Tell us a little bit about yourself.
MD: My background is in film production. I have 25 years of experience in the industry, mostly as a production designer and art director, but I started at the very bottom as a shopper and worked my way up. I am lucky because of the opportunities that were given to me that allowed me to progress and advance through the industry. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing skilled people.
My dad’s passing made it impossible for me to work on productions for a while. But after his passing, the director of the Film Office at the time, Anne Lerner, contacted me because we were good friends, and I had worked with her early on, even before she was the Director of the Film Office, and she asked me if I was available to update photos for the website for the Albuquerque Film Office. I did that job, and it worked out well. She contacted me a few months later and said, “I've got another round of funding. Would you be available to do it again?” I said, “Sure.” She said, “This time, I want to focus on CNM.” So, while touring the CNM properties, which I had no idea were so extensive, one of the last things that we did was go to a warehouse where they had thousands of square feet of desks, chairs, file cabinets, and all kinds of office furniture. Basically, we had a prop house here.
So, Evelyn Dow, my boss, and I spoke and discussed if that was a viable venture to get into, and here we are. Besides doing prop rentals, we also rent locations for film productions. Right now, we're housing two productions for film production office space. We've been involved in training, which I'm really excited about, and I hope we can do more in that initiative.
That covers my questions about how you got involved with CNM and how the Props and Film Resources Department supports the industry here in New Mexico. Is there anything further on that front that you would like to share about what the department does and how it helps the film industry?
MD: It's just good to know that we are actively renting at any given time. We're renting to three or four different productions. We're currently scouting for a production, and we’re actively involved with the industry.
We are supporting the film technician training program at CNM, which is on the academic side and gives people credentials to get into the industry. They're able to utilize the inventory and locations from CNM to have industry-level experience. For instance, if they want to rent props for a project they're working on, they reserve a time to come and tour, tag the props, arrange for the pickup date and the return date, and do all the paperwork as if they were a regular film production. It augments the training that the Film Technician Training Program is doing.
We’ve also started working with high schools. We worked successfully with Film Prize Junior, and they had two productions from high schools that won awards, and both had used resources from the prop house. I felt pretty good about that.
Could you go into more detail about the space you offer, as well as the array of props?
MD: What I've come to know is that CNM has over 1.3 million square feet of training facilities. Because of that, we have some unique environments like the Nurses Training Lab, which is a frequently requested space because it mimics a hospital ward, and a lot of scripts call for hospitals. That's where human drama takes place. So, it's a frequently requested space to use. Our job is to make space available as frequently as possible while maintaining integrity and being good shepherds of the resources that CNM is offering. It's walking that balance.
Are there any other areas within CNM that you see being rented frequently?
MD: Absolutely. We have auditoriums. Also, the exteriors, because they are, for the most part, modern in architecture and not specifically Southwest. They offer options for production because a lot of people come here to make movies, and the script is set in Chicago or Fort Worth, or some other location. If we can offer architecture and environments that don't specifically suggest one location, they then have that opportunity to say, “Oh, we're in Houston,” or “We're in Vermont.” That's one of the advantages that CNM offers because a lot of the architecture, especially in public places in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and major metropolitan locations is southwestern. That can limit what's available and what can be used if the story doesn't take place here.
We love to communicate how New Mexico has a diverse set of locations, and this is another way to modernize the Southwest and really share that we're not just a location for Westerns. So that's great that that's what you guys offer. Could you go more in-depth as to the training that you host?
MD: Our vision is that New Mexico could be a production hub. So, it's not just Albuquerque with Netflix and NBC Universal. It's not just Santa Fe, but this could branch out because of the diversity of geography, architecture, and lifestyle. New Mexico is really in a unique position to be at the forefront of the industry. That's what we're hoping to do.
We've successfully worked with the film office and Netflix to create two cohorts for production accounting workshops. Someone who has a background in accounting, or education, or work experience could take this workshop and get trained to know what's applicable in that field for working in the film industry. Netflix even validated our training and said, “If someone has successfully completed that training, we are offering free training to make them Netflix accountants.” It's been recognized by the industry and by the Film Office.
