Shooting through the Summer

Being a filmmaker means never having to say “I’m bored.” Even during the summer, when most people are planning family vacations, kicking back by a pool with a book or staking out territory in the nearest air-conditioned cineplex, most filmmakers are hard at work planning their next project and bringing their visions to life.

One doesn’t have to live in Los Angeles, Atlanta or even Albuquerque to experience this phenomenon. Even in Las Cruces, with temperatures hovering around 100 and the population dropping by a third as students disperse to parts unknown, our filmmakers are making magic. Some are doing so right here in town. Others are taking the opportunity summer provides to pursue their crafts elsewhere.

Here are just a few of the projects underway by local filmmakers as summer turns up the heat.

Dr. Philip Lewis, a professional documentarian and professor at New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute (CMI) has been hard at work since February with a group of students and local professionals – along with students from the Universidad de Monterrey in Mexico – to create an interactive documentary film called “Retablo: Painting My Miracle.”

Documentarian Phil Lewis conducts interviews at the NMSU Art Gallery for his “place-based” cinematic project “Retablo: Painting My Miracle.”
Documentarian Phil Lewis conducts interviews at the NMSU Art Gallery for his “place-based” cinematic project “Retablo: Painting My Miracle.”

Two versions of the film are being produced. The linear version will detail the retablos, their history and the conservation efforts dedicated to them. The second, and more experimental, version will be what Lewis calls “place-based cinema,” in which an app is downloaded for use in the gallery, where visitors can watch each retablo come to life on their personal hand-held device to tell the backstory of each piece as it is encountered.

Plans are to release the film in October, which means Lewis and his crew will be working through the summer to make it happen.

Rod McCall, another professor at CMI, whose last feature “Becoming Eduardo” was an award-winning film festival phenomenon and who has been hard at work since last year on his next feature, “Jim,” has almost completed Post Production in Los Angeles, edited by Stephen Griffin. The picture edit will be “locked,” then 5-6 weeks of sound design, visual effects design by Derek Fisher, and the sound mix – also in Los Angeles – in early August.

“It’s been a long, long haul on this,” McCall said. “Oddly, even though it’s the lowest budget on a film Ive ever had, it’s been the most complicated post of any of my films.”

And what would summer in New Mexico be like without a Mark Medoff film in the works? Dave Witt, a former CMI student is in pre-production on the film adaptation of Medoff’s stage sequel to “When You Coming Back, Red Ryder,” titled “The Heart Outright,” which will be directed by yet another CMI professor, Ross Marks.

Witt informed me that the film will be shot this November in Las Cruces and Mesilla, utilizing a crew of 20 to 30 “consisting of CMI students, alumni and industry professionals.” As with most of Medoff’s works, the film will employ local actors, as well.

Another name familiar to any who have lived in Las Cruces for some time is Bob Diven, who is currently in post production on a short titled “The Fantasy,” which not only features performances by a who’s who of Las Cruces community theater regulars, including Brandon Brown, Eric Young and Janet Mazdra, but also features an original score, written by Diven and performed by local musicians, including Roman Chip and Dave Wheeler.

“I’m taking the lessons I learned from my previous three short films and hoping for more festival success, so I can get to work on my feature, ‘Fish Out Of Water,’” Diven said.

Prolific award-winning documentarian Ed Breeding is currently editing his latest film about drug addiction called “Prescription For Addiction.” Not only were the interviews done here at Camp Hope, as well as the Yucca Lodge Rehab Center in Ft. Bayard, it features the work of local musicians Gary Clute, Joseph Mancilla, Denny Guerrero and Glenn Vick.

The official poster for PRC Productions’ latest feature film, “Truth.”
The official poster for PRC Productions’ latest feature film, “Truth.”

Troy Scoughton, owner and producer at PRC Productions, has a full slate of projects in the works, including the Sci-Fi thriller “Truth,” which was shot in Las Cruces and Silver City and featured local actors Sabrina Gomez, Johnny Tabor and Jack Lutz alongside professional actor Billy McNamara. PRC is also in pre-production on a horror film with the working title “Hideous,” with plans to shoot in Ruidoso and Santa Fe as well as parts of California, and another thriller “White Plague,” written and directed by local filmmaker Deb Johnson.

Wide Awake Entertainment, owned and operated by filmmaking couple Aron Hethcox and Marcela Salmon are “setting all pre-production engines to warp speed this summer” for their upcoming feature film “Magic Love Dust,” according to Salmon. The film is a collaboration with Laura Guitierrez Spencer of Mano Productions and is a romantic comedy set in southwestern New Mexico. CMI alumnus Matt Wilson will return as cinematographer on the project.

Cinematographer Matt Wilson and director Aron Hethcox line up a shot during the filming of a teaser trailer for Wide Awake Productions’ “Magic Love Dust.”
Cinematographer Matt Wilson and director Aron Hethcox line up a shot during the filming of a teaser trailer for Wide Awake Productions’ “Magic Love Dust.”

Recent CMI graduate Kyle Karges, who is continuing work on his ambitious documentary “31 States,” which deals with the issue of rape custody, is also in pre-production on a feature film titled “Confession.” The feature will be shot in Las Cruces and Radium Springs.

“If you love biker gangs, explosions, bar room brawls, but want to have a great time and be challenged, this action thriller is for you,” he said.

Pepper Janes Gallegos, a makeup artist who makes her home in Las Cruces but spends a lot of time working in the northern part of the state, has worked on such notable productions as “Thor,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Transcendence” and “A Million Ways To Die In The West.” Currently, she’s in Albuquerque where she is employed as key make-up artist for Mel Gibson’s latest film, “Blood Father.”

Mark Vasconcellos, actor and instructor at Doña Ana Community College’s Creative Media Technology (CMT) is currently in Atlanta, working on a film, but proudly reveals that the ultra low budget web series “River,” written, directed and produced by him last year in El Paso and featuring several familiar faces from right here in Las Cruces, is under consideration by a producer who “wants to re-package it and present it to a large studio group as an actual TV series.”

Another El Paso-based web series, Christopher Jones’ “Save Me,” is halfway into its first season, with plans to continue through the summer. Featuring actress Melissa Motta from Las Cruces in a lead role, the drama series is intended to spread awareness of domestic violence and is based on actual events taking place within the region.

These are just a few of the projects in the works this summer. The list is by no means complete, but it should give you a pretty good picture of just how integral filmmaking has become to southern New Mexico and a taste of some truly amazing things to come.

I should also point out that some of these folks have crowdfunding sites listed on their facebook pages, to help defray costs. Any donation is appreciated. The best way to find out more is to log on to Film Las Cruces.
Support your local filmmakers!

A condensed version of this article originally appeared in the June 6, 2014 issue of the Las Cruces Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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