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Film Location: Very Large Array (VLA), New Mexico

Written on April 23, 2018

Very Large Array

The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is an astrophysical research facility located in central New Mexico between the towns of Magdalena and Datil.

The VLA has 27 white satellite dishes, each with a dish diameter of 25 meters (82 feet) and weight of 209 metric tons.

There are four commonly used configurations, designated A (the largest) through D (the tightest and most popular for filming when all the dishes are within 600 m of the center point). The configuration is changed every 4 months and the observatory cycles through all the various possible configurations (including several hybrids) every 16 months. The antennas are moved along the array arms by rail carried by two giant transporters over 63km (39 miles) of track.

Film Permits

The Very Large Array has featured in films such as ContactTerminator Salvation, and G.I. Joe: America’s Elite.

The Very Large Array can accommodate commercial film and photography only when it does not impact its scientific mission and the day to do practises of the observatory. As such, the Very Large Array antennae cannot be rearranged to accommodate photography.

Filming at the location requires plenty of advanced planning and extensive coordination.

Script approval is required.

Equipment needs to be approved so it does not disrupt observatory’s operations. Any device that incorporates a microprocessor can potentially cause harmful interference to the Very Large Array. Radio emissions at the Very Large Array site will be monitored by staff and any equipment found to be causing interference must be turned off. Given these restrictions, some productions may only be possible during times when the Very Large Array is not performing astronomical observations.

Protective clothing may be required when on location.

All access is non-exclusive meaning observatory staff will continue normal activities and the visitors centre and walking tour will remain open to the public.

NRAO staff escorts are required.

A certificate of insurance is required.

Aircraft, including drones and helicopters cannot fly closer than 500 feet from any Very Large Array antenna.

The minimal production fee for any production is $10,000 per day. Larger productions will be subject to higher fees.

News media are exempt from fees.

New Mexico Film Crew & Production Support

Socorro is the closest major town with several accommodation and restaurant options.

Contact us if you are looking to film in New Mexico and require a local production service producer or fixer to help with permitting and production support. We are also able to recommend New Mexico directors, DoP’s, videographers, photographers, drone operators, and cameramen.