Governor proposes media academy - Albuquerque Journal

Governor proposes media academy

The Georgia Film Academy has seen its enrollment skyrocket since its inception in 2015. The academy trains students interesting in the film industry. (Courtesy of Georgia Film School)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The film industry remains one of the bright spots for the New Mexico economy.

During the last fiscal year, the industry set a record with $623 million in direct spending to the state.

Given that backdrop, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is touting creation of a media academy as part of her agenda for the 30-day legislative session.

The Democratic governor is proposing spending $50 million in capital outlay funds to create an academy that would serve New Mexico students in the transition from education to employment in the state film industry.

Alicia J. Keyes, secretary of New Mexico Economic Development Department, said the academy would take 16 institutions from across the state – which range from high school to higher education and technical schools – and bring them together as a consortium. Core classes would then be taught at participating institutions.

As for the proposed academy, it would provide training in specialized areas like lighting and special effects, internships and other resources under a set-up that Keyes described as the “next generation of collaboration.”

There would also be a paid internship with either one of the New Mexico partners or an approved qualified production.

“We want to bring all of the educational institutions that are teaching media into a curriculum that everyone could agree on,” Keyes said. “This would allow the students to get training from the best of the best.”

New Mexico currently offers film companies a 25% tax rebate on qualifying expenditures on in-state goods and services. There’s also a 30% rebate for some TV shows.

While the film incentives have generated debate in past years, Lujan Grisham signed legislation in 2019 that raised the state’s annual cap on film rebate spending from $50 million to $110 million.

Though an exact location for New Mexico’s proposed center has not yet been announced, the state is looking 1,400 miles east to the Georgia Film Academy for some ideas on setting it up.

The Georgia Film Academy is a nonprofit entertainment arts program based in Atlanta, which has collaborations with the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia. It was created in 2015 by state leadership in an effort to grow the education and workforce demanded in Georgia’s film industry.

Jeffrey Stepakoff, Georgia Film Academy executive director, said the program is unique and unprecedented and is filling the need for growth.

Stepakoff, who had a 35-year career in the film industry before being named executive director, said that 13 years ago the state of Georgia had a direct spend of $25 million.

“This last fiscal year, we had $4 billion,” he said. “This kind of activity is unprecedented.”

In the five years since opening, the Georgia Film Academy went from 193 registered students for the first course to over 11,000 registrations today.

“The game changer,” he said, “the secret sauce is Georgians. We’re creating a sustaining ecosystem here. All the money is staying here in Georgia.”

While Stepakoff sees Atlanta and Georgia as the future of entertainment, he said he’s pleased to see more activity happening in New Mexico.

“Our friends in Albuquerque have a vision for a business that takes place outside of Los Angeles,” he said. “In building these types of ecosystems, we’re not bound by Los Angeles or New York. Film is being made by Americans and it supports our country.”

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