Colorado Film Commission, Take 2

Colorado, Take 2

"I found it in Colorado." That's how Billy Crystal explains his smile at the end of City Slickers, the 1991 movie filmed largely in Colorado, and it's the final scene on David Emrich's promotional reel touting Colorado filmmaking and the more than 375 movies at least partially shot in this state over the past 111 years.

But few filmmakers have been finding anything in Colorado lately. Imagine That, the Eddie Murphy movie that opens this weekend, was filmed in and around town two years ago, back when the working title was Nowhereland. Otherwise, though, Colorado has pretty much been nowheresville for movie companies, which are taking their productions to Canada or Italy or New Mexico or other states with economic packages strong enough to compete with our scenery. It's an ignominious spot for Colorado to find itself in, since this was the first state in the country to have an official film commission, back in 1969. From that fast start, Colorado soon moved into the slow lane — although those Perry Mason and Father Dowling TV movies lifted spirits and paychecks in the '80s — and then got off the track altogether. As other states beefed up the incentives they offered filmmakers, Governor Bill Owens abolished the state film commission in a budgetary move.

After that, the only filmmakers to shoot in Colorado did so simply because they wanted to make movies here — John Sayles's Silver City, for example, a political thriller that had this state looking so golden you could almost overlook the convoluted plot involving a Bush-like political dynasty. Or because the filmmakers were already here, like Academy Award-winning documentary producer Donna Dewey, who worked with Monty Miranda on Skills Like This. But despite the success of Skills — after going out on the festival circuit in 2007, it was picked up for release in 2008 and debuted in March in New York City, where it was held over for a week, and it continues to be shown across the country — Dewey's not sure that she'll ever make another movie in Colorado. Or if she does, whether the crew she needs will still be here, since the talent pool has been "decimated" by the recent production drought. "Until we get incentives, we will not have film production here," Dewey says. "I don't mean substantial, I mean any film production."

Last week, things got rolling again: Governor Bill Ritter signed House Bill 1010, which will re-establish the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media on July 1, 2009 — exactly forty years after it was first set up. "Even in a downturn, we believe this becomes an investment that will have an impact on our future," Ritter said at the June 4 signing ceremony (where much of the backdrop buzz concerned mass resignations at the Denver Film Society).

"I think it's a really great first step," says Dewey. "Now they need to figure out what those incentives should be, things that will really work for producers." They don't have to be incentives as large as those offered by New Mexico; she suggests that some projects would happily leave Albuquerque for just a fraction of the breaks that state offers.

And then they have to figure out how to sell those incentives to legislators already crunching numbers in very tight fiscal times. As a state agency, the film office won't be able to lobby lawmakers — which is why the Colorado Film Commission, a nonprofit set up when the last state film office shut down, will stay in business. "We'll have a bill ready on January 1," promises Craig Meis, chairman of the board of the soon-to-be-renamed entity.

Meis's favorite movie made in Colorado wasn't a great film, he admits, but he worked for Phil Anschutz at the time, and the production company was using his equipment. In Under Siege II, Steven Segal plays a retired Navy SEAL working as a cook in a place that looks a lot like the Wynkoop Brewing Company, who takes a train ride with his teenage niece, who looks a lot like a young Katherine Heigl, only to discover that the train has been targeted by terrorists. Lots of bad guys die along the journey, which highlights spectacular Colorado scenery, only a little of which was set on fire during filming.

Ah, the magic of movies.

 
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