By Samantha Wright | Telluride
Jackson is among the stars in The Hateful Eight, Academy Award winning writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s hotly anticipated post-Civil War western that’s being filmed right now on location at Schmid Ranch on Wilson Mesa, 10 miles west of Telluride.
Some of the scenes needed to be shot in a blizzard, but the San Juan Mountains were in the midst of a weeks-long snow drought.
The night after his Tonight Show appearance, Jackson was back in Telluride, throwing mock “skis” made out of a fence posts into a bonfire in Elk’s Park at the ski burn the town had organized – a pagan appeal to the snow gods.
One week later, it was dumping snow.
“How cool is that?” asked Telluride Tourism Board President and CEO Michael Martelon, recalling the remarkable series of events. “They’ve had beautiful days all winter, and when they need exterior shots it dumps 30 inches and they’re good to go.”
For those whose job it is to keep their eye on Telluride’s reputation and bottom line, this is the stuff of legends, and it translates into the kind of publicity that money can’t buy.
“From a tourism perspective, the ripple effects of having The Hateful Eight in Telluride are beyond comprehension,” Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser said.
HOW TELLURIDE BAGGED TARANTINO
It almost didn’t happen.
According to Fraser, The Hateful Eight was set to be filmed at Powder Mountain, Utah – a state that offers more generous film incentives than Colorado – but the film’s location manager, John Minor, intervened on Telluride’s behalf.
Minor had been to Schmid Ranch many times for commercial shoots and thought it was the perfect place to set the film. The problem was, Tarantino and the film’s producers “didn’t know much about Telluride, if anything,” Fraser said.
Minor convinced them to travel to Telluride under the radar in order to quietly scope things out.
Long story short, “They came to town last fall and fell in love with it,” Fraser said. A few days later, Fraser got a call from Donald Zuckerman, the commissioner of the Colorado Office of Film Television & Media, asking for help setting up a dinner for seven.
The intimate group that gathered in the private back room at the Sheridan Hotel a few days later included Zuckerman, Fraser, Telluride Town Manager Greg Clifton and several high-profile producers including G. Mac Brown, who explained that Tarantino was “very interested in Telluride” (and specifically Schmid Ranch) as the location for the primary set pieces for his new film, The Hateful Eight.
“They started tossing out actors’ names like Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Channing Tatum. I knew this was not the Hallmark When Calls the Heart kind of crew,” Fraser said, referring to a television series that almost got located in Telluride in 2013 but at the last minute shifted to Canada.
The script for The Hateful Eight called for a winter shoot, and with the season of snow right around the corner, many things had to fall into place in a hurry in order to make it all happen. The San Miguel County Commissioners fast-tracked the special use permit process to allow the film to be shot at Schmid Ranch.
“They supported it wholeheartedly, and got the whole process completed in one public meeting,” Fraser said. “That really helped out.”
Then, the set pieces had to be built – an outhouse, and a large barn-like structure housing a stagecoach outpost called Minnie’s Haberdashery – and accommodations had to be arranged for a crew of up to 200 people who would be coming to work on the movie during Telluride’s peak winter season.
Fraser estimates that altogether, the Town of Telluride provided between $40,000 and $50,000 worth of incentives to the Tarantino production, including free use of a parking lot across from the post office, and upgrades to the Youth Link facility on Pacific Street that is now doubling as office space for some of the production crew.
He says it was well worth the expense and effort. “With somewhere between 150 and 200 people in town, that amounts to over 9,000 lodging nights during our winter season,” Fraser said. “So, that’s an estimated $1 million-plus in lodging dollars.”
TELLURIDE TAXES BY THE NUMBERS
Real Estate Transfer Tax
2014-Highest amount ever-$5,814,993
2006-Highest year before 2014 $5,322,861
Sales Tax Revenue
2014 – Highest Year ever-$5,656,904.97 (14.9% increase)
2013 – Highest year before 2014-$4,923,476.67
2014 – December-highest month ever-$725,596.75
2014 – March-highest month ever before December-$647,009.96
2014 – Each month was the highest month on record
The cast started arriving in early December and filming began Jan. 8. “It has had an amazing impact on businesses,” said Fraser. “We are seeing multi-millions of dollars flowing into the region for food and beverage, retail and lodging.”
