Film industry has bright lights pointed at Utah
Officials aim to capitalize on state’s momentum
January 27, 2017
A director yelling "Action!" can mean big business for Utah.
The film industry brought in $72 million into the state in economic activity in fiscal year 2016, according to estimates from the Utah Film Commission. And Virginia Pearce, the organization's director, said the screen isn't about to go dark on that trend — she expects the industry to continue becoming a bigger part of Utah's diverse economy in the coming years.
"Utah prides itself on having a lot of assets, and film and digital entertainment is really becoming one of those," she said. "… Collectively, the film culture and film organizations are seeing some great things happening."
Much of that success can be attributed to the short-lived ABC television show "Blood & Oil," which was shot primarily in Summit County and generated an estimated $33.3 million in economic activity. But Pearce said smaller productions are important, too.
While Utah has been the backdrop for a number of blockbusters over the years, such as Disney's "John Carter" and "The Lone Ranger," it's the independent film market that makes up most of the productions shot here because filmmakers can take advantage of the state's incentive program that offers up to a 25-percent tax credit, depending on how much a production spends in the state. Four independent movies that premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, for example, used the incentives to shoot in Utah, including in Summit County, Pearce said.
Despite the success Utah's film industry is experiencing, though, it's still not easy to lure productions here. Pearce said Utah remains somewhat of a hidden gem for the film industry because it's competing with dozens of others states that have similar — or in many cases larger — incentive programs. And there is no indication the state's lawmakers intend to increase the tax breaks this legislative session. That means many productions won't even consider the state for financial reasons.
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The ones that do, however, are often won over by other important considerations the state has going for it.
"What we are seeing is we're able to compete with much bigger markets in the past year, just because of the reputation of our crews, the ease of doing business in Utah, the proximity to L.A.," Pearce said. "Our reputation is definitely growing on all those fronts."
That reputation has only increased since the Park City Film Studios was completed in Quinn's Junction in 2015. While "Blood & Oil" remains the biggest production to shoot there — Sundance films "Wind River" and "Deidra & Laney Rob a Train" also used it recently — Pearce said the studio has opened the door for the state to attempt to entice larger productions.
And that's a good thing, according to Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, which works with the Utah Film Commission to facilitate the shooting of films, television shows and commercials in the Park City area. Though exact numbers aren't available, he said "Blood & Oil" was a boon for the local economy, and he would welcome more productions of that scale.
"It was everything from labor to services in the community to the amount of money they spent on hardware and lumber," he said. "Those types of things were significant with that series."
Apart from "Blood & Oil," the amount of filming activity in the Park City area has remained relatively flat in recent years, primarily because the tax incentives have not increased much, Malone said. Pearce said the Film Commission is exploring other methods to spur more filming in Park City and other areas throughout the state.
In addition to educating lawmakers and the public about the economic benefits of fostering the film industry, the commission is focused on developing the workforce to man productions and exploring emerging opportunities, such as virtual reality, video game design and even Youtube.
"It's just a whole new world," she said. "These are platforms that weren't around 10 years ago. So we have to figure out, 'How do we help that sector grow? What is happening in that sector? What are the things we don't even know about yet?'"