On Location

Okay, I admit it. I’ve gone native.

It happens when you immerse yourself in a culture you find both fascinating and accessible. I imagine it’s a bit like what Dian Fossey went through up in the mountains of Rwanda. Or maybe that’s a bad example. Filmmakers aren’t usually gorillas (though sometimes they use guerilla tactics) and I don’t think anybody is going to murder me because I’m fighting for filmmakers rights. Sorry, that was an early digression, even for me.

I guess my point is, I like filmmakers. More to the point, I like New Mexico filmmakers. They’re a much different breed than the Hollywood variety I cavorted with in the 90s. They’re friendlier, more cooperative and, as I said before, accessible. They don’t hold their profession over their heads like a trophy to be admired by “outsiders,” squirreled away like Masonic nuts and only grudgingly put to use when the money is right.

They like to work and in doing so, to share the experience with peers and the uninitiated alike. As a result, I find them to be more creative, more experimental and far more prolific. I like that.

Maybe that’s why I found myself tagging along on a location scout with a large group of Las Cruces best and brightest on a windy spring day; one of the nastiest, most blustery days on recent record. Recent being about a week, hereabouts, but again, I digress.

AlamedaHouseThe event was the first in a series of seminars given by film industry professionals in Las Cruces and sponsored by the Las Cruces Film Office (LCFO), a subsidiary of the Las Cruces Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (LCCVB), in cooperation with the Dona Ana Community College’s Creative Media Technology (DACC’s CMT) department. Which is a whole bunch of acronyms working together to create one significant acronym called the Film Workforce Initiative (FWI).

The seminar convened first in a DACC East Campus classroom, where a large group of amateur and professional filmmakers gathered to learn everything they could about location scouting from the local expert in the field, New Mexico location manager Rebecca “Puck” Stair, before taking it out into the field. The seminar itself was very informative, very educational and liberally peppered with personal anecdotes about real-life situations encountered on movie sets and/or locations.

Throughout the majority of the four hours in the classroom, she reiterated certain points, including honesty, transparency and, above all else, professionalism. She believes, as so many in the New Mexico film industry do, that in order to lure more opportunities to our fair state, each and every filmmaker, no matter what his function, serves as an ambassador. As location scouts are very often the first contact a business or landowner makes with a film production, she takes this responsibility very seriously.

I may not grow up to be a location scout, but I certainly have a much better appreciation for what they do. In that respect, the seminar was clearly a success. By the time Puck was finished with a complete rundown of what her profession entails, every person in the room was ready to go out and show her what they could do.

ScoutingUnfortunately, Mother Nature wasn’t nearly so accommodating. Our destination: Corralito’s Ranch, Las Cruces answer to the Ponderosa and a popular spot for capturing southern New Mexico’s charms on film. When there’s not more dirt in the air than on the ground, that is. Here such productions as the award-winning “Red Mesa” and blockbuster “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” were filmed, though my guess is those productions didn’t have to deal with red dust working its way into every nook, cranny and pore because of John Carter of Mars meets Lawrence of Arabia staging.

On the way back from our grit and spit adventure, I chatted with Puck and it was here that I learned my most valuable lesson about southern New Mexico filmmaking to date. For years I have been laboring, as so many filmmakers do, under the impression that northern New Mexico simply ignores their southern bretheren, taking all the filmmaking opportunities for themselves and only occasionally scattering a few crumbs down in our direction. Though that may be true in some instances, it isn’t the entire story.

In addition to giving me insight into what it takes to become a location scout and her personal journey to that place (what can I say, I’m nosy. I ask a lot of questions…), Puck also revealed what she referred to as her “secret motives for being here.”  As it turns out, her motives work well with our own: building up the infrastructure so that southern New Mexico can become, not just more competitive, but more viable in the filmmaking industry.

“I get called frequently to scout the southern part of the state,” she said. “We’ve got a stable of location scouts in the northern half of the state, but we are so thin down here. My choice, then, is to hire somebody I know from the north and send them down here to scout, or hire somebody who lives here and might know the terrain, but who is untested and untrained. One of the main reasons I’m here is to find people who can do the jobs when I need them done and also to help the people down here to get the skills needed to get the job done.”

That, my friends, just about sums it all up for me. Here is a working professional – literally, since she took valuable time off of her current job scouting for the Hollywood blockbuster The Homesman, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep and Hilary Swank – who is willing to give of her time and energy for a cause she believes in. The lightbulb went off and it all became clear to me. One of the key reasons more film productions don’t come to southern New Mexico is because there isn’t anybody here to show them where to shoot!

“I want to do my part in contributing to the build up of talent to recruit from,” Puck said. “The raw talent is here, absolutely. The willingness is here. The desire is here. You just need the skills and contacts. If you build it, they will come. It’s got to start somewhere.”

And it has, through the Las Cruces CVB and DACC’s Film Workforce Initiative. Invasive red dust aside, Saturday’s foray into location scouting was an illuminating journey; one that gave me yet one more reason to love filmmaking in southern New Mexico.


This story is a reprint from my column “On second thought…,” published in the March 29 issue of the Las Cruces Bulletin. Any similarities to any person or persons living or dead is purely coincidental, except in situations where it isn’t.

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