More than 40 years ago, I took a photojournalism course from one of the all-time worlds greatest, W. Eugene Smith. He gave the class an assignment; photograph your neighborhood.
This is the opening picture of my essay on Staten Island, looking east on Forest Ave. from Hoyt Ave.
The assignment was based, in part on his “Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh Project,” and a personal project of pictures of the building where his loft was located. He made a series of photographs, published in Life magazine including what was seen out of his window. Smith’s early work on the Pittsburgh Project came to a bad end when his negatives of the better part of a year’s worth of work were stolen in an auto burglary.
Smith received a Guggenheim Grant and completed the two-year long photo essay.
The man had some obsessions and wanted to pass them on. When I moved into the house I now own, I revisited Smith’s obsession. I have been taking pictures of activity in the park across the street for years. There is a lot of varied activities: folk dancers, picnics, school outings, sports ranging from five-year old soccer practice, to para-gliders, to university runners.
When it snows, the hill is worn bare by the tobogganors and makeshift sleds made from cardboard boxes. This KOB TV photographer shoots his kids in the park.
Then there are the film productions. I’ve photographed Diane Denish and her husband Herb and a daughter making a TV ad for her 2002 run for Lieutenant Governor. And the Cialis commercial with a man and woman running through the park and the man jumping in the air off a mini trampoline…
My current personal project, “From My Porch,” is a work in progress. I’ve used a few images on this site. I don’t know if I will ever compile a collection for general viewing, but it is continuously interesting, watching the world go by.
The other day I was photographing activity in the park and got called Paparazzi.
So what’s wrong with this picture?
This is a story about State tax credits. Confused? So am I.
There are a few Hollywood theories that help inform this post.
You must have a suspension of disbelief to accept what you see on the screen.A band of gypsies took over my neighborhood.
It started with a man wandering the street. The cop in me said he was out of place and looking for an accomplice. I was right and wrong at the same instance. He was looking for his accomplices; they just weren’t up to anything criminal. They were an advance element of electricians setting up a temporary electric system.
It was the production crew of the locally filmed television show, In Plain Sight, seen on the USA Network.
They brought a bunch of trailers and parked in the local church’s parking lot.
The streets were blocked off by three off duty police officers working what is known as Chief’s overtime, $42 an hour, paid for by the film company.
There was a playground swing set in the corner of the park across the street from a recently remodeled house that has a spectacular view of the Sandia Mountains. The house was being used as part of the set for interior and exterior shots.
Actress Mary McCormack, above, plays US Marshal Mary Shannon with Actor Frederick Weller, below, playing her partner, US Marshal Marshall Mann.
I got out my long lens that I use to photograph birds and sports and things that are a long ways away and took pictures of the filming process.
My activity attracted attention and this heavily tattooed man came over. For all his looks, he was a mild mannered messenger; “You can’t take pictures,” he said.
“It’s a public park,” I responded.
“It’s a copyrighted production,“ he said.
“What you put on film of your actors is copyrighted, what you do, as a film production crew, in a public park isn’t,” I said.
He wandered off, returning a few minutes later to ask if this was my residence about the same time my mailman came by greeting me by name. I told the assistant that if I got into their scene to let me know because I didn’t want to disrupt their production.
A few minutes later a group of grips put up a 15-foot by 15-foot reflector/screen to block my view.
Then they took a lunch break.
I came back an hour later with my Reflex-Nikkor 500mm f/8 catadioptric lens with a two-time tele-extender.
A production guy walked by on the sidewalk, looked at me and called in on his walkie-talkie, saying, “he's shooting with a short lens, don't worry.”
Ok, so it's the equivalent of 1,500mm on a 35mm piece of film. The 500mm rig is a third the length of the 800mm; it isn't all that sharp, but I got something.
Back in November, I stopped by the Gibson Medical Center Pharmacy to pick up a prescription.
Breaking Bad, another locally filmed television show was shooting at the abandoned Emergency room and entryway.
“You should be discrete with your photography,” Key Assistant Location Manager Roderick Peyketewa said, walking up to me.
“I thought I was.”
“I caught you,” Peyketewa said.
I certainly wasn’t trying to hide, though I didn’t walk up close to where some bystanders were.
Our conversation was then about the need of the production company being able to maintain their storyline from the fans of the show. He said that the paparazzo often shot scenes the production crew wished remained secret until the episode aired.
Standard response, it’s a public place. He shrugged and said I’m sure you’re a fan.
I admitted I didn’t watch the show. Peyketewa wandered off.
I had an interesting discussion with another production assistant who was making sure that people passing by didn’t inadvertently walk though a camera shot. She talked with actor Aaron Paul, left, who plays character Jesse Pinkman while a movie prop car was refueled.
Another Hollywood myth:
It doesn’t have to be, it only has to look like it is.I’m not Felice Quinto, nor one of his aliases, from the 1960 Federico Fellini, directed movie, La Dolce Vita. Quinto, who passed away recently, was the model for the character of a 1950s tabloid photographer in Rome named Paparazzo. What Paparazzo did in the movie was stalk celebrities and royals in public places. Now Paparazzi is a name that is used with contempt and disdain for many photographers. However, it is not always accurately applied. Many celebrities crave the attention even while complaining about the photographers.
