Know When To Fold ‘Em
We originally contacted New Mexico-based film producer Judy Bell about a project she was developing, a film featuring a Native American private investigator. Bell says, “The story, centering on the character Geronimo Jones, was to take advantage of the rich Native culture that is inherent in the lure of New Mexico.”
The story would also have focused on Santa Fe, the oldest capital in the United States, home of the oldest newspaper, and an old adobe that is the oldest house in the United States. “The rich history,” says Bell, “goes back over 400 years and, of course, much further in terms of indigenous peoples occupying the land.”
Hitting the Wall
Unfortunately, Bell had to fold the project. For a producer, knowing when to walk away is just as important as continuing on. “Life is an ongoing challenge. I’ve dropped that project for a number of reasons.”
“Balancing an urban Native American against the backdrop of one of the most complex and fascinating cities was intriguing and would provide vast marketing possibilities to promote tourism, the international art scene, and the Indian market.
“But in the end,” Bell says, “this marketing potential is what undermined the project, as the businesses around the plaza – arguably the most popular spot for tourists – do not want filming. It clogs the small streets, often isolates a business entrance for days at a time, and takes up valuable parking space for grip and other production vehicles.”
“Also,” she says, “the marketing ideas I had would have to go through the state and city film and tourism offices, be approved by the hotels, and who knows who or what else, so my creative enthusiasm hit the reality wall and I realized the odds of ever getting into production were slim to none.
“A producer puts everything into believing in and developing a project, and one must be tenacious and persevere. But at some point the facts have to be weighed and a decision made.”
Bell had other projects waiting in the wings. “I have quickly moved on. I’m now working with an Apache Mestiza on two films she’s written, helping her package them and obtain financing.
“There is an interesting story behind these films. The writer didn’t find out she was Apache until her late twenties, having been adopted and raised in northern California. One of the films follows her first visit to New Mexico to find her relatives, the other film tells the story of one of her ancestors. The writer now owns her ancestral land near Monticello in South West New Mexico and plans to film there.”
A Producer’s Skill Set
Bell’s experience includes time in the Los Angeles studio system at Paramount, Universal and Sony. In 2002 she produced the first Native American film festival in the Coachella Valley.
“My skills are innate, stemming from a personality that is business minded, organized, quick-thinking, creative, optimistic, and did I mention tenacious? I seem to have been born with a yearning to be in the film industry and have a natural feel, and enjoy all aspects of it.”
Training people for the film industry is important to Bell. “I intend to use interns and the state-funded job mentoring program on my new projects. Our film industry (in New Mexico) is booming, the schools are training students in everything from costume design to camera operating, and we need to keep growing our crew base. There is nothing like being on a busy movie set for 14 hours or more to clearly define whether one has what it takes to have a career in film production.”
Elsewhere, Bell has said, “I want to see the new studio stages filled and work opportunities for people in the Santa Fe area. This will improve tourism and global recognition as a vital economic center beyond its reputation as a world- class art center.”
“A classroom,” says Bell, “cannot provide the situations that challenge one’s wits, quick reactions, problem solving, endurance, positive attitude, and reliability. Having to switch to another set up and location at the last minute because of a weather problem does provide a scenario to measure how much one really wants to be in this business.”
Read more about Belle Starr Productions.