It’s a well-known fact that Hollywood loves New Mexico. Breaking Bad locations are littered all over Albuquerque. Hermit’s Peak was in half of the scenes in Red Dawn. Robots blasted the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in Terminator Salvation.
Movies have been shot here ever since Thomas Edison’s Indian Day School featured smiling children exiting their Isleta Pueblo school back in 1897.
Perhaps 19th-century New Mexicans responded to the arrival of the infamous inventor with glee and fascination.
Or maybe they were a bit more practical, like so many residents who are approached monthly by location scouts looking for a cheaper Montana, a nearer Spain, or less populous Texas. What’s the Hollywood experience like for local landowners? A mixed bag.
Take for instance Deborah Sweatt, owner of the Turquoise Trail Campgrounds in Cedar Crest. When a film company scout started listing off the 60-plus vehicles he would bring onto her property for a Jennifer Lopez movie, and told her she’d be paid $50 for the privilege, she responded with a very clear “No.”
“But it’s J. Lo!” pleaded the scout.
Sometimes the location scouts pitch a good deal, but fail to follow through. Sweatt was also approached for filming of the 2009 comedy Fanboys, and she agreed. When the director of the film saw Sweatt’s vintage camper trailer, he decided that it must be in the film.
“I want to shoot a scene in there,” he told Sweatt.
She told him that he could film it in the background, but he was not going to be allowed to film inside.
After filming schedule changes, Sweatt found herself out of town when the camper scene was to be shot. Though an employee safely moved the camper to its mark, Sweatt was not there herself to supervise the filming.
Once the camper was in place, said Sweatt, the director decided to renegotiate their deal. Not only did he film inside the camper, but the script called for peyote-laced guacamole to be flung all around the interior, and all around the interior guacamole remained for Sweatt to discover upon her return.
Additionally, the lighting outside the camper apparently wasn’t sufficient for the rogue scene, so lighting poles were erected outside the camper and taped to the exterior. When the crew removed the poles, they removed long strips of paint along with the tape. Sweatt had only repainted the camper a month earlier. She was “more than furious.”
Also, the license plate on the camper had been removed for the film, but it was never replaced. Sweatt said she never saw that license plate again.
When she contacted the production company to insist that they make it right, the response she got was “Sorry, we’ve already wrapped [filming], we’re in Taos.”
But the Hollywood experience isn’t always negative, said Sweatt. Ozzy & Jack’s World Detour, a reality show featuring Ozzy Osbourne and his son Jack traveling the world, filmed at the Turquoise Trail Campgrounds as well. That experience was “completely pleasant,” said Sweatt.
That crew brought its own small motorhome and set it up for a few camping scenes. The weather was “absolutely horrid,” said Sweatt, and Jack had quite a time trying to set up a tent in the New Mexican wind.
The ordeal was particularly hilarious, Sweatt said, because Ozzy sat off to the side, clearly chilled and miserable in his flannel shirt, mumbling over and over, “I hate fucking camping.”
“You just don’t expect to see the Prince of Darkness wearing flannel,” she said through laughter.
Kathy Smith, a former science teacher at Moriarty High School, recalled her experience when The Astronaut Farmer was being filmed inside the school’s annex building.
“It was a really old section of the school, and the classrooms had those old-style chalkboards,” she said. She was asked to relocate her class across the hallway to another classroom for the two weeks it took to film the scenes, but her notes were still written on the blackboard.
After the movie was released, Smith saw the film, recognized her handwriting, and realized that her very own class notes made it into the movie.
Though she didn’t meet star Billy Bob Thorton, Smith did admit to being intrigued by him. “He’s such a strange character.”
Local mechanics Gabriel and Robert Anaya hosted Angelina Jolie at their Tijeras property in 2019. Set to be released this year, Those Who Wish Me Dead casts Miss Jolie as a forest firefighter, while New Mexico stars as Montana again.
“It was crazy,” said Gabriel, recalling the experience. “There was a helicopter and black SUVs everywhere with tinted windows. It was a big deal.”
The brothers said there were trailers and tents all over their property, including actors’ trailers and makeup tents. And while neither brother tried to get a peek at Jolie, they did find something that excited them: the tent serving food to the cast and crew.
“It was great,” said Robert. “If I wanted ten bags of beef jerky, I could just go in there and walk out with ten bags of beef jerky, and it was fine.”
Sometimes Hollywood doesn’t need New Mexico’s landscape, but its iconic jewelry. Silver RockIt Jewelry in Albuquerque has been contacted by film production crews repeatedly for custom creations to be featured in locally filmed shows.
For the Netflix show Chambers, it was a turquoise pendant for the show’s protagonist, and a giant sterling statement ring for Tony Goldwyn’s character. For the show Preacher, the silversmith was sought out to create the Reverend Jesse Custer’s signature sterling collar tips, and according to the jeweler, several fans of the show contacted her for duplicates.
Kay Dorman, former manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Las Vegas, has housed numerous well-known actors over the years. According to her, “If you follow the professional code of ethics, it is so much fun to see all the stars being real down-to-earth people.”
Dorman said some stars even moved their families to Las Vegas for the duration of filming because they found it so relaxing. They liked that there was no paparazzi chasing or hounding them, she said.
With the signing of the “Breaking Bad Bill” back in 2013, which gives rebates of up to 30% for qualifying filming expenditures within New Mexico, she said we can expect to continue to see our beautiful state featured in television and movies indefinitely.
If you’re interested in listing your property as a potential filming location, visit nmfilm.com to find out how. As suggested by several individuals who’ve had the Hollywood experience, just make sure the film is covered by an insurance policy that won’t leave the landowner responsible for damages.
After all, J. Lo or Ozzy are not likely to repair your culverts.