The banks of photographers at red carpet events are not Paparazzi. Taking pictures from 150 yards away of a movie set of the film crew in a public park does not make me a stalker or a Paparazzi.
It is foolish thinking that something happening in my park won't get photographed for my personal project "from my porch."
McCormack recently made herself an item of local news interest when she made a comment about Albuquerque on a December 29th 2009 E! Network cable talk show, Chelsea Lately, which is billed as a comedy. McCormack later apologized by saying she loved Albuquerque, her home for the past four years.
I could post Paparazzi like pictures of McCormack with her two cute small children, whom she talked about on the TV show, playing on the prop swing set, between takes, but I won’t. I'll just show her working.
This post is not about the stars particularly; my interest is political from the tax relief standpoint that the film industry is receiving from our state.
Gov. Bill Richardson pushed legislation through the State legislature giving the film industry a 25 percent off-the-top tax-rebate. There is also a 50 percent reimbursement for on-the-job training salaries.
The question is whether 25 percent is an appropriate tax break for the film industry. New Mexico had the largest state supported tax initiatives of 30 states offering aid and competing for film productions.
There are various arguments about the return to the state on their tax investments.
Rep. Dennis Kintigh, left, R - Chaves, Lincoln, and Otero Counties, has twice introduced legislation that would repeal the film production tax credit. In the 2009 Regular Session, it was HB 725, which died after the action was postponed indefinitely and in the 2009 Regular Session it was HB 52, which died without being heard in the House Labor and Human Resources Committee.
There have been dueling studies with widely varied conclusions.
An August 26, 2008 New Mexico State University Arrowhead Center, Office of Policy Analysis report, “The Film Industry in New Mexico and The Provision of Tax Incentives,” by Anthony V. Popp and James Peach was submitted to the Legislative Finance Committee.
The report found:
25% Production Rebate: During fiscal year 2008 the NM government granted $38.195 million in rebates. The resulting increase in economic activity generated $5.518 million in revenues. The implied return is 14.44 cents on the dollar. This means that for every one dollar in rebate, the state only received 14.44 cents in return.An “Economic and Fiscal Impacts of the New Mexico Film Production Tax Credit,” was an analysis prepared for the New Mexico State Film Office and State Investment Council by Ernst and Young in January 2009.
The report found:
State and local return on investment from 2007 and future tax revenues attributable to 2007 film productions, (was $1.50 on the dollar).Legislative Finance Committee Chief Economist Norton Francis wrote a revised memo analyzing and comparing the finding of the Ernst and Young and the NMSU reports. Francis revised both numbers to have a return on investment to be 93 cent on the dollar.
The New Mexico film industry has sunk a fair amount of capital into the construction of Albuquerque Studios, the single largest studio complex, at 54 acres, on Mesa del Sol.
Local colleges, Central New Mexico and College of Santa Fe have film programs.
The concerted effort of the State and City of Albuquerque’s film offices has had an affect of making the state sought after location for filming, according to Movie Maker.com.
There are a lot of people employed on these film sets. I happened to find several “call sheets” which are the game plan for a day’s shooting with all the necessary personnel. The most telling way of knowing how many people are actually on a set is to look at the catering order. On the Breaking Bad set there were 150 breakfasts and lunches ordered.
Most of the set work is part time, but those employed infuse their income into the local economy and tax base. A production assistant carries two trays of coffee from the local Starbucks for her fellow workers.
During the current budget crisis, legislators prior to the 30-day session, briefly discussed revisiting the film tax rebate, but it was quickly dismissed.
What I find so bizarre, is one group of photographers – filmmakers – recording a dramatic performance believing that they can prohibit another photographer from engaging in the same activity in the same public place; then calling me a disparaging name. Yet the audacity is compounded by the fact that they get a 25 percent off-the-top as a tax-break.
I’ve taken pictures of movie making for years. In 1969, I photographed this crew across from the United Nations while they shot from the top of a rental moving van.
This is Gerd Oswald, left, directing the movie, Bunny O'Hare, downtown in 1971. The movie stared Academy Award winners Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine.
Gov. David Cargo, center, seen during the 1970 Republican Governors Conference in Santa Fe, played a State Trooper in the movie. He had concentrated on attracting movies to New Mexico through his newly established New Mexico Development Commission. A while back Cargo told me he still maintained his Screen Actors Guild membership.
Oswald invited the public to watch as he worked on Central Ave. downtown. He also invited the press onto the set.
The same year, another Academy Award winner, Anthony Quinn, second from the right, played Mayor Thomas Jefferson Alcala with actress Skye Aubrey as Sabina Menard, on the set of, “The City,” a 2-hour pilot made for ABC TV. A series set in Albuquerque followed, renamed, “Man and the City.”
The set was the interior of a Corrales home. As an Albuquerque News photographer, I was invited to take a few photographs.
The world has changed. Where giving publicity to the film industry was once openly welcomed, now production assistants attempt to assert control over their little world through confrontation and mild intimidation.
Maybe they know just how much the governmental incentives are worth and don’t want anything that might question or threaten them to expose their good deal.