Film in Las Cruces: The Dream is Now a Reality
Written by Cheryl A. Fallstead
Courtesy Film Las Cruces
As I write this introduction to a story I’ve been working on for months, Clint Eastwood is in Las Cruces filming the feature film The Mule. Another feature film with local roots, Walking with Herb, is preparing to start filming, and several independent films have either just wrapped or are beginning the production process. The new Film Las Cruces Studio recently became a major resource for both filmmakers and film students, and we now have two film festivals in Las Cruces along with two institutions of higher learning—New Mexico State University and Doña Ana Community College—training the next generation of filmmakers. While northern New Mexico may currently be more well-known as a filming location, Las Cruces is stepping up its game and is ready to be considered a serious player.
Let’s meet the cast.
Say you want to shoot a film in Las Cruces. The man who can help you get permits, find locations, and generally smooth the way is Las Cruces Film Liaison Jon Foley. Jon can also help if you’re interested in working on locally filmed productions by adding you to a database of people with skills filmmakers need. What’s more, as staff for Film Las Cruces, he has been heavily involved in the new Film Las Cruces Studio and the numerous sets already built within the 75,448 square-foot space. The biggest feather in his cap this year was landing a Clint Eastwood movie.
Members of his team include Ian Simon, the new Film Las Cruces studio coordinator, and Chris Shephard, the operations coordinator. There is also a 13-member board of directors, led by board president Senator Jeff Steinborn and vice-president Matt Byrnes of Doña Ana Community College’s Digital Imaging and Design Technology Program.
Jon actively reaches out to film producers to come to Las Cruces. There have been several smaller productions shot here recently, such as All the World is Sleeping, which wrapped in May, a feature film called Banging Lanie, plus Ozzie and Jack’s World Detour Season 3 did a road trip through Las Cruces and used some local crew. There was also a Mercedes ad shot in May at the Big Chile Inn.
The big news, however, is the two feature films that are filming here this summer and fall: The Mule and Walking with Herb, a locally-grown film with A-list actors Edward James Olmos, George Lopez, and Mary McDonnell. The Mule stars Clint Eastwood, Manny Montoya, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Jill Flint, and Michael Peña.
In a press release announcing The Mule, Jeff Steinborn touted the impact the film will have on local small businesses and people wanting to work in the film business. “Large film productions employ good sized crews and spend money at a wide array of local businesses. This film production will likely fill over 1,000 hotel room nights, and spend thousands of dollars at local restaurants and other vendors. Additionally, local people will get hired to work on the crew and become background actors. It’s a great example of the economic impact we can have if we work hard to recruit more film production to our region.”
Working with film producers is a big part of Film Las Cruces’ job and one thing that makes it easier for them to attract projects is New Mexico’s very competitive film incentive program. Jon says, “The New Mexico film incentive is our bread and butter. That is the main reason New Mexico is a major player in the film industry. New Mexico, Georgia, and Louisiana are the top three in terms of incentives. It’s a really well thought out program that I hope continues to thrive in the next administration.”
The studio is the bright new shiny tool in the toolbox for Las Cruces. It is a converted Coca-Cola bottling plant owned by Duane Green. Jon says, “Duane has been more than incredible to us. He’s willing to take a risk on us and we’re utilizing it for education.”
That’s because a lot of what is happening at the studio is related to helping train filmmakers of the future, through the DACC crew training program and free set construction classes. In addition, the studio has a great deal with Synalease, the largest grip and lighting contractors internationally. The studio now houses a three-ton grip and lighting package that is free for academic use. NMSU or DACC classes can use it at no cost and it can also be rented out to productions with no transportation fee.
In March, the studio had a grand opening and it was filled with many of the people who had helped bring this dream to fruition along with supporters and the simply curious. There were speeches, food, and music as people explored the sets inside the cavernous space. The showpiece is a Leer jet set, but there is also a prison set, an oval office, and a missile silo. The set construction classes learned their trade by putting these together. They were purchased at a bargain-basement price from a production company that had a show cancelled.
The sets are also available, of course, for any productions which would like to film there. Ian can help producers work out the details for use of the studio.
Another part of Jon’s job is helping locals find jobs in the film industry. The Film Las Cruces crew database lists people who have some film experience, based on their credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), whether it was a union job or not. In addition, those who have needed skills, but don’t yet have credits can contact Jon to discuss being listed. The list includes numerous opportunities, including jobs you’d think of for filmmaking such as camera operators, directors, editors, sound, construction, wardrobe, and hair and make-up, but also tutors, still photographers, animal wranglers, and caterers.
