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Things to Do in Denver When You're Filming

The budget for Hot Lead Hard Fury is $20,000 and will be shot in Denver and Englewood.

A publicity still for Jamin Winans' "Ink."

The film Hot Lead Hard Fury will be shot on Super 8 film.

The poster for Hot Lead Hard Fury.

Hot Lead Hard Fury is set to begin filming in late July.

With a new Colorado film incentive on the books and Denver looking at another one for productions in the city, Hollywood has been shooting here more and local independent productions are also on the rise. Can Denver rebuild its film cred back to the halcyon days of Every Which Way But Loose?
While Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead is probably the only film to name-drop the city in its title, Denver has been host to a score of film productions, old, new and even ones in the works today. Now with a new Colorado film incentive and the possibility of a Denver-specific incentive program, things are definitely on the rebound after a dry spell that started in the 1990s.
In the past, the Denver Botanic Gardens popped up in Woody Allen's Sleeper, Colfax Avenue starred in Every Which Way But Loose and Civic Center Park was featured in In the Line of Fire, but more recently national interest in filming in Colorado has waned as New Mexico and Utah -- not to mention Canada -- began offering generous incentives to lure productions there. Meanwhile local filmmakers are making movies, shorts and features that could only come from Denver. 
For instance, The Frame, written and directed by Denver filmmaker Jamin Winans and produced by his wife Kiowa just wrapped up all principal photography of the feature film, which had shoots in and around Denver, including shoots near the Denver Millennium Bridge and near Union Station.

"They're being very tight-lipped about it," says Colorado Film Commission Deputy Commissioner Lauren Grimshaw. Indeed, there's little information about the film available publicly and Winans‘ Double Edge Films did not respond to a request for an interview.

Colorado's Hollywood pushA publicity still for Jamin Winans' "Ink."
The Winans' film didn't have a Hollywood budget, according to Grimshaw. But their budget, at less than $500,000 qualified them for the Colorado Film Commission's cash rebate, which recently got bumped up to 20 percent of the costs associated with filming in Colorado.

"If you're a Colorado company, you only have to spend $100,000 to qualify," Grimshaw explains. "If an L.A. company comes in, they have to spend a minimum of $1 million and they have to hire 50 percent local Colorado crew. It's an economic boost to whichever area they shoot in, and it's also a job creation program."
"We also have a loan guarantee program, which is pretty unique to Colorado," Grimshaw adds. The state can lend up to 20 percent of the local budget and be repaid through the sales. "It's similar to a bank loan but the state would serve as a lender and then get reimbursed as the first one out of the waterfall," she explains.
Both are new and the result of an effort by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who's no stranger to the film business. In 2009 Hickenlooper starred in a documentary called Hick Town -- when he still served as mayor, which was directed by his late cousin George Hickenlooper and produced by Donald Zuckerman. After he became Governor, he lured in Zuckerman to lead the Colorado Film Commission. In 2012 the office persuaded the General Assembly to offer filmmakers better rebates and secured $4 million in annual funding to support the program. Previously, it only offered a 10 percent cash rebate, Grimshaw says. 
Denver's also considering enacting a 5 percent rebate on top of the state rebate. "When you compliment what the state is doing people would literally come here and be able to take advantage of a 25 percent rebate if they do their film here or whatever portion of it they film in Denver is what they would get for the extra 5 percent," says Denver City Councilperson Debbie Ortega who is developing the proposal for a local film incentive program. However, the program won't be introduced for consideration until later in 2013.
"When you see a film that's been done in certain areas there are long effects from that," Ortega says. "I mean you look at Estes Park for example people still go and tour or stay at The Stanley Hotel because they've seen it in Ghost Hunters and the The Shining," she says. (The Timberline Lodge in Oregon served as a stand-in for the Estes Park landmark in the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film, but it got its onscreen moment in the 1997 TV miniseries by Stephen King.)
Grimshaw calls the idea of a Denver film incentive unique. "As far as we know, and we've done a bunch of research on it, San Francisco is the only other city that offers a local rebate in addition to a state rebate. So if we had a state rebate at 20 percent and then a Denver specific rebate that would really put us on the map in terms of being able to compete with New Mexico." 
Filming under the radar The film Hot Lead Hard Fury will be shot on Super 8 film.
Then there are local films with microbudgets, films like Hot Lead Hard Fury. A film that celebrates the exploitation and action films of the '70s and has a planned shoestring budget of about $20,000. That film, which is slated to begin shooting in late July, will largely be shot guerrilla style in Denver and Englewood, say co-stars Jessie Frazier and Mike Van Michaels.

