Utah Film Studios celebrates five years
After a drama-filled start, the Utah Film Studios is celebrating its fifth anniversary in “Yellowstone.”
The Paramount Network TV drama series starring Oscar- and Emmy-winning actor Kevin Costner has turned things around for facility, which it has called home since 2017, said Marshall Moore, Utah Film Studios vice president of operations.
The “Yellowstone” sets, which have been boarded up during a break in seasons to protect the production’s intellectual property, have taken up every available space of the 91,000 square-foot facility, Moore said.
“They have three seasons done and there are plans to start preproduction for the new season in March,” Moore said.
According to Moore, thesuccess of “Yellowstone” has turned many eyes to the Utah Film Studios, which has come under scrutiny for its location outside of a major metropolitan area and following news that its owner intends to sell it for $59 million.
“In general, people, even those in the film industry, wondered how it was going to work,” Moore said. “The perception was still the studio was too isolated and far away from Salt Lake, and many people felt it should be built at the Utah Fairgrounds.”
But the original developer, Greg Erickson, had his own vision for the facility.
“He knew the studio would be located by a resort town that welcomes the Sundance Film Festival each year, and it was a close 30 minutes to Salt Lake City,” Moore said.
The concept was to create an environment where creativity could thrive in an area surrounded by world-renowned hotels and restaurants, he said.
“It would also be in a place where the cast could do things on their days off that were unique and relaxing,” Moore said.
While the location wouldn’t work for urban settings, it does work for projects set in rural areas because filmmakers can conduct location shoots nearby.
ABC’s “Blood and Oil,” a North Dakota-set 2015 series that starred Don Johnson was the first production to utilize the Utah Film Studios.
Back then, Moore, the former director of the Utah Film Commission, was hired as a consultant who took 18 meetings over five days in a marketing trip to Los Angeles to promote the studio.
“We ended up at ABC, and in that meeting was an executive who thought he could bring ‘Blood and Oil’ to Utah and use the studio,” Moore said.
“Blood and Oil,” although canceled after one season, showcased the studio’s viability.
“The show took place in a rural setting, and production could use the studio as a base of operations and shoot in neighboring locations like Kamas, Heber and Park City,” Moore said.
In Sept. 2017, Crandall Capital, an owner of properties in Newpark, became the sole owner of the studio.
“Greg had the land, but it all came down to money,” Moore said. “It was going to take hundreds of thousands of dollars to manage the studios, and he didn’t have the resources to finish construction. That’s why the Crandalls became involved and fused cash into the project to finish it.”
In the time between “Blood and Oil” and “Yellowstone,” Moore, who had since been hired on in his current position, did what he could to keep the studio’s doors open.
“We had to make some hard decisions to keep people coming through the door, and we made deals at market or below market,” he said. “We operated at a loss but my goal was to make sure local filmmakers got used to coming here. We wanted them to know we are a friendly facility where independent filmmakers and commercial producers were welcome.”
During that time, production companies used the studios to create music videos and commercials, but the No. 1 thing that filled the studio with activity was special events, Moore said.
“We rented out to corporate gatherings, concerts and fundraisers, because there is no other space like this in the immediate area,” he said.
The Sundance Institute and Park City Institute are a couple of local organizations that held events at the studios, Moore said.
Everything changed when “Yellowstone” galloped in, according to Moore. Like “Blood and Oil,” “Yellowstone” uses the studios as its base of operations and shoots on location in the surrounding areas.
“Montana gets a lot of credit, because that’s where the ranch is, but they spend maybe only 30 percent, even less last year, of their time there,” he said. “Seventy percent of the show is shot in Utah.”
Although Utah Film Studio employs three full-time employees — Moore, building and stage manager Doug Arnold and content manager Zack Prutch, who manages the studio’s social media platforms — a production like “Yellowstone” can employ 250 people during its five- or six-month cycle of filming. That influx of cast and crew increases the income for local businesses that are located in a mostly 30-mile radius, Moore said.
“Half of the cast and crew, who aren’t from Utah, stay in local hotels, condos, rented homes and Airbnbs,” he said. “Crews also look to local businesses when they need supplies and services, whether it’s hardware or dry cleaning or food.”
Food is a huge need, Moore said.
“Even the caterer has to buy food from local stores to serve two meals a day to 250 people,” he said.
Moore is proud that the Utah Film Studios has reached its five-year milestone.
“Initially it was thought the studio wasn’t going to last, but it has become a success story for Summit County, Park City and even Wasatch County, because of the economic impact,” he said. “The only thing we still need to address is storage for set dressing and props, because we are currently using another place in Salt Lake City.”
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