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Tuesday, 23 November 2010 21:30

Rocky Mountain Region

Written by  Nathan Hoturoa Gray
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So far, 2010 has been a mixed bag for the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. While states like Utah continue to flourish, the rest have had a quiet time on the production front as they deal with the long-term effects of the recession. P3 Update looks at the recent cuts in some state governments’ film incentive budgets as well as the legislative changes made to help states better compete under the challenging economic circumstances. We’ll also see what film and television projects have made it through to production fruition, giving us an insight into what states can look forward to in the future.




Colorado’s sensational filmmaking options are endless. From its series of 14,000-foot peaks stretching in every visible horizon to its pristine lakes, glacial valleys, bustling cities and small western towns, it’s the ideal location for producing geographically expansive classics like Warner Bros. PicturesThe Bucket List. “More Than You Expect” is Colorado’s catch cry for filmmaking this year, and the state lives up to all expectations. With towering cliffs and some of the best ski resorts in America, namely Aspen, Vail, Telluride, Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain, Colorado is also ideal for housing high-altitude action flicks like IMAX’s Everest. And with major cities and college towns, such as Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs, the state offers a variety of great locations for feature films like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Die Hard 2 and WarGames. Colorado is also home to several production companies that provide content for the Food Network, Travel Channel, DIY Network and more, as the majority of the state’s production currently focuses on television, commercials and industrials.


Over the past several years, Colorado has been trying to modify its incentive program to make it more user-friendly. That finally happened this year with the signing of House Bill 10-1180. Starting July 1, Colorado’s 10-percent cash rebate became much easier to qualify for, as the state’s new law has made significant changes to the program. The bill removed the requirement that a production company must spend at least 75 percent of its below-the-line budget in Colorado and lowered the local hire requirement from 75 percent to 25 percent.


It’s expected that these changes to the existing legislation will make it easier for companies to qualify for the program, even if they’re only filming a small portion of their project in Colorado. Out-of-state productions need to spend $250,000 to qualify (while local production companies need only spend $100,000). Additional changes now include television commercials as a qualifying production for the rebate, and Colorado has legislation on the books authorizing a sales-tax exemption on hotel rooms when they’re occupied for more than 30 days.


Governor Bill Ritter has recently signed bills to establish a new Creative Industries Division within the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The new division combines the Colorado Council on the Arts, Colorado Office of Film, Television & Media and Art in Public Places offices into one single office. A fourth bill signed by Governor Ritter encourages Colorado public schools to fully integrate visual arts and performing arts education into the elementary and secondary school curriculum. The bill includes these areas in its description of postsecondary and workforce readiness in an effort to fully support Colorado’s workforce development. This will ensure that the state can compete economically on a national and global scale in the future. Recent films in production in Colorado include A Test of Wills and the supernatural thriller Awakeners.




Idaho’s long summery days with little rain are perfect for on-location filming. Renowned as “potato country,” the state actually has quite varied terrain, from high desert and lava flows in the south to the magnificent peaks of the Sawtooth range. And these locales contrast markedly with the rolling farmland of the Palouse and timbered mountains and glacial lakes of the panhandle.


The Motion Media Rebate Program, passed in 2008 but still unfunded due to the economy, implements a 20-percent rebate for all qualifying productions on all goods and services purchased in Idaho. To qualify, productions need to spend at least $200,000 within the state, and 25 percent of crew members must be Idaho residents. With a $500,000 cap, it targets indie films in the $2–$5 million budget range. “As we await funding for our incentive, there is still a lot of activity behind the scenes,” comments Idaho Film Office Manager Peg Owens. “Boise State University has begun a certificate program in film studies, Silverdraft Studios continues development on cutting-edge technologies, and the film community is more organized and active than ever!”


Renowned for the locals’ friendly and cooperative spirit, Idaho offers reasonable prices on lodging, goods and services to further entice filmmakers. This is in addition to the state’s soft incentives, such as a rebate of the 6-percent sales tax on tangible personal property (which excludes consumables like food) when $200,000 is spent on a wide variety of qualifying expenses. Finally, Idaho has a sales and lodging tax exemption (currently at 8 percent) for production personnel staying 30 days or more in the state’s lodging facilities.


Producer and Idaho native Heather Rae (Frozen River, The Dry Land) recently attracted Actor Scott Glenn to work with young Director Jaffe Zinn on Magic Valley, a film now in postproduction. In addition, “Japanese Americans,” a miniseries made for the Japanese market, utilized the pastoral farmland around the university town of Moscow.



Hidden amidst the mammoth Montana landscape, Animal Planet’s latest original series “Last American Cowboy” was recently shot by BASE Productions. Focusing on three family-owned and -operated cattle ranches, this epic adventure follows the families of tough, tenacious and headstrong cowboys through the freak storms, deadly disease outbreaks, hungry predators and forest fires that threaten their livelihood, bringing viewers into the remarkable world of cattle ranching. Montana was the ideal place to shoot such a production. The state was also the perfect locale to stage the illustrious setting for the Big Sky Country episode of Discovery Channel’s “Man vs. Wild,” for which Adventurer Edward “Bear” Grylls was filmed paragliding above the Rockies and traversing vast gullies in the Bridger Mountains near Bozeman, Mont.