Film Las Cruces, a non-profit organization, meets the first Wednesday of each month and welcomes interested parties to attend. To see the list of crew opportunities, go to filmlascruces.com and look under resources.
From the Military to Movies
Dave Witt heads up Las Cruces’ newest film festival.
Dave Witt brings his strong work ethic and military experience to his current roles as a filmmaker and the executive director/CEO of the Borderlands Film Festival, taking place this year October 2 through 7. After a seven-year stint as a combat medic in the Army, he turned his attention to graduating with honors from NMSU with a degree in Creative Media and working in films. You may have seen him in Transformers 2 as a flight medic working to save the character played by Shia LaBeouf. His line was, he recalls, “Ready to shock…one, two, three!”
In 2012, Dave began making films and working with the Las Cruces International Film Festival (LCIFF). He produced and edited The Heart Outright in 2014, written by Mark Medoff and directed by Ross Marks. Then he wrote and directed his own short, Doc, about a female combat medic, for which he received several awards. (Check it out on VetStreamTV.com.)
His second year with LCIFF, Dave served as the artistic director, gaining more experience for when he set off to develop the area’s second film festival, the Borderlands Film Festival. In its first year, 2018, the new festival attracted over 250 film submissions from over 30 countries, which Dave said is much higher than usual for a new event. Due to his strong connection to fellow veterans, submissions from military vets can be made with no entry free and he helps connect them with distribution through VetStreamTV.
The focus of the festival is a bit different from LCIFF, which Dave says is geared mostly toward helping beginning filmmakers gain experience and connections. He says, “Our festival is a professional-run film festival where filmmakers can sell their film and meet new filmmakers for their next project. Local filmmakers can meet filmmakers from outside the area. We provide them with the infrastructure of the area, show how beautiful the Borderlands is, and so maybe when they’re writing their next movie, they think of Las Cruces. We’ll do our best during the six-day event to impress them.”
He adds, “Distributors will be coming and may pick up films. They’ll have meetings with the filmmakers. We do as much as we can for filmmakers to sell their films. We’re more of an industry festival than a consumer festival, but we still want the consumers to have a great experience. We’re going to have tons of panels and workshops and masterclasses as well as events that will be free to the community.”
Dave is paying attention to what is going on in the country when determining areas of focus for his festival. That includes women, military vets, and Borderland issues. He says, “Those topics attracted a lot of filmmakers because we’re shining the spotlight on some groups that need a spotlight shined on them.”
But he isn’t restricting his festival to Las Cruces. Dave plans to have smaller festivals throughout the Southwest, bringing back some of the stars and showing films from the Borderlands Festival in Las Cruces. The first satellite festival is planned for Truth or Consequences.
“The festival wouldn’t happen without the work of many talented professionals,” Dave notes. “Our associate directors and board are top-notch individuals, and the other officers, COO Dr. Michael Evans and CSO David Salcido, are my partners. Running a festival is a full-time job, but that’s only eight hours a day. I still have eight hours a day to do other things. I don’t mind working my ass off. I just want to be happy when I’m doing it.”
For more information about the Borderlands Film Festival, go to borderlandsfilmfestival.com.
