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Utah filmmakers showcase talent, innovation at Capitol

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SALT LAKE CITY — You awaken in a tub full of dark, murky water, with a vulture screaming in your face and a woman spelling out your discomfort with a creepy voice.

Luckily you are swept away from the dark burning landscape and thrust into a new hot tub, enjoying the spectacle of planets and stars as the same woman tells you about Bullfrog Spa's JetPack therapy system.

The harsh juxtaposition was just part of an advertisement for a hot tub, but the delivery came through a unique and immersive virtual reality presentation.

It was one of several virtual reality presentations by the Utah Film Commission on Wednesday at the state Capitol. During the Film Day showcase, various cinema groups, production companies and schools were able to show the value of networking and technological developments that are helping to shape the film industry in Utah.

Jarom Sidwell worked with Samson Madsen to produce BullFrog Spa's virtual reality presentation. Sidwell is a visual effects specialist with film credits that include "Avatar," "Man of Steel" and "The Avengers."

He decided to start his own visual effects production group, 4th Wall FX, after moving to Utah to help produce some LDS Church films.

"I think as the technology develops, so will the storytelling," Sidwell said.

Shorter attention spans and a younger audience that can process more media have created an interest in new visual storytelling, he said, and the recent Academy Award nomination of the animated short "Pearl," a virtual reality film, is lending validity to the movement.

Sidwell looks to advances in virtual reality and augmented reality for what he sees as the future of filmmaking.

More traditional filmmaking also was heavily represented at the Capitol, with the inclusion of a set wall from BYUtv's "Granite Flats," reclining theater seats from Megaplex Theatres, and a several local film production companies, including Arrowstorm Entertainment.

A pair of armored guards flanked Jennifer Griffin as she presented the filmmaking works of Arrowstorm Entertainment.

"We’re always just trying to go the extra mile and make things more beautiful and a better story," Griffin said.

Arrowstorm enjoys filming in locations such as Five Mile Pass and South Fork Canyon, she said. The Springville-based company does the majority of its filming and production in Utah, and its actors come mainly from local casting.

Utah has provided filmmaking space for more than 900 feature films, including "127 Hours" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

Jeff Peters, one of the founders of the Utah Digital Entertainment Network, said Utah is growing as a member of the film industry, and he hopes to bring together some of the most creative minds in the state.

By networking and making film students aware of the opportunities in Utah, Peters said, the state can train a creative workforce with the ability to state in the state.

"Part of it is being an advocate for Utah in general and all of the great stuff that’s been created here," he said, "and frankly, much of the world doesn’t know it was created here in Utah. We’re doing all this great training with these folks. Shouldn’t we try and keep them here?”

The Utah Film Commission works with the Governor's Office of Economic Development to market the filmmaking opportunities within the state and has become part of the networking effort to unite the state's film industry.