Academy Award-winning filmmaker Clint Eastwood has just wrapped up two days of shooting in Colorado on his next movie, The Mule. Eastwood's visit was unexpected, admits Colorado Film Commissioner Donald Zuckerman, since last year, the General Assembly slashed the amount of film incentive money available by 75 percent, essentially bringing a previous upswing in the number of Hollywood productions in the state to a grinding halt. As a result, lucky breaks like this one will continue to be few and far between.
"A lot of times, state legislators don't see how this is going to benefit their area," Zuckerman says from southeastern Colorado, where he and two colleagues from the Colorado Office of Film, Television & Media had traveled in conjunction with the project. "Now, all of a sudden, we've got Clint Eastwood in small towns in Colorado. You couldn't have predicted that. But if we had a robust experience with a number of films, we'd see it all the time, all over the state."
Eastwood has filmed in Colorado before. Much of 1978's Any Which Way But Loose was lensed here, including a final face-off between Clint and a motorcycle gang staged in the middle of Georgetown. Among his co-stars: an orangutan named Clyde.
Still, the scenes for The Mule, in which Eastwood will portray a character based on Leo Sharp, an eighty-something World War II veteran who becomes a courier for a Mexican drug cartel, weren't originally planned for Colorado.
On Thursday, July 26, Zuckerman reveals, "the location manager called and said, 'We're in New Mexico, and we're going to do a road trip — basically Clint driving cross-country. We were going to go to Texas and Oklahoma, but at the last minute, Clint decided he'd rather go to Colorado. So now we're scouting certain locations in Colorado.' They wanted us to immediately get in touch with [the Colorado Department of Transportation] for help with those locations."
Deputy Film Commissioner Mariel Rodriguez-McGill picks up the story from there: "We worked closely with their location manager and made a ton of calls Friday and over the weekend. They wanted to shoot near I-76, so we reached out to people in the Fort Morgan and Sterling area. They were looking for cornfields, so we got into contact with farmers in the area. Then, on Monday, after filming at the 'Welcome to Colorado' sign, they stopped in Trinidad, at Brix Sports Bar & Grill," whose Facebook photos with Eastwood are sampled here.
On Tuesday, Rodriguez-McGill goes on, "they went to the Colorado Springs area to film at the Cave of the Winds, and then to Fort Morgan. They filmed at a cornfield in Fort Morgan and a rest stop out near Wiggins" before dropping by another local eatery, Fort Morgan's Country Steak Out.
The Colorado sequences will supplement scenes largely filmed in Georgia and, as noted, New Mexico — and Zuckerman doesn't think these settings were picked at random.
"In the movie, Clint is driving from Michigan," he points out. "But Georgia has unlimited 30 percent film incentives. I'm sure they qualified and are receiving that. And New Mexico has a 25 percent incentive, and I'm sure they hired enough people there to qualify for those, because some of the crew in Colorado was from New Mexico.
The good news is that we got them for two days," he continues. "The bad news is that they didn't hire anybody from Colorado with the exception of security to watch their equipment. They did spend money here, for hotels and restaurants and catering. But they didn't spend it on crew."
The New Mexico contingent enjoyed the stop, too, Rodriguez-McGill says. "We heard that they had a really amazing time working with CDOT and the Colorado State Patrol," whose photo of Eastwood wearing a CSP cap is on view here as well. "They were really on top of things and reacted very quickly."
"They said CDOT and the state patrol basically opened up the state to them in a way they didn't experience in New Mexico," Zuckerman adds.
Still, he acknowledges, the production wouldn't have come to Colorado if Eastwood wasn't Eastwood: "You have to be a very important filmmaker to be able to just decide to go somewhere else."
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Other producers and directors must be more concerned with the bottom line, and program manager Taylor Tschida concedes that can be frustrating. "We get calls about a variety of locations around the state — anywhere from small mountain towns to farms and ranches," she says. But when she's asked if such folks phone back after learning about the dearth of financial assistance, she replies, "No, they don't. When it comes to tax incentives, we just don't have the capacity to do that now."
Rodriguez-McGill has had similar experiences. "Three or four weeks ago, we had calls about people inquiring about filming in our ski areas. But they decided to go to Park City instead, because Utah has a larger film incentive than we have in Colorado."
Of course, flukes can happen, as was the case with the Christian Bale Western Hostiles. "They needed an important shot and came across the border and worked for a couple of days outside of Pagosa Springs," Zuckerman recalls. "But we could have gotten the whole film if we'd had incentive money."
Without it, he believes, "we'll get bits and pieces" instead of the entire Mule.