Film incentives bill clears first hurdle, passes House committee

A bill to increase Colorado's film incentives has won its first victory, passing the House Economic and Business Development Committee by a vote of nine to three. Though the victory celebration came up short when compared to the exhausted jubilation at the end of the best movie ever, Rocky, the two have something in common: Like the titular character, the film incentives bill has more fights ahead.

Something else to keep in mind: Rocky lost the big fight in the first movie, although he won plenty of others in the sequels.

As explained in our cover story, "The Reel West," Colorado's majestic mountains and sweeping plains were once bona fide movie stars, appearing in hundreds of films, including 1969's True Grit and 1991's Thelma and Louise, over the past century. But in recent years, the number of movie cameras pointed at Colorado has dwindled because unlike many other states, Colorado doesn't offer big rebates for filmmakers.

House Bill 12-1286 attempts to change that. The bill, sponsored by film champ Representative Tom Massey, House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino and others, would increase the cash rebate offered to filmmakers from 10 percent to 20 percent. It would also guarantee that the state would back up to 20 percent of a producer's bank loan -- for a fee to be negotiated between the state and the moviemaker.

Those perks come with some caveats. Out-of-state filmmakers would have to spend at least $1 million here and hire at least 50 percent of their crew in Colorado. The bill would be funded with $3 million from the state's general fund.

At a two-hour hearing yesterday, lawmakers heard from several people in favor of the bill -- and one opposed. Ali Mickelson of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute called the incentives "an expensive tax giveaway." She cited studies of other states' programs that found film rebates cost more money than they generate. That money, she said, could be spent on more worthy things, such as child care for working families and early childhood education. "How many teachers, police and firemen are we willing to lose?" she said.

But supporters of the bill argued that incentives create jobs. Donald Zuckerman, a film producer whom Governor John Hickenlooper tapped to serve as the head of the state's Office of Film, Television and Media, said his assessment of Colorado's film industry is that "we have a lot of people here who are skilled...but they're basically underemployed."

He said the proposed incentives are designed to attract filmmakers with budgets in the $5 to $12 million range -- independent films, not Hollywood blockbusters. He anticipates hundreds would apply for Colorado's incentives, putting Colorado crews back to work. "I know this plan will work," he said. "We can beat out these other states with our plan."

Big-wigs affiliated with the Colorado-based Starz Network and High Noon Entertainment testified that it's tough to film now in Colorado. High Noon CEO Jim Berger, whose company produces reality television shows like Cake Boss, said the networks that buy their shows are increasingly demanding that they film in states with incentives. For instance, the VH1 matchmaking show Tough Love is currently filming in New Orleans because Louisiana has killer incentives, though High Noon would love to film it in Aspen. "They're getting smart and they're saying, 'Go to states with incentives,'" Berger said.

Filmmakers and film students also pleaded with the committee to pass the bill. "There are an unbelievable amount of untold stories in Colorado," said high school filmmaker Max Greenwald. "It would be my absolute hope to stay and make films here."

The bill now heads to the House Finance Committee.

More from our Television & Film archive: "9News blooper of the year: 'Congratulations on your big hooters' (VIDEO)."

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