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The Colorado Film Incentive- Looking Down The Road


By Richard J. Schneider

When he was named Colorado Film Commissioner by the newly minted Gov. John Hickenlooper, Donald Zuckerman said he wanted to double the state’s production incentive and bring incentivized feature films to Colorado.

He delivered on both pledges.

During his first year in office, Zuckerman built the needed coalition to convince a wary legislature to bump the state’s non-competitive 10 per cent production incentive to 20 per cent. During his second year, he spread the word that Colorado was back in the game with an incentive that at least begins to compete with other states offering far more lucrative deals.

His efforts culminated with a recent announcement from his office that the state had lined up incentive agreements with three unique feature film productions and several other production projects – essentially committing all of the state’s available incentive funds for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“We are incentivizing over this fiscal year $20 million in production that was not here,” Zuckerman said. “In the prior fiscal year we incentivized about $2.5 million in production. We’ve seen an eight-fold increase in one year.”

So what caused the recent spike in incentive activity?

“It just took us a while to get the word out,” Zuckerman said. “A big thing was our attendance at the American Film Market in November. Now that I think we've got everybody's attention, I think we're in good shape.”

Of course, now he needs to refill the film incentive offers for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1. In a recent interview with the CFVA eBulletin, Zuckerman said he was in discussion with the governor’s office about a new appropriation, but could not disclose how much the Office of Film Television and Media (OFTM) would be requesting. He said his office is talking with legislators about next year’s appropriation. He has a meeting soon with brand new lawmakers, to help bring them up to speed.

CFVA gets high marks

The film commissioner offered high praise for the CFVA and its efforts to help get the incentive doubled by the legislature. “I think the CFVA was really instrumental last year in getting this bill passed,” he said. “Every time we stumbled or hit a little roadblock, the members came out and sent the message to the legislature that we really needed this. The legislature listens to the citizens, and these are the working citizens.”

That support needs to continue, CFVA board members conclude. CFVA members are urged to let their state representatives and senators know that the incentive is working, is generating significant economic activity in Colorado, is creating permanent jobs in the state, and helps show off our beautiful environs to the rest of the world, making incentivized films and television shows indispensable tourism promotion tools.


Reflecting on the recently incentivized features, the term BIG TIME comes to mind when pondering the unique nature of each feature project: a BIG TIME NAME attaches to the coming of age film “Dear Eleanor” ($1.5 million local spend) because its production company, Appian Way, is owned by acting legend Leonardo DiCaprio; BIG TIME LOCATION seems to define “Caribou Records” ($7.4 million local spend), a film about Nederland’s legendary recording studio, Caribou Ranch, where the likes of Elton John and Paul McCartney cut tracks; and BIG TIME INDIE is the only description for “The Frame” ($380,000 local spend), a new film by Colorado’s own Jamin and Kiowa Winans.

Lauren Grimshaw

Valuable loan guarantees

In addition, “Dear Eleanor” and “Caribou Records” each received loan guarantees, $300,000 and $350,000 respectively, to sweeten the pot. Both Zukerman, and the new deputy film commissioner, Lauren Grimshaw, said that the loan guarantee helps make Colorado more competitive with states offering larger incentives, like Utah and New Mexico’s 25 per cent and Georgia’s 30 per cent. “We've been using the loan guarantee program - adding an incremental amount - so that our 20 per cent incentive is enhanced by the loan guarantee,” Zuckerman said. “It actually costs the citizens of our state less because the loan guarantee program will get paid off, and we charge a fee for that. So it will actually make money.”

Both Zuckerman and Grimshaw point to the high profile “branding” that these films give to Colorado: “Caribou Records” for highlighting a unique location in the state and “Dear Eleanor” which will show off the state’s unique geography, and “The Frame,” which will be totally shot with Colorado locations. Zuckerman seemed particularly enthralled with the local indie project and its producers. “They’re the local heroes, the Winans, Jamin and Kiowa,” he said “They're doing this home grown. I believe they've raised the money here, they hire all local talent, and they make their movie here. They get a lot of bang for the buck. It could be very exciting and hopefully will be as good as their last two movies.” Those were “Ink” and “11:59.”

