Filmmaker, Professor, Film Festiva Director—
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.