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Full day of activities will feature those who work behind the camera

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FARMINGTON — It wasn't so long ago that a young person from San Juan County who was interested in pursuing a behind-the-camera career in the film and media industry had little choice but to leave the area. They would most likely head to Southern California or New York, where such educational and occupational opportunities were far more plentiful.

But things have changed dramatically over the past several years as the film industry has begun to flourish in New Mexico.

San Juan College digital media arts and design professor Luke Renner says the state has taken many steps to build a stronger film industry infrastructure in recent years, and it is now much easier for a young person to pursue a career in that field.

Renner hopes to highlight many of those opportunities and possibilities Friday when the college presents its second High School Film and Media Day. A series of workshops and presentations will feature New Mexico residents who work in the industry talking about their experiences and how others might follow in their footsteps.

Renner is expecting 140 to 150 people to attend the event, including students from Farmington, Rocinante and Aztec high schools. Funding from a Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Grant from the U.S. Department of Education will help underwrite travel expenses for some of the speakers, Renner said.

Activities get underway at 8:30 a.m. in Room 7103 of the Information Technology Center with an opening address by Don Gray, the locations coordinator for the New Mexico Film Office. Gray will offer a general presentation on the state of the industry in New Mexico and show a "sizzle reel," a video presentation that showcases productions that have been based here.

Breakout sessions will follow, including one that focuses on the video equipment available at the college through its program. Students will have the opportunity to learn how to create a simple special effect they can use in their own productions, Renner said. Brian Seavey, an associate professor of drafting at the college, will deliver a short presentation on how students can create an object, such as a fidget spinner, in a three-dimensional realm on a computer. Additionally, former SJC student Josh Bishop, who now works in the college's media services department, will lead a series of test demonstrations at the school's 12-foot-by-24-foot green screen.

For those interested in a career in the audio side of productions, Foley artist Lara Dale will lead a workshop in creating sound effects for films. Renner said the process is a fascinating one, noting that during a telephone conversation with Dale earlier this week, she told him she had more than 300 pairs of shoes — ranging from work boots to high heels — that she uses to create the sound of footsteps.

Other audio effects are achieved by less-direct methods, he said, explaining that crunching celery often is used to simulate the sound of breaking bones and rustling audio cassette tape makes a nice substitute for the sound of someone walking through grass.

"I think it'll be great for the students," Renner said. "It's a very specialized field, so finding a Foley artist who can do a live demonstration is huge."

After lunch, Farmington filmmaker Brent Garcia, who is organizing the Four Corners Film Festival in September, will deliver a presentation on independent filmmaking, filming in San Juan County and the Film Four Corners nonprofit organization.

At 1:30 p.m., the final event of the day will take place, with Tomas Sanchez, owner of Sanchez Films and A Plus Stunts, providing a series of stunt demonstrations via Skype link from the set of a production he is working on in Albuquerque.

"That'll be a great opportunity for students to go ahead and see something live on a set," Renner said.

The screening of one of Sanchez's demonstration reels and a question-and-answer session with him will follow.

Renner said an event of this caliber taking place outside a sizable city is rare. But he thinks it's important for high school students who lack the resources to travel to Santa Fe or Albuquerque — where most of the state's film production activity takes place — to have the opportunity to see the possibilities that are available to them. It is increasingly possible to get a foothold in that industry without leaving the state, he noted.

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"Currently, I have students who have been contacted to be office (production assistants) for film productions," he said, noting that such entry-level jobs typically consist of making coffee and copies. "But if you're the best coffee-and-copies intern they've ever had," it can lead to something better, he continued, noting the experience of one of his former students, Rafel Montoya, who has gone on to work as a digital imaging technician on such films as "Ant-Man," "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and "Only the Brave," as well as the "Roswell, New Mexico" TV series that is shot in the state.

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Renner said the workshops are hands-on events that are restricted to high school students, but San Juan College students and faculty members who are interested in attending the demonstrations and other presentations are welcome to attend. Any community member with an interest in the film industry probably can be accommodated, as well, Renner said, although he asked that anyone meeting that description call him first at 505-566-3792 so he knows how many people to expect.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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