When it comes to workforce training—that vague bureaucratic term your politicians like—the Stagecoach Foundation takes its mission of training the film industry workforce with utmost seriousness. Recently, the foundation announced a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help continue said training programs, and SFR spoke with Director Elizabeth Kianu Stahmer about just what the heck it these programs are, and some of the things Stagecoach has coming up.

Tell me about Stagecoach’s mission— for those who don’t know, what exactly is it this organization does?

We provide free training for New Mexico’s aspiring crew on camera and behind the camera to build career pathways into the industry. All of our training is provided by facilitators who work in the industry and who the union acknowledges as good instructors—so things like on-set culture, set etiquette, set protocols, COVID-19 protocols, resumé coaching.

We’ve got set-building and painting classes, classes that teach how to make a music video with an iPad, prop-making, set lighting, acting classes, casting calls, writers’ room and AVID editing training classes coming up. For example, later this summer we’ve got our project-based mentorships starting up. We’ve got 10 mentors to help develop the projects they’re working on. It’s rewarding for both the mentees and the mentors. This stuff is critical and key as a jumping point for their careers—people build skills and networks. Mentees need champions, cheerleaders and career models.

Tell us a little about this new $25,000 grant. Where’s it gonna go?

The project the grant helps fund is called the Road Show. It’s taking an intensive training we’ve held here in Santa Fe and taken out into other communities in New Mexico. It focuses on building the skills in assistant camera operations, so things like pulling focus or using a slate. One camera’s gonna be on a dolly and track and the other on stilts, with the cameras provided by Panavision. We’re trying to create a realistic set for the students.

This [is preceded by] a short film screenplay competition, three to four pages, one location, with a limited number of actors. The winning screenplay is what everyone takes a part of—our acting students, our editing students, all of them. We’re going to host these programs in places like Farmington and Las Vegas—places that usually don’t have as easy access to sets and networking.

What’s the state of the film industry in New Mexico right now, and how does workforce training fit into that?

We’re on the precipice of moving through all these restrictions. The governor has been amazing in helping us shift and open up again. I’m proud to be in this state—but we definitely need training. And it’s common knowledge that the limitation of sound stages is a barrier for all that’s wanting to come to the state. A lot of people have the skills, and they could become future IATSE Local 480 [film union] crew members. We need to have the crew here to meet the films and shows that are coming. And people probably already have skills for this too, but it’s a matter of finding a way in.

Depending upon the training in general, some are age-specific, but we have students as young as 10 and all the way up from there. We’re gearing these classes towards union jobs, especially the 11th- and 12th-graders, since they’re the closest to be in the workforce.

Right now, in order to be on the set, the opportunity to be selected as a production assistant is an access point issue. But it’s hard to get on these projects if you’re not in a union. Opportunities to learn different positions are harder because of limitations, so we encourage our students to learn all that they can.

We gotta lift the veil for people to understand that the opportunities in New Mexico right now are really union trajectories. Getting the right training and experience and guidance into the union is where we fall. People are starting to recognize that—we just need to make this a bigger bridge of conversation and help people find their pathways, to fulfill their interests and also have a career trajectory. We want to help other film organizations have the same conversations.