Based On The Novel
“Walking With Herb”
By Joe S. Bullock
Motion Picture coming soon
Filmed in Las Cruces & Artesia, New Mexico
Edward James Olmos
- Christopher MacDonald | Jessica Medoff
- Billy Boyd | Lauren Ridloff
Screen Play By
Ross Kagan Marks
Brian Espinosa | Mark Medoff | Ross Kagan Marks
Joe S. Bullock | Edward James Olmos | Spencer Proffer
- Brad & David Beasley
- Marci Beyer & Michael Stout
- Wanda Bowman
- Larry & Sherry Brown
- Joe & Sheila Bullock
- Van & Colette Bullock
- Judith Kay Cassles
- Dino & Leslie Cervantes
- John & Laura Conniff
- Jan & Mickey Clute
- Dr. Osvaldo De La Vega
- Barbara & Carroll Hall
- Kerry & Debbie Hixon
- Barbara Hubbard
- John & Amy Hummer
- Tom & Jerean Hutchinson
- Royal & Jennifer Jones
- Jackie Jones
- Holly Jones
- Kevin & Lisa Key
- William Lutz
- Les Mathers
- Dave & Jaki McCollum
- Denten & Valerie Park
- Michael G. Paulowsky
- Daniel L. & Sarah Payne
- Skip Prichard
- Dean & Marti Rigg
- Daniel & Laura Romanelli
- Lou & Pat Sisbarro
- Judy C. Smith
- Charles & Nita Swartz
- Llewelyn & Hannah Williams
Special Thank You
- Red Hawk Golf Club | Hacienda de Mesilla | Film Las Cruces
- NMSU Creative Media Institute | New Mexico Film Office
- La Posta de Mesilla
Training the Behind-the-Scenes Crew
With more film projects coming to Las Cruces, the need for trained film crews will only increase, creating more jobs in a wide range of industry areas. Doña Ana Community College’s (DACC) Creative Media Technology (CMT) program offers associate’s degrees in eight related areas: creative media, digital audio, digital graphics, digital video, film crew training, game design, graphics and animation, and web design. It also offers certificates for those who don’t want to pursue a degree, including a 24-unit certificate in film crew training.
Matt Byrnes, department chair for ARTS at DACC and vice president of the board of Film Las Cruces, says it doesn’t take long for those interested in pursuing a career in the film industry to get started. “At DACC, it would take two semesters, so one full academic year, to finish our certificate in film crew and that gets them their safety card, the DACC certificate, and eligible for 15 union work days,” he explains. “Then it just takes 15 more working days under a union apprenticeship to be eligible to join the union. We hope with the union opening an office in the new Film Las Cruces Studio, the chances of them getting the rest of their union days will skyrocket because of the additional productions and the union presence in the building.”
After getting their union cards, Matt says jobs can be performed in a variety of “below the line” craft areas, anything from grip to electric to carpentry, set construction, set dressing, special effects, make-up and hair, and sound. He explains, “They need everything from carpenters to plumbers to painters, so basically anyone in the construction industry could be retrained and work in the film industry. It’s not just the jobs. It’s the rate in pay that’s the really exciting aspect of union work. Oftentimes they’re getting $20 to $30 an hour.”
The cost of the certificate is about $1,500, but Matt points out, “That $1,500 investment could be spun into a $30-an-hour job. You could theoretically pay yourself back in one month.”
Two courses, plus electives, comprise the certificate. Film Crew Training 1 was designed in collaboration with the New Mexico IATSE Local 480 union and the New Mexico Film Office and focuses on providing hands-on training. Film Crew Training 2 hones in on the area the students wants to specialize in, such as art department, grip, electric, sound, production office, script supervision, props, set dressing, locations, special effects, hair/makeup, wardrobe, or production assistant/set operations.
Benefits from film productions aren’t restricted to film crews, but more local productions can help keep local talent here. Matt says, “Basically, with the film industry, all boats float. Everything from accounting to paint to lumber to hotel rooms, catering, you name it. Every aspect of business in the city will benefit from having productions happen here in Southern New Mexico. And that will spread, as well. You’ll see that people will start to use the Spaceport more…White Sands. They’ll use the Organ Mountains. We have all those beautiful open spaces, like Corralitos Ranch. It might lead to further film infrastructure being built once those production companies come in. So, for students, they’ll be able to get their education here from industry professionals because we’ll hopefully have commercial production here and then, after they graduate, they won’t have to leave to find work in the industry.”
For more information about DACC courses, go to dacc.nmsu.edu.
Independent filmmakers Allison Powell and Lauren Brooks choose Las Cruces as the small town setting for their soon-to-be-released film.
Filmmaker Allison Powell credits a meeting in a Los Angeles coffee shop with Las Cruces Film Liaison Jon Foley for convincing her to film her movie about a young woman taking charge of her virginity, Banging Lanie, in Las Cruces. She says, “I could tell right away he was eager to help support our project and felt very confident that we would be in good hands in Las Cruces. I was eager to get my team to agree to film there, and with the tax credit it was a no brainer.”
Producer Lauren Brooks elaborates, “The entirety of principal photography was shot in Las Cruces. We’ll be picking up B-roll outside of Los Angeles, but otherwise everything was Las Cruces-based. It was an amazing opportunity to film in Las Cruces and work with the talented people in New Mexico. The idea to film in New Mexico was brought to us by Jon Foley, who reached out after seeing our crowd funding campaign. The decision was ultimately reached because of the tax credit offered by New Mexico, which allowed us to put all our funding into production, with post funded by the rebate. Las Cruces was specific because of Jon Foley’s involvement, outreach, and magnetism.”
