In Conversation with Makaio Frazier

Filmmaker Makaio Frazier

Would you mind just sharing a little bit about yourself? 

My name is Makaio Frazier. I'm 22 years old, and I've grown up in Northern New Mexico, north of Espanola. I grew up on seventeen acres with apple orchards, horses, and cattle. I've been working in the film industry for two years full-time, and it's been a heck of an experience. 

I actually started going to school in Denver for my freshman year of college. Initially, I was going for a Biology program and Sports Medicine. I played football for 12 years, which was my first love, and that's all I ever did. I didn't think of anything else other than that, and I wanted to do it at a high level, so I ended up going to college in Colorado my freshman year. Then COVID hit, and they force us out of the dorms, so I decided to come home back to New Mexico, and I've been here since. That's when my film career started happening. 

I grew up in the film industry. My dad is a producer, director, and writer here in New Mexico, my uncle was an editor in LA, and my mom was a performing artist, so I grew up around performing arts, film, and media. My thing was football, and I didn't want anything to do with what my family did because I wanted to do my own thing. But, I should have known when in my sophomore year of high school, one of my English classes had a fun project to adapt Macbeth into a  screenplay and then make it short film of it. I ended up writing the screenplay, producing, and directing it, and I fell in love with that process. Ever since then, it changed me, and the love that I had for football transformed into film and started building.

I got my first gig two years ago on Fry Bread Face as a Set Decorator. I had no experience whatsoever, but I fell in love. I realized at that point that that was what I wanted to do. From there, I hopped on Netflix show as a PA, but I quickly started climbing the ladder, and then the first big huge gig that I got was at the beginning of 2022, and that was Oppenheimer. That was a whole different reality check. It was everything you could possibly ask for. I worked as the Editorial PA, which was kind of a unique position at that time, and I did that for 2 months. It was great because we were in Santa Fe and Los Alamos. Also, my grandpa was a history teacher in Los Alamos, and he was always teaching me about Oppenheimer and the whole story of the development of the atomic bomb. It felt like it was meant to be on that show.

Then, at the end of the New Mexico run, the crew didn't want to find somebody else in Los Angeles and asked if I would want to come out, and I was like, "absolutely." I went out there for two six weeks and had that whole experience. I realized what I want to do for the rest of my life.

You have dabbled in many roles within film. Is there one you lean more towards? One that you've found more difficult or challenging? Or one that provides more inspiration for you?

I didn't know what I wanted to do at first, but as time passed, I realized I wanted to produce. I want to reach for the highest run on the ladder. That's the goal. I just had an opportunity with the New Mexico Film Office to get some tangible experience at a young age, and it's awesome. Producing is where I want to be. To find the story and tell the story, and have your hands in every part because you're doing everything that nobody sees. You also get to be involved in creative discussions, you get to have an idea, you get to talk to money people, and you get to be all over the place and bring people together. That's my favorite thing. Producing feels like you're pulling people together. That's what attracts me to film, and so ultimately, that's the goal creatively.

I do like to write. That's more of my creative passion. But I know that that comes with time and experience. I hope someday I'll have an opportunity to produce something that I wrote, but in the meantime, it's just about learning. I'm just trying to learn every aspect that I can. 

You touched a bit on your educational background, but would you mind sharing more about going to Denver and returning to New Mexico? 

I was always academically successful. I was an honor student, but I didn't know what I wanted to do because my first dream was to play Division one football. As I got older, it was an exceptionally hard thing to do. Unfortunately for me, I dealt with injuries in high school, and as I got to a higher level, I started second-guessing if that was really what I wanted. I had friends that played at a high level, and they would get chewed up and spit out like it was nothing. So, I went in with initially the idea of getting into Sports Medicine because it was so close to athletics academically. I knew I could probably get through it, but then when COVID hit, it changed everything.

I realized I didn't have the passion for going through the academic rigor of 12 years of school, and I started thinking about a project I had in the past. In my freshman year of college, I had the assignment to write a 15-page project, but I asked if I could make it a short film instead. So once again, I started thinking this is something I want to do and pivot towards.

All my electives were film related, and then over time, I was like, you know what, this is really what I want to do, and I got my first gig. 

You touched on it a bit, but would you mind discussing the project you made for the New Mexico Film Office, highlighting some rural locations and great places to film here in New Mexico? And what it meant to you to get asked to do that project? 

When I first heard about the project, I was finishing my time in LA, and I was ready to leave. I had been there for six weeks, and I was ready to go home. Then, I got the call about the opportunity to do this project. When we started, I was trying to do something to give an authentic version of how I do New Mexico. Growing up in the rural part of the state and I wanted to showcase these locations from a cinematic perspective and cover all the bases because New Mexico is incredibly diverse. The Northern part of the state is so much different than the Southern part, and the West and the East are very different, so what could we do to show the representation that New Mexico is a film state?

I wanted to take pride and show New Mexico has been a film hub for as long as anybody. All the biggest shows in the world are here. We have movies in production left and right, and it was time to represent New Mexico for what it is. 

The Performing Artist in the project,  Natalie, is one of my friends I met on Fry Bread Face, and I wanted to give an opportunity to have all different artists promote these locations and tell a story through it.

It was great to see these locations that people normally don't gravitate towards, like the Sacramento Mountains. You highlighted these areas that maybe get a little oversight for someone coming into New Mexico and thinking it's just the desert.

Exactly, I haven't spent a lot of time in the Southern part of the state. When we went to shoot these locations, we went up to Cloudcroft, and I was blown away. It's so beautiful and green, and only 20 minutes from Alamogordo, which is in the heart of the desert. That was the hard part too. How do we show these spots but also give meaning to them? I think we did that. It was so cool to see parts of my own state that I would never have discovered otherwise. That's the great part about this industry, you find yourself in places you would never expect. 

As you are coming up into the industry, do you have any words of wisdom? Or something that you would tell your younger self or someone else trying to get started in the industry? 

For Oppenheimer, I didn't know anybody who was on that show that I'd ever worked with, and I decided to write a cover letter talking about how I went to school in Los Alamos and how I would just love the opportunity to be on this project. Then two weeks into the show, I came across the lady that hired me, and she said that that was the reason that I was hired. It was because of that extra little step. It's also showing up on time and being easy to work with. When you're starting out, take anything you can get because you never know who you're going to meet. It's really about networking, and if people like you and you show up on time, and you're there and happy with what you're doing, you will progress. 

As you grow your career and with more film opportunities here in New Mexico, what do you see, or hope to see, in the future locally? 

I believe that New Mexico can lead the country in this space. I'm biased, but we have the systems in place. We've been doing this for decades, and some of the first films I've ever made were in New Mexico. One thing I would like to see is New Mexico is usually set as somewhere else. We're always Montana, Texas, Arizona, or Mexico, but I would like people to recognize that New Mexico can develop our own stories and see those on a big stage for the world to see. That's what I want to see and be a part of. 

What productions or projects that have come out of New Mexico are your favorite?

My favorite movie of all time is No Country for Old Men. It may be cliche, but it's hard to beat that. I've had a No Country For Old Men movie poster in my room for 15 years. Logan was also a movie in the last 10 years that I can think of that really took a different approach to superhero storytelling. It's more inauthentic, which I think is pretty cool.