ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO - The first thing one experiences when landing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at an elevation of about 1,600 meters, is the vastness of open space around the quiet southwestern town.
The 360-degree vistas extend as far as the eye can see on the arid high plateau, interrupted only by the Sandia Mountains to the east. In this town, the film industry is thriving and growing by leaps and bounds. Locals affectionately call it “Tamalewood” -- melding the name of a beloved dish in New Mexico with that of California's better-known Hollywood.
The TV and film industry here has gained ground since garnering tax incentives for filming in the state, leading to billion-dollar deals between leading production companies and Albuquerque Studios. But what started it all was the Albuquerque based Emmy-winning TV series “Breaking Bad,” about a struggling chemistry teacher turned meth drug lord. The show became a hit domestically and internationally.
Over a beer bet with a friend, Frank Sandoval, an extra on the show, came up with the idea of creating a company called “Breaking Bad RV tours.” He would buy an exact replica of the RV shown in the show and drive people around.
“Part of the deal was, if we got people to ride, he [Frank's friend] would actually help us gut the RV and set it up just like the original. We did our first tour in May of 2014," Sandoval said. It worked. He now drives two tours a day.
“'Breaking Bad' really did put Albuquerque on the map in terms of the film industry,” he added.
Here, in an open landscape where sunshine reigns supreme for 310 days a year, and the longest traffic commute is 20 minutes, Netflix has put down roots.
The entertainment giant purchased Albuquerque Studios, a 100,000-square-foot compound, and signed a billion-dollar deal to produce TV series and movies over the next 10 years. NBC Universal followed with a $500 million deal. Its highly touted TV show "Briarpatch" is one of a dozen TV series filmed in one of the studios’ imposing stages in complete secrecy.
"Briarpatch" producers Keith Raskin and Linda Morel say New Mexico offers a great filming alternative to congested and expensive Los Angeles. The varied landscape, and local crew availability don’t hurt either. And the advantages don't end there.
“Space! Space! We've been working in L.A. for a long time, obviously. I'm from there. It is very, very difficult to find stage space in Los Angeles right now. It's always booked,“ Morel, Raskin’s longtime partner, said.
Raskin said all these benefits have become the talk of the town among L.A. producers gearing up to take their businesses to Albuquerque.
“I think we are at the beginning of a tidal wave. There's been a big interest in shooting here,” he added.
Hollywood’s interest peaked after New Mexico further sweetened tax incentives last July, said Amber Dodson, film liaison for the city of Albuquerque.
“The rebate cap was previously at $50 million. It is now raised to $110 million,” she said.
The larger the amount a production company invests here, the larger the rebate. New Mexico wins as well, Dodson said. To get the incentive, production companies have to hire local talent.
“They are here for 10 years no matter what. And the amount of jobs! And it's a conservative estimate, that, just that deal alone, will create is 1,000,” she said.
1,000 jobs a year, that is.
WATCH: Hollywood tours
New Mexico's film industry is also benefiting from political battles elsewhere in the country. Many Hollywood studios and production companies are pulling out of Georgia in reaction to the state’s enactment of an anti-abortion law, Dodson said.
“We have been busier than ever!” she added, calling TV and film production “a clean, creative industry” that benefits the entire city.
"When a production comes to a place like Albuquerque, they're not just paying their casting crew," she said. "They are using all kinds of vendors from dry cleaners to gas stations to car rentals to art galleries, lumber yards, hotels, restaurants. The list goes on and on.”
Sandoval, of the "Breaking Bad" RV tours, said he couldn't agree more. His tour company, operating twice a day, is fully booked, drawing visitors from all over the world.
“What I see coming down the pike is where we're going to become the next Hollywood. Some people call it Tamalewood," he said.