Film roots are being placed in Downtown Albuquerque at the Rail Yards.
On Wednesday, the state announced the headquarters for the New Mexico Media Academy, which will be a collaborative workforce development initiation that will give New Mexicans the skills needed to work in the film and TV industry and launch them into a paying job.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham proposed the idea for the media academy in early 2022 and was able to secure $40 million in funding for the program during last year’s legislative session.
The one-time appropriation includes $20 million in capital outlay funding and $20 million in general funding to establish and operate the academy.
Alicia J. Keyes, secretary for New Mexico Economic Development Department, said it’s been a five-year journey to get off the ground.
With the announcement of the location at the Rail Yards, Keyes said the plan is coming to fruition and will be key pushing New Mexico forward within the film industry.
“We want to make this super cool and something that nobody’s ever done before,” Keyes said.
The New Mexico Media Academy will be constructed in the boiler room location in the Rail Yards.
Once completed, the facility will offer industry-standard, hands-on and specific workforce training and job competencies for the film, TV and digital media, which includes a focus on virtual and extended reality and volumetric production.
Because the academy will be an educational institution, it will work with the 15 N.M.-based post-secondary film and media institutions from across the state.
Filmmaker, actor and lawyer Chad Burris will be at the helm of the academy as its executive director.
Burris, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, is founder of Indion Group of Entertainment Companies.
He developed the country’s first private film incentive for the state of Oklahoma, which was a complementary program to the Oklahoma’s state film incentive program.
That incentive program was instrumental in financing several feature films and bringing major film production into the Oklahoma.
“I was coming out (to New Mexico) at that time and meeting with the (Gov. Bill) Richardson administration,” Burris said. “I was having discussions with them about what could be done here in New Mexico. That got us living in New Mexico for 11 years. I was looking to come back and have always been interested in the community to help be a part of something in New Mexico.”
Burris will hit the ground running as he learns about the strengths of the 15 various post-secondary programs across the state.
Central New Mexico Community College will also relocate its film program to the Rail Yards and share resources with the academy.
Voters approved $7 million for the college to expand its film training program and the funding will go towards designing and constructing the program.
On Tuesday, Lujan Grisham was in southern New Mexico at the groundbreaking of the academy’s satellite creative campus in Las Cruces, where academy will partner with New Mexico State University and Doña Ana Community College.
Burris said he’s getting his head wrapped around the scope that the academy will have in New Mexico and is eager to make it the mothership for everything film.
“It’s a lot like making a movie in a way,” Burris said. “You’ve got a project and you’ve got a budget, and I need to figure out how to parcel it out to make the best production. There’s a lot of pieces and the potential is amazing.”
The academy will also have collaborative partnerships with the New Mexico media partners — Netflix, NBCUniversal and 828 Productions.
Keyes said the goal is admitting 1,000 students annually to the academy.
“Our film partners will offer paid apprenticeships to students,” Keyes said. “(International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) Local 480 will also offer hours towards membership for students who complete the apprenticeship and move into the film industry.”
Amber Dodson, New Mexico Film Office director, said the New Mexico Media Academy changes the game for the state.
“We have our film partners involved in this process,” Dodson said. “Other film academies don’t have this option. All the moves will help keep New Mexico at the top of the game in the film industry.”