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Film industry gives back to higher ed

Crew members with the short film “CentralSide,” filmed on location around Albuquerque. The film was shown as part of the UNM Capstone program in the spring. (Courtesy of Leticia Chadwick)

The New Mexico film industry is coming off a record year.

Many film productions participate in the state’s Give Back Program, which helps boost workforce training, according to the New Mexico Film Office.

The latest production to give back is “Better Call Saul,” which recently wrapped production on its fifth season. The production contributed $68,000 to the program.

Those funds were given to the following:

  • $11,000 – New Mexico State University-Grants, Creative Media Technology.
  •  $23,000 – New Mexico State University Foundation, Carlsbad, Creative Media Carlsbad.
  • $11,000 – Northern New Mexico College, Española, Film and Digital Media Arts.
  • $23,000 – San Juan College, Farmington, Digital Media Arts and Design Program.


“This is an important part of our film incentives law,” said Alicia J. Keyes, New Mexico secretary of economic development. “The industry is investing in workforce development and programs, which will lead to better careers for our students and more jobs in New Mexico.”

The Give Back Program is a result of the Film Production Tax Credit Non-Resident Crew provision, which allows a credit for production crew wages in exchange for a contribution to an educational program equal to 2.5% of the nonresident wages.

To date, more than $600,000 has been paid into film and media programs around New Mexico.

Karen Henry, head of the Creative Media Program at NMSU in Grants, said the money has “truly transformed” the experience for her students by opening up more opportunities. The Give Back funds have been used to purchase cameras and accessories, 3-D printer supplies, paper, ink, and game consoles for students to test their video game designs.

“As a small, rural community college, we lack the funds to keep our program current with the industry and be able to provide the supplies needed for relevant hands-on experiences,” she said. “These funds allow the Creative Media Program to continue to expand current course offerings and develop into new areas, like virtual and augmented reality, to expose students to the latest exciting creative developments.”

At San Juan College, the contributions have helped the film and digital media arts program purchase new equipment, including cameras.

The money is also being used to help some of the students attend the New Mexico Film Foundation’s statewide Student Filmmakers Showcase in Albuquerque on Saturday.

“The biggest challenge for students in this rural part of the state is the costs associated with internships in metropolitan areas. These funds provide the students career development opportunities,” said Luke R. Renner, director of the Film and Digital Media Arts program at San Juan College.

The latest disbursements bring the 2019 fiscal year payments to more than $200,000, with a total of $640,000 paid to programs over the past three years.

“This is such a smart program because the industry is helping train its own future employees,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a news release. “We’ve got New Mexico colleges and universities using film and media industry dollars to beef up training programs all over the state, and students across New Mexico are able to learn the skills they need to launch a fulfilling and exciting career right here.”