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East Side ‘ripe’ for filmmaking, experts say

The history of Utah’s film industry is chronicled in a new book, "When Hollywood Came to Town: A history of movie-making in Utah" by James D’Arc, curator of the Motion Picture Archive at Brigham Young University.

He lists a few films made in Summit County to take advantage of the beautiful alpine setting, but said the hey-day of filmmaking in this area was in the 1970s.

That may change if proposals to build studios in or near Park City succeed.

But Chuck Sellier a producer who used to own studios on Park City’s Main Street before its transition into a ski town was fully complete, said the East Side is still one of his favorite places to shoot.

Increased filmmaking activity is a major initiative of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Companies create jobs and have positive economic impacts on Utah’s communities when they come to make movies or television shows in the state.

Competition to host filming among states hard-hit by the recession has been escalating in recent years. In addition to the infusion of money, playing host brings a location notoriety, D’Arc said.

New Mexico and Michigan have been offering tax-incentive rates Utah cannot compete with, he explained. Fortunately, Utah’s scenery and union-free hiring policies are still attractive to many studios.

D’Arc’s book explains how such initiatives came late to the game. Hollywood began coming to Utah en force in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that government created what would later become the Utah Film Commission.

D’Arc said he’s spent 30 years studying the relationship between communities and studios in Utah.

It’s important because cooperation from a community is the penultimate concern when choosing a location second only to cost, he explained.

But small-town businesses sometimes try to take advantage of film crews gouging them on room rates, materials and food, which can ruin the reputation of an area.

"That’s a looming threat to motion-picture companies," D’Arc explained. "I’m happy to say it was a minor occurrence in the history of movie making in Utah to the credit of local communities."

Even though film crews can inconvenience a town, most in the state have found them to be of overwhelming benefit.

Chuck Sellier says he has made around 200 feature films, television shows and for-television movies during a 15-year period in Summit County. He eventually left and moved to Tucson because of a lack of support from the community, he said.

He takes partial blame. During one project his crew accidentally set fire to the Mt. Aire Market.

But as the town became more established as a ski destination, the inconveniences he caused were no longer offset by the financial gains.

Sellier started Sun International Pictures on Main Street after finding success with his movie, "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams." It morphed into a two-year television series starring Dan Haggerty.

From 1968 to about 1984, Sellier said he filmed mountain scenes near Kamas and in the Uintas. For a few scenes he covered Main Street with dirt and went into the abandoned mines to film frontier scenes.

During the 1970s, as Park City was just becoming a ski resort destination, he bought several buildings on Main Street including the old Elks Lodge for around $50,000 each. These were used as sound stages, prop and costume storage and offices.

One day in the 1980s while filming a horror movie inside the Mt. Aire that he’d converted to look like a mine tunnel, a staged explosion caught the foam walls on fire. His insurance had everyone paid in three days, he said, but the ski-focused mayor and city council had grown weary of his operation.

Sellier said his company, now Grizzly Adams Productions, has filmed in the Kamas area since then and has plans to film again in the future. The East Side is "ripe" to become a major filmmaking destination, he said.

Movies and television could again become a major Summit County industry if proposals to build studios in the area come to fruition.

Greg Ericksen, attorney for a land owner at Quinn’s Junction, says a major Hollywood firm, Raleigh Studios, has expressed interest in building a sound stage and production facilities there. If they set up shop, it’s likely they would also start a film school here and host a summer film festival. If approval is given, construction could begin within a year.

D’Arc’s book can be pre-ordered online now, but will arrive in stores in September.


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