ASPEN - Parts of Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley would be ideal for filming the upcoming Hallmark television series "When Calls the Heart," executive producer Brad Krevoy said Tuesday during a brief interview at a downtown hotel.
"When you explore the Aspen-Snowmass-Basalt area, you realize that all of the elements you are looking for in a Western setting exist here," Krevoy said. "You have a world-class airport and hotels, yet you have all of these great historic and rural locations."
The pilot for the series - which concerns a young woman at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries who takes a teaching job in a small frontier town - already has been shot and airs Oct. 5 on Hallmark. The network has agreed to pick up 13 episodes for a first season of the series, which will begin airing in January.
Filming of the first few episodes will begin in September, said Krevoy, who is a part-time resident of Aspen. His experience with Aspen includes the renovation of the Isis Theater in the late 1990s; he also co-produced the hit 1994 Jim Carrey-Jeff Daniels slapstick comedy "Dumb and Dumber," which has a plot partially set in Aspen (although the Aspen scenes actually were shot in Breckenridge).
"The challenge would be that Aspen is a very private city," Krevoy said. "It also seems to be doing pretty well on its own. But as somebody who has a bit of a history with Aspen - and the Isis Theater and 'Dumb and Dumber' - it would be a dream come true to be able to shoot here."
He said that Michael MacDermott, head of production on the series, is scouting locations throughout Colorado such as Telluride and Georgetown. Aspen also is on the list, although the production team is not sure whether the community or city government would embrace the project.
The team will begin contacting city officials in the coming weeks.
"Aspen is a lot more prosperous than a lot of these other cities we are looking at and may not be as motivated to participate," Krevoy said. "This is also about bringing jobs to an area."
The series is based on the Canadian West Book Series by Janette Oke, and has been written and directed by Michael Landon Jr., son of the late television icon Michael Landon, of "Bonanza" and "Little House on the Prairie" fame. Brian Bird and Michael Landon Jr. are serving as executive producers alongside Kravoy, who is financing the initiative though his company, Los Angeles-based Motion Picture Corp. of America.
The cast includes Maggie Grace, Stephen Amell, three-time Emmy winner Jean Smart ("Designing Women") and Lori Loughlin (the first three seasons of "90120"), who also is a part-time Aspenite. Newcomer Poppy Drayton rounds out the cast, playing Elizabeth Thatcher, a young teacher accustomed to high-society life who receives her first classroom post in a town on the Western frontier.
Chris Bendon, the city's director of community development, said TV and movie shoots are not completely rare here. The most recent one he could remember was "Secrets of Aspen," a short-lived VH1 reality series that aired in 2010 and was poorly received by the community and entertainment critics alike. Described as a "docu-soap," it followed six single women in the "city of haves and have-nots where friction commonly occurs between the two," according to VH1's premiere announcement.
All requests for film shoots start with the City Clerk's Office and the city's Special Events Committee, Bendon said. Other city departments also might become involved, depending on the scope and length of the project. Most requests are handled administratively and don't require City Council approval, he said.
City officials have noted in the past that they cannot judge a request based on a TV or movie project's content.
Krevoy pointed out that his production team is seeking financial assistance through a Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media incentives program, which requires that the content cannot be "obscene" and that at least 50 percent of the project's workforce must consist of state residents.
"It's unique compared to what you see on TV today," he said. "It's family-friendly, ... not edgy."
The Colorado Economic Development Commission has given conditional approval to a rebate of as much as $1.6 million for the series, which will spend an estimated $8 million in Colorado. It's conditional because the state General Assembly is still going through its budget process. Whether the money for film and TV incentives will be available in the next fiscal year, which begins in July, is a matter for lawmakers to decide.
Krevoy said disruptions to the communities that are chosen as shooting locations would be minimal.
"My experience is that shooting on location is an opportunity for people in any city or town to get involved; there are employment opportunities," he said. "And the kinds of locations we are looking for don't really involve shooting in heavily populated areas, such as the Aspen commercial core.
"The Hotel Jerome is so Victorian; it suits a visual image we would like to use. But I'm sure there are other opportunities around. We've had experience shooting all over the world. We have shuttles that take us around, so there are no issues of parking and things like that."