San Juan County Industrial Complex will serve as site of film industry backlot

Site's aesthetic values, existing infrastructure propelled it to top of list

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • County spokesman Devin Neeley, who also serves as the county's film liaison, said there is no timetable yet for construction of the backlot.
  • The industrial complex site was chosen over locations near Jackson Lake and in Kirtland.
  • County Manager Mike Stark has said previously the county has approximately $250,000 in state funds remaining to build the backlot.

FARMINGTON — A film industry backlot designed to resemble a Native American, Mexican or Middle Eastern village is one step closer to becoming a reality after the San Juan County Commission chose a site for the project last week.

Commissioners voted unanimously July 27 in favor of constructing the backlot at the San Juan County Industrial Complex in far northern San Juan County. That site was one of three that were under consideration for the project.

County spokesman Devin Neeley, who also serves as the county's film liaison, said there is no timetable yet for construction of the backlot. But he said the major players in the project — county public works officials, county parks and recreation officials, and film industry representatives — would be getting together soon to develop a plan.

Farmington events:'Mama Mia' opens month-long run at Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater

The July 27 meeting was the second time the commission had taken up the issue. Commissioners first discussed it during their July 6 meeting, but they decided to table it until a tour of the three sites under consideration could be arranged. The other two locations under consideration were a site near Jackson Lake northwest of Farmington and Lions Park in Kirtland.

That tour took place later in July and was attended by three members of the commission, including Commissioner Terri Fortner. Fortner opened discussion during the July 27 meeting by saying she agreed with an assessment by Don Gray, a former State Film Office staff member who is working as a consultant for San Juan County, that the industrial complex site was best suited for the project.

"As far as the three locations, it seemed like it had the best options as far as what was available," she said.

Gray joined the meeting via video conference and explained his reasoning for listing the industrial complex as the best site for the project. He began by saying the Jackson Lake site was the most desirable in terms of aesthetics, but a lack of infrastructure — utilities and Internet, for instance — counted against it.

He said those kinds of shortcomings are common in the film industry, leading to the disqualification of many otherwise attractive sites.

"There are a lot of aesthetically wonderful locations in New Mexico that will never be shot because they can't practically be gotten to or worked on," he said.

Pandemic recovery:Ceremony marks end of Totah Theater renovation, celebrates return of live shows soon

Don Gray

Gray said the industrial park had the advantage of already having a considerable amount of infrastructure while also being aesthetically pleasing. He also noted it already has indoor facilities that easily could be used as a soundstage for interior shooting.

"In terms of actual practical working on a film, that location is kind of a home run in terms of having everything you want already there that you wouldn't have to build out," he said.

The Lions Park location, he said, was the least aesthetically pleasing of the three sites, he said.

The entrance road to San Juan County Industrial Park is pictured, Thursday, May 23, off of the La Plata Highway.

Gray was asked about the driving distance to the industrial complex and how that might work against the site being used by film or TV producers, an issue that had come up when the commission considered it in early July. He responded by explaining that he is working on a film now in New Mexico on which producers are driving 30 miles in one direction to film scenes, then driving 30 miles in another direction to shoot more scenes.

More:Public meetings scheduled to gather input on county planning initiatives

The industrial complex site, he noted, is only approximately 15 miles from downtown Farmington. It is located on County Road 1130.

"To a movie company, that's not much," he said.

The only drawback he could attach to the industrial complex site, he said, was the lack of dining opportunities for crew members who might be stuck at the site all day. But Gray indicated that could be viewed as a business opportunity for food trucks.

"I'm not worried about the travel time out there, and I don't think a film company would be, either," he said.

Devin Neeley

Neeley has said that designs for the village already have been completed. The project would be part of Totah Studios, which includes the recently renovated Totah Theater in downtown Farmington. Totah Studios is a joint venture between the City of Farmington and San Juan County to help promote the county as a shooting destination for film and TV producers as part of an effort to diversify the local economy.

County Manager Mike Stark has said previously the county has approximately $250,000 in state funds remaining to build the backlot.

A sign is pictured to the San Juan County Industrial Park.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.