Friday, February 19, 2010

Interview with Albuquerque Film Liaison Ann Lerner

If you've ever filmed in Albuquerque, you likely know Ann Lerner, Film Liaison. She's at the heart of the film boom in ABQ, and a great industry resource and local icon. Ann took some time out to shed a little light on her job, the impact of film on the culture and economy of ABQ, and some favorite anecdotes from her time on the job. . .50% Off!

CREW: Albuquerque was just ranked the #1 film location in the country by Movie Maker, and we're often in the top 3 in surveys by Variety Magazine. That's pretty impressive, considering there's many places that are trying to attract film. To what do you attribute this success?

AL: I think it's a combination of things. First, of course, are the generous state film incentives offered to filmmakers, and a rebate program that is easy to use. Secondly, we have an infrastructure that is ahead of the rest of the United States. Look at ABQ Studios,, the largest studios in North America, located right here in ABQ! We have grip and light companies, catering companies, camera houses, Filmmaker Production Services, a 25,000 sq ft. prop/costume/drapery shop, Star Waggons, just to name a few....the list is amazing. And I apologize ahead of time to those companies that I didn't single out. Other factors that work in ABQ's advantage are the 310 days of sunshine, the close proximity to Los Angeles, the plethora of locations the city can double for (recently, in "Crazy Heart", ABQ doubles for Phoenix and Tucson!); and, probably most importantly --- an amazing Film Friendly Attitude towards filming in the city.

CREW: The NM film industry is highly dependent upon financial incentives granted to productions by the State, and upon the support of the residents and legislators of New Mexico. What message would you like to convey to everyone about the incentives, and how they ultimately impact the economy? Do you have any favorite stories or data about how film has impacted Albuquerque?

AL: Forty-two states now offer filmmakers some kind of film incentives to come film in their states. Twelve states offer incentives that are higher than the 25% that New Mexico offers. Why? Because films bring in new dollars to our economy, they employ local crew and talent, they pay them high wages, and its an industry that is creative and non-polluting. The direct spend to the city of ABQ over the past six years is 450 million dollars. Direct spend! No multiplier! It thrills me to see local filmmakers buying houses and new cars, and spending the money that they are making locally.

CREW: Tell us a little bit about your job. What exactly does the Albuquerque Film Liaison do on a given day?

AL: I have a very difficult job - I sit around and read scripts, and send out digital pics to potential production companies to entice them to come take a look. When these companies do come into ABQ, I drive them around and show off our city. Once here, I help them with any number of things to make their life easier while they are filming in the city. I also give speeches to various groups, to talk about why the film industry is exploding in New Mexico. Community Outreach is very important in maintaining a film friendly city. And I act as a conduit - connecting people who may want to have their house used as a location, for example; or a citizen who might want to be an extra on a film. Things like that -- it's really very varied. And I am never bored.

CREW: It's not always easy to convey to the industry all the services and talent available to them when they're considering shooting in New Mexico. What little secret about shooting in ABQ do you wish everyone knew about?

AL: Our one-stop film permitting process, led by Carrie Wells, Assistant Film Liaison, is absolutely the best in the nation. It makes shooting here much much easier.

CREW: How did you arrive at the job of Film Liaison? Who do you work for? What were you doing before?

AL: I have worked for the City of Albuquerque as the Film Liaison for the past six years. My office is in the Office of Economic Development, and my boss is John Garcia, who is the Director of Econ Development for the city. (Did you know that John was the Secretary of Economic Development for the state when the very first film incentives were passed??! ) Previously, I was a Commercials Film Producer, and owned my own company here producing TV commercials. I've shot TV commercials all over the states, ranging in budget size from a million dollars (Toyota) to free (United Way).

CREW: The longer we have a film industry in Albuquerque and New Mexico, the more film becomes ingrained into our culture and economy. What developments have you seen during your time as liaison that you're most proud of, and what do you see coming down the pike? Where do we go from here?

AL: We formed a loosely run club a little over a year ago called "Indie Q". Membership is for local independent filmmakers who have either NO budget or LOW budget to make their projects. This group is now 250 people strong and we meet every other month to network and show off works in progress. There are some wonderful, creative shorts, features, blogs, etc being made by our local talent with very little money, but with a lot of creative spirit. Promoting our local filmmakers and watching their success is my ultimate goal.

CREW: What's your favorite story from your time as a film liaison?

The time I told Paul Haggis, who was in town scouting for In the Valley of Elah, " doesn't really snow here in ABQ....just light flurries, and then in a few hours its gone." That was the winter it snowed 18 inches in the middle of his shoot, and those 18 inches stayed on the ground for ten days. Ooops. I've learned to not predict the weather.