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The production of a television commercial its makers call "one of the most ambitious ever filmed" moved on to Tooele County Monday to add hundreds more to its cast of thousands of Utah schoolchildren.

Before he's done, Hugh Hudson, director of the Academy Award-winning "Chariots of Fire," will have filmed as many as 5,000 young Utahns for the British Airways promotion.And the students will have earned thousands of dollars in contributions from the production company for their financially strapped schools.

"Besides the money, it's a wonderful experience for these kids," said Eileen Rencher, public affairs director for the Utah Board of Education. "They have the opportunity to see how commercials are made and to work with people like Hugh Hudson."

The director, whose credits also include "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan," wore a cap with ear flaps down against a blustery wind as he guided 350 blue-clad youngsters from several Utah schools marching down Salt Lake City's Main Street Sunday.

"Heads up, chins up," his assistant shouted to the weary students after the hours of not-so-glamorous work began to wear them down.

"Stand by!"


Heard frequently in Utah these days, those words are music to Utah film development officials' ears.

"We're seeing a steady increase in commercial production," said film development director Leigh Vonder Esch, citing 19 major commercials that were filmed in Utah in the past fiscal year, which ended June 30. "If our projections hold up, we should have a significant increase over that number this year."

And last year was a very good year, with out-of-state commercial production companies spending $16 million in Utah, up $6 million from 1985. Theatrical productions have increased even more dramatically - from $5 million four years ago to $18 million last year.

Vonder Esch attributes the increase to an aggressive promotion campaign by the film development office, the state's scenery, production convenience and the cooperation of Utah's government agencies and citizens.

For the British Airways commercial, for example, the State Board of Education, Utah Highway Patrol, attorney general, Salt Lake police, 13 school districts and thousands of schoolchildren and their parents worked together to facilitate an enormous undertaking, she said.

In return, some schools will be receiving contributions that cover programs and projects not funded by other revenues - such as computers and band equipment - and the state will get invaluable publicity, said Vonder Esch.

The British Airways commercial could be seen by 100 million people worldwide, she said. In addition, a documentary film about the making of the commercial will be shown aboard the airline's jets worldwide.

"We're delighted to have a first-class product marketing our first-class state," Vonder Esch said.

She and Rencher said they were delighted, too, for all the kids, who discovered that making a short commercial is hard work.

On command, the teenagers marched up Second South and turned north onto Main Street, which had been shined up with a spray of water from a tanker truck. They did it once, twice, three times . . . then again, straight down Main, and again, and again . . .

"Great, that was a good one!" the students were encouraged over loudspeakers. Nevertheless, "Let's do it again."

No one was saying exactly what the marching students would represent in the commercial or why they and all the extras who wandered into camera range were dressed in blue.

But they were confirming what Vonder Esch said about why Utah was picked for the commercial.

"Because of the variety of scenery," explained Sigrid Mapp, account controller for British Airways advertising and promotions.

Earlier, the London-based production company Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising filmed 1,500 students in Moab and hundreds of others near Lake Powell. On Monday, all of Tooele School District's junior and senior high school students were scheduled to be filmed on the Salt Flats.

Mapp said the commercial will change the emphasis of British Airways' marketing from the promotion of its size and network to its people.