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Movie industry veteran sees potential in Valley

Posted: Wednesday, Apr 10th, 2013

Ski-Hi Hollywood? Part-time Moffat resident Doug Lewis thinks the San Luis Valley has the potential to attract more producers and filmmakers to the area. Lewis spoke to local boosters on Tuesday during the 12th Annual San Luis Valley Tourism Conference. Courier photo by Rudy Herndon

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — Doug Lewis will never forget the day that tough guy Lee Marvin pulled him aside and left him a warning: “Kid, I know you got ambitions, but stay away from Hollywood.”

By that time, though, Lewis had already been bitten by the movie bug, and even though many other movie industry veterans share the late “Point Blank” star’s cynicism, he never could.

Lewis was born into the filmmaking business, and as a child, he met Elvis Presley on the set of “Blue Hawaii.” He later had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to work as an extra on the set of the Steve McQueen classic “Bullitt.”

Later on in life, he developed a successful career in global movie production and marketing that allowed him to work with the likes of brothers Ridley and Tony Scott.

Over the years, his job has taken him to various locales around the world. After all he’s seen, however, he believes the San Luis Valley has something special to offer moviemakers.

“There (are) very few places like this,” he said Tuesday.

The part-time Moffat resident, who spoke at the 12th Annual San Luis Valley Tourism Conference, told attendees that the industry looks at three things when it’s developing a project: monetary value, infrastructure and location.

From his perspective, the Valley scores highest when it comes to the final consideration.

The Sangre de Cristo Range, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and the San Juan Mountains are perhaps the most obvious backdrops for movies, TV shows and commercials. But Lewis, who keeps an eye out for unique places whenever he drives around the Valley, thinks there are loads of other filming locations to choose from.

He noted that places like the Colorado Gators Reptile Park or a lumber mill in Saguache would be costly or tough to replicate elsewhere.

“Imagine what it would cost to create that place,” he said.

A handful of producers and filmmakers have already caught on to the area’s potential.

“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and the upcoming Johnny Depp version of “The Lone Ranger” are just a few of the higher-profile movies that brought production crews to locations around the Valley.

Yet the region and Colorado as a whole still lag far, far behind neighboring New Mexico, which has become one of the top destinations for cost-conscious filmmakers.

In the last two fiscal years alone, the New Mexico State Film Office estimates that 24 feature film and television projects poured an estimated $157.5 million into that state’s economy. However, that number doesn’t account for the money that tourists spend to visit the now-famous places around Albuquerque where filmmakers shoot scenes for the TV series “Breaking Bad.”

Spurred on by the Land of Enchantment’s success with tax credits, Colorado now offers filmmakers a 20 percent cash rebate on qualified production costs, as well as a loan guarantee program. In exchange, the Colorado Film Commission requires guarantees that producers will hire state residents to work on their projects, among other things.

While the Valley shares New Mexico’s striking and diverse scenery, it lacks the basic infrastructure that filmmakers can find in Albuquerque or their home base in Hollywood.

In the future, though, Lewis envisions a place where local soundstages, backlots and movie production facilities could serve as the hub for a new industry.

“One of my goals for this valley is to actually pitch the idea of a full-fledged film production studio,” he said.

Obviously, it would take a lot of careful thought and planning before he or anyone else could successfully convince investors to pour tens of millions of dollars into the idea.

“But it’s doable, because the money is out there,” he said.

He believes the project would create steady employment and generate new tax revenue, while giving local residents the chance to learn a professional trade or craft.

“The educational aspect is huge,” he said.

Assuming that his dream comes true, the Valley would still have to retain a competitive advantage over other regions, states or countries.

The question of value, Lewis said, often determines where a movie will be shot, since producers want to get the most out of every dollar they spend.

After the Berlin Wall collapsed and the Velvet Revolution brought an end to Soviet-style communism, the Czech capital of Prague and other locations across Eastern Europe began to fill in for much more expensive places like Paris.

Today, Hollywood is still going overseas in search of a good deal. Increasingly, however, filmmakers are shooting their projects closer to home, thanks to the production tax credits that more and more states have adopted.

New Mexico is probably the most obvious beneficiary of the tax-credit insourcing boom; Louisiana is another.

If the San Luis Valley is going to capitalize on Colorado’s incentives, Lewis said that economic development officials and tourism boosters shouldn’t pin all of their hopes on big-budget productions like “The Lone Ranger.”

“You can’t count on them,” he said.

There may be more opportunities to draw small-scale independent filmmakers to the area. But he believes the greatest potential lies in commercial advertising.

“There’s so much money in advertising, and there are so many production companies out there waiting to hear what a place like this (could mean) to them,” he said.

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