The Film and Digital Arts (FDMA) Class of 2023 graduates at The University of New Mexico hosted its Capstone Premiere at Rodey Theater in Popejoy Hall recently. The free, black-tie event gave students the opportunity to showcase the final films of their UNM academic careers. This annual red carpet event is a very uplifting way for many UNM film, gaming and animation undergraduates to garner recognition for their work in the final days of their last semester.
This year, the premiere drew more than 400 people in support of the students' final films. Capstone premiered 14 short films and video games of various genres, both live-action and animation. One fascinating feature was Botanyst, an interactive video game display developed by FDMA students with a focus on Game Design.
In the days after graduation, Capstone students were able to kick off their last days at UNM by getting dressed up in wild, shimmery attire and walking the red carpet with all of their actors and friends in filmmaking. Finally, the spotlight was on them.
They flashed fancy shoes and bright smiles to a three-camera set-up and strobe lights. Each production team was met with roaring applause, laughter, and cheers from their family, friends, and film peers as they walked past the display cases filled with their films’ posters, and found their seats inside the theater. Directors were also met with frantic interview questions about what they were wearing and how they were feeling about the premiere.
The UNM Capstone program is a dual-semester course that requires three years' worth of qualifying course credits and advisor approval for FDMA students to register for. One of the many reasons that students are excited about Capstone is the chance to coordinate and collaborate with other filmmakers in their degree program.
One of the many students that put the work into their final films this year was Jaydin Martinez, the writer and director of “McCormick”. Martinez understudied Matthew McDuffie, professor of practice, in his Advanced Screenwriting class the semester before, where he was able to workshop some of the script of “McCormick” in the Spring semester before Capstone.
Even then, after a full semester of script preparation, and after four years of lead-up to his last production course under the UNM film department, nothing could have possibly prepared Martinez for how much work came with pitching, writing, and producing “McCormick”.
After getting the idea for “McCormick” in August of 2022, it took until December of that year for Martinez to develop a solid script he was happy with. Oftentimes, for Martinez, the development of the script is the most important part. The rest falls into place if you have the right script, he believes.
“It was no easy task. Screenwriting is really challenging. It's like ‘pulling nothing from the clouds’, as McDuffie told us. It took draft, after draft, after draft, until we were able to get it right,” Martinez admitted.
Finally, he was able to carve out a final copy of “McCormick”, a psychological thriller about aging beauty. As Martinez put it, “McCormick informs the audience about the awareness of others through beauty, disillusion and human vulnerabilities”.
“It's about this older woman who's slipping through the cracks in life. Society has kind of neglected her. Her mental health is slowly deteriorating and it becomes deadly for a lot of people involved,” Martinez said.
The short film that screened at the capstone premiere owes most of its final script to months of simply developing the script, Martinez explained.
In December, Martinez’s script was greenlit by McDuffie, and he was able to get the ball rolling with casting. In early January, he picked the “McCormick” cast. He sent out newsletters, which got the attention of a member of the Screen Actors Guild that would play the lead role of “McCormick” —Teddy Eggleston. Eggleston has played a part on “Better Call Saul” and other films in New Mexico.
Next, Martinez collaborated with his class to assemble a team of other Capstone students willing to develop the shot list and get started with pre-production. He was able to find a producer, Alex Johnson, that was just as passionate about the project as he was. Cinematographer, AJ Dooley, came on board soon after reading the script. Johnson, Martinez, and Dooley waited for others to slowly trickle in. One student, whose father is the prop master of a lot of shows in Albuquerque, became “McCormick”’s props master.
“I built a really good team around me,” Martinez reflected. “As soon as I did that, it was easy. Principal photography moved really smoothly.”
Building a strong team around an idea is the number one thing Martinez recommends to other filmmakers. Even if they don’t know what they’re doing in some areas, Martinez suggests finding others to complement their strengths. “That’s what I did. My team and I have made a lot of contacts, lots of friends. We’re like family now. We are able to go out into the industry together and hopefully make an impact on it”.
His big takeaway from the premiere is the span of skill sets he’s taken from other productions of the class, Martinez said. For another team’s film, “Redress”, Martinez was a boom microphone operator— something he’d never done before. He also helped with the lighting set-up for another capstone group. Each student was welcome to try new positions and see which they liked, while getting the opportunity to learn hands-on with some high-tech gear.
“McCormick'' itself was a three-day shoot. Postproduction was a whole new story, Martinez laughed. He took on the role of main editor. It took many twenty-hour days to wrap up the final cut, he said. His colorist took over from there.
Martinez was pleasantly surprised by the final cut.
“You wouldn’t know going into it, but it’s really fun, especially with it being so low-budget. Oftentimes, as filmmakers, we have to take on a lot of different positions. We learn to roll with the punches on set,” he said.
Now that the semester has wrapped up and Martinez has had the chance to reflect on it all, he has a lot more pride for the array of productions that the Capstone Premiere presented. He was particularly impressed by the animators and game developers amongst the group.
Overall, Martinez thinks the most important reason to screen student productions like capstones is for the chance to show off the work put into so many hours of preparation.
“You’ve just made a film,” he said. “You deserve the gathering!”
The production team of “McCormick” hopes to pitch the script for the opportunity to sell a 90-page version of the story. In the meantime, they plan to continue to submit it to many film festivals in New Mexico.