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HB1286- Incentive Update: One Down, One to Go

Decisive State House approval of incentive bill bodes well for State Senate
By Richard J. Schneider

Here is a news flash for those who have not yet heard: the Colorado House of Representatives passed a bill doubling the state’s miserly incentive for film, TV and other media production to 20 per cent.

So, kiss your state representative today. No, not on the lips! And not if he or she voted against the measure. Twenty did, you know.

The House approved House Bill 1286, this session’s film incentive proposal, by a decisive 45-20 vote.

Next up, the Colorado State Senate, where HB1286 faces at least one committee hearing and then two votes on the Senate floor. State lawmakers always vote twice on bills in case they forget something or get cold feet over night.

So, it is time to make sure your elected representatives, in this case your state senator, do not get cold feet, because if the Senate approves the bill as is, it would go directly to Gov. John Hickenlooper for ink.

Then it is the law, and we could see newly incentivized production start firing up as early as this fall.

Now that will really be news, given the history of film incentives in Colorado.

Here is where we stand

For those of you who have just landed on Earth, Colorado has had a production incentive for many years. Basically, it reimburses producers for 10 per cent of the portion of the production budget spent in Colorado. It has been used a few times for fairly small projects. Larger production companies ignored it, however, because a 10 per cent incentive could not compete with other states (and countries) offering 20 per cent or more.

Hence: very little film or TV production in Colorado. And, also hence: professionals in the business have left the state for greener pastures.

The move to increase the state incentive has been afoot for years, and, in the wake of a major – and favorable – University of Colorado Leeds School of Business study, the legislature was poised to boost the incentive, when…

The economy collapsed.

That was a few years ago. So all the legislature could manage was to pass housekeeping measures that created the current Office of Film, Television and Media (OFTM), removed some of the more onerous local hire and spending requirements, and expanded incentive eligibility to include film, television, commercials, music videos, industrials, video games, and even still shoots.

But the incentive still stood at 10 per cent (as it does today). Hence: not much action.

Okay. So after John Hickenlooper got elected governor and moved all his furniture, file cabinets and what not from City Hall, across Civic Center, and into the State Capitol, he named a new film commissioner, Donald Zuckerman, who has executive produced a number of feature films. The effort to increase the incentive was off and running again.

There were two critical factors at play. First, Zuckerman, whose last project was with Kevin Spacey (that’s A-list, right?), knows exactly how feature films are financed, because that is what he did for a living. And, second, increasing the film incentive was placed high on Hickenlooper’s economic development agenda. However, the proposal still had to navigate the often choppy waters of the state legislature.

Fast forward to the current session, where HB1286 was introduced by Rep. Tom Massey, a Republican from Poncha Springs, and the legislator who has carried about every version of film incentive legislation the statehouse has seen.

While everyone in the industry wanted the state to set aside tons of money for film incentives, the bill offered a toe-in-the-water approach – doubling the incentive from 10 per cent to 20 per cent, and setting aside $3 million for the first year. That $3 million would be paid out only after $15 million worth of production dollars are spent in the state for approved projects.

The bill also gives the OFTM more flexibility in contracting with qualified production companies, expands the local crew hiring requirement from 25 to 50 per cent, and reduces from $3 million to $1 million the most that any qualified project could pay one person (like the star of the film).

The expanded incentive proposal passed muster with the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), which approved the $3 million proposal on a 5-1 vote. Back when this writer was committing daily journalism in Denver, the JBC was always referred to as the “powerful Joint Budget Committee.” It still seems to hold the same reputation.

Then off to the House of Representatives, where it had to run the gauntlet in three House committees: Economic and Business Development which approved it 9-3, Finance which gave it an 8-5 nod, and finally Appropriations where it sailed toward the full house in the wake of a 10-3 favorable vote. Rarely does legislation pass through three committees before getting to a floor vote.

On Thursday, April 12, 2012, the full House of Representatives approved the bill and sent it on to the State Senate.

Whew!

Find your state senator

Still, there is more work to do. You might let your state senator how you feel about HB1286.
You do want it to pass, don’t you?

All right, then. You can find out who your state senator is by going to www.votesmart.org, typing in your address-city-state-zip in the little window on the upper right, clicking on “search,” then clicking on “state legislature,” and – bam! – behold your state representative and state senator. Click on “See Full Biographical and Contact Information” and with one more click you can send an email to your senator.
Now, how hard is that?

Do it now, and then go have lunch, work on that script, block out that shoot, or whatever.

We are in new territory

Colorado is on the verge of being competitive once again as a location for major films and television production, not blockbusters, but significant independent productions.

While the industry cannot begin counting its chickens, both Zuckerman and Massey are in excitement mode. Right after the House Appropriations Committee vote, Massey said he was “very optimistic.” That’s Legislator-Speak for “I’m really excited.” Zuckerman, after the committee vote, said he was “really gratified.” That’s Administration-Speak for “whohoo!” Neither wanted to jinx the vote in the full House, but both indicated the signs looked good.

The 45-20 vote certainly verified that.

But we are still counting eggs, not chickens.

Contact your state senator and keep your fingers crossed.


Long time Denver writer and producer Richard J. Schneider writes for the CFVA on production industry issues. His new Colorado-based mystery novel, WATER: A Vic Bengston Investigation, is available as a Kindle eBook on Amazon.com.