Film in Las Cruces: The Dream is Now a Reality
Written by Cheryl A. Fallstead
Courtesy Film Las Cruces
As I write this introduction to a story I’ve been working on for months, Clint Eastwood is in Las Cruces filming the feature film The Mule. Another feature film with local roots, Walking with Herb, is preparing to start filming, and several independent films have either just wrapped or are beginning the production process. The new Film Las Cruces Studio recently became a major resource for both filmmakers and film students, and we now have two film festivals in Las Cruces along with two institutions of higher learning—New Mexico State University and Doña Ana Community College—training the next generation of filmmakers. While northern New Mexico may currently be more well-known as a filming location, Las Cruces is stepping up its game and is ready to be considered a serious player.
Let’s meet the cast.
Say you want to shoot a film in Las Cruces. The man who can help you get permits, find locations, and generally smooth the way is Las Cruces Film Liaison Jon Foley. Jon can also help if you’re interested in working on locally filmed productions by adding you to a database of people with skills filmmakers need. What’s more, as staff for Film Las Cruces, he has been heavily involved in the new Film Las Cruces Studio and the numerous sets already built within the 75,448 square-foot space. The biggest feather in his cap this year was landing a Clint Eastwood movie.
Members of his team include Ian Simon, the new Film Las Cruces studio coordinator, and Chris Shephard, the operations coordinator. There is also a 13-member board of directors, led by board president Senator Jeff Steinborn and vice-president Matt Byrnes of Doña Ana Community College’s Digital Imaging and Design Technology Program.
Jon actively reaches out to film producers to come to Las Cruces. There have been several smaller productions shot here recently, such as All the World is Sleeping, which wrapped in May, a feature film called Banging Lanie, plus Ozzie and Jack’s World Detour Season 3 did a road trip through Las Cruces and used some local crew. There was also a Mercedes ad shot in May at the Big Chile Inn.
The big news, however, is the two feature films that are filming here this summer and fall: The Mule and Walking with Herb, a locally-grown film with A-list actors Edward James Olmos, George Lopez, and Mary McDonnell. The Mule stars Clint Eastwood, Manny Montoya, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Jill Flint, and Michael Peña.
In a press release announcing The Mule, Jeff Steinborn touted the impact the film will have on local small businesses and people wanting to work in the film business. “Large film productions employ good sized crews and spend money at a wide array of local businesses. This film production will likely fill over 1,000 hotel room nights, and spend thousands of dollars at local restaurants and other vendors. Additionally, local people will get hired to work on the crew and become background actors. It’s a great example of the economic impact we can have if we work hard to recruit more film production to our region.”
Working with film producers is a big part of Film Las Cruces’ job and one thing that makes it easier for them to attract projects is New Mexico’s very competitive film incentive program. Jon says, “The New Mexico film incentive is our bread and butter. That is the main reason New Mexico is a major player in the film industry. New Mexico, Georgia, and Louisiana are the top three in terms of incentives. It’s a really well thought out program that I hope continues to thrive in the next administration.”
The studio is the bright new shiny tool in the toolbox for Las Cruces. It is a converted Coca-Cola bottling plant owned by Duane Green. Jon says, “Duane has been more than incredible to us. He’s willing to take a risk on us and we’re utilizing it for education.”
That’s because a lot of what is happening at the studio is related to helping train filmmakers of the future, through the DACC crew training program and free set construction classes. In addition, the studio has a great deal with Synalease, the largest grip and lighting contractors internationally. The studio now houses a three-ton grip and lighting package that is free for academic use. NMSU or DACC classes can use it at no cost and it can also be rented out to productions with no transportation fee.
In March, the studio had a grand opening and it was filled with many of the people who had helped bring this dream to fruition along with supporters and the simply curious. There were speeches, food, and music as people explored the sets inside the cavernous space. The showpiece is a Leer jet set, but there is also a prison set, an oval office, and a missile silo. The set construction classes learned their trade by putting these together. They were purchased at a bargain-basement price from a production company that had a show cancelled.
The sets are also available, of course, for any productions which would like to film there. Ian can help producers work out the details for use of the studio.
Another part of Jon’s job is helping locals find jobs in the film industry. The Film Las Cruces crew database lists people who have some film experience, based on their credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), whether it was a union job or not. In addition, those who have needed skills, but don’t yet have credits can contact Jon to discuss being listed. The list includes numerous opportunities, including jobs you’d think of for filmmaking such as camera operators, directors, editors, sound, construction, wardrobe, and hair and make-up, but also tutors, still photographers, animal wranglers, and caterers.
Film Las Cruces, a non-profit organization, meets the first Wednesday of each month and welcomes interested parties to attend. To see the list of crew opportunities, go to filmlascruces.com and look under resources.