Going from the Military to the Movies

Left:KSFR Radio Producer and NM Women In Film Board Member, Linda McDill; Center, retired US Army/Pat Gaston, she is a member of Women Veterans Of NM and actor in NM, Right, is Geri Lynn Matthews, NM Women In Film Board Member/PSA Producer/Director.
By Geri Lynn Matthews
Board Member NM Women In Film Imdb
Vet/MST Advocate
UnAvoidable Productions, LLC
[email protected]​​

They sing 
They dance
They write
They direct 
They produce
They are actors
They are creative 
They are multi talented and multifaceted and sooo much more!
These are just some of the diverse talents of veterans in film/television and the entertainment arts, above and below the line.

Above and below the line are terms widely used within the film industry. However,  the exact meaning and connotations can vary.
In a film crew, people who are considered above the line are the Director, the Screenwriter, the Producer and the Lead Actors.

Below the line can include assistant directors, art and special effects folks, set designers, lighting technicians, cameramen, sound people, costume crew, wardrobe/stylist, hair/makeup and background actors.
In the state of New Mexico’s expanding film industry... 

The NM Film Office is rich in information about industry careers  and crew training programs, in fact, “Operation Soundstage” is a pilot program for military veterans and reserve component members in New Mexico, administered through the Film Crew Advancement Program (FCAP) of Job Training Incentive Program (JTIP) for Film & Multimedia. 

This multi-state agency partnership aims to increase the hiring and training of veterans and includes the New Mexico Film Office, the New Mexico Department of Veteran’s Services and the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
In the winter of 2020, NMWIF/New Mexico Women In Film, a national and  international non profit organization that supports, encourages and mentors women (and men) in film, television and entertainment will screen their annual PSA/Public Service  Announcement.  

The upcoming PSA is the first of its kind engaging multi talented and multi faceted women Veterans. This PSA is titled “Mentor Us/Hire Us” produced/directed by me with the support/talent of my USAF Retired Veteran spouse, Michael Matthews, and our creative and generous production team.

I am a retired Clinical Social Worker, MST/Military Sexual Assault Advocate, Documentary Filmmaker, and the wife of that 30 year veteran who also happens to be a disabled veteran/MST survivor and thriver.

We have an amazing growing film community in the “Land Of Enchantment,” we are sometimes affectionately known as “Hollywood East”. In fact, Netflix recently purchased Albuquerque Studios.One of our latest growth spurts!
New Mexico is a major production environment and Hollywood is taking advantage of the vast western landscape and generous tax incentive to create entertainment the likes of “Breaking Bad and the Avengers.” 
Truth be told, women have statistically been under represented in creative positions in the film industry; not unlike the military. As well, most key roles in filmmaking were for many decades done almost entirely by men, such as directors and cinematographers. To date, women are making inroads and contributions to many of these fields and we have so much more to bring to the creative table.

Actress/Veteran Pat Gaston, of the non profit Women Veterans Of New Mexico organization “got the bug” for being an extra/background  when she was stationed at Fort Jackson in the 1990’s.  As Pat explains it, “There I took a day pass for my active duty status in the Army to be a soldier in the “Renaissance Man,” by Penny Marshall.  I had the great pleasure of meeting her.  She offered me Doritos.  Two years later I in ended up working for Frito-Lays!  I also had a chance to meet and take a picture with Gregory Hines. Since working on that film, I have worked as an extra on three movies and three TV series.  I was surprised to learn that 90% of the people you see in a scene on film are played by extras.  As a scene extra, you are given very limited directions. On two separate occasion, I improvised on my role and much to my surprise nothing was said, so I kept doing it.  This increased my love of being an extra. I am so happy to be living in Albuquerque- Hollywood East where I had the opportunity to be an extra. It has given me the opportunity to learn about casting, production, wardrobe and scene con-struction.  Producers didn’t mind if I stood behind them as they framed a shot or reviewed a scene playback.  I learned what “grippers” did and how sound persons maneuvered around the actors to stay out of shots.  I was amazed to find out that lighting for one scene in a movie had to be set up numerous times to capture the various shooting angles. I learned about so many aspects of film production that I think Veterans could learn and begin new careers or part-time employment: acting, carpentry, make-up, catering, driving, writing, production, logistics, camera operators, sound operators to name a few.  

