Final Decision Expected ‘Very Soon’
TELLURIDE – Producers of a highly anticipated new Hallmark original television series pushed the pause button on preparations to film their show near Telluride earlier this month, but according to Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser, the show now “appears to be moving ahead … and they are going to supposedly start to work on it next week.”
Site selection and budget have been two big hold-ups, said Fraser, who has been deeply involved in recruiting the family-friendly historical drama When Calls the Heart to the Telluride area. The show is similar in concept to Little House on the Prairie, but is set in a mining town.
Over the past few months, show producers with Frontier Productions have evaluated almost 20 sites in Dolores and San Miguel counties as potential locations for the set for the show, ranging from the old Idarado tailings pile on the east end of Telluride to several sites in the Ilium Valley to locations near Ames and Lizard Head Pass.
Recently, Fraser said, the ghost town of Alta just south of Telluride has emerged as the newest top contender as home to the 1910-era reproduction of the historic Town of Telluride. The area is privately owned by Hewlett-Packard CEO and Telluride region homeowner Meg Whitman.
Colorado Film Commissioner Donald Zuckerman, whose incentive program helped draw the series to the state from Canada, said there is also one other potential new location in the Telluride area under consideration.
Other desirable locations near Telluride that were under consideration have run into “typical ‘Not In My Back Yard’ problems,” Zuckerman said. “It’s been hard finding something that would work.”
The longer it has taken to settle on a location for the show, the more front-loaded the production costs have become – so much so that producers retreated from their previous “full steam ahead” mode in order to execute a cost analysis and resolve their budgetary concerns, Fraser said.
“Word was out that maybe it was over and it wasn’t going to happen,” said Fraser late last week. “But Zuckerman is working with the producers, and they are confident they will be able to resolve their issues.”
Neither Fraser nor Zuckerman nor the show’s executive producer Brian Bird of Frontier Productions would definitively say earlier this week whether the program would still be filmed in Telluride.
“We hope to have a final decision about Telluride very soon,” Bird said Monday. By Tuesday, that decision appears to have been made. Just prior to delivering a report on the uncertain status of the project at the Telluride Town Council meeting, Fraser happened to check his email and found a message from the producers that “it seems to be coming together.”
“It would appear that it is happening,” Fraser said. “There have been so many ups and downs, we just keep working on it. That’s all you can do.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, in Telluride over the weekend to attend the Venture Accelerator conference and to check out The Ride Festival, spent quite a bit of time discussing the status of project with Fraser, and what it means for Colorado and its new film incentive program.
Hickenlooper has been a great supporter of the project; he hosted a press conference in June at the state capitol, at which Hallmark executives and producers with Frontier Productions announced with great fanfare that the show would be filmed in the vicinity of Telluride. There seemed to be a general consensus at that time that the set would be built in the Ilium Valley. Producers scrapped their original idea of using a Superfund mining reclamation site owned by the Idarado Mining Company and controlled by San Miguel County as a potential site after learning they’d have to get permission from 37 landowners in the area.
One of the problems with the Ilium Valley location, Fraser said, has been that “what the producers really wanted was the San Miguel Valley Corporation’s property and they [SMVC] weren’t interested in doing that.”
Alternative property in Ilium Valley offered by San Miguel County had issues of its own, including complications stemming from a historic railroad grade which the San Miguel County Historical Society sought to protect.
At press time, an exact location where the set for the television project will be built had still not been disclosed. “They will probably not build the full set, and may use existing practical locations,” Fraser said, adding that the producers have recently received a commitment from Hallmark to fund 10 episodes of the show to start out, up from the original six.
The process of wooing the television project to Telluride has provided a valuable learning curve for the town, Fraser said.
“I think it probably has taught us some lessons on how in the future we should have local government representatives on the Telluride Film Commission, someone from each jurisdiction,” he said.
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