Film incentives: Bulk of $1.3 million allocated for next fiscal year to go to Hallmark show

Last year, the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media got a big boost when lawmakers passed a bill to increase cash rebates to moviemakers who choose to film here -- an incentives package that came with $3 million in funding. And new film commissioner Donald Zuckerman made good use of the money (along with nearly $1 million already in the coffers), luring three feature films and several television projects.

But next fiscal year, he'll have less to give out: $1.3 million, all of which has been designated already.

The money is earmarked for a show being produced for the Hallmark Channel called When Calls the Heart. The plot? "A young woman in 1910 takes a teaching job in a rural coal-mining town after her college graduation. She falls in love with a local mountie and together, they take on the domineering coal company that runs the Wild West town. "

In March, the Colorado Economic Development Commission conditionally approved giving a rebate of up to $1.6 million to the show, which is projected to spend $8 million here. But whether that cash would be available depended on how much money lawmakers included for film incentives in the next fiscal year's budget, which starts July 1.

That number was only $1 million when the budget was drafted, Zuckerman says, because the program still had $3 million in the bank at the time. But after offering incentives to several projects, it soon had far less than that. Though Zuckerman advocated for an additional $1.8 million to be added, he says the Joint Budget Committee deadlocked and the additional film-incentives money was rejected.

Zuckerman is trying to look on the bright side. "Prior to my arrival here and prior to (John) Hickenlooper being governor, they had been allocating $300,000 a year to the film office," he says. "Since then, it's gone up quite a bit."

In all, the Office of Film, Television and Media was allocated $1.3 million for operating expenses and film incentives. What that means for the incentives program, Zuckerman says, is that "all the money allocated for this current fiscal year we're in and the next fiscal year ... is already spoken for." The bulk of next year's money will go to the Hallmark Channel show, which is being produced by Brad Krevoy -- whose film credits include Dumb & Dumber (which was partly filmed in Colorado) and Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 -- and Brian Bird, who produced Touched by an Angel. The director is Michael Landon, Jr., the son of the Little House on the Prairie star and a steadfast Christian.

The Colorado town where the show will be filmed -- which hasn't been announced just yet -- also offered an incentive, Zuckerman says. "Between the state and local incentive, we were able to snatch the Hallmark series from Alberta" in Canada, he says.

Despite the fact that Colorado is out of money, Zuckerman says filmmakers are continuing to film here. For instance, he says that the Weather Channel show Prospectors, a series about modern-day gem-seekers that was previously granted a rebate for its first season, plans to return to Colorado to film a second season. "They're doing it without incentives because they've already established the characters and the place," Zuckerman says. "We get the benefit of getting a second season by incentivizing the first season."

More from our Television & Film archives: "Videos: Peyton Manning's five favorite movies and why they're key to understanding him."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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