We're working hard because we want to offer opportunities to what have traditionally been underserved communities. For instance, we’d love to do a wrangler boot camp. We would take people who have ranching experience, people who would normally never interface with the film industry and give them an opportunity to become Wranglers on film projects. We're in desperate need of that crew base. So, if we can train young people to become Wranglers, not only does it give them an economic opportunity, but it also supports the ranching lifestyle and means. It grows the economy from a different perspective in a different way. I love knowing that people who wouldn't otherwise think of film as a profession could get into it and utilize something that's already intrinsic to their lifestyle.
Absolutely. It doesn't matter your background. There usually is a role within the film industry that fits any background.
MD: Absolutely. It's not so much educationally based. I am the poster child for that because anything I did, I was not thinking of a career in film. But, when I came to the industry, I realized that all the work experience that I had direct applications to it. I did do construction, and I did have a background in design because I've always just loved architecture and style. Whether it's cars or houses or airplanes or whatever. I've just always been aware of the subtleties and differences in design. That came to work in my favor to work in the industry.
What advice do you have for somebody trying to get into the industry and ways that they can get more involved?
MD: The industry is all about networking. So, getting your first job is like opening a huge door. Every day on that job, you can prove yourself and get acquainted with people, get to know what the various departments are involved in doing, then pinpoint which feels the most intrinsically rewarding for your own skills and work ethic.
A lot of the time, it's the soft skills that are most important. You learn as you go the technical skills, but just knowing how to be responsive, grateful, attentive, and flexible. All those traits are traits that will serve you well in the industry.
One of the things that I've found is people are so welcoming and eager to share information which makes it easy if you want to forge a career. The opportunities will exist. It's not like a traditional work experience. And yes, there are down times. You must plan for that. So, it's a little bit like a gig economy, but you have the benefits every day that you work on a film as a union member. There's money that's placed in an account for your health insurance and your retirement. There are very few other work situations that allow that and offer that kind of opportunity for you to not only have a great income but also a plan for the future.
One big trend that we always see is the eagerness to want to get into positions and the networking skills you mentioned. If you do a good job, people want to bring you on to the next project and the next.
MD: It's the same with vendors. If you find someone that can deliver what you need when you need it, you're going to go back to that same vendor. It's the same if you find a crew member that constantly delivers and backs you up. It's such a collaborative environment that if you know that someone has your back, that loyalty goes a long way.
In your perspective and in your line of work, how do you see the film industry progressing here in New Mexico?
MD: this is a golden opportunity. It's almost like a gold rush mentality because there are so many people seeing what's happening here and moving in. I can tell you a lot of people that I worked with on a film production in New Mexico now they're residents because they saw the opportunity. They got a job here, and now they're the resident expert in film production.
Networking is huge. New Mexico has so many opportunities. I'm excited and optimistic in thinking that New Mexico could become a production hub. If you think of Atlanta, Vancouver, or LA, New Mexico will be able to accommodate a whole variety of productions that we haven't even begun to recognize in terms of possibilities. Because of our diversity, we're ideally poised and ready. I would really like to see us meet the challenge and become that hub that we can be.
We have many opportunities for diversity as far as locations. In the state of New Mexico, we vary from the mountains to the desert to locations such as White Sands. There are so many opportunities throughout the state that film productions are becoming more aware of. We love hearing from champions like yourself wanting to bring more here to New Mexico and broaden the scope so that way we are a hub because we do have the ecosystem already in place here.
MD: The infrastructure, the geography, the landscape, the climate, and the crew base. When I got started, there were 107 members in IATSE Local 480, and now there are over 1500. Everybody that I've met in the industry is so amazingly skilled, professional, and collaborative.
