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Filmmaking is a fast-growing, billion-dollar industry in Denver and Colorado, and with the right investment, is poised to flourish, according to a new study published by Denver Arts & Venues and Colorado Creative Industries. 

The State of Colorado and City and County of Denver agencies commissioned the multi-year Colorado Film Study in 2019 to better understand the needs and opportunities of Colorado’s and Denver’s filmmakers. Denver-based nonprofit Cine Fe conducted more than 150 interviews with Coloradans working across ten subsectors of the industry, while Dr. Michael Seman with Colorado State University analyzed jobs and revenue data for the film, television, and media industries in Denver, in Colorado, and in other states.

“We wanted to hear directly from the filmmaking artists and professionals what their aspirations were and what challenges stood in the way, and then outline a path forward,” said previous director of Colorado Creative Industries, Margaret Hunt. “We found that this industry represents an incredible opportunity, both economically and culturally, and the industry’s success would benefit all Coloradans.” 

“We’re extremely proud of the partnership between our offices and we're excited for the role the study will play in bringing awareness about the significant contributions by Denver and Colorado filmmakers and in building advocacy to support this important sector in our creative economy,” said Ginger White, Denver Arts & Venues executive director.

“This study was championed by those in our film community who recognize the growing potential in the industry and the opportunity to champion for and develop a more sustainable, inclusive and flourishing sector,” added Lisa Gedgaudas, Denver Arts & Venues cultural affairs program manager, and one of the study’s lead coordinators. 

The study found that between 2011 and 2019, employment in Colorado’s film industry grew faster (43%) than the national film industry (30%) and faster than all Colorado employment growth (21%) during that time. However, a lack of investment in infrastructure, support programs, and incentives has made it difficult for members of Colorado’s film industry to grow their projects, companies, and careers. These challenges were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in more job losses in Colorado’s film industry than in the industry nationally, underscoring both the need and opportunity for Denver and Colorado’s leaders to invest in Colorado filmmaking. 

Key highlights from the study include:

Colorado and Denver’s film and media industry is large, economically robust, and growing rapidly. This growth appears to be occurring primarily in commercial video production.

●    In 2019, Colorado’s film industry generated more than $1 billion in sales of goods and services. Denver’s film industry generated $727.4M in 2019 (69%).
●    As of 2019, more than 15,000 Coloradans worked in the film industry. Of those, more than 8,700 (55%) worked in the Denver Metropolitan Area.
●    Between 2011 and 2019, employment in Colorado’s film industry grew 43%, which was faster than the industry nationally (30%) and faster than all Colorado employment growth (21%) during that time.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to severe job and revenue losses in Colorado’s film industry at a greater percentage than both the national film industry and the state’s total job market.

●    Between 2019 and 2021, Colorado’s film industry lost 4,092 jobs (-25.7%), compared to the national film industry (-19%) and the state’s total job market (-1%). Denver’s film industry lost 2,200 jobs (-25.1%).
●    Between 2019 and 2021, Colorado film industry’s sales of goods and services fell 8.4% from $1.04 billion to $959.9M. Denver’s film industry sales fell 10.1% from $727.4M to $653.7M.

Throughout 2019, the study’s researchers were initially struck by the discrepancy between challenges described by the filmmakers they interviewed and the robust economic data.

“A majority of interviewees told us how few jobs there were and how hard it was for them to grow their companies and careers. At the same time, the economic data showed that despite those obstacles, Denver and Colorado filmmakers have nonetheless driven significant growth in employment and sales through their own ingenuity and creativity,” said Dr. Michael Seman, assistant professor of arts management at Colorado State University and one of the study’s researchers. “When the pandemic arrived, both Denver’s and Colorado’s film industries experienced a much higher rate of job losses than the national industry. This points to the fact that in the absence of readily available jobs in studios or large production companies over the past decade, filmmakers in Colorado were freelancing or starting their own small companies. This entrepreneurialism propelled sales and employment for the city and state, but it also left these filmmaking artists and professionals especially vulnerable to an economic downturn.” 

The study’s researchers suggest that a lack of investment in incentives, infrastructure, and support programs may help explain why the city and state’s film industry incurred such heavy employment losses.

Nonetheless, the researchers say that the overall story is one of potential waiting to be unlocked. 

“For more than a decade, Denver and Colorado’s filmmaking artists and professionals have been building growth and delivering a massive return to the city and state, despite considerable challenges” says researcher and Cine Fe executive director, John Van Wyck. “This study shows what will become possible when we start investing time, attention, and resources to help them grow.” 

Read the full study.