A film school and high-tech studio is under construction in Raton, New Mexico. The new Kearny Film Studio and Education Center is slated to open next year in a historic brick school building. It will house workshops and classrooms for wardrobe design, make-up, carpentry and other film industry jobs, as well as production offices and editing suites.
Ann Theis of El Raton Mediaworks, the nonprofit organization behind the project, said her prospective students will receive training throughout the filmmaking process and learn skills that are applicable to life and careers.
“Whether or not they ultimately decide to be a filmmaker,” she said, “they (will) have practiced how to communicate, how to tell their story, how to organize things, and how to get things done.”
The nonprofit group also aims to make the facility home to the region’s first extended reality, or XR, stage. It’s a cutting-edge technology in the film and gaming industry that uses giant LED walls to create virtual reality settings and scenes.
The images on the LED walls on an XR stage adjust in conjunction with the movement of the characters, Theis says, “so when the cameras are shooting, the background moves accordingly. So it looks like real life — the way the background changes as people move through space.”
Theis said the XR studio they hope to build would be 50 feet wide by 25 feet tall, with a total area of about 7,400 square feet, with motion-tracking sensors throughout. It would be constructed in a new building on the existing Kearney school campus.
Raton native Vaughn Vialpando, who runs El Raton Mediaworks, said they want to boost the economy and create jobs in a community that was once dependent on coal mining. When the mines closed, “a lot of businesses went away, a lot of people left, and our population continued to shrink,” he said. “We have no options for our residents. We want to change that and break out with this form.”
According to Vialpando, students are trained in a variety of trades, from costuming and cinematography to storytelling and budgeting. He said they aim to bring film projects to the area and give young people a reason to stay.
“The amount of money that’s poured into the[New Mexico]economy for movies is amazing, so we can capitalize on that,” he said.
According to Theis, New Mexico has generous incentives for the film industry, far more so than Colorado.
Vialpando also pointed out that Raton is off Interstate 25 and centrally located between Denver and Albuquerque, so it can be attractive to people from both metro areas.
“It’ll get its own momentum,” he said. “This is just going to keep building and building and building. The sky is the limit.”
According to Theis, El Raton Mediaworks is working on partnerships with several colleges and universities in New Mexico, as well as Trinidad State College in southern Colorado.
“Our goal is to work with accredited institutions to offer a variety of educational opportunities,” she said.
Raton Mayor Neil Segotta said he expects other ancillary businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, to benefit from the project and grow. “I think it has the potential to be a pretty good part of our future,” he said. “We didn’t really envision ourselves as the movie capital of northeastern New Mexico, but by God, if we want to be, we’re going to do it right.”
The state of New Mexico has pledged $1.1 million to the project, and additional funding sources are on the way. El Raton Mediaworks’ Jose Lopez said the entire project, including the XR phase, will cost around $14 million.
“Word gets around,” Lopez said. “I see people from LA with experience[who]want to go somewhere that isn’t that expensive and still be able to continue using their skills. You can come to Raton.”
The state estimates that more than $850 million in direct spending came from the film and television industry last fiscal year, of which $50 million went to rural communities.