Filmmaking a big business in Utah

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 21 2010 9:20 p.m. MST

Danny Boyle, left, and James Franco walk in southern Utah during the filming of "127 Hours." The film spent $9 million while in production in the state and has an Oscar buzz.

Associated Press

In 1924, cowboy star Tom Mix rode his "Deadwood Coach" out of the southern Utah landscape, and people have been making movies here ever since.

In 2010, in fact, Utah has been named by P3 Update magazine as one of the top 10 movie-making locations in the world. The magazine, a trade journal that deals with "methods, tools, processes of Preproduction, Production and Postproduction," considers a variety of factors, including not only scenery, but also state-offered incentives, workforce, infrastructure and other attractions.

"This is very exciting news for us," says Marshall Moore, director of the Utah Film Commission. "It's always good to be talked about in trade publications. We were excited when P3 named us one of the top 10 in the U.S. To now be listed in the top 10 in the world is fantastic."

Utah has a great deal to offer movie makers, he says. "We have a quality incentive program, a diversity of scenery, a talented crew base, a lot of acting talent. A lot of thing make us a turn-key for movies to come here."

Industry professionals agree. "It has great infrastructure and great small towns like Provo and Springdale that can double for 1950s towns," location manager Ron Carr told the magazine. "The place also isn't overshot. I did a film there recently, and 23 days of shooting only cost $10,000 for locations. Honestly, it's my favorite place to film, especially if you're doing an indie film."

Economics plays a big role in choosing a film location. Utah offers three major economic incentives: a 20-percent post-performance rebate of dollars spent in the state; a 20-percent tax credit; and, for productions costing under $1 million, a 15-percent cash rebate. There's also a sales and use tax exemption that covers TV, video and film equipment.

Utah is one of about 40 states that offers such incentive programs, says Moore. But the paybacks are enormous. "They come here, they use our people, our resources, eat our food, stay in our places. And that money comes into the economy very quickly. '127 Hours' spent $9 million while in production here. 'John Carter of Mars,' which won't be released until 2012, spent $21 million here and hired 125 local people, and that money is already in the economy."

The Film Commission hopes to make it even better. It is proposing legislation for 2011 that would raise the rebate incentive to 25 percent and make Utah even more competitive with rival states. "We want to extend the life of the program. We want to do all we can to keep producers coming here instead of going somewhere else," says Moore.

But, he adds, having the incentives is one thing. "We also have the infrastructure to back it up." And, it's not just about bringing in out-of-state production companies, he says. "I'm very proud of our local film industry, and it is able to take advantage of the incentives, as well. After all, they could leave Utah, and some actually have. We want to make it worthwhile for them to stay."

In addition to "127 Hours" and "John Carter of Mars," recent movie productions in the state include "Darling Companion," "The Tree of Life," "Down and Dirty Pictures," "The Kane Files," "The Wayshower," "Guns, Girls and Gambling" and "Age of the Dragons," as well as TV shows "Nitro Circus," "Bully Beatdown" and "Bullrun."

Those join a list of more than 800 movies, television films and series episodes that have been wholly or partially shot in Utah over the years, in locations ranging from Cache Country to Monument Valley.

James D'Arc, curator of the BYU Motion Picture Archives" and author of a history of local movie making called "When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Moviemaking in Utah," notes that movie making is an industry "that has been as important and added as much to Utah's economy as mining, tourism, politics, recreation and others."

While the work of John Ford and others have made the landscape and vistas of southern Utah iconic in the western genre, he adds, "the scenery here has doubled for that of countries all over the world and states all over the nation."

That scenery is also an incentive for tourists, says Moore. "We've seen that happening in Moab just since the release of '127 Hours.' Westerns have certainly given the state a signature presence, but so have movies like 'Thelma and Louise' and the 'High School Musical' movies."

Consider, too, he says, "that this year we have had multi-Oscar winners working in the state." Directors like Danny Boyle and Andrew Stanton, actors like Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Christian Slater and Gary Oldman. "That really creates a buzz in the industry. '127 Hours' is getting a lot of Oscar talk, and James Franco will host the Oscars. You get all those people talking about their experiences here, and it creates a lot of interest."

e-mail: carma@desnews.com

Top 10 movie-making locations worldwide

1. Australia

2. California

3. Canada

4. Connecticut

5. Georgia

6. Louisiana

7. Michigan

8. New Mexico

9. New Zealand

10. Utah

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