Purple mountains, silver screen
Despite the undeniable beauty of the Pikes Peak region, Colorado Springs was long overlooked by production companies looking to film their movies in the mountains — but local and state officials say that’s beginning to change.
For years, filmmakers were uninterested in making movies in Colorado because of the state’s failure to offer film incentives that would compete with progressive rebate programs in states like California and New Mexico.
That was until 2012, when Colorado Film Commissioner Donald Zuckerman convinced the state legislature to fund a $4-million program that now offers filmmakers 20-percent cash rebates and a unique loan guarantee program.
Since the establishment of the fund, more companies have started considering places like Colorado Springs for the production of their movies, according to Amy Long, chief innovation officer for the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region has always been a desirable film location due to the relatively low cost of permits and labor, as well as the stunning and diverse geography — from sweeping plains to the red rocks of Garden of the Gods to mountain highways,” said Long, who also serves as a liaison for the Colorado Springs Film Commission. “This program, as well as the work this office is doing to market the entire state to the film industry, has made Colorado Springs a more popular place to film.”
These new programs have led to the state landing several large productions, the largest being Quentin Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight,” which was filmed in Telluride last year. It also attracted a production company last year to choose Colorado Springs and Fountain as the only two shoot locations for the movie “Cop Car,” a suspense flick starring Kevin Bacon. That movie had an estimated $5 million economic impact on Colorado Springs, according to Long.
And now Colorado Springs has become the primary shoot location for an even bigger project: “Our Souls at Night,” a film adaptation of a book by Colorado author Ken Haruf.
The film, which will premiere on Netflix next year, is directed by Ritesh Batra and will star Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern and Judy Greer.
As with all other movies filmed in the state, the team behind “Our Souls at Night” first met with the Denver-based Colorado Economic Development Commission about incentives eligibility. Although the production company plans to spend more than $17 million in the state, the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media was only able to offer $1.5 million in rebates because of other budget expenses. While the standard incentive offering for the movie would typically have amounted to around $3.4 million, the company agreed to less than half in order to shoot in the state where the book was set.
Once production was approved on the state level, filmmakers then worked with the city to pull permits and work out logistics.
The team visited more than 30 homes on the Westside of Colorado Springs in search of two that might serve as the fictional homes of the main characters (played by Redford and Fonda). Homes at 1115 W. Pikes Peak Ave. and 1202 W. Pikes Peak Ave. were their final selections.
According to Carly Kobasiar, special events supervisor for the Colorado Springs Department of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services, the company was granted a “revocable film permit,” which allowed them exclusive access to the street from the 1100 and 1200 blocks of West Pikes Peak Avenue during the six-week production.
“Various members of their crew have contacted us multiple times over the past two months to answer questions, give them location ideas and provide contact info,” Long said. “We’re working hard to be really good hosts so that they tell their peers that this is a great area in which to film.”
In order to receive state incentives, the production company is required to hire more than half its crew inside the state. Andy Lipschultz, the Los Angeles-based publicist for “Our Souls at Night,” said that the company has hired 115 people in the Colorado Springs area and has contracted with local companies for security and set construction.
“The overwhelming majority of the film is being shot in Colorado Springs,” Lipschultz said.
He said the company will also film scenes in Florence and at Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area before wrapping up in Colorado Springs on Nov. 2.
Tom Binnings, senior partner at Summit Economics in Colorado Springs, said that his firm has not yet performed any community impact studies related to filming — but he said such a production would have a notable effect locally.
“As a general rule, I would guess that a relatively small percentage of the budget for a film is spent locally, as most of the dollars go to stars and going from raw footage to finished product ready for the screen,” Binnings said.
“But the dollars that are spent do make their way into the local economy, especially the neighborhood where the film is produced and where the production crew stays.”
Binnings also said that the project might have significant “entertainment value,” which could make up for the inconvenience and expense of road closures by local law enforcement.
“The entertainment value seems to exceed the cost on the neighborhood level,” he said. “What a treat to see two of the more famous folks of the Boomer generation in one’s backyard.”
El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who owns Holden House 1902 Bed & Breakfast (1102 W. Pikes Peak Ave.), agrees that the movie production has been a treat for both her and the Holden House’s clientele.
“Our guests were thrilled about it,” she said. “Even though we didn’t have any direct impact from the movie, it was certainly an exciting thing to have happen in our neighborhood.
“I would have given Robert Redford a room if he asked.”