And that, in turn, has added up to record sales taxes for the Town of Telluride. December 2014 (the month that The Hateful Eight hit town) was Telluride’s best month ever for gross taxable sales revenue. The town banked $725,596.75 in sales tax.
But that’s just part of the story. Telluride has experienced a year over year increase in sales tax revenues for four straight years now, culminating in 2014 – Telluride’s highest year ever for gross sales tax revenues at $5,656,904 (a 14.9 percent increase over the previous highest year in 2013.) Indeed, each month of 2014 was the highest month on record, year over year.
“This year is substantially better than last year,” Fraser said. “We were already up 13 percent, prior to The Hateful Eight. What we are seeing is just an unbelievably strong 2014, built upon extremely strong years before that, and The Hateful Eight played a major part, but was not the only factor. It was a whole bunch of things.”
On Hollywood terms, The Hateful Eight is not a high-dollar film. Its original budget was $44 million, with a $4 million contingency – $25 million of which its producers projected would be spent on-location.
Back in September, Zuckerman got a call from the film’s executive producers, who explained that they liked a site in Telluride but wanted to discuss the incentive situation because they were also considering other places in neighboring states – especially Utah.
Colorado’s film incentive program offers tax credits – basically a rebate – equalling 20 percent of a project’s local spend, with the caveat that 50 percent of the crew must be hired locally. Zuckerman told the producers that as long as they met the local hire quota, The Hateful Eight would qualify for a $5 million rebate – the sum total of Zuckerman’s entire incentive budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
However, he could guarantee only $3.5 million – the amount that was left in his pot for the current fiscal year after having already incentivized several other projects. “I told them that assuming we received funding for FY2015-16 which starts July 1, we would earmark an additional $1.5 million for them, if they in fact earned it,” he said.
The risk was to the applicant, not to the State of Colorado, Zuckerman stressed. “It’s important to understand that we are not promising something we don’t have,” he said. “We are promising to try to get it, and if we do get it, they will get what they are entitled to.”
As it turns out, Zuckerman said, the film producers are now projecting that The Hateful Eight will go over $25 million in its local spend – partly because of the lengthy snow drought in January and February that postponed the filming of key scenes.
That means the film project will be spending more time, and more money, in Telluride.
Part of Zuckerman’s job is to closely track the benefits of the incentive program he oversees. The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which in turn oversees Zuckerman’s office, subscribes to an online media monitoring service called Meltwater to track the number of times that an article anywhere in the world has the words “Hateful Eight” and “Colorado” in the same story, and the number of unique views that each of these stories gets.
“By the end of December, we had 1.4 billion unique hits,” Zuckerman said. “That’s one in five people in the world.”
And that’s only counting unique hits coming from individual IP addresses. “There have been many repetitive hits, too,” he added. “It’s an enormous number. And it bodes well. If people are thinking about taking a vacation or going someplace, the more they hear the name of a place they associate with something they care about, the more likely they are to go there. More than likely, there will be a huge tourism impact from this film.”
That amount of media exposure translates to an advertising value equivalency (the estimate of what it would cost if those articles were paid advertising) of over $12 million – and that was before the film had even started shooting.
“This is going to go on and on and on,” Zuckerman said. “Throughout the shoot, and when the movie is finished and ready to come out, there will be a lot of mentions of Telluride, Colorado.”
Then, of course, there’s the inestimable added value of social media. Meltwater reports show that #H8fulEight Tweets had over a billion hits in December. “It is impossible to place a dollar amount on the value of Samuel L. Jackson sending out Tweets with selfies on location in Telluride,” Zuckerman said.
LOCAL BUSINESSES SEE BIG BOOST
Hard figures on how much money The Hateful Eight has brought to Telluride won’t be released until Martelon has had a chance to really dig into the data – at the earliest, in a month’s time. But local business owner Stu Armstrong already knows exactly how much of an impact the film has had on his business so far – $140,000 in four months.
Armstrong was so busy at Telluride Tire and Auto the other day that he didn’t have time to come up for breath to do an interview. The next day, at a quieter moment, he confessed that he was still a little stunned at the impact Tarantino’s production has had on his auto repair and tire business.
