Two feature films are using Northwest New Mexico this spring as main locations, a representative of the New Mexico Film Office said.
In addition to the well-publicized filming of Johnny Depp's "The Lone Ranger," the science fiction film "The Host" is filming in Shiprock, said Don Gray, contract locations coordinator for the state office.
Gray hosted a meeting at San Juan College on Tuesday to encourage local residents to get involved in the film industry.
Gray said there are many ways for a community to profit from its connection to a film.
"If "The Lone Ranger' is a big hit, Farmington, you can exploit that hit," he said. "You can make money off of that for years to come."
Gray said he is working on a project to encourage film tourism. He pointed to New Zealand, which has drawn economic benefits from the filming of the "Lord of the Rings" movies there.
"That whole country is living off the "Lord of the Rings' movies," he said. "Everywhere you go is "Lord of the Rings.'"
"The Host," according to the Film Office, "tells the story of a highly secretive government research facility that suffers a containment breach of a genetically engineered new life form. The results are catastrophic."
New Mexico offers a 25 percent film production tax credit and a loan program. One of the best ways to catch Hollywood's attention, Gray said, is to photograph possible locations and upload them to the Film Office's website, NMfilm.com.
New Mexico has the largest database of location photos in the nation with more than 60,000 photos, Gray said. "It's the best way that we have to sell our state to the film industry," he said.
The state may benefit from a comeback of the Western genre, Gray said.
"Western television is back," he said. "So everybody wants their Westerns now. We can do Westerns half-asleep in New Mexico."
State leaders have fiercely debated the economic impact of film productions. Dirk Norris, the Film Office's outreach programs manager, admitted good data can be tough to come by. But he said a recent production in Carrizozo spread Hollywood largess throughout the small town.
"There was definitely a positive economic impact, but it's hard to get a hard number on that," he said.
Low-budget filmmakers often struggle to find affordable locations to film. Gray said the Farmington area's ample federal land can be put to use. "They're actually quite reasonable in what they charge, if anything," he said.
But, he added, obtaining government permits to film takes time and patience.
"You can either have time or you can have money, but you've got to have one or the other," he said.
George Thomas, a Farmington independent filmmaker, said he needs every dollar he can get to work on his films.
"I like things to be free," Thomas said. He described himself as an "ultra micro-budget filmmaker."
Depp's production, with Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, will cost somewhere around $200 million to make, said Gray.
Despite persistent rumors of Depp's presence in the area, the famed heartthrob did not attend Tuesday's meeting -- in pirate garb or otherwise.
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