Focused on Steamboat

Recent TV productions rekindle interest in Yampa Valley Film Board

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The previously dormant Yampa Valley Film Board is hoping to build newfound momentum on the strength of the two national TV productions that were under way here during the Independence Day weekend.

In the midst of all the Fourth of July parades and rodeos, Base Camp Productions was wrapping up 17 days of shooting a reality show called "Cattle Drive" for cable TV. At the same time, a film crew from National Geographic Explorer was producing a re-enactment of the April rescue of Charles Horton.

The presence of the film crews provided a boost for local businesses and freelancers ranging from video camera operators to lodging properties, caterers and cattle wranglers. It also stands to benefit the resort community in terms of the public relations it could generate, Chamber communication director Riley Polumbus said.

However, it remains an open question whether the burst of activity will lead to more national video TV productions coming to the valley, or whether it someday will be remembered as an anomaly.

As a member of the Film Board, and a professional who works as a location scout, and a crew member for a variety of productions, Greg Hughey has insights into what needs to happen next.

"The Film Board has kind of fallen apart," Hughey said. "We used to meet once or twice a year in the late 1990s. We can definitely build on the exposure" of the recent productions. "Film production companies don't like to gamble with other people's money, so they'll go for the tried and true. That's why so many films look the same. It's a highly risky business and it's a highly expensive business."

Hughey said the first project the Film Board needs to do is update its film production guide. The guide allows film and TV producers to find out in a glance what existing businesses in the area are available to support a production. Their needs range from hair and makeup artists to equipment rental companies.

Polumbus said she already is working with the Chamber's Web site to adapt its search engines to break out appropriate businesses from the existing database of Chamber members.

The challenge of publishing a printed version of the database, Polumbus said, is that it takes months to complete and by the time it's finished, it's already out of date.

"We already update our membership database on a weekly basis," Polumbus said.

Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord is a member of the Film Board. She said the effort to reinvigorate the board's activities is worthwhile.

"I'm so excited these two productions were here on top of each other," DuBord said. "The benefits are twofold. You can't buy the kind of marketing we're going to get from this exposure on television, and the residual economic development is significant. It's a lot of money.

DuBord said the Asso--ciation of Film Commissions International estimated several years ago that a crew filming a feature motion picture would spend about $100,000 a day on location. A made-for-TV movie production might spend $85,000 a day. Commercial shoots spend

between $25,000 and $100,000 a day. Documentary productions range between $15,000 and $35,000 a day.

DuBord said the city and county formerly funded the Yampa Valley Film Board, but in another era, local government decided to rely on the State Film Commission to promote Colorado locations to the industry. When funding for tourism at the state level underwent severe cuts, funding for marketing Colorado to the film industry largely dried up with it.

Today, the Yampa Valley Film Board can apply to the state for reimbursement of funds used to attract film productions through Routt County's status as an Enterprise Marketing Zone. If the Chamber spent $8,000 or more (including Polumbus' time) to attract film production crews, it could apply to the state for the reimbursement of as much as $4,000, DuBord said. Similarly, it could seek reimbursement of 50 percent of lower amounts.

Hughey's company is High Drama Productions, Ltd. He operated a camera for Base Camp last month as it filmed a reality show that was based on the premise of gathering a group of adult children of celebrities and immersing them in a situation where they were completely out of their element. In this case, they were required to assume the challenges of becoming real cowboys and cowgirls, culminating with a cattle drive down Steamboat's main street on July 3.

"Human drama results from conflict," producer Chris Ebber said. Ebber worked hard during the 17 days of production to keep the celebrity participants insulated from the outside world, denying them access to the comforts and diversions of downtown Steamboat Springs.

The show was shot about 10 miles west of Steamboat at Saddleback Ranch.

Hughey said it was a struggle at times for local video camera operators and sound technicians to meet the needs of Base Camp Productions. The shooting was taking place day and night, Hughey said, and Base Camp needed to draw on local talent to shoot to reduce the amount of overtime it had to pay its "A-list" camera operators.

"It takes a lot of manpower and they didn't have enough crew," Hughey said. "I did night shoots for them for three days and it was grueling work. I was on 12-hour shifts."

At one point, Hughey said, he was scrambling to do the work normally done by two camera operators.

"Reality TV is about dialogue," Hughey said. "That normally takes two cameras."

When the Base Camp crew lacked a second cameraman one night, Hughey found himself running around a table to capture both sides of a conversation between two contestants.

"I had a bug in my ear," Hughey said, "and the director was giving me constant instructions. I got some good stuff, but for three hours, I was sweating pretty hard."

Hughey worked as a soundman on the Geographic Explorer shoot, which was titled "Mysteries of Survival."

About one-third of the show will be based on the experiences of Horton, who survived eight nights alone in the Flat Tops mountains in April with a badly broken leg. The show will explore why some people survive ordeals like Horton's and other do not. Hughey was impressed with the scientific approach the Geographic producers took and their devotion to authenticity. Those guys bent over backwards to get the details right," Hughey said.

Mysteries of Survival was filmed on Buffalo Pass to take advantage of the availability of early July snow. Hughey said the staff of the Hahn's Peak Ranger District of the Medicine Bow Routt National Forest was exceptionally helpful in expediting the necessary permits.

Similarly, DuBord said the city of Steamboat Springs devoted considerable resources to accommodating "Cattle Drive," doing the necessary work to keep Lincoln Avenue blocked from traffic for an extra hour, and providing a ladder truck as a camera platform.

Steamboat's next shot in the limelight is expected to come later this summer, Hughey said, when a TV crew comes to cover Triple Crown youth baseball games. Those games are tentatively expected to air late nights on ESPN.

Ebber said it was difficult to make the decision to bring "Cattle Drive" to Steamboat Springs because Colorado doesn't provide the financial incentives that other states offer TV production companies. New Mexico competed hard to land the show, Ebber said. In the end, it was the existence of a dependable July 3 cattle drive that persuaded Base Camp to come to the Yampa Valley.

Members of the Yampa Valley Film Board say they'll work to give production crews more reasons to train their cameras on the Yampa Valley.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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