As an actor, producer and director, Irene Oliver-Lewis knows more than a little about timing. And in that context, she is convinced that the time has finally come for the construction of the first sound stage in Las Cruces.
“All of the pieces are coming together,” says Oliver-Lewis, who is also currently the vice-president of the non-profit Film Las Cruces.
“People in our industry, in the public sector, and in the business sector are all working here for the same goal: to get that soundstage built,” she says, adding “And I really think at the rate we are going, we could have it up running a year and a half from now.”
The move for Las Cruces to have its own sound stage, a facility that could be used for film and television production and emerging media, has a long history.
State Representative Jeff Steinborn remembers sitting in the Roundhouse in Santa Fe around four years ago, as lawmakers were reviewing the state’s film incentives program.
“I really had an immersion experience in the film industry at that point, meeting the studio heads, learning more about our incentives, being more exposed to the industry in northern New Mexico, and it made me realize how significant this industry is,” recalls Steinborn.
LA-BASED FILMMAKER BILL TRUE (RIGHT) LEADS A PANEL DISCUSSION ON FILMMAKING. PHOTO: MADELEINE WOODWARD, NMSU FILM STUDENT.
Noting that there are currently three big studios in northern New Mexico–Albuquerque Studios and I-25 Studios in Albuquerque and Santa Fe Studios just south of Santa Fe–Steinborn soon decided: “I thought it was the kind of thing we could absolutely grow in the southern part of the state.”
The movement really took off when the state legislature in 2014 voted to appropriate $550,000 for the construction of such a facility in Dona Ana County, an appropriation that it renewed last year.
In January of this year members of the Las Cruces City Council voted to accept an additional state legislative appropriation of $402,000 to get the project off the ground.
“The monies now that have been committed by the state is just under $1 million,” notes Cruz Ramos, the City of Las Cruces’ film office liaison. “But there will be a three to four match, and the city will at some point need to determine what it is willing to put on the table, once we get to that point.”
Getting to that point, however, requires that a sound stage site must first be decided on.
“Various locations are being looked at right now,” says Steinborn, “but no final decision has been made.”
According to the Calgary-based accounting firm of MNP, the film industry in New Mexico, as of mid-2014, had a worth of $1.5 billion. That money comes not just from Hollywood film and television shows working in the state, but also regional and local producers who like what the state has to offer.
But integral to any community’s embrace of the film and television production industry is a local skilled and trained workforce always at the ready.
“And that we have,” says Oliver-Lewis, noting that southern New Mexico currently has two film schools up and running: the Creative Media Institute for Film and Digital Arts at New Mexico State University, which specializes in digital filmmaking and animation and visual effects, and the Creative Media Technology program at Dona Ana Community College, which teaches film crew training, creative media and digital graphics, among other subjects.
GUEST ARTIST DANNY TREJO SHARES HIS FILM EXPERIENCES WITH HIGH SCHOOL AND UNIVERSITY FILM STUDENTS. PHOTO: MADELEINE WOODWARD, NMSU FILM STUDENT.
Given the presence of such programs, notes Steinborn, having a local sound stage would “take our workforce training to the next level.”
In addition, local enthusiasm for all forms of filmmaking was recently evidenced by the first Las Cruces International Film Festival, which saw the participation of over 40 filmmakers and the showing of nearly 150 individual films.
FAM TOUR-A GROUP OF FILMMAKERS FROM NEW MEXICO AND LOS ANGELES TOOK A TOUR OF POSSIBLE LOCATIONS FOR FILMING IN SOUTHERN NEW MEXICO. PHOTO: MADELEINE WOODWARD, NMSU FILM STUDENT.
The next step leading to the creation of the sound stage will be for the City of Las Cruces to issue a Request for Information. “That will be a way of gauging interest in the community of businesses out there who potentially might want to be a part of what we are doing,” says Ramos.
“Then the city council will decide if it is comfortable to move forward with the following dollars to actually get this thing underway,” continues Ramos. “It will just depend on what the response is to the RFI.”
What is also uncertain is how much such a new facility will cost.
“We’ve been working with the architects to get more precise numbers, but it looks like it’s going to be between $5 million and $6 million,” says Steinborn. “There are so many different ways you can design it, different bells and whistles you can include in it. All of that we will know later.”
By Garry Boulard
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