Lights, camera, need action
With Moab on the Oscar map, can Grand Valley make its mark?
Jess Gonchor saw Fruita and fell in love with its 1880s charm.
Before barking about how it’s 2011, and this Gonchor guy isn’t even from Fruita, so who cares about his dated opinions, you might be interested to know that he was the production designer for “True Grit.”
Yes, the new “True Grit.” The critically-acclaimed and wildly successful “True Grit” directed by the Coen brothers and up for best picture at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 27.
Among the 10 Academy Award nominations “True Grit” received, one is for best achievement in art direction, a nod to the stunning look Gonchor, and colleague Nancy Haigh, achieved in the gritty Western.
For one day in October 2009, though, Gonchor toured Fruita and thought the town and its surrounding area were perfect for filming the estimated $38 million movie starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld.
“I don’t have to tell you what three months of feature film production would have done for the economy,” said Laura Grey, location and community specialist with the Office of Film, Television and Media in the Creative Industries Division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
Although it is not known exactly how much of an economic boost the Grand Valley would have seen during the filming of “True Grit,” it is clear that studio executives with the movie chose Texas and New Mexico for filming because Colorado lacked the same financial incentives, according to an e-mail Gonchor sent Grey.
In fact, that incentives discrepancy will likely be the primary reason studio executives bypass Colorado when looking to film what may be the next Oscar-winning feature film, said Lana Turrou, the Mesa County representative to Grey’s office. Turrou worked with Gonchor while he scouted locations in the Grand Valley.
Colorado’s current incentive program includes a 10 percent cash refund on in-state spending projects with a minimum budget, according to http://www.coloradofilm.com.
By comparison, New Mexico’s current incentive is a 25 percent tax rebate, including a rebate on crew lodging and per diem bills, according to http://www.nmfilm.com/filming/incentives.
Texas’ incentive is a 5–15 percent cash refund, plus a sales tax exemption, a fuel tax exemption and a lodging tax exemption, according to http://www.governor.state.tx.us/film/incentives/overview/.
In Utah, where Oscar-best picture nominee “127 Hours” was filmed in the Moab area, the incentives are a 20 percent rebate and a 20 percent tax credit on productions shot in Utah plus a sales tax exemption on film equipment and room tax rebate on hotel accommodations, according to film.utah.gov/film_incentives.
“To get an Oscar-caliber movie, what it really will take is to get a good film crew and production base in the area, and, most importantly, a good incentive,” said Tara Penner, film commission director with the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission.
“The production will initially look at incentives. Then, after determining who has a worthwhile incentive, they will determine what the actual cost of filming is going to be,” she said.
Although Colorado, on paper, isn’t as attractive as neighboring states, it could be, Grey said.
Good film crews live all over the state, particularly on the Western Slope, where men and women have settled for a quality of life unavailable in cities. In addition, Allegiant Air offers direct flights between Los Angeles International Airport and Grand Junction, albeit on a weekly basis.
Colorado’s incentives wouldn’t have to be as large as those of other states since the cost to film here would be cheaper because of the numbers of quality crews available as well as the free permitting process, Grey said.
And to top it off, Colorado has the views, she said.
The new slogan for the state’s film commission is “More Than You Expect,” which Grey said is an accurate portrayal of Colorado’s amenities for filmmakers with any budget, particularly on the Western Slope.
“You can go from skiing to golfing in the same day,” Grey said.
She added that perhaps Colorado’s film offices have relied solely on Colorado’s natural beauty for too long, assuming the varied scenery was enough to lure filmmakers.
“Our office needs to do better marketing, better outreach and let people know we are open for business,” Grey said. “If 100 percent of your production relies on incentive, you are probably looking elsewhere. But if you are looking at Colorado, allow us to look at your budget and let us work with you. ... I really believe the people behind truly quality projects, who want the look and feel that Colorado has to offer, will truly listen.”
Grey isn’t the only one optimistic at the prospects of luring Academy Award-caliber movies to the Western Slope.
State Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, recently brought House Bill 11-1207 to fellow lawmakers. This bill places a 10-cent fee on all movie theater tickets sold in Colorado for the purpose of “funding the performance-based incentive program administered by the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media.”
In today’s financial and political climate, Massey knows the bill likely won’t pass. However, he wouldn’t be opposed to movie theaters voluntarily collecting donations for a performance-based incentive.
A self-proclaimed “movie buff,” Massey hopes all Coloradans see benefit to a healthy film industry because the industry employs local people, spends money locally, highlights local scenery and leaves the state with contractual agreements, typically, to leave the area in the same condition as they found it.
“I really believe it’s a great industry for Colorado,” Massey said.
But not everyone shares his view. In fact, some New Mexico legislators have tried since 2003 to scale back their state’s program in an effort to keep more money spent in New Mexico in the state, according to a Dec. 3 article in the New Mexico Business Weekly.
No matter the incentives, the availability of film crews or the natural beauty of the landscape, experts agreed that the biggest reasons a Oscar-nominated feature film would come to Colorado are things such as a script, acting and directing.
“We need something catastrophic to happen here,” joked Debbie Kovalik, the department director of economic, convention and visitor services for Grand Junction.
In all seriousness, an incredible story set in Mesa County — think Aron Ralston’s survival story in “127 Hours” — or a remarkable movie previously having been filmed in the area may be the only ways to lure Oscar-type feature films to the valley, Kovalik said.
Better yet, “we need a local person to hit it and make it big, and that’s more likely to be an outcome than someone from L.A. making a four-star movie in Grand Junction,” Kovalik said. “The opportunities are expanding yearly in the film industry for young, entrepreneurial filmmakers. I see that as a more likely avenue that a film would be made or produced in Grand Junction.”
Grey shares Kovalik’s optimism for western Colorado’s movie future.
In fact, without divulging much information, Grey confirmed that industry types associated with a large movie are “poking around” western Colorado “because of its beauty and raw nature.”
When asked if that movie could be the Oscar-nominated movie of western Colorado’s future, Grey said, “Yes. It could be it.”