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Why Nevada is often overlooked for film production

Updated December 24, 2023 - 11:18 am

Nevada’s film industry is at a pivotal point as one of Las Vegas’ most famous residents, Mark Wahlberg, works to bring more attention to filming here while productions are still being impacted by fallout from the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting.

Working on such films as “Behind the Candelabra” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” the Nevada Film Office’s new director, Kim Spurgeon, is familiar with the challenges of shooting movies and television shows in Sin City. She’s worked for the state agency tasked with helping productions film in locations across Nevada and administer film tax credits since 2014.

Wahlberg has talked about making Las Vegas “Hollywood 2.0,” and the city played host to a big movie premiere for his new film, “The Family Plan,” on Dec. 13. The A-list actor also lobbied for more tax incentives for filming in the Silver State, but the bill failed to pass in the last legislative session. Besides increasing the amount of tax credits available, the bill would have allowed for the construction of two film production campuses in Southern Nevada.

The Review-Journal sat down with Spurgeon to get her thoughts on where the film industry currently stands in Nevada and where it could go. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

What direction would you like to see the Nevada Film Office going?

We would like to grow the industry in Nevada. Our role is to promote film production in Nevada, to get jobs to locals, to bring business to our local vendors. We would like to see more of that. I think that Las Vegas is primed for a large growth in the industry. We would like to do what we can to shepherd that through.

Do you think Las Vegas has the potential to create its own robust film infrastructure, film economy, and what do you think of that “Hollywood 2.0” concept?

I think that it’s a viable concept, and I think it’s one that we should be pursuing. This industry is so closely related to a lot of already established industries in Las Vegas. We’re the entertainment capital of the world and yet, we don’t have a full-size, purpose-built production studio. We would like to see that change. Because it makes sense for the industry to be here. We’re so close to L.A. We already have related industries, where we can easily foster the growth of this one. We already have a lot of the base of the infrastructure. We have local crew. We have local vendors, and we would like to see those businesses and employment numbers grow.

How would you describe the film industry currently in Southern Nevada and Las Vegas?

Right now, we are considered an on-location town, because we don’t have full-time production studios. Productions come here to film the practical locations that we have. We have the Strip. We have Mount Charleston. We have Lake Mead. We have a lot of natural beauty, as well as the neon lights of the Strip. That’s what productions come here for now. It does cater more to the low-budget independent features, or maybe second units of the larger features.

For instance, “Obliterated,” which recently premiered on Netflix, films primarily on a stage in New Mexico. But they did film several weeks of practical locations here on the Strip. That’s typically what we’ve seen. What we would like to see is the entire production filmed here.

For the Nevada Film Office, a lot of it is centered around giving out certain tax credits, making sure productions meet certain standards. But what do you see is needed to grow the industry?

I think one of the biggest holes to fill is stage space. We need large enough stage space to cater to episodic television or to larger-budget feature films. Right now, Nevada’s tax incentive program is not considered competitive among those states who do have programs. And most states do have programs — around 38 states have some kind of film tax incentive program. I think that is a big reason why Nevada is often overlooked by productions looking to film, they will choose to film in a place like New Mexico that does have a robust tax incentive.

What will it take to get studios constructed here?

It will require private interest to invest in studio space. While there are some interested parties in building studios in Nevada, any interest would be contingent upon Nevada passing a competitive film tax incentive program. Any changes to the current tax incentive program would need to be passed by the Legislature and enacted by the governor.

A bill to expand the film tax credit program failed to pass in the Legislature. The Nevada Film Office wasn’t involved in that bill. How can the state secure a more competitive program?

Our current program was enacted by the Legislature in the 2013 session, and in order for the program to be expanded, it would need to go through the Legislature for approval again. What we saw during (the last session) was a lot of interest sparked in the topic. We saw a lot of momentum build around the concept of something like that, where I would not be surprised if we saw something similar in the next session where another bill may be proposed. (The Nevada Film Office) does have the ability to sponsor a bill regarding the film tax incentive program, but as a division of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, we support the governor’s priorities for the state.

People have spoken against film tax credits in general, saying they don’t in general pay off. What do you say to that?

In terms of tax incentives, I think it’s important for the state to get something in return for what they are giving out. I think that having the proper infrastructure in terms of studio space will contribute to that. It gives productions a place to stay as opposed to on-location filming, where you kind of have to look out in terms of if the script calls for that type of location. A studio is such an amenable space. You can build whatever you can think of on a stage, and it can accommodate all kinds of productions. You can create a pipeline that maintains jobs and maintains the businesses in the local economy.

Are there any new trends in the types of productions coming to Nevada? Or who’s interested in coming here?

Right now, our bread and butter tends to be a lot of low-budget independent features, as well as commercials. We’re very much a commercial town. What we would like to see, and where a lot of the benefit lies, is in episodic television, and feature films, that film on a stage. Those productions tend to film longer, which means longer terms of employment for the crews that work on them, as well as a higher spend that goes into the local economy.

The makers of the Netflix film “Obliterated” have spoken about the challenges of filming violent scenes and scenes with guns in casinos after the 1 October shooting. Is that a challenge that the Nevada Film Office plans to help with in some way or to help ease the mind of casino operators?

The Film Office is not a regulatory agency, and permission to film on private property is solely up to the property itself. These challenges are not only limited to casino properties, as public safety is important in any public space.

How would you define success for the Nevada Film Office as you pilot it through the next few years?

Success to me would be more work, more productions filmed in Nevada. Pretty much we need new studio space to have more filming here. That’s kind of the crux of it. But success to me is bringing more production here. That’s what our local clients that we serve. That’s what they’re looking to us to do is to help bring them work.

Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at shemmersmeier@reviewjournal.com. Follow @seanhemmers34 on X.

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