That is some feedback we've gotten from productions that have come from locations like LA. Because so many people have worked together frequently, the crew ends up feeling like a family, and you end up with a really tight-knit, close community, which is wonderful. I don't think that you can see in the larger ecosystems of the entertainment industry.
MD: It's amazing because so much of film is under the radar, but when you contact someone, and you say, “You've got something that we need for this film.” Typically, they're excited and eager to participate. That's the part about it that needs to be recognized and appreciated. If you ask someone to use their house, car, or their couch, whatever it is, they're participating. They had an active part in making something creative and amazing. It's important to recognize that participation.
As New Mexicans, we're very eager to help. It's great for the industry.
MD: I must mention that all of the CNM community has been so supportive of what we do when we have a film production that wants to film, wants to base camp, wants production office space, or wants to hire interns. All the departments at CNM recognize that it's an industry that we want to support and that brings a lot of value to people's life. It's a great time to be doing what I'm doing with the college.
It sounds like CNM is one, not only a great location space and area for these productions to come into, but you also have the training to really help broaden that scope and that infrastructure for these productions.
MD: CNM's mission is workforce training, career advancement, and community. I feel like we're actually walking the walk.
How can people get more involved, to seek you out for locations or for training and all the wonderful things that CNM is doing to help broaden and expand the industry?
MD: If somebody wants to do training in the film industry, CNM has a very robust website. You can go to cnm.edu, look up film training, and you can find out what programs exist if someone wants to go start from scratch. We also are in the process of developing more of those career workforce training non-academic programs like the accounting program and the PA workshops that we offered. We ran over 300 people through the PA workshops, and a lot of them are now working in film.
The website is good, as well as propsandfilm.org, for people who want to look at our prop inventory. For people who want to look at locations, we have a sampling of that. And if they want to film or rent props, we have an intake form on our webpage. Just click the contact us button, fill out all the information, and then we'll have a head start on getting a location agreement or a props rental agreement or helping them with their project in any way we can.
What kind of equipment and props do you rent out? I think it’s a large array, but here are some examples.
MD: The prop inventory is not like an LA prop house in that we don't have the diversity that you would expect to find at a major studio prop house. But we do feel a significant niche because we do have multiples. A lot of times, for instance, we've dressed, I can't tell you how many, police stations or army bases or sales organizations that require multiples of matching desks, office furniture, office equipment, computers, monitors, all that stuff. We’re able to outfit a lot of different situations that require matching things. We have had a lot of donations from productions because when a project wraps, they need to dispose of items that they've purchased. A lot of times, they had to have a fire sale or send it off as a donation to Goodwill or Salvation Army. When that purchased item goes into that system, it vanishes, so the next time an art department person, a shopper, or a set decorator is looking for that item, they're starting from scratch. But, if they donate it to the CNM prop house, the next time they need it, they know where it is, and they can rent it. It makes that repeated availability possible.
Is there anything else that you would like to add, either about locations or the program? Also, how can anyone get ahold of you. or find you for more information?
MD: I'm most excited about the training aspect and the idea that we're opening it up more to other community colleges and other secondary education programs that have film programs. We also have a lab that is more geared toward the cutting-edge aspects of film production, like CGI and additional things that are added by a computer, including gaming. We're really trying to stay up to speed and offer this program not only to CNM students but to the general community. We can teach that skillset in a short amount of time, and that's what we want to do.
We want to be a player in terms of supporting the industry and making it the best it can be because it benefits all of us. A lot of people don't realize that film production buys donuts, they buy gas, they buy all kinds of things that you wouldn't think of that you don't see on the screen, but they're necessary for the project. Having that mindset and thinking of the bigger picture, we could do a lot to promote the industry in New Mexico.
Mark. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit with us today. We're excited to hear more about the trainings that are coming up and share this with the community and the industry within our network so that way they can utilize your resources more.
MD: It's truly been a pleasure. I'm always happy to share that enthusiasm and that information and do whatever I can to try and support the industry that treated me so well and allowed me to do what I'm doing now. So, thank you.