Film and TV

Film incentives: Bill signing means Colorado ready for its close-up

With a scribble of his ceremonial pen this morning, Governor John Hickenlooper set Colorado on a path not unlike that of the Iron Man himself, Robert Downey, Jr. No, our fair state isn't going to rehab. Instead, lawmakers, film-industry insiders and Colorado boosters hope that the beefed-up film incentives package Hick signed into law today will cause the Centennial State to once again reign as king of the silver screen. Or at least the Iron Man of the silver screen.

The signing took place in a sunny courtyard next to the Aurora headquarters of High Noon Entertainment, which produces reality-television shows such as Cake Boss. Dozens of film workers watched as a succession of lawmakers took to the podium. Senator Linda Newell, who co-sponsored the bill, told a story about how she once drove over a hundred miles while attending a conference in Iowa to visit the cornfield where Field of Dreams was filmed. Referring to Colorado's new film incentives package, she quoted the movie's most famous line: "If you build it, they will come."

"We are rebuilding it," Newell said, "and people will come!"

Nearly 400 movies have been shot in Colorado, but as High Noon CEO Jim Berger pointed out today, "we've seen how the business has taken a hit, and it's faded a bit." As other states began to offer better and better film incentives, Colorado got passed up for cheaper locales. Even when a script was set here -- like the 2000 TV movie Take Me Home: The John Denver Story -- filmmakers often opted for a Colorado stand-in instead.

The bill Hickenlooper signed into law today increases the cash rebate offered to moviemakers who film in Colorado from 10 percent to 20 percent in order to bring it in line with competitors such as New Mexico (25 percent) and Utah (15 to 25 percent). It also creates a program that could back up to 20 percent of a producer's bank loan.

The loan program was the brainchild of Donald Zuckerman, a movie producer who has sat in the director's chair at the state Office of Film, Television and Media for the past year. He, in turn, gives credit to Hickenlooper -- who joked that he's the worst actor to hold a Screen Actors Guild card, something his late cousin George Hickenlooper encouraged him to get -- and Representative Tom Massey, who has sponsored similar legislation for the past eight years. This year, with Hickenlooper's help, he was finally successful.

"It took eight years to figure it out," Massey joked.

Several speakers said the incentives, which come with $3 million in funding, will create jobs for Colorado film industry folks and help keep the state's film students here after they graduate. That's exactly what budding producers such as Erin Steinke, who works in post-production at High Noon and recently graduated from the University of Colorado, want to hear. "It can be a bummer that lots of people who went to film school end up working at sandwich shops and Whole Foods," Steinke says. Hopefully, not anymore.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Video: John Hickenlooper says civil unions aren't marriage on CNN."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar