Arts & Entertainment  November 3, 2023

Film production thrives in Boulder, other communities

BOULDER — Colorado is able to retain a robust film industry despite recent actor and screenwriter strikes, though film commissions like the Colorado Film Commission have taken a small hit.

“A lot of our local productions that are SAG (Screen Actors Guild) had significant delays because of this strike, and some have been able to pick up plans for production again,” said Arielle Brachfeld, deputy film commissioner with the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media, a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade in Denver and sometimes referred to as the Colorado Film Commission.

The 2023 Writers Guild of America Strike from May to September interrupted film and television production as 11,500 screenwriters went on strike over a labor dispute with the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers. The strike lasted 148 days, while the 2023 SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) strike remains ongoing since July over another labor dispute, also with AMPTP. The two strikes resulted in some studios reducing staff or closing doors and large studios terminating production deals with writers through force majeure clauses after 90 days. 

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“We’re dealing with an industry strike with the Screen Actors Guild, which is affecting everything industry-wide,” Brachfeld said. “A lot of our localized production interfaces with SAG.”

COFTM works with producers of full-length feature films, streaming series, documentaries, television pilots and series, music videos, video games and a large number of commercials in an industry expected to surpass $400 billion in the state by 2030.

“If it isn’t financed and distributed with a studio, actors can get a waiver. Small films cost $2 million to $3 million and a lot less — $300,000 is a really low level — and those are getting waivers,” said Donald Zucherman, film commissioner for the Office of Film, Television and Media. 

Producers can apply for waivers from SAG to work on independent film projects, since the strike doesn’t affect projects not associated with AMPTP, though the waivers can take a great deal of time to process, Brachfeld said. Some of the waivers for independent work have been secured or are in the process of being secured, but productions are being delayed, she said.

“We don’t necessarily have a lot of WGA projects in Colorado, but we do have a fair amount of SAG projects,” Brachfeld said. “Several were pushed in their production dates. … A pathway forward for them is to use SAG actors and writers, cleared to work on those productions.”

As a result of the strike, some productions receiving an incentive from COFTM missed their production window, investors pulled out or actors are no longer available, Brachfeld said. 

“Four in the incentive program had to delay their principal photography, when they start filming,” Brachfeld said.

In places like Boulder, the strike hasn’t had as much of an effect, since the majority of crewmembers coming to or working in Boulder are nonunion, said Bruce Borowsky, Boulder County film commissioner for the Boulder County Film Commission in Boulder.

“We have tons of stuff going on here, large to small,” Borowsky said. “At the moment, we have a national reality TV show (Season 2 of “Coach Prime”) being filmed in Boulder, and last year, we had a Hollywood film here with a $30 million budget. We have the capacity, though, to bring in a lot more productions.”

Borowsky handles half a dozen inquires a week regarding filming permits and locations, with about half coming to Boulder and the rest deciding to go with another location or the projects not coming to fruition, he said.

“Boulder is just very uniquely beautiful,” Borowsky said. “We have a wide variety of landscapes. We have a very active population, so there’s lots of activities going on no matter the season: hiking, mountain biking, road racing, and skiing. … They know if they come to Boulder, they are going to find a certain kind of character, whether it’s the architecture, the landscape or the people.” 

Boulder also is a “creative town” with a vast array of talent, including directors, producers, camera operators and professionals working in hair and makeup, lighting, audio recording, post-production, digital photography, graphic design, and web and app programming. 

To encourage film production in the state, COFTM offers the Colorado Film Incentive, a performance-based rebate for up to 20% of certain expenses. Production companies are required to hire at least half of their cast and crew from locals and have at least $100,000 in local expenses if they’re in state and $1 million or more if they’re out of state, except for the production of TV commercials and video games, which need at least $250,000 in local expenses. 

So far, the incentives have generated $116.6 million in economic impact to 55 counties in Colorado and created more than 3,700 cast and crew positions since its inception. 

“It’s an important program because film incentives drive the industry,” Zucherman said. “Producers defer to locations with incentives, which allows us to support local production.”

However, a rebate of 20% versus 30% in some other states can be significant, especially for multimillion dollar projects, Borowsky said. 

“What happens is it gets very competitive for production companies where money is the bottom line,” Borowsky said. “We are not in the best situation to compete in this very competitive marketplace.”

Borowsky reaches out to production companies considering filming in Boulder and connects them with crew and location scouts and assists with the film permitting process, trying to offer extra concierge services as another incentive. 

“All that stuff is value-added to try to make it as easy and seamless as possible for out-of-state production companies to come to Boulder to film,” Borowsky said. “There’s tons of money coming in that is helping the local business community, and it’s significant enough that it’s worth trying to bring in more. Our economy in Boulder certainly can use some help, so the film commission is trying to do its part.”

Aurora-based producer Meryem Ersoz, who used to live in Boulder, has used the incentive a half dozen times, including in 2010 when it was 10%, and she created a feature film with known-name actors, “Mind’s Eye,” redistributed as “The Black Hole.

“There’s a lot of vying for this business — it’s really good for tourism,” Ersoz said. “It’s not enough because it’s a beautiful place. You have to have a pragmatic reason besides to drive business here, big business, which a lot of these movies are.”

To help promote that business, Film in Colorado, a film and video production guide based in Broomfield, lists 15 film and video resources, including film commissions, film offices and associations, plus provides listings for hundreds of professionals and businesses working in the industry and filming resources that include film festivals and filming locations.

The Office of Film, Television and Media also provides several directories for film crew and support services and film locations searchable by town, county and type of location. COFTM’s film commission is one of the few in the U.S. that also offers programming like workshops and boot camps, as well as free script reviews, where any Coloradan can submit a script up to 180 pages for coverage, or notes on the script from an industry professional.

“Who wouldn’t want to see Colorado on the screen?” Brachfeld said. “Colorado is gorgeous. You can point your camera somewhere and end up with high-level (content).”

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