Faces of CNM: Jim “Grubb” Graebner
Jim “Grubb” Graebner, left

Faces of CNM: Jim “Grubb” Graebner

He established CNM’s widely successful Film Technician program and is now retiring with plans to return to the movie industry
June 02, 2020

New Mexico faced a growing problem after it passed tax incentives in the early 2000s that started drawing movies and shows to the state. There were plenty of productions that wanted to shoot in the Land of Enchantment but too few local crew members to fill the required on-set jobs.

That’s when Jim Graebner stepped in. Affectionately referred to as “Grubb,” he was a International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE, union member here in New Mexico with lots of experience on various productions. He saw the need and started working with CNM (then TVI) to start a Film Technician program that would fill those gaps.

“We all of a sudden needed an emergency crew training program and a four-year university wasn’t going to work because that was too long,” Grubb says. “So we started a two-term certificate at CNM and built the program from scratch.”

Unlike film schools that train students in “above-the-line” jobs like directing and producing, the Film Technician program was designed to fill the “below-the-line” jobs New Mexico needed most. Those jobs included everything from makeup to set design to sound and camera.

During their first term, Grubb says students were exposed to every below-the-line job in the industry. Then, during their second term, students chose a specific job they wanted to focus on and worked on as many productions as possible. Grubb wrote or brought in scripts for short films, public service announcements, commercials—anything that would give the students hands-on experience and help them build their resumes so they could apply to the union. 

Some students also got to work during the Duke City Shootout, a filmmaking competition that Grubb founded and ran from 2000-2010. During the competition, 10 teams had seven days to shoot, edit, and screen an independent film.

“That was a great way for the students to improve their skills,” he says.

When handing out grades, Grubb says he looked for two things: talent and stamina. The students needed to show proficiency and skill, but they also had to prove they had the energy and enthusiasm to put in the kind of long, grueling days that are required on film sets.

“I gave them an A if I thought they were ready to join the union, I gave them a B if they needed to do a couple more independent shoots, etc.,” he says. 

As Grubb predicted it would, CNM’s Film Technician program has since exploded. In addition to the original certificate, the college now offers a full list of certificates and degrees including a Post Production certificate where students are trained in everything from post-production editing, to sound capture and special effects, as well as an Associate of Arts in Film, which is designed as a degree for students who want to transfer to a four-year program and eventually work in an above-the-line job.

Grubb, who officially retired in May, says he’s most proud of the way CNM’s program has helped students land well-paying jobs.

“We’ve created an incredible training program that leads to great jobs and we’ve also helped grow an important industry for this state,” he says.

While most productions are on pause because of COVID-19, Grubb says students who are either in the Film program, or who have always wanted to attend, shouldn’t be worried. As the pandemic has proven, films and movies are more important that ever, and he’s sure production will ramp back up. 

“We’re in a great position,” he says. “We’ve exhausted all the movies and shows that have already been made so we’re going to have to overproduce for the next time we have to go on lockdown. I guarantee that there’s going to be a plentitude of productions. We can't afford to not have a backlog. And when people look around for a non-crowded place to shoot, New Mexico is going to be very attractive. We have space a-plenty, and that means money in the bank.”

In terms of his own career post-CNM, Grubb says he’ll probably take a break and then get right back to it. He did a lot of above-the-line jobs before teaching and says he’s most excited to get back to screenwriting. He says he’ll also enjoy watching the CNM program continue to grow and pump out talented graduates who will keep the industry thriving.

“It’s been a great ride and I’m sure that will continue for everyone in the program,” he says.

Photo of  Jim “Grubb” Graebner