Reports that incentive money to attract film and television productions to Colorado could be a victim of budget cuts arrived in close proximity to news that this very fund had convinced producers of Bravo's Top Chef to film the show's upcoming fifteenth season in Colorado, specifically Denver, Boulder and Telluride. Colorado Film Commissioner Donald Zuckerman, who shared his arguments for why the incentives should be increased from their current level of $3 million (far less than in states such as New Mexico, Utah and Georgia) for a Westword post published last October, says the Top Chef deal would never have happened without this monetary lure, and fears significant harm to the burgeoning local film and TV industry if the budget blade chops off the resource.
"There are two dynamics," Zuckerman points out. "One is the fact that there's apparently something like a $650 million shortfall. Now, that shortfall is barely going to be helped by stripping our money. But there are a lot of places where the joint budget committee will feel they're going to have to make cuts, and our program isn't all that popular with every member of the JBC."
In an effort to turn this tide, Zuckerman continues, "we're going to be talking to members of the legislature," and Top Chef, which will receive up to $1 million in incentives from this year's budget (funding that's secure and won't be impacted by future cuts), is his latest example for why keeping the incentives make sense.
"We're basically a job-creation program," Zuckerman allows, "and bringing Top Chef here means that a lot of people will be hired locally. And we also have the opportunity to really increase tourism by Colorado being perceived as a food destination. We all know that people will say, 'Hey, I'll take a holiday in Italy, because I think the food is great,' or 'I think I'll go to San Francisco, because there are a slew of restaurants I want to try.' And while a lot of people know we have an awesome brewery scene, they don't know about our food scene. So putting the imprimatur of Top Chef on the food scene here is major."
On the other hand, the elimination of the fund "would be really, really disappointing to people in the film and television community here," Zuckerman goes on, "because they've been building that community over the last five years with the assumption that we could maintain a program. And we've seen a tremendous increase in local production. The press has, to a great extent, concentrated on the larger productions that have come here from out of state" — such as Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight , with Bobby Kennedy III's Hunter S. Thompson flick Freak Power in the offing. "But the fact of the matter is, there are in-state movies that are totally produced locally, with local producers, local actors, local writers and local directors, happening, too. I want to say we had four or five of them last summer. Five years ago, we had none other than documentaries — but the documentary scene benefits from the film program as well. We had three documentaries at Sundance this year."
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Zuckerman has now set aside earlier hopes that the legislature would bump up the size of the incentives fund. In his words, "I think it's going to be a very tough year to grow it. But I do think there's a reasonable chance we can sustain what we've been doing. That's going to be up to the legislature. Ultimately, they have the power of the purse."
At present, the joint budget committee's budget has retained financing for the Colorado Film Commission but eliminated the $3 million in incentives. In recent days, Governor John Hickenlooper has spoken out in favor of restoring them, and with the budget bill expected to be introduced on Monday, March 27, Zuckerman says, "we're talking to people in the legislature" about the ways the fund has helped the state's economy. And Top Chef is at the top of his list.
"Without the incentive, that would not have happened," he stresses. "Period."