Film incentives could bring Hallmark Channel show set in rural town to Colorado

A Hallmark Channel television series about a young woman in 1910 who takes a teaching job in a rural coal-mining town could be shot in Colorado if the state legislature sets aside more money during the next fiscal year for the state's popular film incentives program.

Last week, 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 in Colorado. But whether that money will be available come July is up to lawmakers.

The Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media started off the current fiscal year (which runs from July 1 to June 30) with a new film incentives program and approximately $4 million to give out. The new program was conceived by Colorado film commissioner and producer Donald Zuckerman, and it combines a 20 percent rebate with a guarantee that the state will back up to 20 percent of a producer's bank loan for a fee.

There are a few conditions, however: To qualify for the perks, an in-state production company must spend at least $100,000 here and an out-of-state company must spend at least $1 million. In addition, 50 percent of the jobs related to the project must be filled by Colorado residents. The film can't be "obscene," either. To qualify for the loan guarantee, a film project must feature at least one celebrity and a good company has to be hired to sell it.

Last month, the EDC approved incentives for three feature films, including one called Dear Eleanor that's being produced by Leonardo DiCaprio's production company. They've also given the green light to rebates for two fitness videos, two television shows, including the Weather Channel's Prospectors, and $1.9 million worth of post-production work for Discovery Communications, which owns the Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet.

After doling out all those incentives, Zuckerman's office was left with just $21,000 for the rest of the fiscal year. But, he says, the fitness videos ended up falling through and Leonardo DiCaprio's company decided not to take the $300,000 loan guarantee that had been set aside for it. So Zuckerman offered the money to other projects that had expressed an interest in coming here, including the Hallmark Channel series.

Called When Calls the Heart, the family-centric show's plot goes something like this: "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. "

It's being produced by Brad Krevoy -- whose film credits include Dumb & Dumber (which was partly filmed in Colorado), Beverly Hills Ninja and Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 -- and Brian Bird, who produced Step by Step and Touched by an Angel. The director is Michael Landon, Jr., the son of the Little House on the Prairie star and a steadfast Christian.

"One of the things that's great about this is that the producer is planning to pick a town and then call the town by that name in the show," which would be great for tourism, Zuckerman says. "We have a number of picturesque towns they're really interested in."

But first, the producers need a guarantee that the state will have enough money to give them the full $1.6 million rebate. "They need enough incentive to produce this series, and the only cash we had left was for the first show, which they need to start working on prior to July 1, when new incentive money will hopefully be available," Zuckerman says. "If, for any reason, the legislature doesn't approve new funding, then this series will not come."

But Zuckerman is optimistic. "I hate to be presumptuous," he says, "but I feel like this is such a good show for Colorado. It's only going to help us attract more people."

Last week, the EDC also approved more incentives for Discovery Communications, Zuckerman reports. The reality-television behemoth is now eligible for a rebate of up to 20 percent on $2.3 million of post-production work.

More from our Television & Film archives: "American Guns' Gunsmoke Guns: Political motive behind IRS raid?"

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

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