Creating permanent jobs

While the feature films are expected to generate significant economic activity and temporary jobs in the state, several other projects that received incentives are expected to result in permanent, above-average salaried positions.

Gaiam Inc. of Boulder received a commitment of up to $60,000 in rebates for two fitness videos it is producing for distribution through Walmart. Gaiam also has said it plans to relocate some of its west-coast based production to Colorado, largely because of the state’s new incentive program. “Now with the incentive they're coming back here, and they're hiring locally,” Zuckerman said. “This is good for us.”

Discovery Communications, which owns the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and other cable channels, received approval for a $387,000 incentive, which is expected to generate about 40 permanent jobs in the state to produce three new series through High Noon Entertainment, based in Aurora. “They’re moving $2 million worth of post here,” Zuckerman said, adding that he got a recent call from Discovery to say they were bringing yet another show to Colorado, this one to be produced by Denver’s Citizen Pictures.

Prior to the most recent incentive announcement, the OFTM had approved about $900,000 in incentives for three new Coors Beer commercials (showing off the Colorado Rockies instead of Washington’s Cascades where the beer giant had been shooting spots), a High Noon Entertainment series called “The Prospectors,” about to air on the Weather Channel; a new Colorado history series now airing on Rocky Mountain PBS; and the relocation of Universal Sports’ production studios from California.

Incentive plays a key role

The higher state incentive played a key role in snagging each of these projects. For example, as soon as the incentive was passed by the legislature, High Noon pitched “The Prospectors” to the Weather Channel. “It was something that could be done here, but it also could be easily done in Utah with a 25 per cent rebate,” Zuckerman said. “High Noon approached us and asked us if we could incentivize it, and we felt that it was a terrific show for Colorado. It takes place in five or six different mountain communities. This is great branding for Colorado. It's really good for tourism. The Weather Channel is nationally watched. Many people will see this show and will discover towns that they never heard of, and see the local beauty and the cool places in the towns and these old main streets.”

Rocky Mountain PBS has already begun airing its incentivized series, “Colorado Experience,” focusing on historic events and people Colorado. “They had been producing virtually nothing here -- a news program and that's it for many years,” Zuckerman said, adding that the new incentive “energized” the public television network to expand local production.

Our new deputy film commissioner

Some of the responsibility of getting the word out falls to Grimshaw, who recently joined the OFTM staff. Asked what she’s been doing since she arrived in Colorado, Grimshaw simply said, “getting on the horn and getting the word out.” That includes hammering “production companies, studios, sales companies, anybody and everybody that will take our calls to make sure they know about our program.”

Grimshaw hails from Chicagoland where she worked in documentary and advertising production, but she came to Colorado after a stint in the Big Apple working on features. She is already talking like a native. “I didn’t honestly know what to expect when I was coming to Colorado, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised and then some,” she said. “The community is fantastic. Everyone is very enthusiastic and welcoming. And there’s a great support system and infrastructure here that I wasn't really expecting.”

As for New York City, Grimshaw said it “can be very intimidating and people are very closed minded, but here everyone rallies together for a common good. The CFVA and other groups like the Denver Film Society and the folks at CINEMA, everyone has been such a great support. I am so happy to be here and I feel so honored to be with this great group.”

Looking down the road

“Our program is relatively small,” Zuckerman admits. “I’d like to grow it year in and year out, but it's not up to me. There’s a whole community that has to participate starting with the governor and the legislature and the people.”

Well, the Colorado incentive program may be small, but if you want to know its value and success thus far, just run the numbers. Fiscal year 2012-2013: $2.5 million incentivized production. Fiscal year 2012-2013: $20 million incentivized production. Who can argue with that?

The new and expanded incentive moved the economic development decimal point one whole place to the right in only one year. Just think what things will look like when the decimal moves one more place to the right.

When he is not writing for CFVA, long time Colorado producer Richard J. Schneider writes mystery novels set in Colorado. His latest book, WATER: A Vic Bengston Investigation, can be found at independent bookstores in Colorado, and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.