In addition to the financial support, Las Cruces provided the small-town feel they wanted that was different from the usual LA high school look. Lauren says, “It offered locations at a lower rate with more production value than we could have found in Los Angeles. It also provided an opportunity to give back to the community we were filming in by having some Las Cruces-based crew and cast. Having gone to film school, it’s important for me to share my experience and give opportunities for experience to other aspiring filmmakers.”
A film being made here also supports the local economy. Lauren says, “We found great resources all over Las Cruces. We used a local catering company from Red Hawk Gold Course, we filmed at NMSU, we stayed at the local Motel 6, and so many wonderful residents opened their doors to us both for filming locations and accommodations. This project was only possible due to the help of the people of Las Cruces.”
The subject of the film is close to the hearts of these two young female filmmakers. Allison, who wrote, directed, and starred in the movie, says the film is very loosely based on her life growing up in a small town, where no one talked about sexuality. When she sent the script around to friends for comments, both female and male, the response was often, “That was just like me in high school.”
Lauren adds, “There’s a line in the film where Lanie says, ‘I had to figure it out for myself, because no one else is talking about this.’ I think that has a lot to do with why we all wanted to make this film. There are so many movies about male sexuality, American Pie, Superbad, Risky Business, just to name a few. But there’s so little out there about a young woman discovering herself that isn’t purely about romance or choosing between men. With the rise of #MeToo and TimesUp and the forward thinking that is changing the film industry, we all thought it was important to tell the story of a girl who owns her own body and herself.”
Banging Lanie will be released later this year online.
There is a Movement Afoot….
PRC Productions Works to Create Film Jobs in Southern New Mexico.
While Las Cruces is occasionally the location for big Hollywood productions, like The Mule with Clint Eastwood, most of the shoots are likely to be independent jobs and locally created ones at that. Troy Scoughton Sr. is a Las Crucen and is also a member of the Producers Guild of America and a partner of PRC Productions, which he owns with son Troy Jr. and Robert Dean, and Borderlands Media, a distribution company co-owned with Troy Jr. and David Salcido. He has produced several films, including Eaters, Frankenstein Versus the Mummy, The Mummy Returns with Danny Glover, Truth, Lady Belladonna’s Night Shades, and this year, Radio Silence and Lady Belladonna’s Tales From The Inferno.
Troy says, “We have some tremendously talented artists here, including actors, and the people that put the movie together, so camera people, sound people, all the grips, all the people that do the lighting, all that sort of stuff. They’re here because we have wonderful universities here that train these people to do the jobs. What we don’t have are the jobs to provide those people when they graduate. Now, there is a movement afoot to change that. There are people, like myself, who have been working very hard over the last ten years to make that a reality. So, for example, this year PRC Productions will do five feature films here, using the talents of people from right here. And by ‘right here,’ I mean the Borderlands, so they may be Las Cruces, they may be Silver City, they may be El Paso, but we’re all in this little enclave together that we call the Borderlands and so these guys are just extremely talented and it’s a huge pleasure for me to be able to work with them.”
Radio Silence, which Troy wrote, was partly filmed in the desert in Doña Ana, with a cantina set they put together. On the last day of filming, he said, “PRC Productions is a complete production company, and we must be, because where we are located there’s not a lot of other companies that we can use. So, not only do we write, we also do casting, and then we do all the preparation necessary to do the feature films, which sometimes can take two years. Afterwards, we can direct, construct the sets. This set was constructed from nothing. A couple months ago, there was nothing here but dirt. We also do the post production. So right now, we just shot our last shot this morning, and we are in the process of now putting the film together and that really is the make-or-break point.”
After the film is ready for distribution, it is handed over to Borderlands Media, which may submit it to film festivals and streaming services, such as Netflix or Amazon.
Troy says that making a non-union independent feature film without big name actors may cost up to $150,000. But once it becomes a union film, it can cost up to $2 million. He explains, “So, my choice in o film festivals and streaming services, such as Netflix or Amazon.
this is to go with grips, electric, people, all the below-the-line people that are independent and then when it comes to the actors, it depends on who I can get. So, if I can get an A-list actor, even if it is going to cost me a lot more money, and that person is a SAG actor, then we’ll go through SAG.”
