Creative Media Institute attracts, creates jobs in $500 million New Mexico film industry By Minerva Baumann ’13

Desiree Ramirez, a credential coordinator in the healthcare industry, decided to do something completely different with her life, getting a college degree at New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute. 

Ramirez graduated as a filmmaker in May 2018 with a music video on her resume for a No. 1 gospel hip-hop artist. She launched her career producing her first music video, “I got Angels,” for Emcee N.I.C.E with help of professors and classmates. 

“The first time I heard this song I knew that this was something I wanted to be a part of,” Ramirez says. “Whether I am going to change the world or not change the world, we really need to come together to put out positive messages for people. That’s what I really want to do.”

Ramirez is one of hundreds of students who get real-world experience while earning their college degree through NMSU’s CMI in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

“Our students, when they graduate, have anywhere from 10 to 30 credits on their resume,” says Ross Marks, CMI professor and film director. “Everything from short films, feature films, music videos and promotional videos. The thing about CMI that is so unique and so exciting is that our students get first-hand practical experience—not just classroom theory.”

Film and television production in New Mexico hit an all-time high in 2017 with the number of productions over the $1 million mark at 61, contributing more than a half billion dollars to the state’s economy. 

“When I moved here, and we started CMI, the emphasis was on how to get those outside productions to come and invest their money here in southern New Mexico,” says Amy Lanasa, professor and CMI department head. “What’s been very wonderful for us is to see these great filmmakers graduating from our program who are creating their own content and their own opportunities.”

NMSU’s CMI is also creating jobs by generating feature-length film projects locally, such as “Walking with Herb.” Marks, the director of the project that filmed in the Las Cruces area in September 2018, employed 41 CMI students. 

Marks says this homegrown project is a first. Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff, who helped form CMI in 2005, is the writer and producer. Joe Bullock, an NMSU alumnus and Las Crucean, wrote the novel, while John Hummer and Brad Beasley, both Las Cruces residents, put together the financing.  

“So everything about Herb from the genesis of the novel to the screenplay and the financing is all a Las Cruces effort,” Marks says.

In addition to his filmmaking efforts, Marks has added to the CMI curriculum by training students how to run a film festival from start to finish. The Las Cruces International Film Festival, which has welcomed well-known film stars, such as Brendan Fraser and Cybill Shepherd, will celebrate its fourth year in 2019. The 2018 festival was put on entirely by students with the exception of three people. 

The LCIFF has doubled its crowds from year to year with about a third of the attendees coming from out of state. Marks expects as many as 10,000 people to attend the festival next spring, bringing what he estimates as $2 million to the Las Cruces economy.

“It’s been really rewarding and inspiring,” says Marks. “One of my students got a job working on South by Southwest based on his work on the Las Cruces film festival.”

Lanasa emphasizes that although CMI has many accolades when it comes to film, the program also has a top-notch animation program, among the top 50 in the nation.

“We are training students for jobs that haven’t been invented yet,” Lanasa says. “Our animation students are getting jobs at video game companies. That’s the area we experience the biggest amount of brain drain because they not only leave Las Cruces, but they also leave the state. We hope that will be changing in the future.”

Thirteen years later, NMSU’s CMI is graduating filmmakers and encouraging entrepreneurs, who become employers, to open their own production companies.

NMSU alumna works on films around the country

Beatriz Loera ’16 (left) is joined by film crew colleagues of “Godless,” a Netflix original series, at the Directors Guild of America awards in February 2018.

Beatriz Loera graduated from NMSU’s CMI in May 2016 and has worked on multiple feature films and television shows as a production assistant.

Loera has worked on major motion pictures such as “Creed 2,” “Captain Fantastic” and “Independence Day: Resurgence” as well as television programs, such as “The Last Tycoon.” When she’s not working, she comes home to Las Cruces.

“When you’re on set, you’re working an average of 60-80 hours a week. It’s truly consuming and exhausting,” Loera says. “If I am not working, then I do as little as humanly possible. I catch up on sleep and quality time with my dogs and family.”

Loera says the best opportunity she had in CMI was to work on a feature film, “The Heart Outright,” while she was a student. 

Her advice for current and future CMI students?

“Say yes to every opportunity and work with absolutely everyone. When you’re on the set of a full-blown production, you spend 12-18 hours a day working very closely with every department,” Loera says.

Minerva Baumann ’13

NMSU student film at Cannes Film Festival

Brandon Bass

A short film, “Good Night,” written and directed by New Mexico State University philosophy student Brandon T. Gass and starring NMSU students was accepted into the 2018 Festival de Cannes Short Film Corner/Cannes Court Métrage.

Jessica Jimenez, an NMSU senior who is the lead actress in the film, accompanied Gass and two other NMSU students, Taylor Rodriguez and Nick Check, to the film festival in May 2018.

The film festival not only provides recognition for their work but also the promise of professional contacts for their future careers. 

“The Cannes Festival is one of the most prestigious in the world,” Gass says. “If you want a career in film, it’s one of the best places you can go. The potential is nearly unlimited.”

Gass, who will graduate in May 2019, not only wrote and directed the film, but also served as producer, cinematographer and editor. He has made six short films, two documentaries and 10 music videos.

Minerva Baumann ’13

Cast and crew of Emcee N.I.C.E.’s music video “I Got Angels” filmed at Chapin High School in El Paso, Texas. A team from NMSU’s CMI produced the video, which was released in April 2018.

RUSE OF FOOLS’ music video was filmed across southern New Mexico, including White Sands National Monument, the Very Large Array near Socorro and Las Cruces with the help of NMSU’s CMI students and LNG Creative.

Students and alumni help film a critical scene in "Walking with Herb," filmed partly in Las Cruces.

NMSU CMI professor Mitch Fowler (far right) supervises photography while filming a scene with star Edward James Olmos (far left) for “Walking with Herb.”