Town Hall meeting Wednesday evening
Themes from the State of the State event
By Richard J. Schneider
On the eve of a town hall session to discuss the future of Colorado’s media production industry, several key themes are emerging from the discussions thus far.
- Producers and crew must do more with less.
- The production community is fragmented.
- Serious incentives are the key to the industry’s survival.
The Colorado Film and Video Association first annual Town Hall Meeting, in partnership with Lighting Services, Inc., will be Wednesday evening Nov. 16 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Stage One at LSI, 241 S. Cherokee Street in Denver, followed by a monthly schmoozer.
The major themes crystallized earlier in the fall at the CFVA-sponsored State of the State session at the Denver Film Center. A panel of distinguished members of the industry took the stage to answer some key questions about where film, television, video, commercial, and interactive game production is going in Colorado.
Let’s tackle them one at a time.
Doing more with less
Anyone who has worked in the industry in Colorado for a substantial number of years knows what is happening. Producers are facing ever tightening budgets. Crews are faced with shrinking day-rates and increasing lengths of workdays. But the clients still want Colorado’s “A” game up on the screen.
While clients and budget managers continue to ratchet down the amount of dollars that get spent on media production, the entire industry simply has to do more with less these days. Some of the State of the State panel members had some interesting observations and suggestions.
“Find those niches” to keep things going, says Duke Hartman, a former CFVA board member and one of the key principals behind the Denver-based High Noon Productions, one of the top producers of cable television programming. “Better things are coming.” Hartman said “High Noon is shooting all over the country,” primarily because of the requirements for each show, but added that most of the post-production is done in Denver. “That’s business we’re bringing into Denver. We can keep the money here.”
Futuristic Films production chief Sarah Liles, also a former CFVA board member, describes her operation similarly. While she said Futuristic has been able to split its Colorado and non-Colorado work down the middle lately, “we work all over the world.” She said she sees a great deal of talent in this market, because “a lot of people chose to live here and work in a very global industry.”
Daniel Junge, one of Futuristic Film’s directors, is one of those folks who lives here and works around the world, but he adds that while most of his production is out of the country, he posts in Colorado. Junge also enthusiastically embraces the new technology which he says “has allowed me to make high end films. It’s a game-changer.” But the “ability to tell a story” is still paramount in any project, he points out, adding that the economic “bust has created inventiveness.” That “inventiveness,” he notes, has led to more “non-fiction filmmaking” to keep things going in Colorado.
When doing more with less, the subject of unions always comes up, and Julie Crane, Colorado Executive Director, Screen Actors Guild/AFTRA, was on hand to tackle that area. She noted that union workers tend to bring the highest level of professionalism and consistency to a project, but added that “unions have to be more nimble” and have to “adapt and change,” especially with new media, low and no budget productions.
Producers also offer high praise for union workers. Liles mentioned she likes the “guidelines they offer for production … so producers aren’t trying to “guess” all the time.
“When I first went to a film set I was impressed by the competence of the union crews,” said Denver filmmaker Donna Dewey. “Safety was always number one. There was great concern toward protecting each other and protecting the equipment.” But concerns over gear may be changing, Dewey suggests, with heavy expensive cameras now morphing into lightweight handhelds worth a few thousand dollars.
In any event, both producers said everyone in the business need to “evolve” to adapt to the new realities of the industry. Economists and corporate poohbahhs call it increasing productivity. What it really means is doing more for less.
A fragmented production community
The fragmentation of the production community was an interesting topic, one which was brought up by several panel members. The industry did seem to rally a few years ago when the current package of incentive and film office legislation made its way through the statehouse. But now, Crane said she sees “more than just a lack of work,” but “lack of cohesiveness.” Dewey sees the same trend.
“The production community has become fragmented,” she said, especially with changes in the agency business. Freelancers used to work with the same crews consistently in the past, but that seems to no longer be the case.
A few suggestions were tossed out, one raising the specter of using the Denver International Film Festival as more of an industry rallying point. Don’t rule out the monthly CFVA schmoozers. Maybe we need to have our own coffee shop. Or bar.
Incentives: the elephant in the room
“Incentives … drive production,” said executive producer Karen Beard. “What can we do to make people come here to shoot?” Her conclusion is inevitable: “Incentives are imperative.” Dewey said she was able to produce two recent films in Denver, but that was because the capital was in Colorado. “It’s really all about the money,” she said, adding that the bulk of the industry executives are in Los Angeles. The rest are in New York. “I’ve seen the benefits of incentives in New Mexico,” said Crane, who also reps union talent in New Mexico. “They have enabled home grown production and provide education for people in the industry.”
And, as most of us know, New Mexico offiers a much higher incentive than Colorado’s 10 per cent rebate on production money spent in the state – an incentive not taken seriously by most of the production industry.
“We need to make a major change to get back into the game – to get to a level playing field with other states,” said Donald Zuckerman, appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to head up Colorado’s Office of Film, Television and Media.
“Producers are going to make location decisions based on where they are going to get the money,” he told the crowd. “We have to make incentives happen here. Raise your voice.”
Zuckerman, who has produced a number of features, is aiming Colorado’s incentive program at the $10-15 million independent budget film. He would like to see 8-12 of them produced in Colorado each year, an effort that would generate $100 million in annual economic activity, and create 1,000 new jobs.
But for that, Dewey notes, “we’ve got to lobby the legislature,” and that’s where pulling together, back into a cohesive industry, becomes critical. Proposals to beef up the state’s incentive will be dropped on the legislature when it convenes in January, and everyone in the industry needs to be talking to their elected representatives about it. Go to www.votesmart.org and type in your 9-digent zip code to find out who represents you in the state legislature.
“We don’t want to just survive,” said CFVA board president Kevin Kerndt in setting the tone for the State of the State event. “We want to flourish.”
Denver writer, scriptwriter, novelist, and long time video producer Richard J. Schneider writes from time to time for the CFVA.