Van Michaels is directing the movie and wrote the screenplay. He previously directed Motor Vixens, a cult-cinema inspired short film and Gears, Grease and Guitars, a documentary about the rockabilly and hot rod culture in Denver. 
"We think it's cool what they [the Colorado Film Commission] are doing, but we're just so far under the radar. We're a blip on the Colorado film scene," he says. "There was a time when we thought we were going to have a decent budget, six figures, but it didn't work out."
"Now that we've dialed everything back, $20,000 would be ideal," Frazier says. "We're still scraping by but we could knock it out with $20,000 for sure," he says. In the movie Frazier plays Chuck Beefer (Frazier's alter-ego from his band Get Three Coffins Ready), an undercover detective whose cover is blown in a sting operation. Van Michaels portrays his hard-hitting partner, Jack Hammer, as Beefer seeks vengeance against those who betrayed him and left him for dead. 
Staying true to form, Michaels is filming the movie on Super 8 film. "We both love that look," Michaels says. "I feel that we can still get a pretty sharp image and we do have a high-def scan. And Jessie and I like the feel of Super 8. It's just more suited for run-and-gun kind of guys that don't have a budget." 
"It's the same argument about vinyl versus the MP3," Frazier chimes in. "All the films that influence us and that we're kind of combining in this film -- kung fu flicks, martial arts, action cop films from the 70s, there was always a real awesome slow motion scene. It really lends itself to that."
Since most of Hot Lead Hard Fury will be shot guerrilla-style and on location, Michaels and Frazier are relying on friends and businesses friendly to their project. "3 Kings Tavern is always a great location for us. We filmed the bulk of our trailer there. There are local businesses that always support us and the arts and 3 Kings has always been one." 
They also anticipate working with other local businesses like Deer Pile  and shooting on location at places that have the vintage feel like Breakfast King, which is a possible location. "We're technically in preproduction so we're still trying to hammer all that out," Michaels explains.
To help raise funds for the film Frazier and Michaels launched an Indiegogo campaign earlier this year. "For the Indiegogo campaign we had to set a goal. We kind of shot for the stars knowing we weren't going to get that amount so we threw out $20,000 on that. I think we ended somewhere near $5,000," Frazier says. "A lot of that was through friends and also new people that just believed in the project, so the Indiegogo people were huge."
They also looked for private investors. "One guy just contributed a good amount and he goes, 'I'm just going to let you do your shit, man,'" Michaels says. While they're well on their way to making the movie, more money couldn't hurt. "We still could use additional funds for production costs, really." 
Additional funds could also help them move up their timeline and help publicize the movie once it's completed. And, "If we don't get traditional distribution, we're going to start looking to DIY and that may cost money," Michaels explains. 
Today, films like this can pay a company to place the film in an art house cinema in New York or put it on a video on demand service. "A lot of films that weren't being completed five years ago are now being completed and are being seen by people through video on demand and Redboxes and Netflixes. Stuff that wasn't available then but a very feasible option now," Frazier contends.
"I think the important thing that potential investors are looking at is do we have a focus on our market," Michaels says. "We not only know who are market is, we know where they are, we know what they listen to, we know what they watch, we know what they drink, eat. We fucking know our market. That's a good thing investors like."


Read more articles by Chris Meehan.

Chris is a Denver-based freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. He covers sustainability, social issues and other topics.
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