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NMSU alumnus receives scholarship to attend American Film Institute in fall

The art of storytelling is a subject that has always resonated with Matthew Legarreta. Whether it’s through newswriting or screenwriting, his desire to share stories is a predominant part of who he is. The New Mexico State University alumnus is moving to Los Angeles, California, to attend the American Film Institute this fall.


Man poses for portrait
New Mexico State University alumnus and former NMSU Marketing and Communications writer Matthew Legaretta has received a full-ride scholarship to attend the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, California. He will begin this fall. (NMSU photo by Josh Bachman)

Legarreta will be attending the screenwriting program at the AFI Conservatory, which only accepts 28 students every year from a worldwide pool of hundreds of applicants. AFI is the third-ranked film school in the world according to The Hollywood Reporter, with approximately 81 percent of its students working in the film industry after graduation.

Legarreta is a recipient of a scholarship from the conservatory that will cover the full cost of tuition for both years of the program.

“Considering the program costs approximately $60,000 a year to attend, the combined total of $120,000 in funding was quite a surprise for me to hear,” said Legarreta. “It was more than I expected to get from any graduate school, let alone one of the world’s foremost film schools.”

Legarreta is a New Mexico native who was born and raised in Silver City. He began his journey as an undergraduate at NMSU in August 2013, and graduated in May 2017 with two bachelor’s degrees – one in journalism and one in digital filmmaking. Legarreta is an alumnus of the NMSU Creative Media Institute, which he attributes for nurturing his interest in film as a long-term career.

“I would never have been able to get into any graduate film program if it wasn’t for the instruction and guidance I got at CMI,” he said. “I got to work on so many short films and projects while there, and all of them were fundamental in developing my skills as a writer and filmmaker. But I always hoped I would one day branch out and continue my education beyond NMSU.”

Before pursuing graduate school, Legarreta made it his objective to gain as much professional experience as he could as a writer, leading him to the NMSU Marketing and Communications internship where he worked from January to July 2019.

“It’s really a special position, and just in the months I was here, I learned so much,” he said. “It was exactly what I was hoping for when I applied – a crash course in the realities of working in journalism and PR.”

Though sad to leave New Mexico, Legarreta is thrilled about the upcoming prospect to immerse himself in a subject he is passionate about, while experiencing a whole new city of opportunities.

“With my ultimate goal of writing for TV and film, I knew it was only a matter of time before I had to make the move to Los Angeles,” he said. “I wanted to attend graduate school at a place that would be right in the heart of the industry I was working to be a part of. Being built literally into the Hollywood Hills, AFI fit the bill perfectly.”

Legarreta credits his accomplishment to the mentorship of his NMSU professors including Amy Lanasa, CMI department head, Ilana Lapid, CMI associate professor, and Mary Lamonica, journalism associate professor. He also thanks the late Mark Medoff, who passed away in April, for directly inspiring him to pursue an advanced education in screenwriting.

“I was lucky enough to earn an invitation to take a graduate level screenwriting course taught by Medoff in the fall of 2016,” he said, “It was the wonderful experience I had in that class that cemented my goal of one day going to graduate school for writing. I owe him, and everyone else at NMSU who took the time to educate me both professionally and academically, such a huge debt of gratitude.”

Legarreta’s overall goal is to work in television comedy, although he hopes to develop ideas he has in other mediums and genres as well.

“I’m always thinking about new movie ideas, or TV show concepts, or even just bits of random dialogue or scenes,” he said. “The desire to tell stories just won’t leave me, and the euphoria I get from actually sitting down and crafting them brings me a huge sense of joy. I’m excited to spend the next two years of my life fully immersing myself in that joy.”