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Now what? State of the State 2012 - Richard J. Schneider

State of the State 2012 - The Colorado Production Industry
By Richard J. Schneider

Now what?

As the economy creeps upward, slower than most of us want, as expanded film incentives roll into place, where is the industry today, and where is it going?

These and other issues were discussed during the Colorado Film and Video Association's Second Annual State of the State event, held in Denver’s historic Mayan Theater Sept. 19, 2012. The gathering sought to frame the production industry as it stands today in Colorado, and take a look over the horizon to see what might be down the road.

The panel consisted of Anne Macomber, creative Director at CCT Advertsing; Joel Pilger, president and founder of Impossible, a brand-building production company; Tim "Stuntman" Territo, of Telluride On Site Productions; Kiowa Winans, who partners with writer-director husband Jamin Winans at Double Edge Films; and Donald Zuckerman, Colorado Film Commissioner and director of the Colorado Office of Television Film & Media (OFTM). Drew Repp, OFTM’s Program Manager, served as moderator.

Things do seem a bit brighter, especially with the new 20 per cent state production incentive in place. The future appears to be more hopeful. But many challenges still face the production industry in Colorado.

Getting creative

The current marketplace demands creativity both in budgeting as well as the finished product. But then we have been hearing about doing more with less for some time now.

Clients come in with “wildly unrealistic expectations,” said Macomber. Telling her firm that they “want all the same stuff for last year and we're slashing your budget by $250,000."

“We've tried to solve it with better creative,” she said, adding that sometimes producers just have to see what cost-generating aspects can be removed from the project without compromising creativity and quality – a challenge for any producer, but necessary in this era of shrinking production budgets.

Pilger, agreed, and suggested busting down a few walls and collaborating with “anybody who you can learn from,” including competing firms. But most of all, “Focus on doing great work,” he said. “People will want to work with you.”

But not all budgets can be stretched. “We sometimes say if you don't have the money maybe you shouldn't be shooting here,” said Territo. “We want everyone to get paid.” That last comment drew applause from the audience.

No matter how you cut it, the message was clear: producers have to keep getting more and more creative with budgets, and clients sill largely expect the same creative quality they got a few years ago when budgets were less constrained.

Show me the money

Money always seems to be the issue, especially for feature films.

"There is money around,” said film commissioner Zuckerman, “but the money has become much tighter.” He pointed out that, in the past, all you needed was a name actor, a foreign distribution deal, a bank loan, “and you're off to the races.” Not anymore. “Now you need way more equity today to make a movie." He mentioned 50 per cent – half the money. He did say that some top-name actors will work for less, but "it's got to be a project the actor really wants to do."

Winans said that for Ink, it involved borrowing from friends and family, mortgaging the house, the whole nine yards. But as Ink investors were paid back, future funding became a little easier. Still, she said her company helps cash flow by producing commercials, what one panel member termed the “bread and butter” of the industry.

Local opportunities abound

“We are hiring out every job that comes in,” Macomber said. “We are looking for the best set of talent, directors and post production."

And leaner budgets may just have a silver lining. She sees a trend away from the tendency to “automatically” take production out of state. More work is staying right here, which she attributes to the smaller budgets. No more landing the “giant job” and then jumping on the first flight out to Los Angeles.

"We have seen a dramatic increase in production here,” Zuckerman said. He mentioned a High Noon production that will “highlight a section of Colorado mountains that probably hasn’t seen much production in the past.” Rocky Mountain Television is ‘back in business” with a new show, he said, and hinted that some feature film projects were “circling us.”

“Just in the first two months (since the new incentive took effect), we’ve incentivized more spend in Colorado than we did last year,” Zuckerman said, “so I think things are looking up."

The crew question

Yet outside producers remain skeptical that Colorado can all but fully crew a large project.

“Since this incentive passed we’ve been actively pitching people pretty much all over the world,” Zuckerman said. “Almost universally, people love the incentive.”

“The concern is production,” he said. “They look right at the 50 per cent local crew hire. We say, oh, you can crew 80 per cent, and they say prove it. They don't know that that's true.” And what Zuckerman has to show them are crew call sheets from feature projects that are very dated, and not very convincing.

“I think that's our biggest obstacle right now,” he said. “I think it's really important to get the first movie in here, and they go back to LA or New York or London, wherever they come from, and they say really good things about working here."

Getting noticed is clearly the name of the game.

"There’s just this growing awareness that there is this talent here in Colorado,” Winan said. “As budgets come down people are figuring out how to do it here rather than go somewhere else.”

She told of a recent project, a commercial client who was required to produce and post everything in Colorado, something the company had never done before. "They were pretty terrified," Winans said. They worried about finding needed talent, a director, post production, the whole thing.

“I think that we totally proved them wrong and showed them we are every bit as good if not better than anybody they could have brought here from LA to do it," she said. “It raised the awareness level."

Calling Colorado an “amazing place for working,” Winans also sees the need to convince outside producers that Colorado has the talent pool, expertise and infrastructure to support larger projects.

Hit the bricks

“I have a strong belief that if you want to bring more work to the state you have to get out of the state,” Pilger said. “And by that I mean you have to go to these markets and sell yourself, sell your idea, and bring the work back here."

“It's easy to get lulled into believing that now that they (out of state producers) have these incentives, of course, they're going to come,” he said. “I can probably safely bet that everybody up here got to where they are without that.”

Zuckerman agrees.

“I think we’ve got to get the word out that we have lots of people who are talented,” he said. “I think the CFVA can help.

A soundstage in the southwest?

Territo saw a definite need for a facility in southwestern Colorado, where he largely works.

“For us down in the southwest corner, I think we could use a sound stage, or something like that for a cover set to get some of those bigger jobs in there,” he said, “so they will stay around for a while, not just a few days of shooting here and there.”

“A few projects have come pretty close, but they are always looking for that cover set or stage,” he said, adding with optimism, “If we build it they will come."

No politics! Yippie!

What was not discussed at great length was politics. This was a relief to most attendees, no doubt, since the past few years of these types of events have been subsumed by the politics of persuading the State Legislature to expand Colorado's incentive program to make it more competitive with what other states offer producers.

For those of you who have just dropped in from Pluto, Colorado expanded its non-competitive 10 per cent rebate on production dollars spent in the state to the more competitive 20 per cent tax incentive, and tossed in some loan guarantees as well. But the legislature, while doubling the incentive, also bumped up its local hire requirement from 25 per cent to 50 per cent, which gives out-of-state producers (the target of the incentive) pause for thought.

Zuckerman asked the audience and other CFVA members to remain on top of the incentive issue. It is not over just because the legislature committed to a higher percentage. This means staying in touch with state senate and state house members, and reminding them that the incentive program creates jobs and stimulates economic development.

The time is now

"We really have to go out there now that we have this incentive,” said Territo. “We should strike while the iron's hot. This is our time. A lot of people have been campaigning for the new incentive, and finally it has arrived. We just need to stay on that track, promote it, get out there and tell people about these incentives, and tell them they need to come to Colorado.”

Former journalist Richard J. Schneider writes from time to time on CFVA issues. He is a former CFVA board member and currently pens mystery novels set in Colorado.