Bringing Film to San Juan County

January 26, 2024

There’s something exciting about seeing a movie or a tv show and recognizing the landmarks. With the opening of a film backlot - a place created to provide a backdrop for a scene - in San Juan County, Four Corners residents may soon be able to see the place we call home featured on-screen. With growing interest in the film industry and tax breaks for New Mexico, San Juan County hopes to draw in both the shows themselves, but also the people who make the movie magic happen. By Hannah Robertson. This story is sponsored by The Big Idea Makerspace at San Juan College and Home2Suites.

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Movie magic. We've all seen it, often enjoyed it, and sometimes wonder how film production teams make everything happen. In this day and age of computer-generated images, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between real and imaginary. But many movies and television shows still require onsite shooting. And in San Juan County, a new site has opened up for just that purpose. You're watching the Local News Network, brought to you by The Big Idea Makerspace at San Juan College and Home2 Suites. I'm Gillian Arnwine.

Back in 2019, the San Juan County Commission approached local legislators about some state funding to build the film industry here in San Juan County. We got a total of $1.5 million to do so. One of the projects that was identified was the purchase and revitalization of The Totah Theater downtown, one of Farmington's historical and cultural jewels. The second part of that grant was, it was identified that the best thing to do with that money was to build a backlot. And a backlot is really just a standing set that's typically outside that represents somewhere else. And that can be a cityscape, that could be, most famously, a western town.

The property was purchased several years ago, and the design of the backlot is one that can be easily modified depending on the needs of the shoot, with a series of buildings that are essentially just the facades, with perhaps some interior for outside shots looking in. The aim was to create a filming location that would make San Juan County stand out.

In this case what we did is we identified the possible need and use for what we're terming as a primitive village. So low, flat roof construction, viga and latilla, adobe or stucco-style construction that could stand in for maybe Middle Eastern, maybe Native American, maybe Spanish or Mexican, or those sorts of villages that may play with a film with a western town. But there's a lot of western towns in New Mexico, so we hope that this would be unique. Our consultants suggested that this would be in demand.

But why create a film lot five miles from the Colorado-New Mexico border? Well, part of the push comes from New Mexico's film tax incentive program. The program provides incentives for filming in New Mexico, which has made it one of the top states for film production in a list that includes California, Georgia, and New York.

With the last legislative session, you can get up to a 40% tax credit. The base is 25%. There's an additional 5% for working in a qualified facility, which is either a backlot or a sound stage. And then there's another 10% if you're out of zone. If you're outside of the Santa Fe and Albuquerque corridor in some of these more rural parts of New Mexico, you get that additional 10% tax credit for a total of 40% tax credit.

Part of the plan with the creation of the backlots is to generate below-the-line jobs. Not the names you see on the posters, but the names on the credits at the end of the movie, set designers, grippers, costumers. San Juan County is also home to scenic vistas, natural water sources, and so much more that a production could want. While the backlot itself might not be iconic, the choice was purposeful, although eagle-eyed viewers might still be able to tell if a show was filmed there.

We hope that we can add that into the contract that productions would make it known that they were using the facility. And we don't necessarily want people to be able to recognize it because we want it to stand in for so many different places, that if it's too recognizable productions might not want to use it again. We want it to be generic enough that people can dress it up however they want and make it into whatever that production needs.

While there is no knowing when or if the backlot has been used until after a film or show is released, San Juan County will keep its website updated with upcoming projects. Until then, keep an eye out for some of Northern New Mexico's iconic imagery in your next bingeable show. Find out more information about this and other stories at Thank you for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Gillian Arnwine.


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