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Colorado’s Budding Film Biz Has Room For Improvement

A movie with a marijuana-centric plot will be shot here, but is Colorado leaving money on the table?

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News this week that Colorado has landed another feature film project was a welcome development, but it also raises the question of whether state officials are doing enough to lure these productions here.

Actress Melanie Griffith, who owns a home in Colorado, will star in Miss Cannabis. The romantic comedy is about a woman who loses her fortune and is forced to move to what she thinks is a vineyard, but turns out to be a medical marijuana farm. Producers have not yet announced a timetable for the project.

Although Colorado might seem like an obvious place to shoot a film whose plot centers (somewhat) around pot, its producers didn’t agree—until the Colorado Economic Development Commission (EDC) offered about $600,000 in subsidies and incentives. The filmmakers plan to spend about $3.5 million here, a budget that includes about 55 crewmembers and 10 actors.

This is the Colorado Film Commission‘s biggest coup since it helped attract Quentin Tarantino’s latest project, The Hateful Eight, to the Telluride area last year, thanks largely to another round of incentives and rebates.

It’s all part of an ongoing competition between mountain states’ filmmaking agencies, which try to outdo one another to land these potentially lucrative projects.

Apart from the jobs these endeavors create, they also bring ancillary income to the areas where the filming happens. For example, Tarantino’s crew spent more than $140,000 at a Telluride tire shop during its brief time in Colorado and untold amounts in the town’s bars, restaurants, and stores.

Colorado film commissioner Donald Zuckerman has always made the case that these projects more than pay for themselves in the long run. He told me in 2014 that in the first week or so after The Hateful Eight project was announced, the news generated about 400 online articles and about 90 million shares, every one of them mentioning Colorado. He says that if 1/10th of one percent of the people who end up seeing the film decide to visit Colorado, it could add $250 million in tourism revenue to the state’s coffers over about five years. All thanks to the $5 million in incentives we gave the filmmakers.

The problem in Colorado is that our state legislature has to approve the incentives budget every year, which means that it fluctuates annually depending on spending priorities and politics. (It also limits our ability to attract multi-year TV series the way New Mexico did with Breaking Bad.)

Even though the Griffith movie won’t bring as much economic juice as Tarantino’s, it highlights how, for all our success in tourism, Colorado might be missing out on even greater revenue by not taking the long view on feature film incentives.

Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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