Las Cruces Film Scene: Training the Behind-the-Scenes Crew

January 17, 2019 pixelmark

men busy on set

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.

woman doing makeup on set

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.

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