GUEST COMMENTARY | On Location in Western Colorado

08/30/14 | By | 127 More

The Telluride Film Festival explores new films and honors cinema creativity, but at the same time, it also inspires questions about moviedom’s history and future in western Colorado.

Anyone who lives or visits our area knows that John Wayne’s True Grit was made here. Movie memorabilia adorn a lot of local walls, and some of the old-timers love to share personal photographs taken with the “Duke.” But, did you know that Thelma and Louise (Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon) was filmed at Gateway and Bedrock – remember that final car-into-the-canyon’ scene? Or that Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie) played out their mutual assassination attempts in Glenwood Canyon?  Johnny Depp made two films in western Colorado: Arizona Dream was actually filmed in Gunnison; The Lone Ranger, a box-office bomb that deserved an award for “best hairdressing” (Johnny played the well-coiffed Tonto), was shot in Creede. Remember Starman? That was shot in Fruita.

When were the most films made in western Colorado? That would be the 1960s and 70s, when literally hundreds of films were made here. Most were Westerns starring perennial favorites James Garner, Gene Hackman, Oscar-winning Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou), and John Wayne (The Searchers).

Where were most Colorado films made? Durango has garnered the most film credits with big names, many because of the railroad. Marilyn Monroe made her film debut there with Ticket to Tomahawk (1950). Around the World in 80 Days with David Niven (1956) shot a railroad scene at nearby Rockwood.  Billy Crystal was a City Slicker in mid-life crisis (1991). Robert Redford played an Olympic gold medalist skier in Downhill Racer (1969).  Sly Stallone was a hotshot mountain rescue climber in Cliffhanger (1993). In Nurse Betty (2000), Morgan Freeman and Renee Zellweger kept audiences wide-eyed over their popcorn.  The number-one box office favorite, though, was probably Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) with Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katherine Ross, filmed in Durango, Silverton and Telluride.

Telluride and San Miguel County claim a few titles. Darling Companion’ (2012) starring Kelvin Kline and Diane Keaton was filmed entirely in Telluride. The Prestige (2006) starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman was shot in Telluride and Durango. Starring Charlie Sheen in a parody of Top Gun, the movie Hot Shots (1991) was also filmed here, as was Slap Shot, (1977) starring Paul Newman.

Ouray County gets in on the act with True Grit, of course, which had several scenes shot up on Last Dollar Road and Owl Creek Pass. Many of the sets and buildings created in Ridgway for that movie still stand. Sylvester Stallone shot Over the Top (1987), a typical Sly action-flick, and The Sunchaser (1968) starring Woody Harrelson was filmed in Ouray.

What is the future of film in western Colorado, and when will more movies be made here? “Soon,” says Rick Weaver, son of actor Dennis Weaver (Gunsmoke, McCloud), and a board member of Four Corners Film Office, a division of the Colorado Film Commission. Their mission is “to increase jobs and income from film, television and digital media production in the Four Corners region…by serving as a liaison, facilitator and information hub.”

Weaver, who has over 15 years as an experienced film producer, is a good fit. He is also the only board member to drive over the mountain down to Durango, where FCFO is headquartered and meets bimonthly. He knows what locations need, from catering, lodging and office space to interior and exterior movie sets. “The scenery speaks for itself,” he notes, “and we already have props and equipment, especially for westerns. What we don’t have, we can build.”

One great location could be the Dennis Weaver Memorial Park just north of Ridgway. The family donated land for a 60-acre public park and wildlife preserve accessed from the Weaver’s scenic RiverSage subdivision, which is surrounded by 130 acres of open green space. Dennis and Gerry Weaver also made their home here, a 20-acre property between Ridgway and Telluride (Sunridge, which is now for sale.)

Other celebrities have also chosen western Colorado for permanent or part-time homes, including Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, Darryl Hannah and Debbie Reynolds.

Whether it’s to live or make movies here, western Colorado offers unique locations.  “This area can accommodate most types of film,” Weaver says. “We have the history, the scenery, and people who would like to be involved. I’m scouting right now for locations for future projects.”

For more information about film making in western Colorado, Contact Rick Weaver, rweaver@ridgway.us.

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  1. markf says:

    I’m sorry but I think there is a mistake about where some of the films being shot in Telluride / San Miguel county.

    I do not think any of Cliff Hanger was filmed around Durango. Mostly it was filmed in Italy.

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Newman/Redford was not filmed here. A lower quality sort of C level film “Butch and Sundance The Early Days” was filmed here in the 70’s.

    I’m pretty confidant that none of these were filmed in Telluride:
    Darling Companion’ (2012) starring Kelvin Kline and Diane Keaton was filmed entirely in Telluride. The Prestige (2006) starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman was shot in Telluride and Durango. Starring Charlie Sheen in a parody of Top Gun, the movie Hot Shots (1991) was also filmed here, as was Slap Shot, (1977) starring Paul Newman.

    Some of The Sun Chasers was filmed around here but not in 1968. More like 1989.

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