“A lot of people have been talking about the pros and cons of having a movie in town, but this is the first time in 18 years of doing business in Telluride when my business has actually had a direct impact from whatever is in town,” said Armstrong.
Sure, Bluegrass and Blues & Brews bring a lot of people into town, and Armstrong ends up selling a few batteries and headlight bulbs, “but I don’t think I have ever billed Planet Bluegrass for anything; they have all their own stuff,” he said.
When The Hateful Eight came to town last fall, “I had no idea what kind of an impact it would have,” he said. Since then, he’s seen his best November, December, January and February, ever. And it’s all due to the movie.
November is consistently Armstrong’s highest-grossing month, because that’s when folks tend to buy snow tires for their cars. In November 2013, Armstrong’s business grossed $230,000. In 2014, he grossed $280,000.
“January was the same way, he said. “My best January before this year was $90,000. This year, it was $180,000 – way over the top, and all due to the film.”
In November and December, the extra business came mostly from snow tire sales – about $40,000 worth. “It was overwhelming, the amount of business they brought to us, but they paid well, and it’s been great,” Armstrong said. “It definitely put my business over the top and brought in work and business I would never see otherwise. I personally am thrilled to death that they are here.”
It’s not just snow tires and auto repairs that are keeping Armstrong busy. He has come to the rescue with his tow truck on more than one occasion. “They are all from L.A. and no one knows how to drive in the snow up here,” he explained. “They are the friendliest people I have ever dealt with – they are so grateful and thankful for my help.”
Armstrong’s wife, who runs the Telluride branch of Hertz, has a monopoly on the local rental car business, and has been getting tons of business from The Hateful Eight, too.
“She rents the cars and I put the tires on them,” Armstrong explained. When the movie is done, he’ll take off the studded tires that he sold to them, put back on the regular ones, and the car will go back to Hertz.
He hasn’t figured out yet what he’ll do with all those gently used snow tires.
Another refreshing change has been that cost is no object for the movie crew. “For them, it’s not about the money; it’s about how fast can I get them in and get them out. If one part of this movie has to wait on another part, it’s ten thousand dollars an hour, and someone will lose their job. You’ve got movie stars standing around doing nothing.”
Armstrong is the first to admit that he and his family are benefiting from The Hateful Eight. And he says the community will also benefit from his success. After stashing away some of his profits for a rainy day, he says he’ll use a lot of the extra money to improve his inventory and buy better equipment like a new hoist – upgrades that he wouldn’t have been able to do before without borrowing a lot of money.
“I will have better buying power to pass on to my local customers and save them money,” he said.
Armstrong knows plenty of other folks who have directly benefited from the film as well – from gas station owners to snowmobile touring companies. His brother-in-law, who has a small construction business in Norwood, got hired on to help with snow removal.
A RISING TIDE…
Even for businesses that are not seeing a huge direct impact from the film, “it’s raising the water so all boats can float,” said BootDoctors proprietor Penelope Gleason. She saw quite a bit of business, back in November and December, from all those crew members from L.A. “who arrived without proper clothing for the extraordinarily cold weather we had early in the season,” she said. “But it’s not like we have Samuel L. Jackson walking in and buying a new ski setup.”
Although having the film in town has not dramatically boosted her bottom line, “We have been feeling the impact on the local community in positive way,” Gleason said. “When other folks are all doing well, theoretically they go out and spend a little more money themselves, so the money recirculates in the community, if people choose to buy local.”
And, Gleason added, “It’s fun too, to have these folks around town, regularly hanging out at local coffee shops, restaurants, bars, walking down the street.”
The only downside, as far as Gleason is concerned, is that she did lose a great employee who quit BootDoctors to go work for the film production, possibly launching a new career.
IN RIDGWAY, NO ROOM AT THE INN…
Since their lodging in Telluride was only booked through the third week in February, over 60 crew members from The Hateful Eight recently shifted their digs to Ridgway, where they will stay for the remainder of the film shoot.
Altogether, the film production has booked 25 rooms at the Chipeta Solar Springs Resort and 39 rooms at Ridgway Lodge and Suites, according to Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce president Gail Ingram.
