Ronald Colby Runaway Production Variety
Photograph by Gregg Segal

Film vet says he saw the flight of production from California coming 20 years ago

Ronald Colby, a vet of films and TV shows like Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Outsiders” and the Ed Zwick/Marshall Herskowitz TV movie “Extreme Close-Up,” says he saw the flight of production from California coming 20 years ago.

In 1992, the Vancouver Economic Development Council invited him for an all-expense-paid tour of British Columbia. The Canadian city was just starting to persuade Hollywood that things could be shot there more cheaply.

Six months later Colby took a meeting with MGM TV topper David Gerber, who had also been sweet-talked by the Vancouver lobby. Gerber wanted to shoot the Wes Craven series “Nightmare Cafe” in Vancouver, convinced it would cut production costs.

Colby wasn’t so sure and argued ferociously that the show could shoot for the same cost in L.A., he recalls. “(Gerber) smacked his cane on the desk and shouted, ‘What’s the matter? You’re afraid of the cold? I’ll buy you a mackinaw. I’m talking bottom line, bottom line, bottom line!’

The pilot and series ended up shooting in Vancouver.

Colby, 69, wishes California would fight more aggressively against runaway production. “I understand studio executives will go where they think they’re getting the best deal,” he says, “but movies and TV generate a tremendous amount of money. Tax incentives in other states prey off the fact that people will bring in money and create a new industry and infrastructure. I find it appalling that we’re letting that slip from our grasp.”

As his production work tapered off, Colby saw his colleagues move to boom towns like New Orleans and Atlanta. He decided to stay put and return to his roots by starting a shingle called Artists Confederacy to produce documentaries. One of them, “Pirates for the Sea,” made it to Telluride and aired on Discovery. “Not that there’s a lot of money in it,” he says, “but if you stay behind, you’ve got to re-invent yourself.

“At least I’m still in the film business.”

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