Local filmmaker shines a spotlight on the Springs

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Hollywood. One word brings to mind the Golden Age of the 1930s, big-budget action flicks long on special effects and short on plot, and understated comedies of the Lost in Translation variety. Bringing to mind the adage about imitation and flattery, movies borrow and steal from one another, and go the route of unimaginative derivation or shine through with a pleasing self-awareness, as in The Player.

But most agree that the majority of flicks coming out of Tinseltown aren’t exactly fulfilling.

A Colorado Springs producer hopes to change that, along with the city’s frugality when it comes to financing and encouraging “the arts.”

Travis Wade, who is 28, was born and raised in Colorado Springs, and has seen a diminished turnout at film festivals. “I’ve noticed a drop in attendance at some film festivals in recent years, and I wonder if it’s all this heavy drama and teen angst. Maybe it’s beginning to leave people with a bad taste in their mouth.”

His film, Hooray for Hollywood, in his own words, is “a movie within a movie within a movie” about a washed-up director. Rick Reynolds hopes to bounce back with the idea of making the worst movie ever (since, he supposes, Hollywood can be counted on to produce garbage consistently). “It’s more lighthearted, a smart comedy people will get into,” said Wade. “We don’t need a story chock full of gratuitous violence, sex and swearing. A person who doesn’t have much talent uses those things. To me, if it’s a good story, we don’t need all that.”

Perhaps not, if the typical box office success of many G- and PG-rated movies is any indication.

With wife, Katie, 18-month-old Jack and another child on the way, Wade is a family man and a regular at Pulpit Rocks Church. The lifelong movie buff says he recognizes the need in a conservative community such as Colorado Springs for a film that reflects the city’s values. And he’s convinced that a smart satire that lacks total irreverence might be just what regular folks are looking for.

Making an independent film required Wade to start his own production company, Big Fat Films, a limited liability corporation that he populated with a team of filmmakers and artists who share his vision, as well as a considerable amount of experience and talent. Wade has 22 years of experience in theater, beginning with childhood acting in local plays. Work at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, a one-year stint as a production assistant at Universal Studios and Disney-MGM Studios in Florida, college theater work at the University of Colorado at Boulder and directing at the Manitou Arts Academy has prepared him for this segue into mainstream filmmaking.

For Hooray for Hollywood, Wade teamed with local screenwriter Luke Gheen, whose credits include co-writing The Last Train North with Clifton Taulbert, which was based on Taulbert’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated autobiographical novel, as well as The Paper Trees of Issaquena County. The two are collaborating on a political thriller that they should finish by autumn. But the local production, though the script is finished, is still on Gheen’s mind. “It’s incredibly exciting,” he said. “It’s always great to see writing come to life, especially with someone like Travis in charge.”

Gheen, who is 25, and his wife, Kristin, also attend Pulpit Rocks. He and Wade met two years ago working on a church stage play.

For Easter services, Gheen wrote The Middle Cross, a modern-day story told from the perspective of the two thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus. Wade had a starring role, and the ambitious production received a fair amount of local media attention.

While working together, Wade and Gheen discovered a mutual interest in creating uplifting stories for mainstream audiences, rather than low-budget religious films that “preach to the choir” as Wade puts it.

Before shooting can begin on Hooray for Hollywood (tentatively scheduled for September) Big Fat Films is working on “packaging,” or the investment process. Finding people who have discretionary cash flow can be an uphill battle. Some investors are looking for a movie that already has a big-name distributor (which can be hard to find with only a script to sell), and oftentimes landing that big distributor means giving up creative control, which Wade is not willing to do. He hopes to direct the film.

“At first it sounds high-risk, but we present (potential investors) with our business plan and once you start telling them about facts and figures, they realize it’s a safe and sound investment.”

The City of Colorado Springs has been very helpful, Wade said, and the movie, with a budget between $2 million and $4 million is sure to bring revenue to local businesses, such as contractors, service providers and restaurants. Wade said he works with the city’s film commissioner, Edwina Foreman, on a daily basis.

**quote(s) from film commissioner**

Colorado Springs residents also might be able to make a little money in the deal, too. Aside from the star of the movie, Regan Burns, who has appeared in television sitcoms and hosts the Spike TV game show “Oblivious,” there will be just three parts filled by out-of-towners. Wade hints there might be an “A-list” actor or two his company is negotiating with, but won’t divulge their names because they are “big shots who are not going to [publicly] involve themselves until you give this project the green light,” which he translates as “that very last dime that you need” to begin shooting. Wade estimates he will cast 30 speaking roles and about 250 non-speaking extras.

“We really want this to be a local movie, and use as much local talent as possible,” Gheen said.

Hooray for Hollywood might be one of a very few movies filmed nearly entirely in Colorado. Though a few scenes have to be shot in Los Angeles, 22 of 25 days of filming will take place within the city limits, downtown and in the Briargate area, with three days scheduled in Denver. If a soundstage is needed, Wade will begin looking locally for something suitable, even if it’s a big, abandoned warehouse.

After just under a month of filming, post-production editing and film festival hunting will begin. Racking up awards at a film festival can’t hurt in landing the big U.S. distributors, along with foreign distributors. Although, for a film this size, only a New York-Los Angeles limited release may be needed to return the investment.

And perhaps Big Fat Films will get blessed with a sleeper hit, such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which cost $5 million to make, and grossed more than $100 million at the box office.

You just never know what Hollywood (and its audiences) will adore.

Winding up in the lineup at the Sundance Film Festival in January isn’t impossible, and Wade said it’s probable, with a lot of hard work between now and then. “They love this sort of movie,” he said. “You know, biting the hand that feeds you.”