High-tech cinema could be part of northern New Mexico’s future

Plans are underway to build a film school and high-tech studio in Raton, New Mexico. The new Kearny Film Studio and Education Center is set to open next year in a historic brick school building. It will house workshops and classrooms for wardrobe design, makeup, 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 their future students would be trained in the entire filmmaking process and learn skills applicable to life and to the career.

“Whether they end up choosing to become filmmakers or not,” she said, “they will have learned to communicate, to tell their story, to organize things and to accomplish something.”

The non-profit group also aims to make the installation the first extended reality or XR scene in the region. It is a cutting-edge technology in the film and gaming industry that uses huge LED walls to create virtual reality settings and scenes.

The imagery on the LED walls on an XR stage adjusts based on how the characters move, Theis said, so “as the cameras roll, 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 and 25 feet tall, totaling around 7,400 square feet, with motion tracking sensors throughout. It would be constructed in a new building on the current Kearney School campus.

Courtesy of El Raton Mediaworks

Raton native Vaughn Vialpando, who runs El Raton Mediaworks, said he wants to boost the economy and create jobs in a community that once relied on coal mining. When the mines closed, “a lot of businesses left, a lot of people left, and our population kept shrinking,” he said. “We have no opportunities for our local residents. We would like to change that and break that mould.

Vialpando said students will be trained in a variety of crafts, from costume and camera work 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 been pumped into the (New Mexico) economy for movies is amazing, so we can take advantage of that,” he said.

New Mexico has generous incentives for the film industry, far more than Colorado, according to Theis.

Vialpando also pointed out that Raton is located on Interstate 25 and centered between Denver and Albuquerque, so it may attract people from both metro areas.

“It’s going to have its own momentum,” he said. “It’s just going to keep building and building and building. Sky is the limit.”

El Raton Mediaworks is working on partnerships with several colleges and universities in New Mexico, as well as Trinidad State College in southern Colorado, according to Theis.

Courtesy of El Raton Mediaworks
Jose Lopez is the technical manager of the new Kearny Film Studio and Education Center in Raton, NM

“Our goal is to work with accredited institutions to provide a variety of educational opportunities,” she said.

Raton Mayor Neil Segotta said he expects other ancillary businesses to benefit and grow from the project, such as hotels and restaurants. “I think it has the opportunity to be a big part of our future,” he said. “We didn’t really envision ourselves as the movie capital of northeast New Mexico, but damn it, if we want to be, we’re gonna do it right.”

Courtesy of El Raton Mediaworks
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham stands center with Ann Theis and Jose Lopez of El Raton Mediaworks

The State of New Mexico has pledged $1.1 million to the project, and other funding sources are in the works. Jose Lopez of El Raton Mediaworks said he estimated the entire project, including the XR stage, would cost around $14 million.

“Word is spreading,” Lopez said. “I can see people from Los Angeles with experience, (who) want to go somewhere that’s not that expensive and can continue to (use) their skills. They 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.