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San Juan College film program receives $20,000 award from NM Film Office

Instructor Luke Renner describes money as 'windfall'

Mike Easterling   | Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The film program at San Juan College got another boost last week when it received a $20,000 allocation from the New Mexico Film Office that will be used to buy cameras and other equipment, as well as help offset the costs associated with student internships and workshops.

The college is one of 20 higher education institutions across the state that will divvy up $330,000 in funding from the Non-Resident Below-the-Line Crew Credit Program, also known as giveback funds. The money comes from film and television production companies that have taken part in the state's film incentive program, according to a press release from the Film Office.

"It's amazing," Luke Renner, professor of digital media arts and design at the college, said of the cash award to the college. "This was a windfall for the program."

Renner said part of the money will be used to buy a one-ton grip kit to use on filmmaking projects at the campus green screen studio.

"It really came at a great time," he said of the allocation, noting the college's green screen studio is being moved from its old location into a larger space. The grip kit will be housed at that new location and will complement the college's existing equipment, he said.

The money also will be used to purchase new cameras, he said, explaining that models by Sony, Blackmagic Design and Panasonic are the industry standard. Renner said his students need to become proficient in using all three brands so they are prepared to move into the job market after graduating, and having a larger, more extensive inventory at the college is something they will find beneficial.

"They don't know which type they're going to encounter (on professional projects), and a few of my students are headed toward becoming cinematographers," he said. "Being able to use different types of cameras, that's beneficial."

Renner said the additional models also will allow him to check out more camera kits to students working on their own projects during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said one of his students is working on a project for the "Native Lens" series for Rocky Mountain PBS, a series that focuses on Native stories that wouldn't otherwise receive any exposure in mainstream media.

A total of $18,000 will go toward equipment, and Renner said the balance will be used to help offset costs for San Juan College students who take part in internships at locations throughout the state or those who attend workshops.

The list of productions shot in the state that contributed to the fund includes "Those Who Wish Me Dead, "Midnight Texas Season 2," "Briarpatch," "Daybreak," "El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie," "UFO Road Trip," "Chambers," "The Biggest Loser" and "Deputy."

"These awards are another example of the positive and wide-reaching impact film and TV production has on a community, beyond just the cast and crew, or even shooting location," Amber Dodson, director of the Film Office, stated in the press release. "Students in Alamogordo and Portales benefit from productions that are shot in Albuquerque and Las Cruces. The funds from the studios and production companies are an important contribution to, and a long-term investment in, New Mexico's film industry, and are key to continuing to support and expand our world-class work force."

Renner said the program benefits institutions all over New Mexico, not just his institution.

"In terms of this being a boon for the state, this is outstanding, due to the investment in scholarships," he said.

This is not the first time San Juan College has benefited from the giveback funding. Last year, the school received $23,000 from the Film Office, and the money was used to send students to film workshops and showcases throughout the state.

Renner said film production throughout the state has been impacted dramatically by the pandemic. But he noted there are aspects of the industry that have been able to continue, most of them in the areas of post production and set creation, and he has tried to take advantage of those opportunities since March.

"I've been reaching out to four-year schools and pursuing the idea of, 'Can we create something in Farmington and have them do some of the post production remotely?'" he said, explaining that process would mimic what often happens on the set of a professional film or TV project. "If we can do some of that as part of our academic assignments, that would be great."

More: San Juan College filmmaking program draws accolades, state funding

For the most part, the filming of substantial projects remains shut down, he said, noting the difficulty of maintaining social distancing standards on a film set where the cast and crew often work in tight quarters by necessity. Renner said he is allowing his students to check out camera kits to shoot small projects that feature family members — "People in their immediate bubble," as he described it — but that student safety remains his primary concern.

He also said some of his students are experimenting with outdoor projects that feature multiple cameras and actors positioned at great distances from each other. Careful editing allows those scenes to look as if the actors are much closer to each other, he said.

More: Networking event designed to bring filmmakers together in Farmington

When things do return to "normal," Renner said, he looks forward to being able to take full advantage of the new equipment his program is acquiring. He pointed to the projects his students have been involved with in recent years — including a video that highlights outdoor recreation opportunities in the Aztec and Bloomfield areas, and another project that chronicled the installation of solar-powered lights for residents of the Nageezi area — and said they have wide-ranging benefits.

"They're exploring the region and developing skill sets that can be used to give back to the community," he said of his students.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.