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NMSU CMI students help “Red Ryder” come home in sequel to Medoff film

“The Heart Outright,” an independent film written by Tony Award-winning playwright Mark Medoff and produced by New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute, premiers on Friday, April 28 for one week at Las Cruces’ Fountain Theatre.


Two men and a woman
Scene from "The Heart Outright" in which screen writer Mark Medoff (left) who also acts in the film argues with actor Brad Makarowski (right), who plays the role of Stephen "Red" Ryder, while Jessica Medoff, who plays the role of Angel Childress watches the two men. (Courtesy photo)

The premier begins with a reception at La Posta restaurant at 5:30 p.m. followed by a screening of the film at 7 p.m. at the Fountain Theatre. A second reception will begin at 7 p.m. followed by a screening at 9 p.m. Both screenings will include question and answer session with the cast and crew after the film. Tickets are available at the Fountain Theater or La Posta restaurant.

“This is a feature film produced by NMSU and CMI with an all student cast and crew,” said director Ross Marks, who is an NMSU assistant professor. “The film has played at six film festivals and had three offers for distribution. To have sold the film and have a release is an incredible testament to our great university, students and department.”

“The Heart Outright,” which Medoff wrote as a stage play in late 1980s, begins 13 years after Medoff’s powerful play “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” ends. The hero “Stephen (Red) Ryder returns to a small New Mexico town for his mother’s funeral.

The sequel was shot in Las Cruces in 2014 and 2015 with a student cast and crew guided by Medoff as executive producer, CMI alumnus Dave Witt as producer along with director Marks, and CMI professors Mitch Fowler, the director of photography, and Amy Lanasa, the casting director.

More than 40 NMSU students worked on the project over a two-year period.

This is one of many ways the NMSU program is helping students gain critical skills that will help them get jobs in New Mexico’s $387 million film industry.

“Most of the movies that come into the state to take advantage of the tax incentives are shot in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, said Medoff. “We have been trying and continue to try to attract the big out-of-state movies here. The city of Las Cruces and the university are working together to build a sound stage, an adaptable outdoor set, which could be a western town or a contemporary city street. If we get a sound stage and standing set, the weather here makes us more attractive than northern New Mexico because we can shoot 360 days a year.”

Medoff has worked with film program students since the Creative Media Institute was founded in 2006, following twelve years in the English Department, a decade in Theatre Arts, and a decade and a half of semi-retirement from the university.

“The first thing we did when we started CMI was make a movie,” Medoff said. “Since that time we’ve made six features through the CMI program. As when I shot “Refuge” here in 2010 with Linda Hamilton and Chris McDonald, the deal when I hire professionals is that they will be working with students and mentoring them at the same time.”

Marks, who is Medoff’s son-in-law, has worked with Medoff for 25 years. “This is an amazing thing for our CMI students who actually graduated from NMSU with a feature film credit,” said Marks. “That’s difficult to attain and they were able to do it as undergrads.”

Brad Otero worked on “The Heart Outright” when he was a student and is now a member in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, Local 480, as a grip and electrician.

“The best thing I liked about working on “The Heart Outright” was being given major responsibilities for the film,” said Otero, who graduated from NMSU’s CMI program in December 2015. “Professor Mitch Fowler (director of photography) assigned me Key Grip (head of equipment), a department on a film crew, which is constantly moving equipment after each camera change to keep things on time. Having that duty really gave me a perspective on how you really need to be on your toes and get things done quickly so everybody can go home at night.”

Mason Monk, who graduated from the program in May 2016, is currently doing camera and grip work for commercials in Albuquerque as well as shooting music videos for New Mexico artists with other CMI alumni.

“Working on this film was an invaluable experience,” Monk said. “The best part of any set, and especially this one, is the amazing individuals you get to meet and work with. Being surrounded by fellow passionate filmmakers is what drives a great film set.”

CMI department head Lanasa was among the CMI faculty who mentored students while providing practical experience outside the classroom. Among the students she took under her wing as casting director was Corinne Fox.

“Corinne helped me immensely. She created a database of actors, contact information and availability,” Lanasa said. “She also learned to plan around an ever-evolving shooting schedule with ease.

“Corinne is also an actor, so she naturally understood how to work with other actors. Once production started, she was able to step in for me and handle all the background and extra concerns with ease. I’m grateful for the opportunity to get to teach in this special, hands-on, elbow-to-elbow learning environment.”

Fox, who graduated in 2014, is an actress working in Albuquerque and pursuing a master’s degree.

“It was amazing to help with the casting and be able to act in the film too,” said Fox. “I really enjoyed the strong relationships we all were able to build during the process. It is a beautiful film due to the beautiful group of people who made it.”

Medoff and Marks already have other projects in the works. Medoff will soon be shooting a new short feature he is working on with his acting and CMI students.

The April 29 screening of “The Heart Outright” will also include a question and answer discussion with the cast and crew following the film. The film will run through May 4 at the Fountain Theatre, followed by a limited theatrical release and an on-demand release.

The trailer for the film is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbdNDb9-c1U.