[The following is my monthly editorial for the Deming Headlight. It appeared on Thursday, April 11.]
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Hollywood pays us another visit. The stagecoaches of film production, those generic white trucks and trailers, have rolled into our town once again. As most residents know by now, Enemy Way, a motion picture starring Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, is filming in Deming and Luna County.
Friends and neighbors frequently ask if I am working on the film. As it happens, I am not, but I'll admit to checking my voice mail more frequently since the trucks arrived.
Enemy Way is not the first major film to be shot in Deming, nor is Whitaker the first movie star to work here. Many locals recall Harrison Ford eating at Tacos Mirasol and John Hurt stopping for coffee at the dearly-missed Joe Perk. No word yet as to whether John Richmond has serenaded Whitaker at Palma's, but if it happens, add it to the local lore of actors working and eating here in Deming.
There were likely many reasons the producers decided to film here. Without knowing what negotiations took place, it is reasonable to surmise that this film could have been shot in Las Cruces, where there is a film office and a film liaison assigned to attract industry there. Living in Las Cruces are a number of industry professionals used to driving up to Albuquerque for work. In April, some of them are commuting to Deming instead.
Some public acknowledgment of Mayor Andres Silva is surely due, as I suspect the presence of this particular film in Deming rather than Las Cruces is something of a coup. My agent, based in Albuquerque, knows who our mayor is. Up there, Silva is known for promoting our city to the industry.
Why wouldn't he?
There are inconveniences when a film comes to town, mostly related to traffic. Walking down Gold Street as you always do, one day a stranger with crew pants and a baseball cap might run up to you and ask you to wait a minute. That's when you notice orange cones and tents and trailers and people on megaphones calling for silence. Not everyone welcomes this intrusion on the normal rhythm of their city. You just want to grab a coffee at Isabella's or the Waymaker in peace, and now all these strangers are telling you where to walk!
On the other hand, when a production arrives in your city they spend money. They buy food, lumber, tools, hardware, fabric, signs, antiques and furniture for sets, and more. While they will bring in skilled professionals, they will also hire locals for a variety of jobs. An out of work mechanic may suddenly be working as a grip on a set. A laid off truck driver or warehouse worker may get some work driving, loading and unloading, or working as a location assistant. The productions fill up hotels and restaurants. They need catering services. They often pay fees to local government for use of public spaces, or to private businesses and home owners for locations.
You think government likes to spend money? Hollywood is no slouch.
According to the New Mexico Economic Development Department, film companies spend an average of $230 million in our state annually. In a county that saw 20.2% unemployment in January, you had better believe the mayor wants some of that activity in Deming.
Another form of employment on a film set is "background work." You can perform as an extra, sitting or walking in the background of a shot. Some of our friends and neighbors have asked me how to approach this.
By now, it may be too late. The place to inquire is on the web site of On Location Casting. They are the business providing extras for the film. There is a lively community of people from various walks of life who work as extras regularly. Extras spend most of their time waiting around, reading a book or, nowadays, peering at Kindles and iPhones. You might catch a glimpse of a star, maybe meet someone new. The pay is not high, but the labor is light if you can stand the boredom. And they will feed you.
Oh, and while you're there, would you mind slipping Mr. Whitaker my headshot?