New Mexico ramps up film training programs

State hopes to meet soaring demand for experienced staff

As the New Mexico film industry grows, so does demand for experienced local crews.

To help bring the industry up to speed quickly, the state hatched the Film Technicians Training Program (FTTP), which operates through New Mexico’s community college network to train people in below-the-line basics.

FTTP has already seen more than 350 students pass through and find work.

“One of the things we didn’t see coming was people waking up at 35 and saying, ‘I didn’t plan to be an accountant at a bank, I’ve always wanted to be in the movies,'” says Jon Hendry, business agent for IATSE Local 480. Of those who enroll, 60 to 70% are nontraditional students, Hendry estimates. “They make particularly good film technicians.”

FTTP was established at the same time as the state’s Film Crew Advancement Program, which includes a 50% reimbursement of hourly wages for local crew hires who receive on-the-job training.

“The key to our program,” Hendry says, “is it allows a seamless progression from the FTTP classroom environment to the crew advancement program for those (who have) little experience but enthusiasm to learn.”

The state is now able to crew up to half a dozen projects, up from two or three previously.

Hendry remembers a time when the union couldn’t support three movies shooting in New Mexico at once. “We’re seeing progression,” he says. “We haven’t even scratched our potential and opportunity.”

But supplying below-the-line crews, while important for the short term, isn’t enough to create a robust and sustainable New Mexico film industry.

“We went to Gov. (Bill) Richardson to propose the next logical step: We needed homegrown filmmakers,” says Diane Schneier Perrin, director of the New Mexico Filmmakers Intensive (NMFI) program at the College of Santa Fe. “The college has a 20-year history of nurturing those voices.”

The school also is home to Garson Studios — two large soundstages that host both student productions and commercial features, such as “No Country for Old Men.”

Led by Jonathan Wacks, chair of the school’s Moving Image Arts Dept., the one-year NMFI program focuses on producing, directing and screenwriting. In its inaugural session, NMFI attracted 26 students. There are currently six shorts in production, each of them nurtured by a $10,000 grant from the state.

“We never could have imagined we’d have so many different voices and such a diversity of subject matter in the room,” Schneier Perrin says.

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