Filmmaker may use Princess Theatre
May 11, 2022
A filmmaker told the Tucumcari Lodgers Tax Advisory Board on Wednesday he is investigating the possibility of using the long-closed Princess Theatre in a movie that centers around the history of the Fender Telecaster electric guitar.
Scott Devitte of Southampton, New York, carrying a Rick Kelly-made facsimile of a Telecaster, said during the public comment portion of the meeting he envisioned remodeling the Princess Theatre as a Telecaster-inspired music venue for a key scene for his movie, titled "In the Year of Telecaster."
He said he already has assembled a "sizzle reel" of clips for his proposed film.
After the film is made, he said the theater then could be used as a music venue and be "a magnet for the town" for the many rock 'n' and country musicians who use Telecasters.
Devitte said he was scheduled to talk to the New Mexico Film Commission, which offers tax incentives for productions in the state, about his movie.
After Wednesday's meeting, Devitte talked to City Manager Mark Martinez, who seemed receptive to his idea but said previous estimates to bring the theatre up to code ranged between $1 million to $2 million. That cost likely has risen, Martinez said.
Devitte said he was looking for interior drawings and engineer's reports to help assess the costs of renovations he wants.
Devitte said if his film is greenlit and enough money raised for its production, some of those funds could be used to remodel the Princess Theatre. He envisioned a stage shaped like a Telecaster body, with the guitar's neck as the aisle.
On Thursday, Martinez guided Devitte in a tour of the theater's interior for more than an hour. Devitte used a high-definition camera to capture images inside.
"It's an extremely fabulous place," he said as he descended stairs from the second floor at the end of the tour.
He acknowledged the site would need much work, but he also marveled over how much space it has and the glimpse it offers to another era.
"They'd never make a place like that now," he said.
Devitte said he worked for many years as a cinematographer for ABC/Disney. The International Movie Database lists him as a lighting director for multiple episodes of television's "One Life to Live' and cinematographer of the 2020 film "Don't Read This on a Plane." He's won two Daytime Emmys.
Devitte, also a former musician, said he's motivated to get a film done because he's 72 years old. He said he had planned to do his Telecaster film several years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed production. Growing up in Las Vegas, Nevada, he said he's been in Tucumcari many times over the years. He interspersed his conversation with recollections of traveling with his family from Chicago to Las Vegas, including a stay at the Palomino Motel in Tucumcari.
The Telecaster, developed by Leo Fender in 1951, long has found favor among thousands of musicians over the decades, ranging from Keith Richards of rock's The Rolling Stones to country's Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.
The 736-seat Princess Theatre along Main Street in downtown Tucumcari opened as the H-H Theatre in 1917 and was renamed the Princess Theatre a few years later.
A fire badly damaged the theater in 1943, but it was rebuilt and reopened. Another fire in October 1962 damaged again, and it has been closed ever since. The city installed a new roof on the building about five years ago to arrest its deterioration.
Proposals for the theater have come and gone over the years, including in late 2019 when two representatives from a Santa Fe filmmaking company that wanted to convert it into a special events venue.
During a city commission meeting earlier that year, city commissioners said one of the principals had expressed interest in developing the theater into a café in front, with a museum and movie theater behind that.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, and nothing was heard from the principals after that.
In other business at the meeting:
- Martinez said he plans to budget an initial $20,000 for fiscal year 2023 for new directional signage to the city's attractions. He said such an effort likely will require several years of funding.
- Board secretary Al Patel asked about placing QR-code stickers in visitor's guides that would take users to a VisitTucumcariNM.com coupon page for various businesses. He said such a page would boost business and provide valuable tourism data for marketers.
- Martinez said a redesign of the city's newly unveiled visitor's guide will reflect the new businesses that have opened in Tucumcari. He said the next print run probably will be 15,000, compared to the initial run of 10,000 copies.
- The city's tourism marketer, Robyne Beaubien, talked about future campaigns, including a "Tucumcari Two Nights" that seeks to induce travelers to stay an extra night in the city.