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NMSU film teacher connects students directly with professionals working in the film industry


During the semester that just ended, New Mexico State University film teacher Rajeev “Raj” Nirmalakhandan connected his students with some of the leading filmmakers in the country, who spoke directly about what it’s like to work in a wide range of jobs in the motion picture industry.

Sixteen professionals in sound, animation, makeup and other aspects of filmmaking that Raj has worked with as a filmmaker and while attending the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television,

connected live with his students in online sessions in a class Raj called “Artists Behind the Scenes: Speakers from the Film Industry.”

Among them was Ken Fischer, who worked for more than 40 years in feature-film post-production, primarily as a sound editor at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Sound. His film credits include “Apocalypse Now,” “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “Terminator 2” and “Avatar.”

“The students were highly motivated and asked many insightful questions,” said Fischer, who lives in Santa Fe. “I got the feeling that I was speaking with the next generation of New Mexico filmmakers."

Raj said his students were “encouraged and inspired” by what they learned.

"This course was truly an eye-opening experience for any student who wants to enter the film industry," said Alexis Ziegelmeier, one of Raj’s students.

Participating filmmakers were “fully invested in the class,” Raj said. “Some of them had presentations. They showed photos, showed behind-the-scenes videos. They spoke about their journey and the reality of their profession and answered questions.”

“What I found really astonishing was, all of these folks did it as a favor, none of them got paid,” said Raj,

who has been a college instructor with NMSU’s Creative Media Institute for 15 years.

“It was so much fun to speak with this stimulating group of ambitious young creatives,” said M. Elizabeth Garland, an award-winning composer for film and stage who grew up in Las Cruces and now lives in Albuquerque. “They were totally engaged and posed fascinating questions.”

“I really enjoyed talking with the classes,” said storyboard artist, character designer and illustrator Avian Anderson. “I am as passionate about my job as I am about those who view my craft and the people who share my love for it. It was wonderful to see people who haven’t yet got burnt out from cruel studios and I wanted to give them tips on how to keep the love of animation alive for as long as possible, as it is a very difficult industry.
“I wanted to give them all the wisdom I gathered over the years to keep their souls ignited and burning as they take their steps out into the world, such as ‘fail often and fail spectacularly,’ and ‘one doesn’t go into animation because it’s easy, one does it because the heart and soul knows no other way to speak or sing,’” Anderson added. “Strangely enough, for a while I was starting to lose my own spark along the way, but speaking to them also helped remind myself why I do what I do. I was very grateful to talk with them.”

Sharing that kind of “immersive experience” is vital to film students, Raj said. “They need to learn the nitty gritty of work out on the battlefield,” he said.

“When I graduated from film school, I knew how to make a movie,” he said. “But I didn’t get a sense of the real world, on the ground, what it’s like to work in the film industry.”

Raj said all the speakers offered to help his students when they graduate.

“That would have been a huge benefit if I could graduate and contact someone who worked in the niche of the industry I wanted to pursue,” he said.

“I cannot wait to do this class again,” Raj said.

Student congratulated

Graduate assistant Dominic Adame, who helped with the Artists Behind the Scenes class, “is one of my favorite students who just graduated, Raj said.

“He recently was one of a very small group of students nationally who was admitted into the highly selective Television Academy Fellowship,” he said.

Adame is a photographer and wants to pursue cinematography, Raj said.