First Native-American Owned Studio Opens In New Mexico

Amidst the economic boom in New Mexico, the Tesuque Pueblo tribe has opened Camel Rock Studios.

Camel Rock Studios, the first movie studio owned by Native Americans. Photo Credit: Camel Rock Studios.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the first ever exclusively Native-American owned film studio has opened in a historic occasion. Owned by the Tesuque Pueblo tribe of New Mexico, Camel Rock Studios is based at the foot of the Sangre de Christo Mountains, an area that has seen the filming of over 20 productions to date.

Previously a casino, after moving their business to the new location the Tesuque Pueblo tribe realised that the 75,000 square foot building could be revitalised as a studio.  With the shoot of Tom Hanks film News of the World, the concept was proven successful. Investing $50 million into the development, the Tesuque Pueblo tribe took advantage of the recent film boom in New Mexico, birthed by the popular TV series Breaking Bad.

Timothy J. Brown, president and CEO of Pueblo of Tesuque Development Corporation stated,

“Casinos, inherently, if you take out all the games, are big empty spaces. So we had an events centre that we did concerts in and large parties that was a big vacant space. Once we removed all the casino equipment and furniture from the casino area, that became another large vacant space, and then with any business we had an entire administrative area with cubicles and offices that became perfect for their offices to move in.”

The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Turtix.

They weren’t the first to see the value in building studios in the desert state though. In Albuquerque, Netflix opened its U.S. production hub and purchased Albuquerque Studios, where they’ll spend approximately $100 million over ten years on producing original content. NBC also intends to open its own studio for its streaming service, stating that this will bring 330 full-time jobs and $500 million in spending.

With a backlot of 100 acres of undeveloped land, Camel Rock also houses a unique 130,000-gallon water tank with 7,500 square feet of water surface area extending to a depth of up to ten feet, the only one of its kind in New Mexico left behind by News of the World. They possess a half-dozen interior standing sets, such as a bar, a restaurant, and a two-story building entry. The studio has two interior areas for shooting and stage supplies, a 12,000 square foot studio mill, production offices, and studio services.

As Brown said, “It’s a bit of a back-to-the-future facility. Camel Rock was conceived to follow the tradition of the historic Hollywood studios—like Warner Bros. and Paramount—with their off-site film ranches.”

The potential of this studio to capitalise on New Mexico’s economic advances could provide for the community of the Tesuque Pueblo tribe. The governor of Pueblo of Tesuque Robert Mora Sr. stated that the studio’s earnings will go to fund social programs that aid the community

“The health care issue, the possibility of being one day able to provide medical coverage for all our tribal members. So there’s a lot of community-based programs we look at.”

The Sangre de Christo mountains, where Camel Rock Studios lies at the foot of. Photo Credit: Jim Ekstrand.

The arrival of the studio also increases the likelihood of more Native American filmmakers entering the frey. Chris Eyre, a Native American filmmaker and advisor to Camel Rock, said:

“You enable young native people to have the microphone and say, our stories are important and we have a studio that actually is owned by a tribe, and hopefully has the perspective that our stories are important too in that canvas of movies and TV. There’s an appetite for audiences to hear diverse stories and different types of stories.”

Cherokee actor and Honorary Oscar recipient Wes Studi said, “Tesuque Tribe’s production facility has already proven itself with the film News of the World. They are a great new addition to the film and television world of New Mexico.”

Brown expressed the studio’s desire to grow beyond film in the future. “We have an aggressive five-year plan to expand our business and our footprint,” said Brown. “As we grow our studio, we are striving to make this a comprehensive production facility that will support global productions across multiple platforms, including film and television, digital streaming, music, and gaming.”

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