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          Front Page

CNM Building Becomes Movie Set, Giving Students Chance To Play Part of Interns

By Martin Salazar
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          The small army moves methodically.
        Lampshades, an American flag and chairs are carried out of the building. Equipment and other items are taken in.
        Not exactly what you'd expect to see outside the old brick schoolhouse that houses Central New Mexico Community College's administrative offices. Then again, it's not every day the campus plays host to a major film production like the action-comedy, "The Men Who Stare at Goats," featuring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey.
        For a few days, a conference room in the building is transformed into a movie set, but it's not just the conference room playing a role in this movie. A few students in CNM's film crew technician program are getting a close view of the industry by working as interns for the film.
        "Nothing in a movie is unintentional," student Anthony Pelot said. From the wardrobe and the props to the lighting and sound, everything on a movie set is planned, he said.
        And it takes an army of crew members to turn the creative vision into reality.
        Rob Harris, the film's publicist, said that as many as 200 crew members have worked on the project, an independent film about a unit of psychic soldiers hoping to change war as we know it.
        Since 2005, CNM has been offering the program to prepare students for jobs and to give them a leg up in getting into the state's film crew union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 480.
        Jim Graebner, program chairman, said New Mexico is trying to bolster the number of trained film crew so more movies and television shows can be shot here. The state offers generous incentives to film here, but in order to get state money to help finance a movie, 60 percent of a production's film crew must be from New Mexico, he said.
        He described the program as "an expedited boot camp," and said that, at first, there was low union membership. "Now it's a little more robust," he said.
        Union membership is required for getting a job, and union wages start at $20 an hour, Graebner said.
        CNM offers a two-semester certificate program. The first semester, students mainly get an overview of the movie industry and hands-on experience in the roughly 65 specialties available, such as lighting. During the second semester, students develop a specialization.
        Marcus Montaño, the assistant location manager for the film, graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor of fine arts in film studies. He later stumbled onto CNM's film crew program and was a member its inaugural class.
        For the current film, his job was to find interiors and exteriors in New Mexico where the movie could be shot.
        "It's fun," he said. "You don't sit in an office. You see the world."
        He has scouted locations for other films, including "No Country for Old Men."
        Mollie Whitson, in her first semester in CNM's film program, is also working on the crew of the film as an intern. Among her duties was helping to dress the extras.
        "It's incredible. It's long hours. It takes a lot of stamina," Whitson said. "But this crew is really just amazing."
        CNM and Santa Fe Community College began their film crew training programs in 2005. Since then, similar programs have sprung up in Roswell, Las Cruces and El Rito.
        According to CNM, about a quarter of the 250 students who have been through the program have been accepted into the union.