booming in New Mexico.

DreamWorks/Paramount's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and Focus Features' "Hamlet 2," along with 2007's "3:10 to Yuma" and "In the Valley of Elah," are just some of the features the state has hosted. Add to these the upcoming releases "Run for Her Life," Overture's "Sunshine Cleaning," New Line's "Appaloosa" and ThinkFilm's "Five Dollars a Day." Television entries "Breaking Bad" (AMC), "In Plain Sight" (USA Network) and the upcoming "Crash" (Starz) and "Easy Money" (the CW) shoot here. Even last year's best picture Oscar winner, "No Country for Old Men," came to life in New Mexico.

And most ironically, Warner Bros.' "Terminator Salvation," the fourth installment of the series so closely associated with Schwarzenegger, is lensing in -- you guessed it -- New Mexico. No wonder the California governor is upset.

"There was a distinct possibility this movie would go out of the country," says Lisa Strout, director of the New Mexico Film Office about

"Terminator." "We worked very hard on the creative aspects and the financial benefits. So we were absolutely thrilled when they made their decision to come here."

Many credit New Mexico's aggressive tax and loan incentive programs, featuring a 25% tax rebate and 0% investment loan, for the surge. But there are other reasons, too.

"It is a very film-friendly state," says David Alper, a principal and COO with film financier Grosvenor Park. "The program is really the baby of Bill Richardson."

Strout, a location scout for more than 20 years before joining the film office in 2001, emphasizes an attitude of cooperation that permeates the state. With less than 2 million residents, she believes there's a real small-town feel.

"It's not a particularly cumbersome bureaucracy," she says. "I think that helps."

Also helping is the state's ability to meet facility and crew needs: A 50% wage payback for productions willing to give on-the-job-training to residents is expanding New Mexico's crew base.

"They're starting to get their sea legs," says writer-director Joshua Michael Stern, who filmed Disney's comedy "Swing Vote" in the state. "You'll actually find it's easier to crew up than it might have been awhile ago."

"I find it easy to work there," adds producer Deborah Del Prete, who has filmed four features in the state, including Lionsgate's upcoming "The Spirit." "It's a simple plane ride. You can easily get equipment driven there. You can get people in and out quickly wherever you film. There's not a lot of traffic."

Alper, who helped bring "3:10 to Yuma" to the state while serving as an executive with Relativity Media, cites Albuquerque's increasing number of postproduction facilities. Sony Pictures Imageworks has plans for a 100,000-square-foot facility there and currently has set up shop temporarily in downtown Albuquerque. In addition, Albuquerque

Studios opened last year with six soundstages, with plans to build two more soundstages this year, boasting a total of four 24,000-square-foot and four 18,000-square-foot soundstages.

"New Mexico is entering a new phase of maturity as a production and postproduction destination," Alper says.

"We have a lot of repeat business," Strout adds. "We'd love to see more films explore virgin territory here. There's lots of great little towns and a lot of landscape that has never been shot."

Stern can back that claim. While filming "Swing Vote," he needed a bygone, middle-of-nowhere locale with a "Last Picture Show" vibe. Thirty miles south of Albuquerque, he found Belen.

"There were three places still open -- a bowling alley, a bar and a karate facility," Stern recalls. "It was nearly abandoned. It was like working in a backlot; there was no traffic. The people who still live there were so gracious. I could really show the place. When you see the movie, you'll see. It's really an amazing little town."

Hot Spots

Nosh: El Farol
Partake in Santa Fe's rich arts and culinary history at a rustic space that dates back to 1835. El Farol -- the city's oldest restaurant and cantina -- is known for its tapas, but also plates fare that blends the flavors of Spain, Santa Fe and Mexico. The eatery pays homage to the stomping grounds of the city's famed Canyon Road artists with local art on the walls, as well as flamenco dinner shows and live music nightly. 808 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, 505-983-9912, lfarolsf.com

Drink Up: Maria's New Mexican Kitchen
The libations at Maria's New Mexican Kitchen may leave
guests a bit light-headed (it's
the combination of the 100-
plus-margarita menu and Santa Fe's high altitude), but the check won't break the bank. 555 W. Cordova Road, Santa Fe,
505-983-7929, marias-santafe.com

Hideaway: The Historic Taos Inn
Originally founded as an artists'community by Taos' first physician, Dr. Thomas Paul "Doc"
Martin, and later revamped into a hotel by Doc's wife after his death, the Historic Taos Inn is now listed on the national and state registers of historic places. With guest accommodations sprinkled throughout the cluster of 19th-century adobe houses, the inn honors its artistic past by hosting invitational art exhibits.
125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, Taos, 575-758-2233, taosinn.com

Compiled by Michelle Grabicki
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