Governor pulls to keep movie makers in Utah
Filmmakers behind "The Hitcher," "Jarhead," "The Longest Yard," and "Wild Hogs," staring John Travolta considered Utah, but decided to go elsewhere to make their movies.
Last year alone, The Utah Film Commission (UFC) estimates the state lost more than $100 million to other locales.
Utah saw the writing on the wall two years ago: between 1999 and 2004, Canada and 44 states managed to snag 41 percent of Utah’s movie-making dollars. Since 2005, the state has begun to offer competitive incentive packages to filmmakers, but UFC members, and Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. are pushing for more.
According to UFC Director Aaron Lee Syrett, the commission’s list of missed opportunities is long enough to warrant concern.
"To be honest, New Mexico and Louisiana are killing us they’re taking away projects that should be coming to Utah," he warns. "We have a lot of industry professionals working here and if they leave to work elsewhere, it will be a detriment to this state."
This year, UFC, a state sanctioned organization, and the Motion Picture Association of Utah (MPAU), which represents industry professionals from film crew members to writers to directors, are lobbying for post-reimbursement incentives proposed by the governor that total $5 million for fiscal year 2007: a $3.5 million ongoing appropriation fund and a $1.5 million one-time appropriation package.
The return on the investment is expected to generate $74 million in new film production spending, since filmmakers must spend a minimum of $14.8 million on in-state lodging, food and other resources to receive incentive dollars.
This proposed allocation of funding comes after the success of the budgeted incentives last year, which generated $144 million in in-state spending and created more than 11,000 jobs, according to the MPAU.
Thanks to incentives proposed for FY2005 and FY2006, movies like "Pirates of the Caribbean III" and production companies for 23 films chose Utah in 2006 a record number.
"Last year, more movies were filmed and produced in our state than ever before," confirmed Huntsman. "Let’s work together to further enhance our position as a premier film destination in the United States."
Utah’s rich film-making history began long before films like 1969’s "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Once known as "Little Hollywood," Utah was one of the first locations in the world to have a film commission, Syrett says.
"Utah has had a film commission since 1974, but before that, back in the early ’50s when John Ford made Westerns, he went to Moab," he explains. "Moab recognized a need to support filmmaking, so they formed the Moab Film Council and it became the first film commission in the world."
The MPAU reports that the number of filmmakers and TV producers spiked again in the 1980s and 1990s, with films like 1991’s "Thelma and Louise," and 1983’s "Footloose," as well as series like "Touched By An Angel." The interest helped to give rise to a strong infrastructure of local crews and production services.
Other locales began to take note, however. Canada notably began to offer arts grants and tax credits for expenditures on rental houses, soundstages and post-production facilities, says the MPAU. Australia, the Netherlands, India, Mexico and others also began to follow the Canadian model, as well as U.S. states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and Oregon.
The MPAU was formed on behalf of two primary concerns it members identified in order for Utah to regain its filmmaking advantage over other states: a lack of financial incentives, and the second is a "slowly dying infrastructure due to a disconnected community" (many potential cast, crew and filmmakers are being lured away by other states as well.)
Bob Carter, the chief executive officer of Flying Sensors, joined the MPAU as vice-president to further promote the industry after he witnessed first-hand the direct economic benefit.
His son, Shawn, starred in the High School Musical, which was filmed in Utah, and is currently working on the High School Musical II.
"When I was on set watching the movie, I looked around and said, ‘you know what? When the film industry shows up, they put money into the state, they put people in hotels, they eat restaurants and they really stimulate growth,’" Carter recalls. "They leave the state [in better condition] than when they came to it."
Even without incentives, the state’s landscape is an appealing place to shoot, he notes.
"There’s no other place in the country where you can go and have such diverse backdrops in such close proximity to California," Carter said.
The Sundance Film Festival has afforded the UFC ample opportunity to draw filmmakers into the state as well, according to Syrett. The festival was especially successful this year, he reports and project negotiations are currently underway.
But Utah can no longer simply rely on its good looks, laments Syrett.
"We’re in a spot right now," he admits. "If the legislation doesn’t pass, Utah’s in a world of hurt when it comes to the movie business."
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