February 12, 2010

New Mexico Business Weekly

Film Frames
by Megan Kamerick NMBW Staff

It was a standing room only affair.

But the main event was not a red carpet film premiere. It was a celebration of the life of Gwen Savage, who, in five short years, built a successful company connecting people to opportunities in the New Mexico film industry.

“She would do anything in this world for anybody,” said her brother, Adam Savage. “The evidence is here in this room.”

The pews in the Alumni Chapel at the University of New Mexico were full for the memorial service on Feb. 6, and people spilled out of the doors in back. Many told stories about Savage, who died recently from breast cancer.

After beating cancer once, she decided she wanted to do something with her life, Adam said, and the result was FilmSavage.com. Her trademark black cowboy hat and the lanyards that all crew members wear on film sets sat on the chapel altar.

“Wow,” said Jon Hendry, business manager for the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 480, looking at the packed chapel. “Gwen would be thrilled.”

Hendry said a call from Savage would always lure him off a film set.

“She’d always tell you how great you were,” he recalled. “She taught me humility. She taught me what it means to represent people. Every day she had fun.”

Ann Lerner, director of the Albuquerque film office, said Savage was amazing.

“She had this gift of making everyone feel good about themselves. She was a big part of building up the film infrastructure here. She’ll be sorely missed.”

Many in attendance shared tearful and touching stories of Savage’s monster work ethic and enormous capacity for multitasking. Her Bluetooth headset never left her ear, they recalled.

“No matter how busy she was, she had time to help,” recalled her co-worker, Gabriel Saavedra. “Gwen, now you can truly be everywhere at once.”

Savage was born and raised in Albuquerque, and attended El Dorado High School. She worked in marketing in Chicago and Boston, said Adam. Earlier in her life she did missionary work in Asia and even smuggled Bibles in to China.

She came home and began taking film courses at UNM, said her mother, Ona Savage. Then she took a class to learn how to be a production assistant at the College of Santa Fe. Eventually, she started doing extras casting for productions, and that led to the creation of FilmSavage.com.

Co-worker Erica Viking read a letter at the service from Vince Gilligan, executive producer on the television series “Breaking Bad,” who called Savage the best extras casting person he had ever worked with.

“Gwen had an eye for faces that would have made Fellini proud,” he wrote. “Our show was blessed with the best, most colorful extras on television.”

Louie Wickham remembered how Savage helped him launch his own career in extras casting and put him on the spot when she heard a film set where he was working had an assistant director who was mistreating extras.

“She was a staunch advocate on your behalf,” Wickham said. “When she saw injustice, that joy and love could turn into righteous indignation that would burn hot.”

Savage’s legacy will live on in a new program she helped actor Steven Michael Quezada launch at Youth Development Inc. The Actors Core program will initally reach out to high school students at West Mesa and Rio Grande high schools, he said.

Quezada plans to expose them to theater and film and coach them in writing stories that can be produced. Quezada raised several thousand dollars with a comedy tour to launch the program, and actor Bryan Cranston from “Breaking Bad” contributed $10,000, he said. Quezada has been a regular on the television series, which is set and filmed in Albuquerque.

“I was fortunate to be able to tell her we got the money before she passed,” Quezada said of Savage. “I could see it in her eyes, her saying ‘Yes, good job!’”

Savage also had plans for a foundation, said her mother, but those plans are uncertain right now. Her family is also trying to decide how or if they will carry on FilmSavage as a business, she added.

Shootout revival

Reports of the Duke City Shootout’s demise have been premature, apparently.

The digital filmmaking festival is a go for 2010, after going on hiatus last year, said Ella Sitkin, a line producer who is among the core group bringing the festival back.

Sitkin said the Digital Media Institute, which produces the Shootout, has a $15,000 grant from the city and is looking to raise a total of $60,000 for this year’s festival.

This will be the Shootout’s 10th year. In the past, it held an open script competition for short feature films. The seven winning writers were brought to Albuquerque and given a crew and script coaches to help them shoot, edit and screen the film in just one week.

The format will change a bit this year, Sitkin said. There will be three shorts and three music videos. For the shorts, people must submit a script. For videos, they must submit a treatment and a recording.

There is some new blood this year as well, including Christopher Boone, who was the writer on one of the winning films in the 2008 Shootout. Grubb Graebner is still involved as the chairman of the Digital Filmmaking Institute. Shane Urioste and Cindy Kemp, who are involved in filmmaking at the University of New Mexico, are also on board.

The deadline for script submissions is May 15. The shotgun start for the week-long filming process will be July 23. The screening takes place at Popejoy Hall at UNM on July 31. For more information, go to www.dukecityshootout.org.

mkamerick@bizjournals.com | 505.348.8323