Behind the scenes with the Utah Film Commission
March 1, 2013
The movie industry has dominated the news lately and Parkites have had a front row seat to many of the stories. Eight films that premiered during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival were mentioned during last Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony and over the past few weeks, movie crews have been a familiar part of the Park City landscape. They have been all over town filming the Disney Channel’s upcoming snowboarding feature "Cloud 9."
The fact that moviemakers feel welcome in Park City is no accident. Park City Film Commissioner Sue Kapis and the Utah Film Commission work hard to make the city and its surroundings film-friendly.
The benefits are two-fold.
Production crews stimulate the state’s economy to the tune of $120 million on average annually while the film is being made, according to the Utah Film Commission.
Park City also enjoys an economic boost from every film made in town, but the funds are combined with the town’s lodging and sales tax, so an average yearly total isn’t pinpointed, said Kapis.
The other benefit comes when the final product is screened or shown on TV, because Utah’s scenery, including Park City, gets a share of the limelight.
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While the Utah Film Commission markets the state as a filmmakers’ paradise, it is Kapis’s job to ensure they find the resources they need when they want to do some shoots in Park City.
She hooks them up with local experts and city officials who can help their projects run smoothly.
"Sometimes I get calls from people who are looking for crew or a certain location, and I refer them to the Utah Film Commission," Kapis said during an interview with The Park Record. "Other times the Commission will call me for help about a lodging question or photos for a particular project and I will see if I can find the right people who can accommodate."
When it comes to filming permits, Kapis refers the filmmakers to Max Paap, the special events coordinator for Park City Municipal.
"The most common requests we get are for the small, man-on-the-street interview-type permits during Sundance Film Festival," Paap said. "Those are requested by a small crew with portable cameras who don’t obstruct traffic and who don’t make a spectacle of themselves."
Other times the requests are for larger permits such as the ones required for "Cloud 9."
"That was pretty intensive," Paap said about the "Cloud 9" permit. "They filmed on two sites in the Old Town area — Main Street and on Park Avenue — and at Park City Mountain Resort and Park City High School.
"They required some additional city services to help them do what they needed to do, but they also did some groundwork themselves," he said. "They canvassed the area well to make sure the businesses were made aware that there will be some filming in the area."
Paap said he receives permit applications from various types of studios.
"We work with reality TV — HGTV, E! Network and the Sundance Channel were all up here for a while, and we try to help them by hooking them up with the right people," he said. "We connect them to different land owners so they can get proper permission, so they don’t boldly go to places they shouldn’t. We want to make sure they don’t have a negative impact on the neighborhoods or on the town."
Another reason for the permits is to give warnings to neighborhoods and businesses of inconveniences.
"We like to give neighborhoods and businesses what the filmmakers have told us they are planning to do, and we want them to know that we are careful with parking mitigation," he said. "We don’t want trailers on Main St., so we work with the Chamber and implement the mitigation.
The application process is like a filter.
"We take the initial application and process it through the Park City Municipal code and they get the permit through us," Paap said. "We prefer it if an application comes at least a week before the filming is to begin."
Some applications are submitted on the fly, because the location scouts will see something catches their eye, and other times it’s more of an involved process, he said.
"If they are interested in an area in Summit County and not Park City, I refer them the to Summit County Planning Department," Paap said. "The jurisdictions are also different for other areas such as Jordanelle, which is a State Park. So, we do a little hand-holding to make sure they get what they need."
Paap has issued permits for a variety of projects including an episode of "ER," Lawrence Kasdan’s 2012 film "Darling Companion" and a Traveler’s Insurance commercial that featured a pack of dogs running up and down Main Street.
"That was a big ordeal for 40-seconds of fame," Paap said about the commercial with a laugh. "They filmed for two days, but I understand the nature of the business and I’m sure they had to make it look right to please the right people."
Other Film Commissioners
Park City isn’t the only area in Utah that has a Film Commissioner, said Marshall Moore, director of the Utah Film Commission.
"There are offices in St. George, Kanab, Utah Valley, Ogden, Davis County and Heber, to name a few," Moore said. "All those areas have a go-to person for those areas, because they get a fair amount of film work."
In addition to Park City, Heber and Midway had quite a bit of filming this past year.
"Filming was heavy on Christmas movies and Westerns, and Heber has the train and the small-town environment, as well as a lot of open space," Moore said.
Utah’s relationship with films
Utah’s partnership with the film industry dates back to the 1920s in Moab and Monument Valley.
"That is where the first-ever film commission began," Moore said. "They needed a point person when director John Ford came and scouted for locations for his movies and later with John Wayne. It’s still there and it’s called the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission and it only covers that area."
In 1974, the Governor’s office established the official Utah Film Commission.
"Our job is to make sure production happens in Utah, because, in essence, we are a promotional and marketing agency, established to created economic development through the film and TV industry," Moore explained. "We help with film, TV programs, commercials, music videos, documentaries and anything that has a camera that employs people. That gives us the opportunity to promote the state in the process."
The commission also helps filmmakers find crewmembers and equipment for their films.
"Part of our infrastructure is that we do have three A-level crews who can work on these projects," Moore said. "We have two full-service grip and electric companies.
We have an abundance of trailers and trucks that are designed specifically for the motion picture industry and we have access to post-production facilities here as well that can assist in editing."
In addition, the Utah Film Commission is a service agency.
"Those services including the initial scouting process, while providing resources or assistance with the motion picture incentive program, which gives the filmmakers rebate on every dollar spent on a production in Utah," Moore said.
The incentive program is a post-performance, refundable tax credit or cash rebate of production dollars spent in the state of Utah, he said.
"An approved production will be rebated 15 to 25 percent on every dollar spent in the State of Utah," Moore explained. "The rebate is for expenditures only spent in Utah."
A production must spend a minimum of $200,000 in the state for the 15 percent cash rebate and a minimum of $1,000,000 in the state to qualify for the up to 25 percent tax credit or cash rebate, he said.
"So in essence, a company coming in from out-of-state will save money, because they will not have to bring a lot of people and equipment with them," according to Moore. "The incentive program contributes an average of $40 million to the $120 million that comes into Utah annual from the filmmaking industry and The Sundance Film Festival brings in $70 million."
The remaining $10 million is brought through the rest of the projects that are being filmed in Utah.
"We know there is a lot of competition, so to see these crews here and know that our local people are getting employed is very rewarding. Also, the promotional opportunities afterwards are good for Utah. Seeing Utah on the big screen like in ‘The Lone Ranger’ or even on TV, and knowing millions of people are seeing it, too, gives us a chance to brand the state on a global sense."
For more information about the Utah Film Commission, visit film.utah.gov.
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