Backlot to the Future

Much has been ballyhooed about the backlot kick-off event that took place at the Rio Grande Theatre on March 25. With much glad-handing and excitement, official statements were made and promises put forth indicating that a milestone had been reached. The media covered it extensively across the state, which was the entire point, and now that the Governor has given her blessing, we can consider it a done deal. By the end of the year, the money allocated by the state legislature will find itself into the city of Las Cruces coffers and the construction will be underway.
The big question now is, what’s next? What does all this mean to the citizens of Las Cruces, some of whom fear it will turn into another drain on the local economy like the Spaceport? Will building a backlot to lure large productions really benefit the filmmakers who are struggling to make a living here? And if it is to prove successful, what kind of efforts will need to be put forth not just by policy makers, but by every day citizens like you and me?

New Mexico Secretary of Economic Development Jon Barela addresses the crowd inside the Rio Grande Theatre on March 25.
New Mexico Secretary of Economic Development Jon Barela addresses the crowd inside the Rio Grande Theatre on March 25.

These are all good questions and I don’t profess to have all the answers. What I do believe, however, is that it’s going to take a huge leap of faith, something natives of this beautifully unforgiving land should understand all too well. It was the pioneer spirit, after all, that brought people to New Mexico and allowed them to take a chance on survival long enough to establish what is now a thriving, and in some ways prospering, community. It’s that same spirit that draws people every year to take a chance on a very fickle industry, in the hopes of making a name for themselves as filmmakers.
Whether you are an advocate of big productions or small independent works, there is something to be gained here, but none of this is an exact science. We’re all taking risks, putting our reputations on the line and pushing forward into unknown territory. The reason we do it is because the benefits can be tremendous, economically and professionally.
What you need to remember is, the backlot is not being built to create a film industry, it’s being built to enhance an already existing film industry and make it more self-sustaining. It is just the beginning of a much-needed infrastructure that will entice a multi-billion dollar business to set up shop here and create the kind of commerce that will make what our local filmmakers are already doing more valuable.
In this way, it is far different from the Spaceport, which, if and when it ever reaches its targeted potential, will create a lot of jobs and will hopefully stimulate the tourist trade. The Las Cruces backlot, on the other hand, won’t create jobs, so much as provide them for the many unemployed professionals we already have living here. It will rise and fall not on the million dollar projects that we hope will find their way here, but on the regular use and continued expansion of the property by every day working citizens of the area. And, as it grows, it will not only stimulate tourism, it will pump real money into the local business economy, by employing not only filmmakers, but carpenters, builders, auto shop mechanics, caterers, costumers, hair and makeup stylists and so many more.
Another thing to remember is, we won’t be alone in this pursuit. By building this backlot, we are giving the New Mexico Film Office another avenue to provide filmmaking opportunities within our state. They will help us not only get this thing off the ground, but keep it in constant use.
The addition of a film liaison to the mix will ensure we are not forgotten when those decisions are being made, but it is also up to us, as partners in the business of filmmaking, to help promote the area as the best damned place to make a movie. See how that works? We are all in this together.
Finally, the building of a backlot also heralds a change in the way the city, county and state view us here. They all now have a stake in profitability. To achieve that, infrastructure of all kinds is needed. Taking this one big step means they have acknowledged the importance of film to the area and, as such, should be willing to help bring in other necessary components of a viable film industry. Or, at least be willing to listen when somebody presents an idea on the topic.
Anybody who has lived and worked here for any length of time knows what a huge step in the right direction that is. Have you been hoping to start a film equipment rental company here? Maybe opening a sound stage is your dream. The chances of those things happening have just multiplied and more doors have opened for financial assistance then you may realize.
None of this is going to happen overnight. Neither is it going to happen without full community support. We all have to support each other. We all have to acknowledge each others dreams. Whether that dream is to find a way to bring a Tom Cruise film to Las Cruces or to be the best independent film production house in the state, it’s all one and the same. It all starts with a dream and the conviction to make that dream come true.
There is plenty of wide open space here in southern New Mexico. It’s still a frontier in some ways. And just as the pioneers who founded this town, and the towns surrounding it, did over a hundred years ago, we can shape it into whatever we want it to be.
All we have to do is work together, believe in each other and make is so.

Originally published in the April 4 issue of the Las Cruces Bulletin and reprinted here by request. Guaranteed to be free of allergens and dyes, though polemic irritation may occur based purely on personal inference or conceit. All rights reserved.

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