Arts & Culture: Location, location, location |

Arts & Culture: Location, location, location

Movies are on the move to Summit County

Many of the “Yellowstone” sets are built on a high base to facilitate actual plumbing and electrical systems.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

This story is found in the 2019 edition of Milepost.

Utah’s sweeping vistas, including forested mountains and stark desert landscapes, have attracted filmmakers since John Ford shot his iconic Westerns in the 1940s. Thelma and Louise, Easy Rider, Jeremiah Johnson and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were all partly filmed here. And they’re still coming.

Carolyn Leone, president of the Motion Picture Association of Utah, says, “They come for how beautiful it is, then for how good the crew is. It’s a clean industry, leaves lots of money, don’t leave anything but cash. Film and television is a big economic driver, but especially poignant in rural communities. Every gas station benefits; every hotel benefits.”

More and more movies are being filmed on location away from Hollywood. Tax incentives in many states are one reason for this. In Utah, that means a 25% post-performance payout, for projects that spend a minimum of a half million dollars here. “Incentives make it a different business model,” says Utah Film Commission Director Virginia Pearce. “There’s a cap on the program. It was $9 million this year, and we’ll spend it all.”

But it’s not all about the money. Besides the scenery and locations, there’s a highly trained group of film crew professionals here. Salt Lake International Airport is another, as we’re just 90 minutes from Los Angeles. And even though Utah is a right-to-work state, where you don’t have to belong to a union, most production companies are signatories to union standards and wages. “Wages are good; even the lowest employee is getting $150 a day,” says Pearce. “And while the number of productions has decreased since 2015,” says Pearce, “the size and length has increased to large television series and feature films.”

And the economic impacts can be huge. Taylor Sheridan, who is writing and directing the Paramount Network series Yellowstone with Kevin Costner, shot the feature film Wind River here. It generated over $28 million locally and employed over 300 local cast and crew. Yellowstone has shot its past two seasons here, and filming for their third season is underway.

It also helps that the Sundance Institute and yearly Sundance Film Festival showcase what’s going on here. It pumps over $100 million into the Utah economy yearly. State of the art facilities also attract productions. Yellowstone has been using the Park City Film Studios for the past three years as their base, with its three giant sound stages, and all of the support facilities needed for major productions.

While ski resort infrastructure differs from that needed by the film industry, it’s one way to diversify the economy. “It’s part of our climate-change adaptability model,” says Park City Manager Diane Foster. Dozens of crewmembers need lodging and food. Lumber and hardware are bought locally. Extras can get up to $100 a day, but they might have to sit in a driving blizzard, as they did one May night at the South Summit High School football stadium, during the filming of Mark Wahlberg’s new feature, Good Joe Bell.

But it’s still all in fun for the locals for the most part to see their favorite actors. There can be some downsides too, says Donald Fulton, owner of the Kozy Kafe in Echo. With dozens of trucks, trailers, catering vans and camera vehicles, crews can seemingly take over an area while they’re there. Fulton says that some small budget productions have taken advantage of the locals. “Just extend the locals the courtesy so they’ll be invited back,” he says.

But it’s obvious that John Ford and Robert Redford knew a good place to film when they came to Utah. Roll ‘em.

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