Not optimistic that enough big productions from other areas will choose Las Cruces, he adds, “In my humble opinion, the way to realize that kind of success here is through independent films. So, rather than try to find five or six $100 million films a year, how about we try to find 20 or 30 $2 million films a year? Wouldn’t that be almost as good? Well, it would be for my people.”
Location, Location, Location
How your home could end up on the big screen!
Every frame of every live-action film, TV show, or commercial was filmed somewhere, whether in a studio, outdoors, or in a building. While some locations are custom-built, most shots are made in existing buildings, often someone’s personal or business property rented for use by a film company. With so many films being shot in Las Cruces, perhaps a property you own is just right for a scene.
Don Gray is the contract locations coordinator with the New Mexico Film Office and his job is to help film location scouts find as many sets as they can in our state. To that end, he curates a section of the NMFilm.com website that is a resource for filmmakers which currently lists over 8,000 locations within the state that are available to be used for filming. Search “Las Cruces” and 162 venues pop up, including our iconic Organ Mountains and other natural locations, a graffiti-covered doghouse in La Mesa, the Rio Grande Theatre, shopping centers, homes, and alleys.
Las Cruces has a lot going for it as a film location, including our proximity to the El Paso International Airport, our great year-round weather, and our new film studio. But filmmakers need more than that. “They want to source as much locally as they possibly can because it’s cheaper that way,” Don explains. “If they have to drag something down from Albuquerque or ship it in from LA or something, it gets super, super expensive.”
Don adds, “There are two things that help more than anything to bring productions to a community. One is locations in the community, so that means gas stations, a blacksmith shop, a barn, people’s homes, apartments, all that sort of stuff. The New Mexico Film Office has the third largest location archive in the country and it’s just photographs of locations. In Las Cruces, we need as many locations as we can.”
The other essential ingredients are trained film crew members and local services, from catering to lodging to security. He adds, “The other thing we always need to be able to reassure them is the support services that they need are here and we have an industry directory on NMFilm.com where you can list whatever it is, whether it is crew people or your business.” A look at the industry directory for Las Cruces shows there is plenty of opportunity for businesses to add their resources to be considered by filmmakers.
Property owners can go to the film office website and submit photos and information about their locations for consideration for inclusion on the website at no cost. Business owners can also submit information about what they offer under many categories. You never know what a location scout will be looking to find and your beautifully decorated home or broken-down shed may be exactly what someone needs. You may find yourself catering for a film crew or offering security to a set. In fact, they may need a dog or cat with your pet’s exact skill set: barking on cue or hissing at an intruder. Listing any of these on the website puts them where filmmakers can see them. And it doesn’t cost you a cent to post.
We’ve got the beautiful natural scenery, a film studio, schools training crew members, proximity to the airport, and now maybe your location or business to offer filmmakers. Don says, “Suddenly you start putting together the package for Las Cruces and it starts to seem very, very interesting to a film company.”
The Actor: Mark Vasconcellos
He can play tall, dark, and handsome. He can play charming. He can play sleazy. He can play tough. Mark Vasconcellos has a lot of acting tools in his toolbox and he is plying his trade right here in Las Cruces, where he has lived since 2007. Before moving here, he studied film and acting at San Jose State University and later Stella Adler Conservatory West and the Actor’s Circle Theatre in LA. His life has an international flavor, having spent his high school years in Spain and working as a television segment director and cameraman in Italy, France, and Africa after college. Upon relocating to Las Cruces, he developed a New Mexico travel show called Enchantments and produced 13 episodes.
It may seem counter-intuitive for an actor to leave Hollywood, but Mark says, “Leaving LA for New Mexico as an actor has been good! New Mexico has allowed me to build a solid acting resume and reel with co-starring and starring roles.” You may have seen him on shows produced in New Mexico such as In Plain Sight, Breaking Bad, Easy Money, and Longmire, as well as the locally-produced feature film River, which recently secured world-wide distribution, and several other feature films. Last year, he got to hang out with Cybill Shepherd and James Brolin when he played “Duke” in Rod McCall’s film Rose. In addition, he reports, he worked as a crew member on Clint Eastwood’s film The Mule, which filmed here in July, and auditioned for a speaking role in the upcoming George Lopez and Edward James Olmos film.
