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.”