‘Yellowstone’ follows the money and plans exodus from Park City’s Utah Film Studios
The Yellowstone Dutton Ranch is leaving Utah for greener and more lucrative pastures.
After nearly three years of setting up shop at the Utah Film Studios, Paramount Network’s top-rated series “Yellowstone” will relocate exclusively to Montana, because of the low returns it would get through the Utah Film Commission’s Motion Picture Incentives program, according to Utah Film Commission Director Virginia Pearce.
“Due to a limited amount of film incentive dollars available, we were not able to fund ‘Yellowstone’ Season 4 at the levels we have in the past,” Pearce said in a statement issued to The Park Record. “While we understand that all productions must make decisions based on what works best for them, we are disappointed that ‘Yellowstone’ has decided to move the production.”
The Utah Film Commission is a department of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and its incentives program encourages the use of Utah as a production and filming site. The program offers a 20% or 25% post-performance, tax deductible kickback to projects such as “Yellowstone” that spend a minimum of $500,000 in Utah.
While “Yellowstone” reportedly spent an estimated $80 million in Utah and was eligible for rebates of up to 25% from the state, the incentive’s annual $8.3 million cap prevented the Commission from matching rebates the production received for its previous season, said Marshall Moore, Utah Film Studios vice president of operations.
Montana, on the other hand, passed legislation and approved a $10 million incentive last fall.
“That is guaranteed to help ‘Yellowstone’ because the production keeps growing,” Moore said.
“Yellowstone” stars Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Costner, who plays John Dutton, owner of the largest contiguous ranch in America. The series follows the Duttons as they battle each other, greedy developers and an American Indian tribe for control of the ranch.
The premiere of the show’s third season on Sunday, June 21, lassoed in 4.2 million viewers, which was up 76% than the season 2 premiere, according to Variety magazine.
For two years since the production began laying roots in 2017, the incentives program would pay back between $6.7 million per fiscal year as a tax credit, said Moore.
The production’s move will have a big impact on Utah Film Studios, which is located in Quinn’s Junction, but just how big is yet to be seen, Moore said.
“In the immediate future, because (the state’s)incentive program is drained, we will not be able to attract a show the size of ‘Yellowstone,’” he said. “We will look at independent film, commercials and hosting events, when they can happen again, until Utah expands and grows the motion-picture incentive program.”
Still, the move itself won’t happen for a few weeks, Moore said.
“Once the show moves or ends its run, they have to have a period of time where equipment, sets and such can shut down and move,” he said. “So during that time, the studio administration and board will work on a plan for its new business model. And we will talk with whoever wins the election for governor in November and tell them what we’re missing out on.”
Utah and Summit County will miss out on the money “Yellowstone” pumped into the Utah economy, which Moore estimated at between $20 million and $30 million a year.
“The show and studio has been a great platform for economic development throughout the area, especially the rural counties, cities and towns — Heber, Oakley and Kamas,” he said. “Various vendors — bootmakers, hat makers, horse wranglers, construction material providers, contractors, Airbnbs, hotels as well as local crew — all have parts of their business models dedicated to what ‘Yellowstone’ brought in, and many of those services were provided by business in Park City, Kamas and Oakley. That impact will go away when they start the exodus to Montana.”
The Film Incentives Program’s funding level is a result of the past general legislative session, and not COVID-19, according to Moore, because the whole film industry had been on hiatus since March.
“We knew there was a possibility that the fund could be stretched to its capacity, so we, the local film industry, approached the Utah Legislature to see if we could expand the program, because rebates have been the rule of the day since the early 2000s,” he said. “Since the production already has a footprint (in Montana) because that’s where they shoot the exteriors of the ranch and some of the other locals, it was the logical place for them to go.”
While it’s the nature of television to have productions move from hub to hub, Moore said this move hurts more than others.
“All shows have a start date and end date, and there are a finite number of seasons for a show, but what you don’t want to do is prematurely end something as good as this,” he said.
“‘Yellowstone’ is in the prime of its production, and this hurts because it didn’t finish its run in Utah.”
Pearce appears optimistic that the Utah Film Commission will work with the “Yellowstone” team again.
“We have loved having ‘Yellowstone’ film in Utah for the past three seasons,” she said. “Our landscapes have become an integral part of the show and countless cast, crew, and vendors have played a huge role in making the show the success it has become. We have a great working relationship with the producers and hope to see them back in Utah with another project.”
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