Mark says, “I see Las Cruces becoming the number one film production hub of the Southwest. Arizona and Texas do not have a major film studio like we do, nor do they have the awesome film incentives which New Mexico offers to producers. Las Cruces has a huge advantage and the film cameras are rolling. I’m very proud of what we all have accomplished in five years.”
He adds, “Las Cruces has great locations, great people, great film schools, great film-friendly businesses, which will offer producers discounts for goods and services, great production people, and now a great film studio with unique sets, which is the largest film production facility in all of the Borderlands.”
A board member for Film Las Cruces, Mark has been part of this group working to bring film and television jobs to our part of Southern New Mexico. It isn’t easy to put together all the pieces necessary to bring film and television productions to a community, but he says, “The growth of film production is always slow anywhere when a city is just starting out, but over the last couple years with Film Las Cruces moving forward, the city becoming film friendly, and the opening of the film studio, bigger film projects are coming to Las Cruces.”
In addition to acting and crewing films, Mark also teaches classes on acting for the camera and the business of acting, helping to prepare a new group of actors to take roles in local productions. “It really is exciting when we have the ability now to draw in an industry which is recession proof and is worth billions!,” he says. “Let’s grow film and TV production in the Borderlands and create lots of high paying jobs for many to benefit from!”
Think you’d like to learn acting from Mark? Check out his Facebook page, the Film Las Cruces page, and his YouTube channel, youtube.com/malfalcon
NMSU CMI Program Graduates
NMSU CMI Program Graduates are Creating Names for Themselves in the Film Industry
For four days In July, NMSU was the center of activity in the academic film work, with over 300 educators from around the world attending the 72nd annual University Film and Video Association conference giving papers and attending panels, workshops, screenings, and screenplay readings. The conference chair was the Creative Media Institute’s Department Head, Amy Lanasa. The gathering was an excellent opportunity to showcase CMI’s programs, infrastructure, and students.
Amy has taught at NMSU since 2006 and has been department head for three years, armed with degrees in professional writing, theatre studies, and acting. She is part of an academic team of nine in the CMI program, which offers two major areas for students: animation and visual design or digital filmmaking. The program graduates about 40 students in each degree area a year. There are currently 314 students enrolled in the program, Amy reports. They learn subjects such as directing, producing, screenwriting, cinematography, sound design, and editing.
Some students begin their college education at Doña Ana Community College’s Creative Media Technology program, where they once encountered problems transferring their credits to NMSU. Amy says, “One of the first tasks we conquered as a faculty when I became department head was working with Matt Byrnes and the CMT faculty to clearly work out an articulation agreement between our two programs.”
While at NMSU, students can avail themselves of a state-of-the-art digital projection system screening room, post-production lab, animation lab, production space, and a well-stocked equipment room. In addition, they can make use of the Synalease equipment at the Film Las Cruces Studio at no cost.
Amy is proud of the work her staff does, saying, “My faculty are some of the most amazing humans on the planet. Not only do they show up and teach their hearts out, but they also take on tremendous service loads in order for our production program to remain as robust as it is. Additionally, they find time to create their own work, which offers experiential learning opportunities for our students outside of the classroom as well.”
There are numerous other opportunities for CMI students to expand their horizons and make connections. Amy says, “Every spring we host the Las Cruces International Film Festival, which we believe is the largest film festival in the country hosted by a state university and run almost entirely by students.” Ross Marks, part of the CMI faculty, is the executive director of the film festival.
In addition, CMI students have gone to other festivals all over the world, including the Cannes Film Festival Shorts Corner. Animation students attend the SIGGRAPH conference as volunteers where they can make valuable connections and they have exciting study abroad opportunities. Since Las Cruces is not yet the hotbed of the film world, students may not always be able to stay here to pursue their dreams after graduation.
Amy explains, “If our students sincerely wish to work on film sets or in animation studios full time, then yes, they have to leave. There is not enough work currently in the Las Cruces area in order for them to have full-time employment year round. We experience incredible brain drain in this area. On the other hand, we find that our students who do stay are very employable in jobs outside of the industry, because so many of the skills and crafts they learn as film or animation students are transferrable into other arenas.”
A look at the CMI alumni spotlight webpage showcases students who have found work, including Thomas DesJardin, who graduated in 2009 and works in lighting for Sony Pictures Imageworks in Vancouver, with films on his credits like Wreck-It Ralph, Book of Life, and The Emoji Movie. Jesus Nuñez, a 2014 graduate, developed his own El Paso-based production company, DoubleScope Films, and runs Mobius Recording Studio.