For Ridgway Lodge and Suites manager Charisse Spear, it’s like Christmas in February. “It’s had an awesome impact on me,” she said. “They booked my hotel for three weeks. Usually it’s dead, dead, dead this time of year. It’s going to have a large impact on our bottom line.”
Not only will the 60-plus extra people in town be a boon to Ridgway’s lodging and dining establishments and watering holes, but “financially, the Lodging and Occupancy Tax will be a huge benefit for the Chamber as well,” said Ingram.
THE POLITICS OF INCENTIVES
In spite of the obvious local economic benefits associated with film incentives, there is always a bit of insecurity about whether the state legislature will fund Colorado’s film incentive program from year to year.
“We are in the Governor’s budget for $5 million for FY2015-16, but it’s ultimately in the hands of the joint budget committee and the legislature whether we will get funded at this level,” Zuckerman said. “The JBC could give us more – which is unlikely – and they could give us less, or nothing. We just don’t know.”
Adding to the uncertainty, the legislature has a considerably different make-up this year, and some of the more conservative newly elected senators and representatives may have ideological opposition to the film incentive program. “We are holding our breath and hoping the legislature sees the benefit of all this business and press, at a very low cost,” said Zuckerman. “You can’t always convince everybody.”
But, he pointed out, “We collect a lot of taxes on this money that’s spent. The payroll taxes alone add up to a lot of the cost of the incentives. Add to that the hotel taxes, food and beverage taxes, and sales taxes, and it really doesn’t cost all that much.”
Before the State of Colorado introduced its film incentive program several years ago, not a single film project had been done in Colorado for four years. “Since we had the incentive, we have had a number of movies get made in Colorado – two of which premiered at Sundance this year,” Zuckerman said.
Film producers are very much aware of the competing incentive programs offered by various states, and will often go where they get the best deal.
Colorado’s incentive program, funded at a maximum of $5 million annually, competes for films with neighboring states including Utah and New Mexico, which both have considerably more robust incentive programs. New Mexico’s program is ten times as big as Colorado’s – with $50 million in annual funding – and offers rebates of up to 30 percent of the local spend. Utah, also a much smaller state population-wise than Colorado, funds its incentive program at $6.7 million annually, and offers a 25 percent rebate.
Several states in the southeast also compete for films. Georgia and Louisiana offer 30 percent and 35 percent incentives respectively, with no cap on annual funding.
In short, Colorado’s small film incentive program has plenty of room to grow – “But of course it’s up to the legislature,” Zuckerman said.
ABOUT THE FILM
The Hateful Eight is set in Wyoming following the Civil War. The story follows two bounty hunters, a tough female prisoner and a local sheriff as they wait for a storm to pass with four men who may or may not be attempting to free the prisoner.
The star-strewn production is chock-a-block full of past Tarantino collaborators including Samuel L. Jackson (Major Marquis Warren), Kurt Russell (Jon “The Hangman” Ruth), Walton Goggins (Chris Mannix), Tim Roth (Oswaldo Mobray) and Michael Madsen (Joe Gage), starring alongside Bruce Dern, who plays General Smithers.
Tarantino newcomers Channing Tatum and Jennifer Jason Leigh are also in the cast. Leigh plays the female lead, Daisy Domergue, wanted for her husband’s murder.
Written and directed by Tarantino, The Hateful Eight is produced by long-time Tarantino collaborators Richard N. Gladstein, Stacey Sher and Shannon McIntosh. Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein and G. Mac Brown are the film’s executive producers, and Coco Francini and William Paul Clark are associate producers.
The film is a far cry from the last incentivized project Telluride attempted to woo to town – a Hallmark television series When Calls the Heart that ultimately opted to locate in Canada.
Tarantino is a lifelong fan of the TV westerns of the 1960s – Bonanza, The Virginian, High Chaparral. His favorite episodes were always those where “a bunch of outlaws would take the lead characters hostage,” he recalled in an interview in Deadline.com last November. “And I thought, what if I did a movie starring nothing but those characters? No heroes, no Michael Landons. Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens.”
The film is being shot in 70 mm as opposed to digital.“We are literally coming out with the biggest wide screen movie shot in the last 40 years,” Tarantino said.
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