Montana is at the forefront of offering competitive cash incentives and generous soft incentives for productions shot in the state. Cash incentives include a 14 percent refundable tax credit based on hired Montana labor with no cap and no minimum spend, as well as a 9-percent refundable tax credit for all production-related expenses. “Montana’s incentives are designed to offer productions significant savings,” says Sten Iversen, manager of the Montana Film Office (MFO). “In addition to Montana’s unmatched scenery, our incentives help make shooting here a pleasant and successful experience.” The MFO provides productions with free office furniture and equipment, free traffic control signage, and free script breakdowns and location scouting. Additionally, the state is sales-tax-free and the accommodations tax is reimbursed after 30 consecutive days.

From finding fantastic locations to hosting premieres, the MFO will partner with productions to assist them through their entire project. “I love filming in Montana. No matter which way I turn the camera I get a million-dollar shot,” said Writer/Director Jim Kouf (Rush Hour, National Treasure, Stakeout) on the set of his 2007 production A Fork in the Road. Recent Montana productions include “The Martha Stewart Show” (for its tour of Big Sky Country), A&E’s new series “Fugitive Chronicles” and a new promo for History’s adrenaline-pumping reality series “Ice Road Truckers.”



Whether it’s the spectacular orange organ pipes of Bryce Canyon, the sheer awe of Zion National Park or the alien-like reds of Arches National Park, Utah is a filmmaker’s paradise. At press time, acclaimed Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) had just finished principle photography in Utah on 127 Hours. Due out later this year, the Fox Searchlight film chronicles the real-life drama of Hiker Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) when he became trapped in a Moab canyon in 2003. The film created 150 jobs and an influx of $14 million for various local Utah economies. The Utah Film Commission (UFC), a branch of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, was able to offer the production a 20-percent post-performance tax credit of $2.8 million through the Motion Picture Incentive Fund (MPIF), which enabled it to stave off other U.S. competitors. “This was an ideal project for Utah,” states UFC Director Marshall Moore. “It had an impressive economic impact, used local support services and put our local industry to work.”


Utah’s rebate program has seen the return of $12 to every dollar spent over the past five years, and the state continues to push the boundaries to formulate attractive incentives that entice cinematic features. Last year, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development was hoping to expand the already bustling film industry, which had created 1,700 jobs throughout 2007 and 2008 up to an estimated increase of 4,500 jobs. The state has already managed to have an economic impact of over $60 million in incentives this year, with the wide variety of films enticed through the MPIF extending the post-performance 20-percent rebate of production dollars spent in Utah to a 20-percent tax credit as well.1OnLoc_Utah_Danny_Bolye


In order to qualify, all productions need to first spend $1,000,000, and for films below this budget a 15-percent cash rebate is available. A further sales-and-use tax exemption is available for film, television and video productions for machinery and equipment at the point of sale, and the Transient Room Tax exemption also exempts sales-and-use taxes for all accommodation stays longer than 30 days. The latest films to shoot in Utah include Den Brother, Unpleasantville, Dragon Fire, A Root Beer Christmas and John Carter of Mars.




With a long motion-picture history ranging back to 1904, Wyoming is an alluring land of dramatic scenic contrast. Dynamic mountain escarpments flank distant grassy plains on one side of the state, while stark desert canyons highlight the other. With films like Starship Troopers and Close Encounters of the Third Kind under its belt, Wyoming offers all sorts of interplanetary settings, not to mention the raw natural peaks of Grand Teton National Park. And with its strong production support crews, particularly a strong emphasis on animal handlers, Wyoming has fielded cinematic classics like Flicka and the Academy Award-winning Dances with Wolves.


Wyoming’s Film Industry Financial Incentive (FIFI) program provides a cash rebate up to 15 percent on dollars spent in the state. To qualify, $200,000 must be spent, and the rebate percentage (between 12 to 15 percent) ranges from the lowest rate if Wyoming is simply mentioned in the credits to the highest if the actual storyline takes place in the state. Qualified expenditures include all stages of production, including digital effects, work fees paid to Wyoming residents, and any goods and services utilized or made within the state. The Wyoming Film Office also allows additional expenses from the outsourcing of equipment rentals and other services through Wyoming production companies to qualify. The only cap to the current incentives program is that which exists in the state coffers at the time, which at press time was $1,500,000. Filmmaker Patrick Mignano thoroughly enjoyed his Wyoming experience while filming his short Western Absaroka on next-to-no budget: “When it came to asking for help … everyone was so positive and enthusiastic.”

The current slate of film and TV productions that have managed to overcome the economic obstacles of 2010 to shoot in the Rocky Mountain region demonstrate how important it is for states to remain on top of their incentive regimes to attract top-notch directors and producers.

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