Santa Fe Community College offers free set training program

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico’s film industry is growing – and so is the need for local production workers.

“We’ve certainly had periods where our workforce has been busy, and there’s, there aren’t many crew members left to hire,” said Amber Dodson with the New Mexico Film Office. 

Dodson estimates the state’s film and TV industry employed nearly 8,000 people in 2022 – that includes all types of positions in front of and behind the camera. Many of those productions were reportedly forced to bring in crew members from other states to keep up with the demand. 

“We’ve got nonstop productions going on, and they’re always looking for crew people,” said Milton Riess, chair of Santa Fe Community College’s Film Department. “In fact, films still bring in crew people from LA or from New York or from other areas, and they don’t need to, or they shouldn’t need to.” 

Enter Santa Fe Community College’s Production Assistant Training Program.

The school is teaming up with the county’s PROTEC initiative and Stagecoach Foundation for the free program which aims to teach New Mexicans how to be a production assistant on a film or TV set. 

The 6-day course is spread out over three weekends in February. 

Riess says the program largely focuses on film set safety regulations and industry standards. 

“It’s basically a three-weekend intensive to get individuals prepared for all of the things that they’re going to be doing in the film industry from day one,” Riess said. “It’s all about getting into the world of professional filmmaking from the ground up, because a production assistant really is the backbone of any film, or any TV show. And we try very hard to get students trained, so they don’t get fired right away.” 

Participants must be 18 years old, have graduated from high school, and live in Santa Fe County. The deadline to apply is Jan. 31. 

Dodson says there are at least 15 similar training programs aimed at bringing New Mexicans into the industry across the state. 

Goodwill’s production assistant training program is also accepting applications right now. Dodson believes more training programs will be needed for the state’s film industry to keep growing. 

“It is absolutely our intention to see this industry reach every community in New Mexico. That’s the ultimate goal, and by training workforce, everywhere in every community, small and large, is how we’re gonna get there,” Dodson said. 

Riess has nearly 40 years of experience working in the film and TV industry. He admits the entry-level jobs are not for everyone and urges folks to consider the laborious conditions.

 “You get your hands dirty, you get your clothes, dirty, you come home, you are after 12,13, 15 hours of work, you smell you it is a dirty, miserable job,” Riess said. “But, I love it.”   

Despite the intensity, reps say film industry jobs are often higher paying than other local jobs. Dodson estimates the median wage for film industry workers in New Mexico is $31/hour. 

Officials say increasing the number of local film workers will help keep more production money in the state and smaller communities. 

“Just one job can change an entire family’s capacity to be beyond struggling,” said Dr. Elizabeth Kianu Stahmer with Santa Fe-based Stagecoach Foundation. “Entry-level crew jobs are incredibly well paying for somebody who comes from a rural community. They could work on one production and continue living in their community and be able to exponentially help themselves, their families, and their communities.” 

Dodson says a larger film workforce will also keep New Mexico a step ahead of other states looking to expand their own film industries. 

“We have competitors out there, Georgia, California, New York. Illinois, Louisiana, Arizona is an up-and-comer,” Dodson said. “One of the main calling cards for New Mexico is our skilled film workforce, and we cannot just sit back and be okay with the numbers we have now in our crew. We need to continue to aggressively grow our crew base so that New Mexico remains a premier hub for years to come.” 

Dodson says the state is also working to establish a media training academy. She expects that program will also offer training programs for post-production and above-the-line services.