The next time you watch your favorite movie, consider that there is a pretty good chance there is a connection to Utah in the film. Either it was filmed in Utah or a Utahn or Utahns contributed to the making of the film.
To date, more than 900 movies have been made in Utah. Among the notable movies filmed here in Utah are "The Lone Ranger," "John Carter," "Independence Day," "Footloose," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "127 Hours" and "High School Musical." In addition to feature films, Utah has also been host to a number of hit TV shows, including "Touched By An Angel" and "Everwood."
Diverse and beautiful scenery attract movie directors and producers like me, as does Utah’s Motion Picture Incentive Program. In the early 2000s, Utah created the Motion Picture Incentive Program "to encourage the use of Utah crew, talent, support services and locations for the production of motion pictures, television series and other qualified productions," according to the Utah Film Commission's website.
The film incentive program started in 2005, although the name was changed to the Motion Picture Incentive Program in 2011 when it switched from a primarily cash rebate to a tax credit. According to the program, a 20 percent tax credit is available for productions that spend $500,000 to $1 million (technically $999,999). A 20 to 25 percent tax credit is available for productions that spend $1 million or more in the state. Additionally, a 20 percent cash rebate is available to productions that spend $500,000 or less in the state.
Since implementing the incentive program, production companies have spent over $110 million in Utah, according to data from Ricardo Flores, marketing executive of the Utah Film Commission. After the incentives, that amounts to about $86 million in economic benefits for the state. Additionally, companies filming in Utah between 2005 and 2106 spent $244,225,751. The overall economic impact during this same period, after the incentive, is a whopping $199,552,293.
The Indie State
Utah is the perfect location for indie filmmakers to produce their films, acquiring professional crew and talent at a more cost-effective rate than other states.
There are at least four features currently in production in Utah along with three more set to start in the next month or two. In addition, Disney is currently shooting a new series in Utah. Andy Samberg and Mark Hamill also recently completed work on a movie they were filming in Utah.
From my experience working in the industry, one of the questions producers, actors and directors want answered is what makes Utah such a good place to film? In addition to the tax credit, there are three other key items that make Utah so attractive.
Utah is a great state for independent film. The fact that Utah is a right to work state provides huge cost savings for producers.
Utah has a variety of filming locations. From the red rock mountains and beautiful desert landscapes of Southern Utah to the beautiful majesty of the Wasatch Mountains, there are a variety of different locations that can easily be used to depict other locations around the world.
Utah has highly trained and skilled talent. Utah has great equipment and professional crews that know what they're doing. The Motion Picture Association of Utah connects filmmakers with other professionals in the area to make each project a success.
The Next Steps
While Utah is an attractive place for movie makers, I believe there are still some things that we can do to take it to the next level and make Utah the premier filming state in the nation.
More investment. Utah needs to find a way to get more people interested in investing in film projects. These investments can come from anywhere, but local investment means local rewards and ownership in the projects being produced. Finding a way to get more investment money from local investors would be a huge win for Utah and its film industry.
Investing in movies is the same as investing in the newest and latest tech startup. It’s a business, and business professionals and investors need to understand the benefits and how they’ll make money and get a return on investment. It has to be treated like a business.
Overcoming preconceived notions. The Utah tax incentive is great. Just about anybody that makes it to the state to scout usually ends up shooting here. Utah sells itself. The primary struggle facing Utah is a preconceived notion of some in the industry that filming has to happen on one of the coasts.
Utah has a successful business model for film, and the talent and expertise in the state is higher than many industry experts think. I believe the Utah Film Commission is critically important to changing these preconceived notions.
Education. Utah needs to find ways to keep developing talent in the state and to create a system that trains and educates new filmmakers to let them know they don't have to be in Los Angeles to make a great film.
I believe that Utah, right now, is just about where the Los Angeles film industry was 15 years ago. However, with a focus on educating local investors and talent to overcome preconceived notions, it won’t take Utah long to catch up and become an even more blockbuster location for movie production.
Jarrod is a movie producer/ business development expert living in Utah. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @wjarrodp, or Facebook.com/JarrodPhillipsOfficial. Connect with him on www.linkedin.com/in/wjarrodp.