Veterans have the necessary skills to do well in the industry.  As Veterans, we know how to work toward an objective; work long hours; be flexible; and most of all “hurry-up and wait”.  We also know the importance of showing up on time and being professional.  The movie industry could benefit from these skills as it continues to grow in New Mexico.

I look forward to my next acting role and maybe even learning another skill in the movie industry.”In light of the growing film industry that engages and supports veterans, there is another truth that is ever so tragic; 22 veterans every day succumb to suicide.”

“I find it inspiring that the New Mexico film community is reaching out to Veterans.” Michael Matthews.

The arts can promote empowerment,  self-discovery, self-worth via   creativity and self-expression for Veterans that have experienced trauma/PTSD and other challenges/disabilities.
NM Women in Film is reaching out to these esteemed American women  and men in line with theirmission to support our community and our  veterans.“I think being a Veteran is a natural fit for film/tv/entertainment because in both the film/tv/entertainment industry and in the military you must really coordinate with a team to make it all come together!  Communication needs to be clear across all areas and execution must also be in sync to ensure success!” according toVihil H. Vigil, MBA, Navy Veteran CEO & Editor in Chief Magistra Magazine“While I was in basic training, I discovered that it was beneficial not to be noticed, and follow instructions.  Blending in to the woodwork and not being free-spirited made the six weeks at Lackland AFB pretty easy. As a background actor, one needs to blend in with the others and not make yourself noticeable.  Also, the Production Assistants (PAs) are similar to the Technical Instructors (Tis) and it is best to follow their instructions to the best of your ability. 

 In the military if one cannot follow instructions, that could be life-threatening – as it would be in airplane maintenance or in the medical field.  In the film industry, one needs to follow instructions so time isn’t wasted on unnecessarily re-filming the same scene.Once having been in the military, I appreciated how many people it takes to defend this country.  Having worked in the film industry, I now appreciate how many people it takes in film making”, according to USAF Veteran and  Actor Denise Holland of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Going From the Military to the Movies...

From working together to achieve a common mission in the Navy, to working together to create one story in film---I’m still appreciating a group effort.  While in the Navy, my job was Damage Control; my job was to do my own best alongside my shipmates.  Now in film, my favorite job is Costuming; my job is to do my own best still.  In both the U.S. military and in film, there are people from all walks of life, from various geographies, with various skill sets, all with a common purpose.  In the military it’s “to protect and serve;” in the film industry the risks are, ofcourse, much less dramatic (pun intended) for the purpose of telling a singular story.  However, “safety first” is a phrase that applies to each.  Also, there is a hierarchy in each:  from Commander in Chief of the U.S. military down the line to the Recruit first starting off; from Producer down the line to the Production Assistant first starting off. Those of us who served in the military are well equipped to make the transition from a serious duty into an entertaining field of work.

 For me, the G.I. Bill helped me to make that transition with a Bachelor s Degree major in Costume Design”.   Marion Crouse, is USN Retired, Costume Designer, a Disabled Veteran with a Bachelor Degree in Costume Design/World History from UNM 2005.  She has 11 years of live theater experience, 2 years film experience, and is a proud talented member of New Mexico Women In Film. Our team on behalf of NMWIF/New Mexico Women In Film is producing this PSA/public service announcement in support of our veteran community for the non profit  Women Veterans Of New Mexico.org. New Mexico Women In Film is also excited about engaging Women Veteran’s and welcomes them in our expanding Membership/Mentorship Program.

If you’ve ever had an interest in any aspect of film/television/entertainment, above/below the line... (writing, makeup, camera, editing, producing, directing, pre & post production, stand up and much more) then consider the opportunity that NM Women In Film has to offer in your community.In turn, our civilian communities might just be pleasantly surprised to know that veterans are rich in experience and have much to share/offer and we can also learn from them.
Did you know, that according to the Film and Television Hall Of Fame of New Mexico, in 2018 Actor, Wes Studi, a Vietnam Veteran, was invited to present at the 90th Academy Awards to a viewership of 26.5 million households? He introduced a video montage of military movies as a tribute to our veterans.
Although,  it’s certainly admirable and important to express our thanks to our Veterans for their service,in addition, it would also provide support if we take action and actually embrace them within our individual communities for the possibilities of what they have to share as part of their civilian  community!

Contact Information:
NM Film Office
[email protected]
Kazmierczak and Kazmierczak