Show Moves to Vancouver, Citing Financial Reasons
TELLURIDE - The Hallmark Channel’s television series When Calls the Heart pulled the plug on filming in the Telluride area, said Donald Zuckerman, director of the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media. The series, about life in a frontier Western town, will instead be filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, known as “Hollywood North” to many in the industry.
The show’s producers cited financial and budgetary reasons for the change. During early production, the number of episodes in the first season doubled, as did its budget, and eventually exceeded Colorado State’s incentive program, which rebates 20 percent of production costs, with a cap of $2.7 million.
The increase in the show’s budget outsized Colorado’s financial cap to incentivize the production company. “But the mere fact that we were at the table with this company is a big change for Colorado,” Zuckerman, who worked with the state to double its rebate rate last year, added.
The prospect of filming in Telluride presented challenges and delays since May, when producers first asked the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners for permission to film in the area. Multiple locations to construct a film-set replica of historic Telluride were considered throughout eastern San Miguel County, but deemed not logistically feasible for the tight shooting schedule. The production company suggested that mounting costs for filming in San Miguel County were a problem.
The chosen site in Vancouver already has an old Western town film set and offers larger incentives than the $2.7 million than Colorado could offer, Zuckerman said.
Still, Colorado and Telluride, according to a Hallmark Channel press release, made a positive impression.
According to the production team, "Colorado has done everything right and met every expectation," and they "fell in love with Colorado and were incredibly grateful for the efforts of the Telluride community, residents, state and the leadership.”
While Hallmark and the local governments exhausted their options to shoot in the area, the economic impact would have been substantial, and the national exposure for Telluride would have been unprecedented, said Telluride Town Mayor Stu Fraser.
“While this project did not end up here, we have been shown to the state and members of the film industry to be willing to go to the extremes, to support virtually any of the requests put forth,” said Fraser, a former Hallmark employee.
Working with Hallmark generated new collaborations between the Town of Telluride, the U.S. Forest Service, private businesses and homeowners, the Colorado Film and Tourism Commission and the Governor’s office, said Fraser.
Keeping his eye on the future, Fraser added, “Not being part of this series is not the end of our film exposure.”
Indeed, this year alone, Telluride has hosted companies like Toyota, Coors, Sundance Magazine, REI, and Chaco footwear for photograph and film advertisements in throughout the region. The production process infused money into the community, from hiring local talent to filling restaurants, using catering businesses and renting hotel rooms.
“The Coors ad campaign was a big one," said Tim Territo, director of Telluride On Site Productions, a local film production service company that helps with location scouting and scouting, "that was filmed in the off-season, which is always nice for local business. The production was so big that they qualified for Colorado’s incentive program,”
“It’s unfortunate that Hallmark has decided to go to Canada for the series,” Territo added, "but I think that attracting a company like Hallmark speaks to how far the state has come. Don Zuckerman has been instrumental in attracting production companies to this part of Colorado.”
If the show is picked up for another season, Zuckerman said, he is eyeing another round of discussions with When Calls the Heart producers about filming a series in Colorado.
He added that to help avoid another instance of a company moving out of state for budgetary reasons, the Colorado State legislature should consider allocating more money to its rebate program, which ranks comparatively lower than other states'. Neighboring Utah, for example, rebates 25 percent of production costs, and generates millions in revenue for governments and businesses, Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman said that back when Colorado's incentive rebate was only ten percent, “the phone never rang.” Now that the state government has doubled its rebate percentage, he said, it was able to attract interest from a major network like Hallmark.
A visiting big-name filmmaker at the Telluride Film Festival once approached Territo, saying he was interested in shooting in the Telluride area. But once the filmmaker looked into the logistics, Territo said, he pulled back, citinga lack of incentives to film in Colorado.
“There is interest to film here,” Territo said, adding, “I think it’s great we’re now developing substantial incentives to attract this business.”