Ross adds, “The most impressive thing about CMI is that our students are very entrepreneurial. Some graduate and set up their own production companies with short films, feature films, and commercials. Ninety percent of our students over the past five years find work right away.
There’s such a demand for people to work in the film industry in New Mexico, they get work right away. Most in northern New Mexico, but that’s changing. It’s all starting to come together.”
Filmmaker, Professor, Film Festival Director—
Ross Marks Does It All
Ross Marks is a whirlwind of film-related activity and it’s hard to pin down his main role. Having earned his Bachelor’s degree from NMSU, he’s now a full-time professor in the school’s Creative Media Institute, where he has taught since 2010. He directs, including a new feature, Walking with Herb, set to start filming in September, and his films have been screened at film festivals, including Sundance, over 60 times. He’s in his eighth year working with local film festivals and is the executive director of the Las Cruces International Film Festival at NMSU. All this involvement in our local film industry is designed to help achieve one of his personal goals: helping more people establish careers in the film business.
He directed his first award-winning short, Scrambled Love, in 1990, the year he graduated from NMSU. He went on to the American Film Institute’s directing program, where he earned his MFA in 1994, the year he directed Showdown on Rio Road. He has directed five feature films over the years and says, “For the better part of eight years I was making small and short films and nobody got paid. Then a few people got paid and now I’m doing a much larger film and everybody is going to get paid a good wage and I was able to hire CMI graduates. As my career grows, I’ll help other people in Las Cruces.”
Walking with Herb will star Edward James Olmos and George Lopez and is big for Ross and Las Cruces. He says, “It’s a real Las Cruces project. The novel was written by a Las Crucen Joe Bullock. Mark Medoff of Las Cruces did the screenplay adaptation, and I’m directing and producing it, so it’s a hometown project. Over 20 investors are local and the members are managed by Las Cruces business men and investors John Hummer and Brad Beasley with some money from Artesia, but the vast majority of the money is coming from Las Cruces. My goal for many years has been to grow the film industry in Las Cruces, by training the filmmakers of tomorrow at NMSU, making films locally, and holding the festival, which brings in hundreds and hundreds of filmmakers from all over the world to showcase our community as a tangible film location. For this film, we’re hiring 40 people from Las Cruces to work on the film and another two to three hundred as background talent.”
While it’s easier to set a locally-grown film in Las Cruces, there’s always the desire to attract other productions to the area. What would make them come here rather than the many other communities trying to draw them in? While he praises our great weather, diverse locations that could portray a Western border town or anyplace USA, Film Las Cruces’ efforts to build the business, our new studio, the schools training new filmmakers, and hard-working crew members, he is truly appreciative of the community’s support of the burgeoning industry. Ross says, “The number one thing Las Cruces has is the most gracious, generous, caring, and supportive community I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve never seen a community as supportive as Las Cruces.”
That generosity includes supporting the Las Cruces International Film Festival, for which Ross serves as the executive director. The festival has several goals: offering independent filmmakers a venue for screening their films; teaching workshops for filmmakers, especially those in Las Cruces; showcasing the area to filmmakers; and, “the fun part,” as Ross says, bringing in big-name actors for presentations and to receive awards. In 2018, for example, Billy Boyd of the Lord of the Rings films spoke (and sang) to a full-house audience at the Rio Grande Theatre, R.J. Mitte of Breaking Bad drew fans, and Cybill Shepherd was presented the Outstanding Achievement Entertainer Award. Attendance at the festival has at least doubled each year, Ross says, and he expects that within 10 years, it will be close to being a major film festival. (Next year’s festival is scheduled for February 20 – 24. Get more information at lciff.com)
The greatest obstacle to Las Cruces’ success as a major filmmaking destination, Ross believes, is our lack of trained film crew members. He says locations such as Albuquerque have up to eight full crews to staff an equal number of movies or television productions. Las Cruces currently has less than one full crew. But the work that DACC and NMSU, including Ross, are doing to train the next generation of film professionals will help fill that void, and he sees a cycle of having more crew bringing more productions, which helps more crew stay in Las Cruces rather than moving away, which in turn allows more productions to be filmed locally.
Another possibility on the horizon for Las Cruces is a sound stage. Ross says a major sound stage owner-operator has expressed interest in working with the City of Las Cruces and NMSU to establish one here, which would help Las Cruces move up a notch in the film location charts.