When the money leaves, so does the infrastructure. Frederic Lahey, the founder of the Colorado Film School, says film students struggle to find work in Colorado after they graduate and are forced to move to places like New Mexico, Connecticut and Louisiana, which have killer film incentives and a booming industry. "The state is already doing film incentives," Lahey says of Colorado. "It's just that they're subsidizing the creation of homegrown talent and then exporting it to other states."

Hartman worries about the viability of companies that support the filmmaking business. One of the best, Film/Video Equipment Service Company, shuttered two years ago, he says. Another, Lighting Services, Inc., which maintains the only major motion-picture soundstages in the city, recently lost a major revenue stream when High Noon stopped filming the reality show Food Network Challenge there about nine months ago. "After eight years, the network decided they had enough of those [episodes]," Hartman said of the show. High Noon still films two shows in Denver for the DIY Network, Disaster House and Rescue Renovation, though neither uses a soundstage.

While High Noon also has offices in New York and Los Angeles, Hartman, a former staffer at Channel 9 who founded High Noon with two partners, doesn't want to think about ever moving. "But our L.A. operation is just thriving and has so many resources and so much depth to those resources," he says; Even if a particular wardrobe designer isn't available one day, ten others are.

Film folks trace Colorado's dwindling role back to when several states, taking a cue from Canada, began to offer film incentives a little more than a decade ago. Hollywood responded, moving production to states that offered generous breaks.

Meanwhile, Colorado's film climate was in distress. To save money in 2003, Governor Bill Owens cut the state's film commission, which was the first of its kind when it was established in 1969. Six years passed before another governor, Bill Ritter, re-established it in 2009 as the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media and put in place the 10 percent rebate to filmmakers, proclaiming that "film is going to be part of the solution that brings Colorado out of the recession faster."

Only it hasn't been. Last year, a bill that would have added ten cents to every movie ticket to raise cash for incentives died in the legislature like Paul Newman and Robert Redford at the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which was partly filmed in Colorado. It wasn't the first such bill to come to a grisly end.

Shortly thereafter, Hickenlooper tapped Zuckerman to take over the state's two-person film office. The two met through Hickenlooper's late cousin, the director George Hickenlooper, who'd worked with Zuckerman on several projects, including the 2001 drama The Man From Elysian Fields, in which Hickenlooper — then Denver's mayor — has a bit part, pre-politics, and the documentary 'Hick' Town, in which his politics are the focus. Zuckerman was also the producer for the George Hickenlooper-directed film Casino Jack, which was nominated for several awards.

Zuckerman, who moved here from L.A. with his family to take the job, says the governor gave him a specific task: to develop a plan to lure filmmakers back to Colorado without breaking the bank.

He believes his double-whammy proposal will do just that. "Between the two — the rebate, which at 20 percent is still a little low, (and) the loan guarantee, as well — we look very attractive," he says. No other state offers a similar loan deal, Zuckerman says: "They don't realize it would be a benefit." But as a producer himself, he says he understands the business and what it takes to catch a moviemaker's eye.

The details of the loan-guarantee proposal are complicated, but Zuckerman says he's figured out a way to "virtually assure that the money will be paid back to the bank." To start, Zuckerman's office would review a script to make sure it's "commercial" enough to make money. The office would also require that the movie feature at least one celebrity and that a good company be hired to sell the film. Once profits roll in, the filmmakers would have to pay back the percentage that the state guarantees first.

"Let's say Alec Baldwin does a movie and the movie is a thriller," he posits. "Even if the movie turns out not to be good, it will get licensed for television all over the world," thus earning enough money to at least pay back the state's part of the loan.

The rebate part of Zuckerman's plan is simpler. Filmmakers, television and commercial producers, music-video shooters and video-game developers would get a 20 percent rebate on all of the money they spend in the state, given that they spend a certain amount of it (the bar is currently $100,000 for Colorado companies and $250,000 for out-of-state producers), hire a certain percentage of local workers (currently 25 percent) and spend $125 to register as a "foreign entity" with the Colorado Secretary of State.

State representative Tom Massey, a Republican from Poncha Springs and a longtime champion of the movie biz, has said he plans to introduce Zuckerman's idea as a bill in the legislature this session.

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Michael Joseph Ferry
Michael Joseph Ferry

I'm troubled by the fact that scripts will be reviewed for their commercial value, and the amount of celebrity filmmakers are able to pack into their work.Despite his assertion that his proposal would allow small studios to grow, it would appear that he is looking to pander to the already well-funded, rather than local artists.


I'm kind of bummed that there was no mention of "3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain" when talking about movies filmed in Colorado. It features Hulk Hogan for crissake. And has scenes from the old Elitch's.


Increasing production of major films in Colorado might be an uphill battle. First of all, it does not appear that the Denver Post even had enough interest to cover this story. Worse yet, there is a backwards mentality of certain politicians with too much influence on public opinion. Just read an article which started on the front page of the Wall Street Journal Oct. 29, 2010. It included Denver cowboy City Councilman Charlie Brown's response to being asked about "sci-fi film directors flocking here, space-travel researchers, and engineers hoping to pry the secrets of intergalactic technology from space visitors." Charlie Brown was quoted as saying "That's not the kind of job we want to create".

Who put Brown in charge of deciding what jobs "we" want to create, especially when he makes such counterproductive comments like that to the world's leading business newspaper? The Wall Street Journal is read by a lot of the very people in charge of businesses that Colorado would love to attract.

The article was actually about the ballot initiative to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission. Sci-fi films and space travel research are both multinational multi-billion dollar industries. The lion's share of major films in 2011 had a science fiction theme with most involving extraterrestrial visitors. The only major "cowboy" film of 2011 was "Cowboys and Aliens"!

Brown's inability to think outside the barn is not unique among Denver's political officials. Fortunately, legislators and communities outside of Denver are likely to have more vision when it comes to innovative job-creation opportunities. Strategies to bring more of Hollywood to Colorado is a vision worth pursuing in any way that can succeed.


Stay away from gimmickry. Keep costs as low as possible for everyone. There is a reason we hate the U.S. Tax Code.

Hugh Akston
Hugh Akston

Why should movie production get special incentives? Make it cheaper for all businesses to operate in Colorado, and then watch the economy roar.

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