by Rick Langenberg:
The Cripple Creek and Victor historic district has always boasted of its natural setting for turn-of-the century western films, gold camp adventure stories and other action sequels that would challenge the likes of Deadwood, Wyoming and Arizona. But to date, the district has never succeeded in closing any movie deals, other than briefly hosting a film festival about 15 years ago.
With a little help from the Southern Teller County Economic Development Coalition, the state’s relatively new office of Film, Media and Television and the Hallmark Channel , this scenario of little notice from Hollywood could change
Last week, Teller County Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder and Southern Teller County Economic Develop Coalition Director John Posusta confirmed that the Cripple Creek/Victor district is still in the running for a filming site for an $8 million Hallmark Channel television series. “We are definitely in the hunt,” said Posusta, whose office has made a strong effort to land the deal that could put the district on the national film map and provide many jobs. The pilot show has already been shot for the series, entitled “When Calls the Heart,” which has drawn comparisons with “House on the Prairie.” The story focuses on the adventures of a wealthy young woman from the East, as she tries to adapt to life as a teacher in a Western frontier town around 1910. It is slated to air in 2014, with at least six episodes, with filming planned for nearly 45 days this summer. It will be directed by Michael Landon, Jr.
Recently, a producer from the Hallmark Channel toured the Cripple Creek/Victor district and met with key business leaders, along with Donald Zuckerman, who heads the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media, part of the state office of Economic Development and International Trade. “He (the Hallmark producer) was thoroughly impressed,” said Dettenrieder, who accompanies the producer on the tour. According to Dettenrieder, the Hallmark representative was especially enthused about Victor and the natural setting it could provide for the series they are pursuing. “They couldn’t believe how intact a lot of the old buildings were and the scenery we had to offer,” added Posusta, who was quite bullish about the Hallmark visit. Also, Posusta believes the Cripple Creek/Victor has an advantage with its proximity to a large airport and other infrastructure assets.
However, the Cripple Creek/Victor district isn’t the only area lobbying for the television series deal. Other towns under consideration include Telluride, Silverton and Vancover, Canada. In addition, money could be a crucial factor, as the office of Film, Television and Media is still trying to get more funds to offer television and movie producers key financial incentives, such as cash rebates and even a revolving loan program. “There are no guarantees,” cautioned Dettenrieder.
Zuckerman has been trying to lobby the state lawmakers in an attempt to secure more money, especially to help fund the Hallmark series. He touts a fairly successful track record in the last year, landing at least three film deals and a variety of commercials and documentaries. Money has been the main ingredient lacking in previous film and television pursuits, according to Posusta. “We never really had any incentives to offer,” said the economic development director.
In the past, other state and regional film commissions were explored but they never resulted in any deals. Also, Cripple Creek once hosted a film festival, similar in format to the one in Telluride. However, this festival resulted in a complete failure during the second-year running of the event, according to many reports from business leaders. Both Dettenrieder and Posusta see the Hallmark Channel bid as a huge potential economic development boom. “It would provide us with a lot of great publicity,” said Posusta. And from an economic standpoint, the series would use local actors and would offer a bonanza for local businesses, according to county officials. “It would disperse a lot of money to the area,” admitted the economic development director. “A (television) series is like the ‘Holy Grail,'” said Zuckerman, according to a previous article in the Denver Post. “If we get the right kind of shows here, not only do you employ people but it’s great for tourism.
And even if the district isn’t selected as a host spot for the television series, Posusta see the district’s preliminary success in securing a contender spot in the film arena as a big plus. “At least now, they know about us,” said Posusta.